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Cowboy Perry is Just Part of the Conservative Herd

Cowboy Perry is Just Part of the Conservative Herd

Photo: Cowboy Perry

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Just when you thought Americans have had their fill of Texas governors, Rick Perry has become a media darling since officially declaring his 2012 presidential bid earlier this month. He’s singled out as the man to beat in the Republican primaries; maybe even in next year’s general election. And the hype is not undeserved. I mean, he did beat the all-American Mitt Romney in Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll – conducted the same day Perry entered the race. And since his official debut, supporters and the opposition alike have enumerated the traits that make the Texas Republican a winnable candidate.

On Wednesday The Atlantic published an article titled “What Rick Perry Can Teach the GOP About Immigration.” In it Erica Grieder touts Perry’s “moderate record” on immigration as governor of Texas. I’ll admit that his background isn’t what I might’ve expected from a Texas politician.

As Grieder writes:

“In 2001, he signed a law allowing undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools to pay in-state tuition at Texas public universities. Last year he criticized Arizona’s strict new immigration enforcement law, and said that it wouldn’t be right for Texas. He’s called for a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship. Other than this year’s campaign against sanctuary cities, there is little in his decade-plus as governor to suggest that he has the appetite for a crackdown on economic migrants.”

Perry supporters like to present him as the Republican candidate from a border state with a large Latino population and who is a proven moderate on immigration with over a decade of experience. But there are some reasons to believe that Perry isn’t who he and his supporters say he is.

For one, it’s clear that his earlier moderate stance on immigration has given way to a tougher attitude, likely due to the nativist Tea Party movement that has the entire nation by the couilles (pardon my French).

This past June, Perry reinstituted his campaign to abolish sanctuary cities in the state of Texas. Traditionally, lower-level governments in Texas are allowed to establish their own law enforcement priorities. Some city and county governments then instruct their officers to lightly enforce federal immigration law by only going after dangerous criminals and threats to national security.

Nevertheless, Perry’s crusade has been sidelined by the Obama administration’s Aug. 18 memo instructing Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to suspend the prosecution and deportation proceedings for low-threat detainees. President Obama, with a few swipes of his pen, has just made the entire U.S. a sanctuary country (in theory). Now Perry must really win the White House if he wants to eliminate sanctuary cities.

Any moderation in Gov. Perry’s stance on immigration is not based on a notion of justice or multiculturalism, but on the billions of dollars earned by Texas businesses through the importation of cheap labor from south of the Rio Grande.

“Perry’s approach” writes Josh Harkinson this week for Mother Jones, “has been a shrewd blend of satisfying the tea party base by trumpeting the need to secure the border … while protecting his corporate donors from liability stemming from hiring undocumented workers.” Texas political consultant Dan McClung is also quoted in the same article as saying, “I don’t think he’s any different on immigration than he is on any other issue; he’s an extremely conservative guy. It’s just that immigration affects a hell of a lot of big businesses in the state.”

The harsh reality of Perry’s immigration policy seems clear: he supports moderate immigration reform, not for the benefit of the immigrant community, but for the benefit of big business.

I guess some Latinos might ask, so what? Maybe Latinos should opt to vote for the Texas governor who, despite his motives, is still a Republican who supports fairer immigration reform – something rarer these days than a vegetarian lion. Latinos should take what they can get, right?

Not so fast. We still can’t be sure what kind of policies Perry will enact once he’s sleeping in a White House bed. Just look at his career.

When Gov. Perry started his political career as a Texas state representative, he’d been a lifelong Democrat. His father had been a lifelong Democrat too, serving as a county commissioner and school board member. But then Perry switched teams, becoming a Republican in 1989. How does that happen? It’s like something Seinfeld creator and writer Larry David once said about Jews converting to Christianity: “You guys come to our side; we don’t go to your side. Jews don’t convert.” That’s right. Liberals and moderates don’t become Republicans; conservatives are converted.

Maybe Perry simply wanted to be on Texas’ winning team. More and more it looks like he’s just an opportunist.

On Friday he signed the National Organization for Marriage pledge to support a constitutional ban on gay marriage. This most recent maneuver is simply another in Perry’s long line of reversals on gay marriage.

Perry has been an outspoken advocate for the criminalization of gay sex and publicly criticized the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed Texas’ anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional.

Then in 2005, Gov. Perry signed a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. When gay veterans voiced their disapproval of the new amendment, Perry answered, “If there’s a state that has more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that’s a better place for them to live.”

Yet, in early July of this year, Perry semi-supported the state of New York’s legalization of gay marriage, saying the state’s move was “fine with me.” He tried backpedaling two weeks later, telling the anti-gay Family Research Council in a radio interview that “gay marriage is not fine with me.”

It’s evident that Gov. Perry will do and say anything to gain political favor with the voters. There’s no guarantee that if the idea to deport all illegal immigrants became overwhelmingly popular, Pres. Perry wouldn’t expel America’s more than 13 million undocumented citizens. It’s safe to say that given his track record as governor of Texas, were anti-immigrant and anti-Latino really to take hold under his watch, he would at least support measures that made life harder for immigrants and Latinos.

Once he’s sitting behind the Resolute desk, Perry would be a puppet of the people, which is practically unheard of in American politics and is not exactly what America wants in its president. Americans are afraid, angry, and hyper-political right now. We don’t need a mob leader; we need a mob wrangler.

Ironically enough, despite his cowboy persona, this Texan is more steer than wrangler.

Today’s contributor is Hector Luis Alamo, Jr. Hector is a freelance writer and community activist of Honduran-Puerto Rican descent living in Chicago. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. In 2007 he co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers, and has remained its main contributor. Since 2010 he’s been the Opinions editor for the Chicago Flame, and he also contributes periodically for Examiner.com as its Chicago City Buzz Examiner. He is currently working on his first book.