Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder and mega contributor to Republican causes and, in the 2004 presidential race, the Swift Boat Vets, passed away at him home this weekend at the age of 80. In his heyday, Perry was one of the biggest political donors in the state. He emerged as a force in the tort reform debate of 2003, as a major supporter of a new organization called Texans for Lawsuit Reform, just as Tom Craddick was assuming the speakership.
Bob Perry emerged as a political power in Texas for two reasons. One was that he was an avid contributor to leading Republican politicians. The other was his desire to be part of the machinery of government that kept Rick Perry, Tom Craddick, and other Republican leaders in power. He is going to be very hard to replace; few political figures in Texas are capable of replacing the money and the zest for political combat that Perry exhibited throughout his lifetime. (Read my friend Sam Gwynne’s profile of Perry from 2007.)
His activism was not without controversy. In the 2003 session, the Legislature created a new state agency to benefit the homebuilding industry called the Texas Residential Construction Commission. According to Bob Garrett, who was president of the Texas Association of Builders at the time, “Our goal is to create a mechanism wherein both the consumer and the builder are treated fairly to resolve differences through a fair dispute resolution process rather than being tied up for years in costly litigation.” It would have been more accurate to say that the TRCC was created to prevent homeowners who had disagreements with their builders from being able to resolve their differences in court. Instead, they had to take their case before the TRCC, which was once accurately described as an agency of the builders, by the builders, and for the builders; indeed, the TRCC’s first chairman was Mr. Perry’s general counsel. Eventually, the TRCC was such an obvious example of kowtowing to rich donors that the Sunset Advisory Commission decided to abolish it.
Mr. Perry seldom failed to get his way, but there was one issue in which success eluded him: immigration. As a homebuilder, Mr. Perry depended upon immigrant workers, many of them without documentation, as his workforce. But Republican delegates to GOP state conventions resisted overtures to immigrants. For example the Republican party platform in 2008 supported English as the official language in the U.S. However, more-recent GOP platforms have supported a guest workers program, a move Perry no doubt approved.
Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle | Melissa Phillip (Via AP)