WASHINGTON--The day before Texas Governor Rick Perry issued his now-controversial executive order mandating the administration of the HPV vaccine, an aide sought "under the table" input on the deal, according to an internal email, an awkward turn of phrase given the charges of corruption that surround the mandated vaccination.
On February 1, 2007, Gregory Davidson, the governor's executive clerk, sent an email to other staffers soliciting final comments for Perry's executive order. In the email, he wrote, "If you've been working offline on some changes or under the table with someone else on this one, get your comments to me ASAP."
The Davidson email was included in emails released to several news outlets by the Perry administration as part of a public records request.
Davidson sent the awkward email to Perry's inner circle, which included top official Deirdre Delisi, deputy chief of staff Phil Wilson, communications director Robert Black and budget director Mike Morrissey. Among the email's recipients, five are lobbyists or former lobbyists. Four, including Delisi and Black, currently hold key positions in the Perry campaign.
Subsequent responses to Davidson's request have been redacted by the governor's lawyers.
The email could be a harmless query from a Perry underling, or it could be an unsubtle acknowledgement that the major players on this issue were doing much of their deliberating off-line, practicing, as Perry's opponents put it, "crony capitalism." Perry is absent from the email exchange, as is Mike Toomey, the governor's former chief of staff-turned-elite lobbyist, whose clients included Merck, the pharmaceutical company that stood to benefit from the vaccine mandate.
The governor's decision to issue the executive order has earned criticism from his fellow presidential candidates as an example of intrusive big government and the act of an unethical administration that lavished government contracts on politically connected companies. The order had mandated that young girls be vaccinated against HPV, which has been found to cause cervical cancer, though it did offer parents the chance to opt out. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann labeled the vaccine a "government injection" and has repeatedly highlighted Toomey's link to Merck.
Davidson is unwilling to comment on his email. He did not return multiple calls seeking clarification. A former Perry staffer who was on the email traffic says that whatever discussions they had were strictly above board. In fact, there was little debate on mandating the vaccine. "It was never an issue of not doing it," the staffer said. "We knew if you don't do the mandate, you don't get compliance. The mandate drives compliance."
Perry is unlikely to embrace the 'm' word or offer a straightforward answer on the controversial subject. At the start of his campaign in August, the governor conceded his executive order had been a mistake -- that it should have included an opt-in clause instead of the opt out. But in the first two debates, he championed the original opt-out rule before falling back to favoring the opt-in idea. At the last debate, he said he was lobbied by a 31-year-old woman with stage-4 cervical cancer before he issued the order. This turned out not to be true.
"I think he's trying to communicate to the American people his deep-felt belief in the issue of trying to protect the lives of young girls," says Perry insider Reggie Bashur.
What is clear from the email traffic on the executive order is Merck's lobbyists' involvement in implementing public policy.
If Toomey wasn't sending emails, his lobbying firm colleague Lara Keel was. Perry's staff appeared to work closely with the lobbyist on ironing out the number of participants, the costs of the program and its p.r. campaign. Three months before Perry issued his executive order, the Merck lobby is helping to draw up a defense.
On Oct. 31, 2006, Keel emailed the governor's assistant budget director, "I am attaching a map of the U.S. that details what states are covering the cervical cancer vaccine, as well as age groups etc." Keel wrote, "It's as of two days ago. I believe this is exactly the info you are looking for ... Let me know what else I can get to you."
Both Toomey and Keel did not return calls seeking comment.
The Austin American-Statesman found other examples of Perry's office working closely with Merck and being sensitive to the appearance of colluding with the company.
On November 7, the day Perry won re-election, the newspaper wrote that one adviser emailed Toomey and Keel the "projected costs of providing the HPV vaccine to low-income Texans."
The day before Perry signed the executive order, his assistant budget director emailed a prescient critique of the press release: "That first line sounds almost like a Merck commercial."
For more on Rick Perry, browse through the slideshow below:
In the beginning of Rick Perry's political career, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1984. As a freshman, he joined other fiscal conservatives in the "pit bulls," named after where they sat in the lower pit of the House Appropriations Committee. During the 1988 presidential primaries, he supported the candidacy of fellow Southern Democrat Al Gore and worked on his Texas campaign. Perry ended up voting for George H.W. Bush that year and, in 1989, he switched parties to become a Republican. Despite his party change, Perry has never lost an election, a record that goes back to elementary school. Following his three terms in the Texas House. Perry was elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 1990 and was re-elected in 1994. His background as the son of a cotton farmer and an animal science major at Texas A&M University undoubtedly helped his campaign. In 1998, Perry was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Texas. It was during this race that he had a falling out with GOP strategist Karl Rove which led to a reported rivalry with the George W. Bush camp. When Bush won the presidency in 2000, Perry ascended to become governor in December 2000. He has been re-elected to the position three times since, making him the longest continually-serving governor in the nation. Correction: An earlier version of this caption incorrectly stated that Perry was the chairman of Gore's Texas campaign.
August 26, 2011 Gov. Rick Perry signed a pledge to back a federal constitutional amendment against gay marriage - repudiating his earlier comments that marriage rights should be left up to individual states.
During Rick Perry's term as governor, Texas's curriculum wars made national news with reports about the state's conservative school board arguing over textbook content. While Perry has condemned the federal government's role in public schools, he does not seem to have a highly-articulated education policy of his own. Texas's technical graduation rate is the nation's lowest, but that figure includes students of all ages who have not completed high school (and Texas leads the country in the number of adults without high school diplomas). Education observers worry that massive funding cuts are a worse problem for Texas schools. Under Perry's veto threat, the legislature chose not to pay for student enrollment growth, instead underfunding education by $5.5 billion, prompting cuts in the state's teaching ranks. This has led to reports of overcrowding this school year. Aside from the budget cuts, Perry's administration wanted to help Wall Street investors gamble on how long retired Texas teachers would live. All they had to do was convince state retirees to let Swiss banking giant UBS buy life insurance policies on them. When the retirees died, those policies would pay out benefits to Wall Street speculators, and the state, supposedly, would get paid for arranging the bets. The families of the deceased former teachers would get nothing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas has created more jobs in the last year than any other state. These job openings have become known as the "Texas Miracle." In his February 2011 state-of-the-state address, Governor Rick Perry boasted: "Our economic strength is no accident. It's a testimony to our people, our entrepreneurs, and, yes, to the decisions made in this building. Employers from across the country and around the world understand that the opportunity they crave can be found in Texas, and they're headed our way, with jobs in tow." While this is a line the Americans people will be sure to hear often throughout the 2012 campaign, it may not be what it seems at face value. The Huffington Post's Jason Cherkis went to Texas and found rising unemployment, a glut of low-wage jobs without benefits, overcrowded homeless shelters and public schools facing billions in budget cuts.
Rick Perry is very open about his evangelical faith. In September, he told a crowd at Liberty University that he hadn't found his religion until he was 27. "My faith journey is not the story of someone who turned to God because I wanted to. It was because I had nowhere else to turn." Before he was a presidential contender, Perry spearheaded a 'Day of Prayer' rally in Texas. The Aug. 6 event at Reliant Stadium in Houston drew fire for the controversial views of some invited speakers and worried some that the line between church and state was being blurred. At the time, Perry insisted the event was not political but rather aimed at rallying the nation to a Christian unity during difficult times. While charity has long been a cornerstone of conservative social policy and Christian faith, a review of Perry's tax records from the mid-1990s through 2009 show the governor has contributed very little to charity. When he has, Perry has given mainly to charities connected to his family, and even then, his donations have sometimes been slight. For mor on the givings habits of the rest of the 2012 candidates, click here and scroll down.
Since Rick Perry became governor in 2000, he has overseen 234 executions - by far the most of any recent U.S. governor. According to the Texas Tribune, he has granted 31 death row commutations; 28 of those were the result of a 2005 United States Supreme Court decision banning capital punishment for minors. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham (pictured above) is one execution that will and should be scrutinized. Willingham was convicted in August 1992 for the murder of his three young children in a fire that was deemed an arson by investigators. While on death row, a frantic effort to prove his innocence resulted in a full report which questioned the scientific legitimacy of the evidence used to convict Willingham. That report made its way to Gov. Perry's office ahead of the zero hour, but no stay of execution was granted in order to consider the new findings. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004. The case - and Perry's aversion to re-examining or investigating it - has caused a backlash in Texas and beyond and prompted ongoing questions by the media. The execution of Duane Edward Buck also got attention, though the circumstances of the case were different. The controversy in Buck's case stems from potential malpractice that occurred during the sentencing stage of his trial.
Gov. Rick Perry is a man known for making some bold, controversial remarks. Secession: In April of 2009, Perry suggested the state of Texas could secede from the United States at a Tea Party rally. "We've got a great union," Perry said. "There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." In mid-August at an Iowa campaign event, Perry had harsh words for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. "If he prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," Perry said. Perry went on to say that if Bernanke printed more money, the act would be "almost treasonous in my opinion." Treason is a crime punishable by death. When he was later pressed about this comment, Perry stood by it. Through the course of his campaign, Perry has referred to Social Security as 'a monstrous lie', a 'Ponzi scheme' and a 'criminal enterprise'.
As governor, Rick Perry signed an executive order in February 2007 that required all girls entering sixth grade in Texas to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease and the principal cause of cervical cancer. The order included an opt-out for parents. For years, Perry stood by this controversial decision. Within hours of unveiling his campaign for president in August 2011, Perry began walking back the decision when talking to voters in New Hampshire. The vaccine order came up in Perry's GOP debate appearances. GOP rival Michele Bachmann said, "To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong." She also argued that Perry had a conflict-of-interest because one of his top staffers was a lobbyist for Merck, the drug company that manufactured the vaccine. the company had also given Perry campaign donations. In September, HuffPost's Jason Cherkis also reported that a Perry aide had sought "under the table" input on the HPV deal, according to an internal email. From Cherkis: The email could be a harmless query from a Perry underling, or it could be an unsubtle acknowledgement that the major players on this issue were doing much of their deliberating off-line, practicing, as Perry's opponents put it, "crony capitalism." Perry is absent from the email exchange, as is Mike Toomey, the governor's former chief of staff-turned-elite lobbyist, whose clients included Merck, the pharmaceutical company that stood to benefit from the vaccine mandate.
On June 16, 2001, Perry signed a bill, approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature, that allowed some undocumented immigrants to receive in-state rates on college tuition. Perry has remained a strong supporter of the measure, despite frequent criticism that it provides incentive for immigrants to enter the United States illegally. He has maintained that educating students who he says would otherwise end up on the government dole is consistent with his compassionate and fiscal conservative beliefs. The Texas governor has been repeatedly and publicly hammered by his 2012 GOP rivals for the measure. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann all took Perry to task for the policy during a recent debate, to which Perry responded by questioning if they had a "heart."
Forty former aides to Gov. Rick Perry have either left the administration to become registered state lobbyists or gone from the lobby into Perry's inner circle, some of them making multiple trips through the revolving door. A review of financial disclosures shows that during the past 10 years, former Perry staffers have raked in tens of millions of dollars in lobbying contracts and won lucrative state contracts for everything from private toll roads to a nuclear waste dump to the now infamous HPV vaccine mandate. Perry himself became a millionaire by taking part in profitable deals involving political allies and their businesses. Private deals involving campaign supporters are widely criticized as a potential form of backdoor donations or influence-buying, but they are usually legal. Even if they are perfectly legal, the transactions still raise questions about Perry's ethics.
Rick Perry has been slowly giving up ground on the primary lead he had immediately upon entering the contest in August. HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal reported that Perry never had a strong grip as frontrunner, and a poor, lackadaisical debate performance in Florida in late September helped ensure that it would be even more difficult to maintain his status. Perry has also drawn heavy scrutiny in the month of October following a report that a hunting camp he had leased had been known by the name "Niggerhead," which had once been painted across a rock marking its entrance. It's not Perry's first run-in regarding questions of racial insensitivity and the incident has undoubtedly guaranteed him a negative news cycle. Some commentators have said the report could even end up destroying his candidacy.
After weeks of railing on Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, Rick Perry proposed a grand economic plan of his, which includes the option for a flat tax rate of 20 percent. Perry described his plan, called "Cut, Balance and Grow," as a more aggressive option than the "microwaved plans with warmed-over reforms" of his competitors. In addition to the flat tax rate, the sweeping proposal would lower corporate tax rates, abolish the "death tax," eliminate the tax on Social Security benefits, add private accounts to Social Security, and make major changes to Medicare.
Rick Perry has struggled through nearly every GOP presidential debate, but the blunder during the CNBC debate Nov. 9 was big enough to jeopardize his entire campaign. The Texas governor blanked on stage and could not remember the third government agency he would cut if elected president. "So Commerce, Education, and, uh, the uh, um, um," said Perry. ""I would do away with the education, the um, Commerce, and let's see. I can't think of the third one. I can't. Sorry. Oops." Perry appeared on five morning shows the next day to defend the gaffe, and said he would not end his campaign. "I stepped in it last night," he told NBC's "Today." "I'm human like everyone else."
The Perry camp recieved an extremely negative backlash after releasing an anti-gay video titled "Strong." The video has received more than 700,000 "dislikes" on YouTube, compared with just 23,000 "likes." The controversial script, which criticizes the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and questions why children can't pray in school, even divided Perry's top campaign staff. Perry released the video as an attempt to court Iowa's influential evangelical voting block.
Perry's campaign struggled unsuccessfully to regain momentum. After a poor showing in the Iowa caucus, where he came in fifth place with just 10 percent of the vote, Perry announced he was going back to Texas to "reassess" the future of his campaign -- only to announce via twitter the next morning he would stay in the race, bypassing New Hampshire and staking his campaign on the socially conservative electorate in South Carolina. Perry's campaign was dealt another blow when a group of influential Evangelical leaders decided to endorse Rick Santorum.
After receiving mounting pressure from the Republican Party to drop out of the race and help conservatives coalesce around a single candidate, Rick Perry announced Jan. 19 he would end his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, days before the South Carolina primary. Perry endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "I ran for president because I love America," Perry said in his concession speech. "What's broken in America is not our people. It's our politics. And what we need in Washington is a government that's humbler." Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney praised Perry for his contributions to the country. "He's a great conservative and a great man," said the former Massachusetts governor. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio said America's loss is Texas's gain, local station KTAR reported. "I really have a lot of respect for him. I think it's a big loss to our country," he said. "But that's the way politics is and he'll still be the governor of Texas." Check out how others reacted to the news.