As Texas hurdles headlong into campaign season, one name will be notably absent from the ballot: Rick Perry. For fourteen years and three gubernatorial election cycles, the man from Paint Creek has held the position, making him the longest-serving governor in Texas history. And so before we fully turn our focus to the players who have emerged in his wake, we first wanted to assess Perry’s legacy:
Our July cover story is actually two pieces: an exclusive interview with Perry, who discusses, quite frankly, both his accomplishments and his missteps, and a piece we’re calling “The Perry Report Card,” where, as the title suggests, we grade the governor in eight policy areas. This week and next, we’ll be giving you a preview of what those areas are and asking you how you would rate Perry.
First up: transparency and ethics. So take out your red pens (or, actually just leave your grades and notes in the comments) and tell us how you think the governor did on that front—and no matter what you think of our current governor, fair assessment and critical thinking are requested.
For some extra reading, revisit Paul Burka’s Behind the Lines column from April 2007, “More Power to Him?”, in which Burka explains how Perry turned a historically weak office into one of the most powerful positions in the state’s legislature—and how with great power comes great responsibility:
Rick Perry believes that, as governor, he has broad power to influence and even create, unilaterally, public policy in Texas. He has been bent on expanding executive power since his party gained total control over state government in 2003, a year in which the Legislature rushed through a bill giving sweeping new powers to the Texas Department of Transportation, including the ability to privatize highways; passed a reorganization of health and human services agencies that centralized power in a single bureaucrat appointed by the governor; gave the governor a $295 million fund to dole out to companies for economic development; and allowed him to participate fully in the process that crafted the state budget. In August 2005 Perry instructed the commissioner of education, by executive order, to institute education reforms that the Legislature had considered but declined to pass. He followed up that order with another one—since voided by an Austin judge—for expedited hearings on TXU’s request to build new coal-fired power plants.
But it was not until February 2 of this year that lawmakers woke up and finally said, “Enough!” That was the day Perry issued his executive order to Albert Hawkins, the executive commissioner of Health and Human Services, to institute a program requiring young girls, prior to the sixth grade, to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, the cause of most cervical cancers. The order was hailed in some quarters and reviled in others. Women’s health advocates praised it. Parental-rights advocates—particularly those in the Legislature—strenuously objected, complaining that the vaccination was made mandatory rather than elective (although parents could opt out by signing an affidavit) and that adolescent girls were being immunized against a disease that is sexually transmitted. Longtime Perry critics rolled their eyes at the unsurprising revelation that the governor’s office had been lobbied by his former chief of staff Mike Toomey, now a lobbyist for Merck, the first drug company to market an HPV vaccine. But beyond the politics-as-usual reactions lay the larger issue of the extent of gubernatorial power. If a governor can do what Perry is attempting—establish a program that costs $71 million, including $29 million in state funds—the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches will be forever altered.