Texas Governor Rick Perry had a busy summer. In July, he told reporters he felt “called” to run for president. In August, he hosted “The Response,” a prayer rally that drew thousands of people to a Houston stadium. By September, he had thrown his Stetson hat in the ring and was leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
As a Latino, I’ve followed Perry’s swift rise to national prominence with interest. Among the major GOP contenders, only Perry hails from a state with a sizable Hispanic population, the nation’s second-largest. Unfortunately, Perry’s record on issues that concern the Latino community is very troubling. It makes me want to shout, “Not so fast, cowboy!”
Perry once seemed like a moderate amigo. He signed a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition rates for college. He called the border fence “nonsense” and said that an Arizona-style immigration law wouldn’t be a good fit for Texas.
More recently, however, Perry signed into law a voter ID act, which is likely to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. He approved a redistricting plan that undermines the voting strength of Latinos. His top priority in the last legislative session was pushing a failed “sanctuary cities” bill, aimed at making life harder for undocumented immigrants. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro called Perry’s recent record “easily the most anti-Latino agenda in more than a generation, without shame.”
So what changed? Perry’s ambitions. Now that he’s seeking national office, he’s throwing Latinos under the bus to gain support from the tea party and far-right conservatives. And things look even worse when we review the results of his 11-year tenure as governor.
Perry points to the so-called “Texas Miracle” of low unemployment and steady job growth as one of his chief accomplishments. True, unemployment in the Lone Star State is 8.4 percent, below the national 9.1 percent average. But the Latino unemployment rate in Texas is 9.9 percent, so Hispanics aren’t fully sharing in this economic success. What’s more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2010 Texas tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of workers earning at or below the minimum wage.
Perry opposes the Affordable Care Act and has pledged to repeal it if elected president. Ironic, considering the Texas Medical Association calls Texas the “uninsured capital of the United States.” A full 60 percent of Latinos in the state lack health care.
Perry’s education record is a disaster. In his last budget, he cut $4 billion from public school funding, even though Texas ranks 44th in per capita expenditures on students and 43rd in graduation rates. Still, Perry refused to raise taxes or tap the state’s rainy day fund. Latinos comprise a majority of students in Texas public schools. By underfunding his state’s school system, Perry is both limiting opportunities for Hispanics and negatively impacting the future of all Texans.
Perry is fond of mentioning that he appointed Texas’ first Latina Secretary of State, and the first Latina to the Texas Supreme Court. That’s the least he can do in a state that is nearly 40 percent Hispanic.
I find it disappointing that Perry has chosen to play to his conservative base. As the governor of a border state, he could’ve taken a leading role in advancing the stalled immigration debate and forged stronger ties with Hispanic Texans.
He may well regret that missed opportunity. Experts say Latinos may cast 8.7 percent of the country’s ballots next year, making our votes increasingly pivotal.