Perry Breaks with Big Business, Tx Republican Party and His Former Self

Perry's New Anti-Immigration Stance is More About Iowa than Texas.
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When news broke last week that Republican mega-donor and homebuilder Bob Perry and grocery store magnate Charles Butt had hired the high-dollar lobbying firm HillCo to kill or water down the controversial sanctuary cities bill, it seemed like a sure sign that the bill was dead.

There was once a time when Gov. Rick Perry wouldn’t dream of going against the wishes of big business. After all, this was the governor who, in 2003, essentially handed Bob Perry his own state agency.

perryphotoBack in the days before Gov. Perry’s aspirations for national glory, the two millionaires could have likely quashed the sanctuary city bill—which would have allowed police to check people’s immigration status—with a simple phone call.

But not this session.

When it looked like the legislation was going to die, Perry sent his legislative director, former Sen. Ken Armbrister, over to the Senate to twist some arms last weekend. Democratic Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, vice chair of the Finance Committee, said the Republican leadership threatened to kill his local water bill if he didn’t support the sanctuary city language in Senate Bill 1. Hinojosa told them “no deal.”

Apparently, Perry really, really wanted this legislation to pass, even though his friends in the business world, and some members from his own party didn’t want it. You also have to wonder if the Rick Perry of several years ago would have wanted this type of legislation.

Here’s the old Rick Perry in 2010 after Arizona passed its controversial anti-immigrant bill:

“I fully recognize and support a state’s right and obligation to protect its citizens, but I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas….For example, some aspects of the law turn law enforcement officers into immigration officials by requiring them to determine immigration status during any lawful contact with a suspected alien, taking them away from their existing law enforcement duties, which are critical to keeping citizens safe.”

Apparently 2010 is like 100 years ago in Perry years. The Rick Perry of 2011 is throwing a mighty fit because he didn’t get a similar, though weaker version, of an Arizona-type immigration bill passed this special session. On Tuesday, Perry even issued a press release chastising Republican Sen. Robert Duncan, the SB 1 conference committee chairman, for not adding the sanctuary city language to the spending bill. Talk about throwing your fellow Republican under the bus.

Perry isn’t doing his own state Republican Party any favors these days. Steve Munisteri, head of the state party, has been meeting with Hispanic groups across the state and spending money on outreach only to have Perry repeatedly champion a bill that the Hispanic community loathes.

If Perry had any doubts about how much they loathed it, those doubts were obliterated after the icy cold reception Perry received last week from Hispanic elected officials at the NALEO conference in San Antonio. One legislator, who asked to remain anonymous, but who has known the governor for many years, said the attention over whether Perry will run for national office has gone to the governor’s head. “He’s not the Perry I used to know,” the lawmaker said.

Maybe it’s because Perry’s heart really isn’t in Texas politics anymore. His relentless pushing of a ban on sanctuary cities seems more about the Iowa Caucus than Texas. “If Perry does run for president he’s homing in on Republican primary voters in Iowa, which has a vastly more Anglo electorate that leans more heavily social conservative than Texas Republicans,” says Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “It would play well to Iowa Republican caucus voters.”

Perry, like many of Texas’ business leaders, was once known as a relative moderate on immigration policy. He even once signed a bill to allow undocumented students to attend Texas universities. But his views are evidently evolving along with his national political ambitions. The fact that Gov. Perry pushed so hard behind the scenes for sanctuary cities—and even found himself at odds with Bob Perry over major legislation—is the surest sign yet that Texas’ longest-serving governor is planning a presidential run.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.