Mike Toomey (left) and Rick Perry (right) have been friends since they entered the Texas House together in 1985.
In 2010, private corrections lobbyists gave Texas Governor Rick Perry $100,000 during his re-election campaign, and then Perry went on to push a series of proposals that would have privatized the prison health care system and neutered the commission tasked with oversight of the nation's second-largest inmate population—all in the name of austerity. That's the basic gist of my story today.
But what's also noteworthy about the story is who it involves—specifically, Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey, who is now a lobbyist for the nation's largest private prison firm. He was also a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the political juggernaut that has poured millions into Perry's campaigns and helped secure business-friendly tort reform in the state. Last month he started Make Us Great Again, a super PAC designed expressly to support the Governor's presidential run. Toomey was the lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Merck when Perry signed a controversial executive order mandating that adolescent girls receive a Merck vaccine against HPV. If you don't follow Texas politics, you probably don't know him, but he's had an outsized influence on Perry's rise.
I recommend reading Patricia Kilday Hart's profile of Toomey in Texas Monthly in 2003, back when Toomey was the Governor's chief of staff. Here's a snippet:
A common complaint heard around the Capitol is that Toomey "hasn't taken off his lobby hat"—meaning that as Perry's chief of staff, he continues to argue positions favorable to his former clients, especially [Texans for Lawsuit Reform]. Toomey was ready with his answer when I raised the point in our interview: "I have two responses to that. First of all, I didn't have any client that I didn't agree with philosophically about what they were doing. Just go through my client list. I don't have clients I disagree with." The second rebuttal was that he delegates issues on which he has lobbied previously to other staffers. As an example, he said he sent representatives of SBC Communications (Southwestern Bell) to an assistant, who could take the company's concerns directly to the governor, since Toomey himself had worked as a lobbyist for its competitor, AT&T...
Toomey's involvement on behalf of his former clients might become a major problem if he returns to lobbying for them, but Williamson says that is unlikely. He and other friends predict that Toomey will return to electoral politics, running for a statewide office like comptroller, or alternatively, go to work for a conservative advocacy foundation.
Under the banner of closing the state's $27 billion deficit last winter, Texas Gov. Rick Perry floated a proposal to privatize the state's prison health care network. Whether the plan would actually save the state any money was a matter of debate, but one thing was clear: The move would have been a boon for private-prison executives and lobbyists, including Perry's former chief of staff, who had donated generously to his 2010 reelection campaign.
The plan met bipartisan resistance in the state Legislature, but it was just one of a handful of recent proposals by Perry's office that would have benefited the industry—all in the name of deficit reduction.
Private prisons are a big business in Texas, where the combination of federal immigration policies and one of the nation's largest inmate populations has led to a boom in construction over the last two decades. As governor, Perry, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has supported privatizing everything from public lands to highways, but according to Scott Henson, a criminal-justice watchdog who runs the blog Grits for Breakfast, the governor had remained largely quiet on the prisons issue—until this year.
North Carolina Republicans are hoping to put a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the 2012 ballot.
North Carolina has already banned gay marriage once, via statute, in 1996. Now, driven by concerns that a court might strike down the law, the state legislature is looking to do it again just to be on the safe side—this time by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2012. House Majority Leader Paul Stam, a Republican, held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that the legislature would try to green-light the ballot initiative during September's special session.
But that wasn't the only thing he said. Via our friends at On Top, Stam attempted to justify his body's focus on the issue by comparing gay marriage to incest and polygamy:
When asked by a reporter whether the amendment was "a reach of government into the individuals' lives?" Stam answered: "Well 90 percent of all laws affect people's lives, so that's an argument without any content to it... We prohibit adult incest, we prohibit polygamy. What would be their answer to that? We're involved in people's lives. That's a slogan without analysis."
"What I'm saying is," Stam went on to explain, "you cannot construct an argument for same sex-marriage that would not also justify philosophically the legalization of polygamy and adult incest."
If the bill passes, North Carolina won't be the only state to put gay rights on the ballot next November. Minnesota will vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage next fall—due, in no small part, to the efforts of Michele Bachmann's allies at the Minnesota Family Council. The push comes at a precarious moment for both gay rights opponents and, more specifically, North Carolina. Gay rights activists scored a major victory this summer when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law legalizing gay marriage in his state, and recent polls have shown a majority of Americans—and large numbers of Republicans—are supportive of gay marriage and civil unions. Even Focus on the Family president Jim Daly has had to concede that, at least demographically, the battle has been lost.
According to a February poll from Elon University, a majority of voters in North Carolina support at least some legal rights for gay couples. With Tobacco Road tilting increasingly into the blue column, 2012 might be conservatives' last best chance to push through such a measure before liberal-leaning millenials and northeastern transplants implement Shariah. The fact that it might also help get out the vote for opponents of President Obama's re-election campaign likely hasn't gone unnoticed by the state GOP either.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is currently leading in the polls in Iowa.
When I contacted Rick Perry's campaign (and the Texas governor's office) last week for a story about the presidential candidate's favorite books, I never heard back. But in an effort to quell notions that Perry is "dumb"—it's a theory that's out there—the campaign gave Jonathan Martin a glimpse at what's currently on the governor's reading list. It doesn't really prove or disprove the "dumb" thesis, but it's interesting in its own right:
In an illustration that Perry knows what he needs to know, his spokesman said the governor is currently reading Henry Kissinger’s recent China book – "On China."
And that's not the only practical guide the governor is thumbing through.
Mark Miner, the spokesman, said Perry is also reading Charles Stanley's "Turning the Tide," a Baptist pastor’s how-to for Christian conservatives who want to change the country’s direction, and the Bible. Perry also carries an Apple laptop as well as an iPad with him on the road, said Miner, who called his boss "an avid reader."
Emphasis mine. Stanley's an interesting choice here. Like Perry, Stanley believes America is a Christian nation founded on Biblical principles, and that the further the nation gets from those precepts, the worse things will get. (The "tide" he mentions in the title is actually a "tsunami" of death and depravity that we're running out of time to thwart.) Part of the problem, Stanley explains, stems from the nation's march toward socialism, which challenges the primacy of religion as a moral code, and incentivizes laziness. That's pretty standard fare on the religious right, and helps explain how tea party economics can mesh so easily with evangelical precepts; as it happens, Michele Bachmann's favorite theologian, Francis Schaeffer, blamed government handouts for the fall of Rome. As Stanley writes, "Because there is no reward for working harder—and there are also no consequences for poor performance—people do the least they can do to get by."
His arguments on the will of the Founders and the Biblical basis of the Constitution dovetail very neatly with those of Mormon historian W. Cleon Skousen, whom Perry has also cited as a must-read. Actually, they dovetail very nicely with what Perry himself has said: "natural law, God's law, is the basis of our nation's laws." And then there's this: In a section on terrorism, he urges readers to "Pray for God's protection against terrorism and ask that Muslims throughout the world will come to know Jesus as their Savior." (You'll remember that Perry's prayer rally in Houston, The Response, came under fire when organizers stated that their goal was to convert people of other faiths.)
Anyway, here's an interview with Stanley explaining how "we will experience a political, a social, and a religious tsunami in America," and what that will look like exactly:
Perry has been hit pretty hard because he associates with some fairly radical members of the religious right. This latest revelation is a sign that 1) those criticisms were pretty much spot-on and 2) he doesn't really care.
[Bachmann] hailed the tea party as being common-sense Americans who understand government shouldn't spend more than it takes in, know they're taxed enough already and want government to abide by the Constitution.
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."
Bachmann's remarks came at a tea party rally in Sarasota, Florida on Sunday. Hurricane Irene was thankfully not as bad as it could have been (and the earthquake wasn't very bad at all), but it still took an enormous economic toll on the East Coast and has caused serious flooding in upstate New York and Vermont, which are not part of Washington. The wisdom of using it as a political bludgeon is questionable to say the least.
But it's also kind of an odd point to make. Congress is in recess for the month of August, and about a fifth of the chamber is actually in Israel right now. President Obama was out of town as well. The "politicians," of which Bachamnn is one, were for the most part not affected by the storm. Which isn't to say God's not infallible—but maybe Michele Bachmann isn't.
Update: Spokeswoman says Bachmann's comments were "clearly in jest." I think the point stands, though, that this is kind of a risk for a politician who has publicly dabbled in Biblical prophecy before.