WASHINGTON - Rick Perry is big on exercise. And in 2007, he decided Texas public school students should be, too.
On Aug. 30, 2007, the Texas governor mandated 30 minutes of exercise a day for students, signing a bill that required each student to engage in "moderate or vigorous physical activity ... throughout the school year."
"This legislation will help make children healthier today for a healthier Texas tomorrow," Perry said at the time.
The mandate reflects a more aggressive view of the role of government than Perry has been sounding in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson, required students in kindergarten through fifth grade to perform 30 minutes of exercise per day. Students in grades six through eight were given the flexibility to do longer or shorter individual periods of exercise, as long as they met a target of 135 minutes over one week or 225 minutes over two weeks.
Perry's decision to mandate student exercise may be laudable to some. Perry cited the growing rates of obesity among Texas children -- and the rise in the risk of diabetes, heart disease, strokes and "even cancer" -- as the reasons for his decision.
But while the goal of physical fitness is an admirable one, Perry's decision to approve such a mandate goes somewhat against the grain of his anti-government rhetoric and his regular railing against government interference and intrusion in citizens' daily lives.
"Mandate" has become a dirty word to many conservatives since President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul included a requirement that individuals purchase health insurance. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, currently Perry's top competitor in the GOP primary, has been hounded by the inclusion of a similar mandate his own 2006 health care overhaul in the Bay State.
Perry's exercise mandate is also similar to first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to reduce childhood obesity. However, the White House has not required that public school students perform a certain number of physical fitness activities -- a big difference.
Nonetheless, the first lady's program -- which includes a healthy eating component that has essentially mandated that schools change their cafeteria menus -- has provoked outrage among some on the right, who see the initiative as a classic example of government meddling.
Perry has repeatedly invoked the need to get the government out of the affairs of its citizens as a central plank of his campaign for president.
"They clearly think that they know best," he said of D.C. bureaucrats during a speech in June, before he announced his candidacy. "And let me tell ya, I vehemently disagree. They don't know best."
Since he announced his run, Perry has repeatedly said one of his top goals as president would be to make the federal government "as inconsequential in your life" as possible. He does distinguish between intrusion by the federal government and that by state governments, but Perry's overall message is clearly one of as little government involvement in everyday affairs as possible.
Perry has already come under fire in the Republican presidential primary for another mandate that he approved in 2007, requiring that sixth- and seventh-grade girls in public schools be vaccinated against human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and is a leading cause of cervical cancer.
Perry pushed the HPV mandate hard, issuing an executive order that went around the state legislature. The legislature eventually voided his order. But Perry has been dogged by questions of impropriety in the matter because his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a top lobbyist for drug maker Merck, which was set to manufacture the HPV vaccine.
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