WASHINGTON -- When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) took friends, fellow legislators or campaign donors to his hunting camp, they passed the word "Niggerhead" painted on a rock. As the Washington Post reported Saturday, "Niggerhead" stood for the long-ago name of the Perry family's hunting camp.
Perry told the Post that the name had been blotted out with paint as soon as his father leased the property, the rock turned over to hide the traces of it. But the newspaper found multiple sources and some photographic evidence to contradict that claim:
The name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock -- lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint -- remained by the gated entrance to the camp.
The Post story did not suggest Perry was an outright racist. Indeed, in the wake of the piece, several politicians -- including Democrats -- defended the governor against charges of racism. And Perry only has so much control over what other area residents call the property. But the story brought renewed attention to what many claim is the governor's pattern of indifference -- or at least tone deafness -- on the subject of racism.
Critics charge that while Perry has appointed minorities to the upper reaches of government, he has used language with historically racialized undertones in speaking to Tea Party concerns over states-rights issues. The governor has also largely ignored allegations of racism on the part of at least one subordinate, foes say, and on one occasion was accused of racial insensitivity himself.
Perry's trouble with the subject of race has flared up from time to time since he first won statewide office as Texas' agriculture commissioner in 1990. The following year, according to news accounts at the time, a businessman and his son accused an assistant commissioner of telling them in a meeting: "We already have one nigger [who submitted a loan application]. We don't need another."
The assistant commissioner, Dick Waterfield, denied the charge, telling the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, "I don't know whether or not I've used that word, but I didn't say it. You know I have people on my staff that are black."
The businessman and his son signed a sworn statement affirming their recollections and offered to take a polygraph test. Another businessman who was at the meeting told the Star-Telegram that Waterfield indeed used the racial slur.
The incident gave Perry an opportunity to come out firmly against the assistant commissioner's language. Instead, he sided with Waterfield and accused the businessmen and his son of fabricating the incident to secure a loan. "I consider what this guy's trying to do for the sake of a loan is absolutely repulsive," Perry said told the Star-Telegram. "We don't use that kind of language over here at the Department of Agriculture. ... We don't condone that, period."
Eventually, Waterfield resigned over the affair, yet Perry continued to defend him. "Dick is an honest man of incredible integrity," he said, according to reports. "I share in his disgust at these allegations."
Two years later, Perry came under fire for his own use of racially insensitive rhetoric. At a news conference, he complained about lawsuits in the Rio Grande Valley, saying, "Every Jose in town wants to come along and sue you for something." Perry expressed surprise that people took offense at the remark, delivering the following non-apology: "If anyone took that as a racial slam, they were certainly misreading it."
As Texas' lieutenant governor in 1999, Perry helped derail a hate-crime bill. Later, as governor, he fought to scuttle the hate-crimes bill named for James Byrd Jr., though he ultimately signed the measure into law. He also vetoed a proposal that would have required Texas judges to take sensitivity training.
Meanwhile, Perry has shown what critics deem an undue amount of sensitivity toward groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques and memorials from public property," Perry wrote in a March 2000 letter to the SCV.
In 2009, Perry offered his support to a bill in the Texas legislature that affirmed states' rights, a hot-button topic in the South given the historical invocation of such rights to defend segregation and other Jim Crow laws.
State Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman has repeatedly spoken out against Perry's Tea Party rhetoric on similar grounds. In an August 2010 press release, Coleman condemned the governor for "using African-Americans as a wedge." "Rick Perry wants racial division," he said flatly in an interview with HuffPost. "Rick Perry is a divider. It's true."
More of the governor's opponents have denounced his tilt toward the Tea Party as political opportunism and suggested that race was a factor. "Why was this not an issue until we had a black president?" asked Democrat Jim Dunnam, a former state representative and current fellow at the Texas First Foundation, told HuffPost. "I don't know why we didn't do this under Bush when we really had an attack on individual liberties. I think it was politics."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that Governor Perry's father had purchased the hunting camp. Perry told the Washington Post that his father leased it.
More details on Rick Perry in 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.