The Torts and the Hair: Texas Governor Rick Perry has made tort reform a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
Politico's Alexander Burns reports today that trial lawyers are gearing up for a major fundraising effort against Texas Governor Rick Perry, should he win the GOP presidential nomination:
Among litigators, there is no presidential candidate who inspires the same level of hatred — and fear — as Perry, an avowed opponent of the plaintiffs’ bar who has presided over several rounds of tort reform as governor...
That's a potential financial boon to [Obama] who has unsettled trial lawyers with his own rhetorical gestures in the direction of tort reform. A general election pitting Barack Obama against Perry could turn otherwise apathetic trial lawyers into a phalanx of pro-Obama bundlers and super PAC donors.
"If this guy emerges, if he's a serious candidate, if he doesn't blow up in the next couple weeks, it's going to motivate many in the plaintiffs' bar to dig deeper to support President Obama," said Sean Coffey, a former securities litigator who ran for attorney general of New York last year. "That will end up driving a lot of money to the Democratic side."
So that's the horse-race element of it. The larger battle here, which my colleague Stephanie Mencimer literally wrote the book about, is that conservatives and their business interests have for decades attempted to demonize trial lawyers for multiple reasons, none of which really involve your best interests. Perry makes a tort reform a major part of his stump speech; it's one of the four steps he would take as president to turn the economy around, along with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and reduced spending. And, to his credit I suppose, he has made it a priority in Texas so at least he's consistent. But as Kevin Drum points out, Perry's crusade against frivolous lawsuits has really just made it harder for people with legitimate claims to file suit, without offering the return on investment (lower health care costs, primarily) it purports to deliver.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced last week he would seek the GOP's presidential nomination.
Rick Perry's first week on the campaign trail was, it's pretty safe to say, an eventful one. Last Saturday, the Texas governor officially entered the GOP presidential race with a pledge to make "Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can." On Sunday, he alleged that the United States military does not respect President Obama. On Monday, he threatened to murder (or something) the Republican-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, he blew the whistle on an international conspiracy by climatologists to secure more money for research grants. On Thursday, he disclosed that the earth was "pretty old" and that creationism should be taught in public schools.
Perry, Texas' governor since the last days of the Clinton administration, has taken the race by storm, soaring to the top of the polls in Iowa and throwing conservatives into a tizzy as to whether he's really cut out to lead the Republican party forward. So who is Rick Perry, anyway—and what has he done to Texas?
We combed the Internet to bring you our favorite deep dives on the GOP's new pony—and the people and events that made him. Enjoy:
"Trial by Fire," David Grann, The New Yorker: Cameron Todd Willingham was executed via lethal injection in 2004 for murdering his wife and three kids via arson. There was one serious problem: It now appears almost certain that Willingham was innocent. Perry, who presided over more executions than any governor in modern American history, declined to grant a stay to Willingham when presented with evidence that his case had been mishandled and key evidence was ignored. When the Texas Forensic Science Commission seemed on the verge of concluding that the fire might not have been arson after all (after taking the unprecedented step of re-examining the case), Perry promptly replaced three of its members. Grann painstakingly details the 12-year process by which Texas, under Perry's watch, killed an innocent man—and the effort he took to sweep it under the rug. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait calls this piece, "the single greatest piece of journalism I have ever read in my life." See also: "Innocence Lost," Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly—in which a reporter succeeds in freeing a man who spent 18 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.
"The NAFTA Superhighway," Chris Hayes, The Nation: "When completed, the highway will run from Mexico City to Toronto, slicing through the heartland like a dagger sunk into a heifer at the loins and pulled clean to the throat. It will be four football fields wide, an expansive gully of concrete, noise and exhaust, swelled with cars, trucks, trains and pipelines carrying water, wires and God knows what else. Through towns large and small it will run, plowing under family farms, subdevelopments, acres of wilderness."
At least, that's how Hayes' conspiracy theorists—which include the Montana Legislature and at least one member of Congress—saw it. Hayes cuts through the myths surrounding the Trans-Texas Corridor, one of Perry's most ambitious and controversial proposals in his decade as governor—and one that helped spawn a conservative insurrection in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
"Bob Perry Needs a Hug,"S.C. Gwynne, Texas Monthly: No one in America has given more money to Rick Perry over the last decade than Texas homebuilder and Swift Boat financier Bob Perry (no relation): $2.5 million. Perry the builder, whose business success is heavily dependent on cheap immigrant labor, is widely seen as a driving force behind the governor's relatively moderate approach to curbing undocumented immigration. Gov. Perry has been accused of being a corporatist and not an ideologue; his relationship with Bob Perry is a testament to that.
"Revisionaries," Mariah Blake, Washington Monthly: Texas public schools don't officially push creationism on students as Perry suggests, but it's not for lack of effort. Blake profiles one of Perry's most controversial appointments, his selection of a creationist dentist to chair the State Board of Education, tasked with setting the curriculum standards for classrooms across the state.
Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. We sat down at his dining table, which was piled high with three-ring binders, and his wife, Nancy, brought us ice water in cut-crystal glasses with matching coasters. Then McLeroy cracked the book open…
"Rick Perry's Army of God," Forrest Wilder, Texas Observer: Before he announced his run for president Rick Perry held a massive prayer and fasting festival at an NFL stadium in Houston. You may have heard. Wilder provides valuable background on Perry's allies on the religious right—specifically a radical new movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation.
On September 28, 2009, at 1:40 p.m., God's messengers visited Rick Perry. On this day, the Lord's messengers arrived in the form of two Texas pastors, Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos, who called on Perry in the governor's office inside the state Capitol. Schlueter and Long both oversee small congregations, but they are more than just pastors. They consider themselves modern-day apostles and prophets, blessed with the same gifts as Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles. The pastors told Perry of God's grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was "The Prophet State," anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.
"Right Place, Right Time," Paul Burka, Texas Monthly: This one's politics, plain and simple. Burka, one of Texas' most respected political analysts, explains what makes Perry tick, and makes the compelling case that the governor has been preparing for his presidential run for years.
Most people who follow Texas politics know by now the conventional wisdom about Perry: that he is an accidental governor who inherited the job when George W. Bush became president; that he is "Governor Goodhair" or "Governor 39 Percent" or some similar appellation of mild disrespect accompanied by a twist of humor; that he doesn’t really do anything well except win elections, which he has done with regularity. There is truth in the conventional wisdom, but there is also blindness. Perry has been so often viewed as a caricature that many Texans have failed to recognize his talent.
Texas Governor Rick Perry caused a hulabaloo this week when he revealed to the campaign press what Texans have known for a decade: He's really not that into science. Evolution, he told a 9-year-old New Hampshire boy on Thursday, is just "a theory that's out there," which is why, "in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." That came just one day after Perry revealed that the world's climatologist are engaged in a sweeping conspiracy to manipulate data to "keep the money rolling in."
But the GOP presidential candidate, who once appointed a creationist dentist (and fellow Aggie) to head the State Board of Education, has long been a public opponent of evolution, both in his policies and his rhetoric. As he explained last year, "I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution."
According to Supreme Court, public schools cannot teach creationism as science, and according to the state's most curriculum standards they're not supposed to either—which makes Perry's statement that Texas schools do teach creationism all the more noteworthy. Over at the Texas Observer, Forrest Wilder recounts the governor's history of appointing ... let's say "scientifically-disoriented" officials to scientifically-oriented agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and then offers some personal experience:
Regardless of what the official curriculum is, there are teachers in Texas who do teach creationism. I know, because I had a teacher that did so in my Central Texas high school. She proudly displayed a bumper sticker on her podium that read something like, "Big Bang Theory: God Said 'Bang' and There it Was." Her students picked up on her creationist catch-phrases—"Can't make a chain out of missing links"—and took pity on us in the AP biology class, where evolution was taught as the cornerstone of biology.
Maybe this is what Rick Perry meant when he said "we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." Creationism *is* taught occasionally; it's just that it's not supposed to be.
Penn State University political scientist Eric Plutzer, who helped conduct a 2007 national survey of more than 950 science teachers in 49 states, including Texas, told us in an interview that in any state 10 percent to 20 percent of science teachers are "endorsing creationism in their classrooms, often devoting one to four class hours to creationism over the course of the year."
A synopsis of the survey, published in the Jan. 27, 2011, issue of Science magazine, says a "sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions — scientific or not."
Plutzer told us: "One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism."
Right. Chiding Perry on the facts in this case misses the point, because Perry wasn't revealing his ignorance; he was accidentally speaking the truth. Perry knows you can't put creationism in textbooks outright—Kitzmiller v. Dover took care of that—but the education agenda he supported was designed to achieve the same ends through a more roundabout process of enabling teachers to shoot holes in biology or making them so nervous about the subject that they avoid teaching evolution entirely.
The narrative was all ready to go: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2010 re-reelection campaign was supposed to be an old-fashioned brawl between the incumbent governor of nine years and the state's most popular politician, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas Monthly put the duo on its cover with the tag line, "It's On and It's Gonna Get Ugly." Political junkies stocked up on popcorn.
But it didn't turn out that way. After starting off 30 points down, Perry went on to crush Hutchison in the primary. The senator's attacks on Perry mostly fell flat; instead, the sharpest critiques of the governor came from a third candidate: Debra Medina, a nurse and former Wharton County Republican Party chair, who, with zero name recognition or institutional support, a bare-bones budget, and a whole lot of tea party backing, soared to 20 percent support in the polls.
"I think Paul Burka at Texas Monthly said I'm the only person that's ever been able to get to the right of Rick Perry—which is bizarre in my view because I don't see him as a candidate of the right," Medina says now. "He sells himself on the right, he packages himself on the right, but if you look at the record, he's not conservative by any stretch."
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has launched an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)
Speculation has been mounting for a while now, but on Thursday Elizabeth Warren appears to have made it official: She intends to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2012. The Harvard professor and architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a website for her exploratory committee, the likely prelude to a full-scale campaign.
Warren rose to national prominence when President Obama tapped her to run the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the TARP bailout in 2009. When the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an idea that Warren first developed—she was considered the obvious choice to head the agency. Obama tasked Warren with implementing the new agency, but she quickly became a right-wing target and Obama ultimately nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the post.
Brown, who pulled off a stunning upset of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in 2010 to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, is one of the Democrats' biggest 2012 targets. And Warren, with her reputation as an anti-Wall Street crusader, has been floated as a dream candidate since the day Brown was sworn in. As Glen Johnson noted, Warren has already staffed up in advance of a run, and picked up the support of a third-party fundraising outfit based out of Washington.
So can she win? Well, she'll first have to navigate a crowded Democratic primary which includes Newton mayor Setti Warren (no relation), City Year founder Alan Khazei, and (possibly) Rep. Michael Capuano. Brown, for his part, remains quite popular in Massachusetts, although with Obama on the ballot and an opponent who's willing to shake hands outside Fenway Park, that could change.
Earlier this week, Brown previewed his likely line of attack against Warren, noting in a fundraising email this week that "They are so obsessed with winning this seat back that Washington elitists are trying to push aside local Democrat candidates in favor of Professor Warren from Oklahoma." (Warren has lived in Massachusetts for two decades.)