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Why You Can’t Blame TMA for Endorsing Perry

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Gov. Rick Perry picked up a key endorsement earlier this week from the political arm of the Texas Medical Association.

The endorsement wasn’t a huge shock. TMA, which represents more than 40,000 doctors, has been tight with Perry since 2003, especially on tort reform issues. 

But it wasn’t an easy choice. TMA has also endorsed Kay Bailey Hutchison every time she’s been on the ballot. On TMA’s core policy issues, there isn’t much difference between Perry and Hutchison. The doctors’ group might have endorsed Hutchison or taken the easy path by sitting the primary race out and waiting to make an endorsement until the general election.

David Reynolds, the director of political education for TEXPAC (TMA’s political arm), told me the group considers both candidates “friends.” One advantage for the governor is that “Perry has been a friendly incumbent.”

It’s clear not everyone in TMA’s leadership is thrilled with the Perry endorsement. Quorum Report wrote earlier this week that the vote by TMA leaders to endorse Perry wasn’t unanimous. A group of present and past leaders at TMA have broken ranks to support Hutchison by forming a group called Physicians for Kay.

But no one should be angry with the Perry endorsement. TMA had no choice. Endorsements are political decisions, and this one was good politics.

For one, it’s always wise to support — as Reynolds put it — a friendly incumbent. But it’s larger than that.

Perry isn’t just any incumbent. He’s an incumbent who will carve your guts out if you cross him.

Let’s flashback to 2002. TMA leaders were angry that Perry had vetoed a favored bill, and they endorsed Democrat Tony Sanchez for governor.

After Perry crushed Sanchez, the governor took revenge on TMA. As the well-told story goes, Perry’s people pressured TMA to let go long-time lobbyist Kim Ross. The message from the governor’s office was clear enough.

On the other side, I don’t get the sense that Hutchison — if she were elected — would play hardball in quite the same way.

I suspect that if Hutchison is elected governor, she won’t take revenge on the groups who endorsed Perry. She’ll probably forgive and move on.

But had TMA endorsed Hutchison or stayed neutral, and Perry had won anyway….well, we’ve seen that scenario before.

So you can’t blame TMA for endorsing Perry. It was just good politics.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.