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Three days into his official presidential bid, and Rick Perry’s website isn’t much to brag about. It doesn’t even have a section on issue positions. Just the basics—who he is and how to give money.

But don’t worry. Rick Perry already ran one of the most innovative campaigns in recent memory last year, combining old-school grassroots organizing with social media. His website was a key piece in the strategy—a strategy that seems particularly well suited to running in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I outlined the story in my profile of Perry’s general consultant and chief strategist, Dave Carney:

Heading into Perry’s 2006 reelection campaign, Carney picked up a book to read on a plane—Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. When he finished reading he promptly ordered copies for everyone he worked with. Then he called one of the authors, Yale political scientist Donald Green. Like many others who read the book, Carney was shocked by its findings: That old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning is the most efficient way to turn out voters. Volunteer phone calls are pretty good too. But television ads, mailers and robocalls—the mainstays of modern campaigns and moneymakers for political consultants—have virtually no impact on voter turnout.

Carney invited the two authors, along with a couple other professors, to run experiments on Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign. When they returned with the same findings, Carney and the Perry team decided that in 2010, they would throw the playbook out the window.

For the 2010 primary against the popular and well-financed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry’s team created “Home Headquarters.” (You can still see the old page at Perry’s current website.) Those who signed up agreed to identify 12 Perry supporters and get them out to early voting. The campaign offered door prizes like lunch with former quarterback Troy Aikman or tacos with country music star Pat Green. The campaign held off on television ads until just before election day, and they even charged for yard signs. Through reaching out online, the campaign continued to build supporters, and then quickly got them recruiting others. The website functioned as its own headquarters of sorts, offering tips on reaching out and giving luddites lessons in using Facebook and Twitter. Unlike the Obama campaign’s famous website, the Perry campaign focused not on fundraising but getting people to turn out to vote. The entire effort was a resounding success.

Perry’s team would be well-situated to take their strategy national. It has a natural connection to states like Iowa and New Hampshire, where small town politics rule the day. Having a well-organized network of supporters, each of whom operates somewhat independently, would almost certainly give the campaign an advantage, but few campaigns have been willing to try such a tactic. Perry’s 2010 campaign was, in many ways, unique. “Putting quite a lot of money into grassroots organizing, especially early grassroots organizing, is something that was not done in years past,” said Donald Green, one of the Yale professors who studied Perry’s 2006 campaign and considers the 2010 strategy a “bold new model.”

And should the Perry team recreate their home headquarters for a national audience, they’ll have plenty of people to turn to. For over a year now, wherever he’s been, Perry has asked audiences to text “FIRED UP” to a phone number. At this point, having criss-crossed the country recruiting businesses to move to Texas and speaking as the head of the Republican Governor’s Association, Perry’s bound to have talked to a lot of people in a lot of cities. And that means a lot of cellphone numbers.

Meanwhile, his chief competitors are hardly innovating online. Michele Bachmann’s site has the requisite links to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube links. You can sign up to get email updates or click to donate money. But outside of a few web videos, the site is hardly what you’d call interactive.

Romney’s site has a promising icon for “Action.” Click it and you come to a page with four options: fundraise, gear up, donate and volunteer. Unfortunately, not a single one of these options has a link. You may want to volunteer but there’s no clear way to do it. You can start an account under the dorkily-named “myMitt” program shamelessly taken from Barack Obama’s also poorly named “myBO.” But unlike Obama’s social networking site, this has barely any instructions. Once you log-in, even the site’s donate button goes away. All you can do is create fundraising goals for yourself.

All three candidates have time to unveil innovative strategies for winning the primary, and right now, Perry’s path is possibly the least obvious. experience, combined with his campaign’s willingness to take risks, has already yielded   has been running in enormous state, against tough candidates

Rick Perry Takes The Lead – In Predictions Market

InTrade prediction market shows Perry as a frontrunner—which matters even if it's not true.

Despite a whole lot of chatter, Gov. Rick Perry has yet to actually announce that he is running for president. That means he can hardly fundraise at full capacity and he isn’t moonlighting in Iowa and New Hampshire. So you might not expect to see the headline: “Rick Perry To Be The Republican Presidential Nominee.

The banner comes from InTrade, a predictions market that takes odds on whether different things will happen. It allows you to buy and sell stocks on different predictions. And right now, the prediction that Perry will be the nominee is leading the way, currently valued more than such predictions for any of the actual, announced candidates. The news is particularly striking in light of the recent Rasmussen poll, which has Perry in a virtual tie with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and within striking distance of former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

By InTrade’s measure, Bachmann is slipping. The extreme Tea Party conservative peaked in early July, and even then, the site only showed her with an 18 percent chance of becoming the nominee. Now it’s down to 5.9 percent. Meanwhile Perry’s currently shown with a 35 percent chance, beating out Mitt Romney by almost five points.

Perry’s chart is striking. His stock value has more than doubled since the beginning of July. Except for a slight downturn last week, the governor’s value has been climbing pretty steadily. Despite taking some heat for his prayer rally and its advocates, Perry has plenty of people convinced that he’s the guy to beat. 

The news is important not because it’s necessarily accurate, but because it’s validating. Much like the polls, InTrade helps feed the notion that Perry can win, despite how long he’s waited to announce. The waiting is certainly a gamble—he’s avoiding some of the scrutiny the other candidates face and he doesn’t have to actually take anyone o head-on. But he’ll have to raise money fast and ingratiate himself quickly with Iowa and New Hampshire voters, who like to meet their candidates face-to-face. To raise enough money and initiate the necessary level of organization, Perry needs to remain a credible threat. The more Perry receives accolades, the more attention his non-campaign campaign gets, and the better his actual chances will be.

And predictions from InTrade can only help him. 

Is Tea Partier James White Under Assault From His Own Party?

Says establishment Republicans "had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again."

Rep. James White, the East Texas freshman and staunch Tea Party Republican, just discovered he will face a primary challenger—in the form of his current colleague, Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

Hamilton is in the midst of moving to Hardin County. Thanks to the new district lines that the Legislature just passed, that means both Hamilton and White, who lives in Tyler County, will face each other in a Republican primary to battle out who will represent District 19. Both men have confirmed they plan on running against one another. 

Hamilton says he’s been planning the move, and knew for certain before the House voted for the new districts. “It was before we voted for the maps and after the maps were already out,” he said. 

When the state House redrew district lines in the spring using the 2010 U.S. Census data, most newspapers reported that Hamilton had been “paired” with Rep. Allen Ritter, R-Nederland, meaning under the new lines, the two incumbents were now living in the same district. Redistricting is an inherently political process, and those in control (in this case the Republicans) are always trying to make the draw a map that will magnify the impact of their voters and minimize support for the opposition. It’s also an opportunity for the leadership to punish those members who have fallen out of favor.

That’s why the Ritter-Hamilton pairing was a bit of a surprise. “Pairing” was bound to happen with the Republican 101-seat majority; it would be very difficult to draw a map that protected all the incumbent Republican seats. But Ritter had helped give the Republicans their supermajority when he and another member switched parties before the Legislative session began. Meanwhile Hamilton has been a pretty consisten supporter for Speaker of the House Joe Straus. 

White, on the other hand, threw his lot in with the anti-Straus crowd. White, who’s African American, ran as a Tea Party candidate, and won an unexpected victory against longtime lawmaker Jim McReynolds. I actually profiled his race back in October. Upon arriving at the Capitol, joined 14 of the most conservative members of the House in voting against Straus for speaker (despite there being no opposition). Throughout the session, he was one of the most extreme conservative votes.

Hamilton has had a much longer tenure in the House than the neophyte White, and that will likely give him a campaign advantage when it comes to fundraising. On a more disturbing note, during White’s previous race, many speculated that he would have trouble overcoming racial prejudice in the district. While he won in the midst of a Republican wave, such prejudice could be more of an issue in a GOP primary against opponent. White, however, is optimistic about his chances. “I think we’ll be alright,” he said. 

Hamilton says for his part, the race will be a positive one, focused on what he can for constituents, and that Speaker’s race politics have nothing to do wtih his decision. He says he’s been planning on moving to Hardin County for a while now.

Hamilton says he thought his move was pretty public. But turns out White never got that memo. “I thought I was the only incumbent!” White said. 

He also says House leaders didn’t like having a supermajority because it “increased the level of responsibility and accountability.” Many moderate members referenced the unprecedented level of power that Tea Party groups and anti-tax groups like Empower Texans had around the Capitol. Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, could inspire fear in moderate Republicans with the threat of negative blogposts.

White argues that because the leadership disliked such scrutiny, the ultra-conservatives like him are under attack, rather than getting protection. “The establishment Republicans in the House, I do not think they like having 101 Republicans,” he said. “They had a mission to make sure we would never have a large majority again.”

This could get exciting. 

Interested in interning at the Texas Observer? Our interns assist in every part of the magazine process, from on-the-ground reporting to attending our weekly editorial meetings and monthly story meetings. They also assist in research for staff writers, helping with information requests, interviews etc. With a small staff like ours, interns quickly become part of the team and have a tremendous amount of flexibility to shape their experience at the Observer based on their own interest. Interns are free to pitch their own ideas for stories and online features. While there’s no guarantee of writing, almost all of our interns leave with clips. Many become freelancers for the magazine.

Ideal candidates have journalism experience, a basic knowledge of Texas politics and some familiarity with social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Any experience with computer programming or multimedia production is plus. While the internship is unpaid, we pay a freelance rate for those items appearing in the magazine. Intern hours are flexible, through no less than 15 hours per week. We are more than happy to help arrange academic or work-study credit when possible.

Our internships, roughly correspond with the school year—fall and spring semesters and the summer. We will happily take internship applications at any time, however we prefer to receive applications by the following deadlines:

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Monday was a rough day at the Legislature for education advocates trying to protect teacher contracts and assuage the $4 billion cuts to public schools. They lost on both fronts. But largely unnoticed were some minor victories contained in the school finance language of Senate Bill 1, a must-pass piece of legislation that the chambers must vote on by Wednesday, when the session ends. 

In broad strokes, the school finance deal contained in the bill barely differs from the deal that the House and Senate negotiated during the regular session, before it was derailed by a Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Despite the woefully unequal funding structure already in place, the plan cuts approximately 6 percent from all districts in the first year of the bienium and in the second year, takes three-fourths of the cuts from wealthier, “target revenue” districts. (For more on the plan, see here.)

Most importantly, however, the new plan represents a shift in funding philosophy. Instead of funding school districts automatically, based on how much our formulas say they need, the new system introduces a new factor into the equation that allows the legislature to fund districts based on what money is available. The shift would mean that for the first time since 1949, school districts could not count on the state to fund them fully year to year. Furthermore, in the first version of the bill, if a district’s needs changed during the year (for instance, if more students entered than were expected) the state was no longer obligated to settle up such costs.

State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that limited the changes to the next two years, after which school financing would revert back to the current system. After that, schools would once again get automatic funding. Furthermore, her amendment required the state to settle up with school districts that did not receive as much as they were entitled to. 

The final version of the bill—which will very likely pass today—includes the settle-up language and a watered-down expiration date. Instead of expiring in 2013, as Patrick’s amendment originally dictated, conference committee agreed to let the new school finance plan expire in 2015. That may not sound like much of a victory, but it’s one of the few areas where the special session has offered improvements to what would likely have passed during the regular session.

In other areas, there’s much less for education advocates to be excited about.

Monday the House and Senate both passed Senate Bills 2 and 8. Senate Bill 2 had once been a source of great hope for Democrats. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that said if the Rainy Day Fund exceeds $6.5 billlion, up to $2 billion of surplus money would go toward public education. The maneuver earned Republican support because it did not actually spend Rainy Day money currently available. But the victory was short lived. Pressure from fiscal conservative groups soon scared many formerly supportive Republican members. The House ultimately asked negotiators to strip out the measure. When the bill came back from conference committee, the Howard amendment was gone, and the bill passed both chambers without the extra funds. It now seems like the $4 billion cut to the state’s school districts is all but written in stone.

Meanwhile, Democrats also saw one of their few legislative victories in the regular session go down in flames. The House and Senate passed Senate Bill 8, the so-called “mandate relief” legislation that makes it both easier and cheaper to fire teachers, as well as allows school districts to distribue furloughs and pay cuts. The bill, which was carried by Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro and House Public Education Committee Chair Rob Eissler in their respective chambers, gives greater power to school administrators and according to proponents, it will give school districts various options for cutting costs. It’s only fair, they say, given that the state is cutting funding.

During the regular session, however, teachers groups worked feverishly in a successful effort to kill the measure. For them, it represented an assault on contractual protections that teachers fought long and hard to gain. Shapiro never found the requisite two-thirds support to consider the bill on the Senate floor, while Eissler’s attempts to pass the thing fell victim to a series of technical points of order. The session ended without either chamber passing the measure, one of the few victories Democrats and teachers groups could claim. During the special session, however, the bill flew through both chambers and came out of conference committee without a hitch. 

In the face of losing the Howard amendment and seeing “mandate relief” passed, the victories in Senate Bill 1 will likely be cold comfort to many in education. But it may be the only comfort they get for a while.

When it comes to easy talking points for education advocates—protecting teacher contracts and assuaging the $4 billion in cuts to public schools—there’s going to be very little that’s easy to brag about when this special session ends. But largely unnoticed are some minor victories contained in the school finance language of Senate Bill 1, a must-pass piece of legislation that will likely come up for a final votes in both chambers today. 

In broad strokes, the school finance deal barely differs from the deal that the House and Senate negotiated during the regular session, before it was derailed by a Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Despite the woefully unequal funding structure already in place, the plan cuts approximately 6 percent from all districts in the first year of the bienium and in the second year, takes three-fourths of the cuts from wealthier, “target revenue” districts. (For more on the plan, see my story here.)

Most importantly, however, the new plan represents a shift in funding philosophy. Instead of funding school districts automatically, based on how much our formulas say they need, the new system introduces a new factor into the equation that allows the legislature to fund districts based on what money is available. The shift would mean that for the first time since 1949, school districts could not count on the state to fund them fully year to year. Furthermore, in the first version of the bill, if a district’s needs changed during the year (for instance, if more students entered than were expected) the state was no longer obligated to settle up such costs.

State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that limited the changes to the next two years, after which school financing would revert back to the current system. After that, schools would once again get automatic funding. Furthermore, her amendment required the state to settle up with school districts that did not receive as much as they were entitled to. 

The final version of the bill—which will very likely pass today—includes the settle-up language and a watered-down expiration date. Instead of expiring in 2013, as Patrick’s amendment dictated, the school finance plan is now set to expire in 2015. That may not sound like much of a victory, but it’s one of the few areas where the special session has offered improvements to what would likely have passed during the regular session.

In other areas, there’s much less for education advocates to be excited about.

Monday the House and Senate both passed Senate Bills 2 and 8. Senate Bill 2 had once been a source of great hope for Democrats in particular when state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, successfully attached an amendment to the House version of the bill that said if the Rainy Day fund exceed $6.5 billlion, up to $2 billion of surplus money would go towards public education. The manuever earned Republican support because it did not actually spend Rainy Day money currently available. But the victory was short lived. Pressure from vehemently fiscal conservative groups soon scared many formerly supportive Republican members. The House ultimately asked negotiators to strip out the measure. When the bill came back from conference committee, the Howard amendment was gone, and the bill passed both chambers without the extra funds. It now seems like the $4 billion cut to the state’s school districts is all but written in stone.

Meanwhile, Democrats also saw one of their few legislative victories in the regular session go down in flames. The House and Senate passed Senate Bill 8, the so-called “mandate relief” legislation that makes it both easier and cheaper to fire teachers, as well as allows school districts to distribue furloughs and pay cuts. The bill, which was carried by Senate Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro and House Public Education Committee Chair Rob Eissler in their respective chambers, gives greater power to school administrators and according to proponents, it will give school districts various options for cutting costs. It’s only fair, they say, given that the state is cutting funding.

During the regular session, however, teachers groups worked feverishly in a successful effort to kill the measure. For them, it represented a assault on contractual protections that teachers fought long and hard to gain. Shapiro never found the requisite two-thirds support to consider the bill on the Senate floor, while Eissler’s attempts to pass the thing fell victim to a series of technical points of order. The session ended without either chamber passing the measure, one of the few victories Democrats and teachers groups could claim. During the special session, however, the bill flew through both chambers and came out of conference committee without a hitch.

For teachers groups, the victories in Senate Bill 1 will likely be cold comfort. But it may be the only comfort they get for a while.

It was always going to be risky. When Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered a major fiscal bill at the very end of the regular legislative session, she forced Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session to deal with public education. At the time, she explained that she did so to try to prevent the proposed $4 billion in cuts to school districts and the impact to the school finance system.  “I did my part, the small part I could play, in stopping a failed public policy,” she told reporters that night. 

With less than two weeks left in the special session, we’ll soon find just how much of the public policy actually got stopped.  The special session forced the Republican-dominated House and Senate to reconsider the cuts to education and how those cuts would get distributed. Democrats and a few moderate Republicans worked hard to try to use the special to increase funding for schools and soften the long-term impacts the school finance system. They’ve had some success. 

But there was a downside to the special session too. By forcing a special, Davis opened a bit of a Pandora’s box. That included education bills Democrats had managed to halt in the regular session. When the governor called the special session, he specifically asked lawmakers to consider measures to “allow school districts to operate more efficiently.” That allowed the Legislature to revive so-called  “mandate relief” bills that make it easier to fire teachers and give school districts the right to furlough teachers and cut their pay. Teachers groups hate these bills. These proposals were dead until they were revived in the special session on education. They now appear likely to become law.

As the three main bills chug through the legislative process, we’ll soon find if the special-session gamble paid off.

The Howard Amendment

Most attention has gone to the Howard amendment—a move by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, to put more money into education. Perry has been adamant that the Legislature not spend any of the state’s Rainy Day fund on the 2012-2013 budget. Democrats have argued that instead of drastic cuts to education and healthcare, the Legislature should use more of the fund, which Comptroller Susan Combs has estimated will have $6.5 billion available for the upcoming biennium. Howard’s amendment, attached to Senate Bill 2, does not spend any of the money currently in the fund, but instead directs up to $2 billion in new accumulations to go to public education. The $4 billion in cuts to schools remain, but under Howard’s plan, gains to the Rainy Day fund would help close the gap.

But while Howard had the votes to attach her amendment to the House version of SB 2, it will require a two-thirds vote from both chambers to implement the measure. Furthermore, some House Republicans who initially passed the bill are now faltering in their support; 87 House members voted for a non-binding recommendation that conferees on SB 2 should strip out the amendment before the bill comes back. The outlook appears bleak for the amendment. “That one’s not even on life support,” says Richard Kouri wryly.

“Mandate Relief” 

Kouri, the political director for the Texas State Teachers Association, was not excited about the special session. “We did not believe it was advisable unless there was a consensus that we actually could get to the budget and could get to the funding issue,” he says. “If we couldn’t get to the money we thought it was very problematic to go into a special session.” They weren’t the only ones. Another group, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, lobbied Democrats to avoid a special session on education.

That’s because the stakes of the special session were especially high for teachers groups. They successfully killed the controversial “mandate relief” bills during the regular session—one of their only victories during the session. Last week, both the House and Senate passed new versions of the legislation, which chips away at longstanding teacher protections. In addition to allowing furloughs and pay cuts for teachers, Senate Bill 8 also slashes the requirement that districts give teachers their termination notices at least 45 days before the end of the school year. Under the House version, school districts would have to give only 10 days’ notice. The bill gets rid of seniority protections and makes it easier and cheaper to fire teachers. 

Proponents of the bill argue that these are necessary tools for school districts that must balance their budgets with a lot less money from the state. But teachers groups have called it an assault on their profession. “It unravels about 25 years of contract safeguards and salary safeguards,” says Eric Hartman, the political director for Texas AFT, another teachers’ group.

Still, Hartman argues that, regardless of the filibuster, Perry would likely have called a special session to consider “mandate relief” legislation. “It was an illusion if anyone thought this would not come up whenever a special session was called,” he said. “It was pretty much a forgone conclusion that we would see a return of this attempt.”

Patrick Amendment

Unlike Kouri, Hartman is more positive about the special session. Texas AFT openly supported Davis’ filibuster, and has used the special session to hold a lobby day at the Capitol for its members. For evidence of the good to come out of the session, Hartman points to the Patrick amendment—a lesser known effort with one of the biggest potential payoffs for schools. 

As I’ve written before, cuts are not allowed under current school finance law, so the Legislature must pass new measures to allow for decreased funding. The proposed school finance plans fundamentally alters the philosophy around education funding. Instead of automatically funding schools based on pre-determined amounts per child, the plan gives the Legislature the ability to fund schools based on how much the state has that biennium and wants to give. Instead of an obligation, school funding would no longer be automatically funded funded. School districts could no longer trust that they would get the needed amounts from the state.

Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington. Patrick, in conjunction with Democratic school finance guru Rep. Scott Hochberg, crafted an amendment to Senate Bill 1 to limit such long term impacts. While the plan remains in place for 2012-2013, the Patrick amendment effectively sunsets the plan. In two years,the education funding would revert to current law. The Patrick amendment has bipartisan support. If it survives the conference committee process, the measure will be a major step towards keeping school finance intact. Had there been no filibuster, the Senate would have very likely joined the House in voting to make the education funding changes permanent.

Overall, however, Kouri doesn’t seem optimistic. “Right now it certainly doesn’t seem like the special session is going well for teachers,” he said.

Hartman sees it differently. Whatever legislative outcomes the session yields, he argues it’s helped put the spotlight on the Legislature, allowing more of the public to get invovled or at least get educated about the issues. “This is a very long struggle we are dealing with,” he explained. “The next step is to head to the voting booths.”

The Response

Lord help us.

In a parking lot, behind a nondescript, beige building, the young man stands out as heartbreakingly earnest. In a black t-shirt, with a bit of stubble around the chin, the looks out and begins the litany. “Economic collapse,” he says. “Injustice. Violence.” Suddenly, in the same parking lot, an even younger, more fragile looking adolescent appears. “Perversion,” this one says. “Division. Abuse.”

And so begins the video, imploring viewers to partake in “The Response”—Gov. Rick Perry’s Aug. 6 gathering for Christian worship and fasting at Reliant Stadium, home to the Houston Texans. There’s been a lot about the event, which the website describes as “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.” But have you seen the video advertising it?

Throughout the two-minute web-video, 15 different people appear on the screen, all of decidedly different ages and ethnicities. Even the background changes—from the parking lot to a classroom, inside a house with framed photos on the wall, in a field near a feeder. Everyone featured is deeply perturbed, as at first they reel off their concerns, which come to include “terrorism” and “natural disaster.”

Then things take a personal turn. “I just want my children to be happy,” says one woman looking into the camera. “To get a job when I graduate,” says our t-shirt-clad young man. “For my daddy to love me,” says a little girl with messy hair.

The abrupt shift—just in time to cue a nice techno beat—is one of the major elements in this entire event. The gathering attempts to connect both large-scale concerns with deeply personal worries. The event aims to move from the general to the specific, and in doing so, it invites any attendee to project whatever their own concerns are onto a welcoming canvass. A very pious, Christian canvass that is.

Because, while “The Response” may be about anything, it’s not for just anyone. While Perry is listed as the “initiator” of the event, the American Family Association will be bearing the costs of the gathering. Listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, AFA is known for its extremist views against gays and non-Christians. The event is specifically geared toward Christians. The website details the AFA’s belief that salvation requires belief in the Holy Spirit, and in an interview with the Texas Tribune, AFA president Tim Wildmon explained that “Those who don’t [believe] go to hell.” The Anti-Defamation League and Council on American-Islamic Relations have both spoken out against the event.

Meanwhile, speculation grows that Perry may make a late presidential bid, the governor is out in front. In a public letter on the site, he urges people to “call upon Jesus to guide us.”“There is hope for America,” he writes. “It lies in heaven and we will find it on our knees.”

Rick Perry’s week-long national coming out party is well underway—and so far the governor seems to be working some magic.While he has yet to actually toss his hat (or better yet, a lock of his hair) into the ring, Perry has said he’s considering the idea, and he’s giving every sign he’s serious. From Los Angeles, where Saturday he addressed an anti-abortion rally, to New York, where he spoke last night at a Republican dinner, Perry has managed to package his usual stump speech into some nice national clothing. It wasn’t much of a leap. He’s spent much of the last two years railing against the federal government in defense of states’ rights, and it seems now he’s ready for primetime. 

Actually maybe not. Perry may have brought down the house with his New York speech, but according to Politico, afterwards, Perry and the Texas First Lady flew out the kitchen exit, avoiding the waiting press gaggle.

In fact since becoming a buzzworthy could-be candidate, Perry’s only major interview was with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, who’s not exactly Woodward or Bernstein. “Methinks they think you’re the guy,” Cavuto mused Tuesday when Perry came on the show. For the most part, Cavuto let Perry extoll the virtues of the “Texas model”—low taxes and pro-business approaches. When Cavuto asked how Perry had lured Carl’s Jr. restaurants to Texas, the governor flashed a trademark smile. “They love the smell of freedom,” he explained. Public policy via olfaction! Perry even got in a couple plugs for his book, Fed Up! before heading over to Glenn Beck’s stage for an ostensibly unscripted moment. “How many jobs did you create?” Beck asked as he finished drawing a chalk portrait of Perry. “Since June 2009, about 48 percent of all the jobs created in America were in Texas,” Perry responded—before walking off set.

The job-creation theme has been big as media outlets have focused on Perry’s potential strengths as a candidate. “In recent months, Mr. Perry has been talking up his success in Texas adding jobs in the face of a tough economy,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “Many activists in the Republican Party have pined for a dark-horse candidate to enter the field, which they believe is lackluster in order to give the GOP a jolt of enthusiasm,” wrote D.C. insider’s paper The Hill. Bloomberg News began their piece on Perry with the headline: “Texas Governor Calls for Halt of Economic Ruin.” Glad someone did.

Nowhere was a mention of the unprecedented fiscal crisis still plaguing the state that Perry oversees. While legislative efforts have spilled into a special session to determine just how to make controversial cuts to education, the governor seems far removed from the mess. There are the allegations that he’s used the Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund as slush funds for pet projects. And few stories mentioned Perry’s controversial role planning “The Response,” a Christian prayer gathering he’s organized in partnership with the vehemently anti-gay American Family Association, which has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Even when it comes to job creation, this is hardly a flawless record; the San Francisco Chronicle was one of the only places to mention that most of the jobs created in Texas are low wage.

It’s certainly understandable why the press isn’t kicking the tires a little harder. After all, Perry isn’t officially in the race. But, as he told Cavuto, he may decide very late to join in the fun—which will hardly leave the press much time to investigate Perry’s record. 

And it will fall to the national presscorps to step up the scrutiny; the GOP candidates will hardly be in a place to question Perry. After all, his ultra-conservative bona fides make Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney look like raging moderates—hardly the image they want to present. Poking the Texas governor might heighten the comparison between rightwing and center, which could easily just benefit Perry.

If Perry decides to wait and jump in at the last minute, he may find the pathway to a GOP nomination fraught with little scrutiny. That is unless the presscorps start staking out the kitchen exits.

The Legislature has provided no shortage of what-the-hell-are-they-thinking moments the past six months. But late Thursday night (well, early Friday morning) during a House floor debate, we saw perhaps the most bizarre moment of all—a glimpse inside the mind of Wayne Christian. 

The House had been debating a package of school finance and fiscal bills. Democrats had their biggest win of the special session when Austin Democrat Donna Howard attached an amendment that requires surplus money in the Rainy Day Fund—as much as $2 billion—to go toward public education. But Christian stole the show when he offered an amendment near midnight that  forbid state universities from spending public dollars on a “gender and sexuality center or other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning or other gender identity issues.” (At least he was pretty inclusive in his discrimination.) That meant not only could state dollars not be used to support such centers, but, according to Christian, gay student groups couldn’t even meet in campus buildings.

Earlier in the session, Christian had offered a similar, though less restrictive, amendment and successfully attached it to the state budget. The amendment passed with 110 votes, but later got stripped out of the bill in negotiations with the Senate. So on Thursday night, the Republican from the East Texas town of Center brought to the floor an even harsher version. 

Despite its obvious anti-gay bias, the amendment had a chance to pass. Though many members no doubt found the amendment odious, few were willing to vote against it. In April, the less-harsh version won 110 votes, including support from 11 Democrats.

This time, though, they didn’t have to take a public vote. Christian pulled the amendment down when Democrats threatened to torpedo the entire bill with a point of order that Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, presumably had ready for a moment like this. 

This entire line of thinking—shut down the LGBT centers groups—might lead a number of readers of this particular publication to wonder “What the hell is was this guy thinking?”

For once, we actually got a sense of just what he was thinking. And it wasn’t pretty.

Before he actually pulled down the measure, Christian took the stage to express his own baffled amazement at the people before him—people willing to gut the entire bill rather than risk a blatantly discriminatory amendment getting tacked on. His speech, however, was more than about the amendment itself. It was some insight into a worldview that’s increasingly present in the Texas Legislature—a vehement social conservatism, responding to the various social revolutions in this country. (The entire text of Christian’s speech is below.)

Christian began, not by talking about sexuality at all, but about racial politics. “I’m one fellow that was racially discriminated against,” he said. “See back in the ’70s I was on the first team in basketball at … high school my sophomore and junior years. We integrated my senior year, and I rode the bench because I couldn’t play as good as they did. ‘Cause white boys couldn’t jump.

“So,” he concluded, “I received discrimination.” Let’s put this in context. His school was integrating. You know—because the town had been segregated so white children got a disproportionately better education. Christian apparently feels he “received discrimination” because he “couldn’t play as good as they did.” If you missed the part of this anecdote in which Christian actually endured discrimination, you’re not alone.

Christian wasn’t done however. He began telling the chamber how he worked on the Human Services Committee “to address the human service question of taking care of the poor and needy.” For the record, Christian championed the ultimately failing effort to drain the System Benefit Fund, which provides electric bill assistance to poor and elderly Texans. But Thursday night—well Friday morning by this point—Christian was explaining that despite all his efforts to help these poor creatures, human services is “just a place where there’s such a high wall of misunderstanding, prejudice, distrust that we can’t get over that fence.”

Still with no mention of the actual amendment or human sexuality, Christian then went on to the greatness of America. “The white people in Europe couldn’t do it. Black people from Africa couldn’t do it. White people from Canada, the Hispanic population couldn’t do it,” he said. “But when we all came together in this one place called America, the United States of America—we have 90 percent of the world’s wealth.” Eat your heart out, Sarah Palin. 

After expending quite a bit of energy, explaining he was a patriot and liked everyone “red or yellow, black or white,” Christian ended by saying he simply didn’t get how a good guy like himself was seen as hateful.”Every time I open my mouth and express ‘let’s equalize this,’ [people think] I’m prejudiced or I’m wrong or I’m tainted in my views and opinions,” he said.”I apologize to anybody in this session that I have ever said anything, done anything, expressed any way that would be prejudicial, discriminatory, wrong, hateful—anything. Because I’m sure my mouth does it. My wife reminds me regularly that it does.” Which makes us wonder what he says around the dinner table. 

Christian might have ended with a nice why-can’t-we-all-get-along? Instead, however, he finally got to the point. Those darn gay people, whose rights, for some reason, some reps were trying to protect. “I am just amazed that that is why we would pull down the entire bill in the State of Texas,” Christian said, noting that neither the cuts to school finance or health and human services had caused as much havoc. “It was because we didn’t want to continue expressing training in our higher institutions for alternative lifestyles,” Christian said. “I am dumbfounded with that one.”

By the end of that speech, I have a feeling he wasn’t the only one dumbfounded.

 

Here’s the full text of Christian’s speech in all its glory:

Members let me first apologize for burning so much of your time this evening. It’s not my desire to delay to getting home to your families, getting home to whatever, doing whatever. And it is most certainly not my desire to kill a days of hard diligent sincere dedicated work that all of us have participated in. I don’t intend to do that.

Came here about 15 years ago… I came here 15 years ago mostly because I had the honor of being elected by constituents. But I remember I came because one night, one Christmas Eve night, my wife worked at Perry Brother’s variety store. I was there. There was a young single mother that was crying with her child because she couldn’t afford to buy toys. I was very concerned about that. Good Lord got better to me and Lisa, we got married and he gave me enough success that I could come here and do what all of you do and leave our families. And I came with the attitude that there needed to be a better way. I was raised in a school that was largely minority, I lived in a district that represents probably one of the highest Hispanic populations in the state next to the Valley. I’m one fellow that was racially discriminated against. See back in the 70s I was on the first team in basketball at [inaudible] high school my sophomore and junior years. We integrated my senior year  and I rode the bench because I couldn’t play as good as they did. ‘Cause white boys couldn’t jump. So I received discrimination. I grew up in a racially mixed community. To me equality is me saying the same thing to one, doing the something to the other. In my home, every race in the world you could think of, my children came home, spent the night, we graduated every kind of kid. It doesn’t matter, red or yellow, black or white. I believe that.

It amazed me when I got here to the Texas House and asked to be on the Texas Human Services Committee because I felt like we needed to do something about these poor single mothers in the state of Texas. I would keep saying what can we do for them? And they’d say give ’em more money, keep doing the same thing. And Einstein’s story that ya’ll have heard is that the mark of a true idiot is to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

I was asked at the Republican Caucus meeting down in San Antonio, when I raised my hand and asked the Speaker at that time… or the senior members, I said when are we going to address the human service question of taking care the poor and needy? And they said, “Oh Christian, we’ll handle that later. Different time, Different place.”

I guess my view is just somehow warped. I asked for the Human Services Committee and I didn’t know a freshmen could get their first committee assignment but I was amazed to get it. Found out it’s because nobody else wanted it. For three sessions we worked on human services and I found that it’s just a place where there’s such a high wall of misunderstanding, prejudice, distrust that we can’t get over that fence. And to this day fifteen years later, it’s still present. Tonight I brought an amendment that was requested of young people. I believe very simply—this is my warped opinion and evidently I must not meet the majority of understanding somewhere and I apologize for it. But let me say that what I believe is that equality is either everybody is either treated equally and equal means the same. But I don’t understand that if you teach, express, promote, fund, advocate this one view, then that’s okay. But if you don’t do that one and do the other, say the more traditional like I would believe values that I think were more responsible for building the values for our country, our our society, that’s somehow intolerant or wrong or somehow not equal. Or if you do them both equally, that’s not right either.

I don’t understand that and I apologize for my prejudiced in thinking everybody having equal or not expressing one side over another. To me that views as equality.

Let me say this in closing. I believe America is unlike any other place on planet Earth. The white people in Europe couldn’t do it. Black people from Africa couldn’t do it. White people from Canada, the Hispanic population couldn’t do it. But when we all came together in this one place called America, the United States of America. We have 90 percent of the worlds’ wealth. Listen to this. The second richest place on planet earth next to the united states is western Europe. that’s france and england, that bunch. that’s the second richest place on planet Earth. Do you know the absolute classification of people in the United States, we’re talking the poorest our government can classify, has more square footed heated area, eats more red meat, is more likely to drive a car, own a telephone and a television than the average citizen in the second richest place on planet Earth, Western Europe. There’s something right about all of us working together. And that’s what I bleed for. But it seems like the walls are so high every time I open my mouth and express ‘let’s equalize this,’ that I’m prejudiced or I’m wrong or I’m tainted in my views and opinions.

Folks I pray for the day that we actually can sit and discuss things and bring those walls of prejudice down. And I apologize to anybody in this session that I have ever said anything, done anything, expressed any way that would be prejudicial, discriminatory, wrong, hateful—anything. Because I’m sure my mouth does it, my wife reminds me regularly that it does. But folks, there is a better way of working together. And I hope to God one day we can find it together in this country. I do not want to destroy the day’s work.

I have been told that if I will pull my amendment, that then those that have objected to the amendment will pull down their point of order against Senate Bill one. I am just amazed that that is why we would pull down the entire bill in the state of Texas. Get this clear. Wasn’t over the inappropriate school finance. It wasn’t over not funding the needy and the human services agenda. it was because we didn’t want to continue expressing training in our higher institutions for alternative lifestyles. I am dumbfounded with that one.