When Rick Perry told the Des Moines Register he felt "called" to run for president, he wasn't exactly the first Texan to claim a landline to god. George Bush famously related to Mahmoud Abbas that god had told him to invade Iraq and that if Abbas didn't act quickly on a peace plan for the Palestinians god might give Bush other jobs. When it comes to sorting through presidential timber, god's judgment appears to show some weaknesses. Whether she likes it or not, the Christian god is getting credit for a lot of weird things down here in the Lone Star state.
As the legislature was trying to figure out how to deal with a $27 billion dollar budget deficit, Governor Rick Perry made it an emergency measure to pass a sonogram law. The legislation, which was successful, requires women to undergo a sonogram if they are seeking an abortion. The doctor is then forced by the law to describe what he sees and to ask the woman if she wants to examine the sonogram or hear the heartbeat. At the signing ceremony, Perry brought in the bill's senate sponsor, Republican Dan Patrick, who told reporters this wasn't about politics and it was a "god" issue. A few dozen pro-life types had been invited to the governor's reception room and one of them asked Patrick if there was anything that could be done for the women who had already "killed babies with abortions."
"The good news, the good news," Patrick was almost weeping as he repeated the evangelical phrase, "is that there is hope of redemption for those women through the blood of Jesus Christ."
The church (Christian) and the state are Siamese twins in Texas.
Patrick, who has been an instrumental ally for Perry's more extreme political accomplishments, walked out of the Texas Senate Chamber when it started its daily session with its first Muslim invocation in state history. The man who led the drive to have government intrude in the lives of women with problem pregnancies, is, like Sarah Palin, is a former sportscaster. Not too many years ago Patrick painted himself and a room blue and put on a big blue foam hat to yell at the TV during Houston professional football games. (Culture czar in a Perry administration?)
Perry, though, had already demonstrated a facility for messing with the lives of young women. In 2007, he signed an executive order requiring all sixth grade girls to get a shot vaccinating them against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. The governor, however, was being neither thoughtful nor progressive; he was being politically expedient. Merck manufactured the vaccine and the pharmaceutical company's lobbyist at the time was Mike Toomey, a Perry friend who has made millions getting the Texas legislature to bend to corporate will. Unfortunately, in this case, Christian conservatives wailed against the governor's order and the legislature tossed it out. One GOP lawmaker even asked, "Does the governor think my daughter is a slut?"
The HPV rule was a perfect vehicle for Perry's religious and political beliefs. He was able to cloak the intrusive nature of the bill under the guise of caring about young people while also making a lot of money for his lobbyist friend and a major drug company, which was likely to deliver large donors to any presidential campaign. Perry exhibits, as do many of his conservative consorts, a most fundamental of all contradictions: They are able to stand on stages and howl about government intruding in our lives and businesses but are quick to use the power of government to intrude when it serves their politics and profits.
These political expressions of god and faith, and, in Perry's case, Jesus, conveniently ignore "the least amongst us." Perry and his politics are determined to protect a child in the womb but they don't do a hell of a lot for that kid once he or she starts walking in the world. According to the Texas on the Brink report, produced by State Senator Elliot Shapleigh and the Legislative Study Group of the Texas House of Representatives, the land south of the Red River has the highest percentage of children without health insurance of any state in the union. In fact, 6.1 million people, 28 percent of the state's population, the largest share in the U.S., is uninsured. We are also 4th in the percentage of children living in poverty and 34th when it comes to full immunization.
There is no argument to be made that Rick Perry does not own this grim real estate. He has been governor for more than a decade. The fact that Texas ranks 50th among people over 25 with a high school diploma is his problem as much as it is the electorate's that put him into office. Texas on the Brink indicates we are 45th in SAT scores and the way we got there is because Texas ranks 47th on the amount of money it spends on each public school student. Things will, however, get worse. To balance the state's $27 billion dollar budget deficit, (why does that exist if we have made most of America's new jobs?) Perry and the legislature cut $4 billion dollars from the two- year budget. An additional $1.4 billion was eliminated by ending grants for pre-kindergarten and at risk students while also reducing state contributions to teacher pensions and health care. A teachers' group called the educational budget cuts a "planned failure" for children.
If you happen to be an ethnic child in Texas, you are in a tough situation living under Perry's Lone Star. 66 percent of Latino children and 59 percent of black children live in low-income families, compared to 25 percent of white children. Texas offers almost no help to change these circumstances. Parents making even poverty level incomes do not qualify for Medicaid under state standards, if they have two children and earn more than $4,942.70 in one year, (less than $100 bucks a week for those of us slow with math). This is a big problem when 4.26 million people, almost a fifth of the state's population, lives in poverty.
This, then, is Rick Perry's theology: by word you can claim to be a man of faith and care for others but by actions your truth is known. Texans have always been slightly deranged in terms of their politics but we are now almost certifiable with our continued election of Perry. What the rest of the country will learn with his political ascension is clearly described in the movie Blood Simple. The Coen Brothers' 1984 film is about a Texas bar owner who is convinced his wife is cheating on him. The opening monologue explains the Texas social and political ethos.
"Now in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else-- that's the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas...And down here... you're on your own."
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