Perry For Prez?


campaign trail

It became clear pretty early on election night that Rick Perry was cruising toward re-election as Texas governor. (He ended up beating Bill White, the former Houston mayor, by more than 600,000 votes or 12 percent.) So the hot topic of conversation among the assembled—and bored—reporters at Perry’s celebration quickly turned to rank speculation: Would he run for president?

The Perry victory party had sounded like the place to be. The governor’s campaign and the Republican Party of Texas were holding a joint shindig at an exotic game ranch outside Austin. The ranch is home to zebras, kangeroos, emus and quite a few animals you’ve probably never heard of, like nyla, Nile lechewe and the rabbit-like Patagonian cavy. It’s run by Texas Disposal Systems, a solid-waste hauling company and sits adjacent to a massive landfill, which raises the question of what exactly they’re feeding those poor Patagonian cavy.

Inside the lodge, suspense faded fast when initial election returns showed every statewide Republican candidate holding insurmountable leads. So the assembled media milled around and watched several hundred giddy, mostly Anglo, Republicans line up to feast on a less-than-exotic buffet of beef and chicken.

Most seemed to agree that Perry’s dominating victory, more decisive than polls predicted, made a good launch point for a national campaign. Of course, it could prove a little awkward for a politician who’s spent 18 months bashing Washington to suddenly ask voters to send him there.

“I believe him when he says he’s not interested,” said Ilene Witt, a diehard Perry supporter from San Antonio.

A few feet away, however, staffers were selling Perry’s new book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, for $24 a pop. From the early excerpts, the book seems very much the kind of memoir that other candidates have used to start a presidential run. And Perry was scheduled to appear on Fox News, The Today Show and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to publicize his book and himself the week after Election Day.

A decade into Perry’s tenure—which already makes him the state’s longest-serving governor—a healthy majority of Texas voters hasn’t had its fill of him yet. With a fresh four-year term, Perry is now in line to serve 14 years as governor—longer than the lifespan of your average Patagonian cavy. Given the state of Texas Democrats, the only way Perry might vacate the governor’s office in the near future is to move to the White House.

—Dave Mann and Melissa del Bosque



dept. of elections

Watching Acres Homes

On one of the last days of early voting, Chris Alfred was prepared to help his mother vote at the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center. Like most people in Harris County, he had already heard about the poll watchers who were coming to largely minority precincts like Acres Homes to look for wrongdoing.

Chris spends his days helping his mother, Gloria Alfred, who’s been disabled by a stroke. When the pair arrived at the polling station, he got duly sworn in to assist her. The two entered the voting booth. Almost immediately, they say, one of the watchers appeared and said, “You can’t help her!” Chris said he carefully explained that his mother needed help, that he had been sworn in. The poll watcher backed off, but Gloria was still shaken. What if Chris hadn’t known what to say? she asked. “I might have been to the point where I couldn’t even have voted.”

Months ago, the King Street Patriots, a Harris County Tea Party group, launched an initiative called True the Vote to train poll watchers. Supporters say the project was meant to restore integrity to a voting process rife with fraud. Opponents argue there’s no such problem and that the Patriots are trying to suppress turnout and intimidate voters—particularly minority voters. After both True the Vote and Democratic elected officials called on the Department of Justice to intervene, federal personnel came to Harris County to monitor polls on election day.

Even during early voting, it was easy to see how things could flare up in Acres Homes. With voting booths, there was barely room for people to stand in their rows. When the two poll watchers—both white men—would walk amongst the voters, they often had to squeeze by. There was no missing them.

Poll watchers aren’t allowed to hover over voters, or to communicate with them. Democrats filed incident reports of poll watchers breaking these rules. True the Vote says there’s no evidence to back up those allegations and that it’s the poll watchers who are getting harassed.

“People are feeling very uncomfortable with the situation,” said one of the building workers who watched the scenes unfold over the early voting period. The man, who asked not to be identified, said there’d been flare-ups between voters and poll watchers. Mainly, he believed the efforts to be politically, not racially, motivated. The distinction is important—if True the Vote used racial bias in selecting polling sites, it would likely be violating the Voting Rights Act.

Still, most of the people at Acres Homes seemed unperturbed by the poll watchers, and some were supportive. “I’m glad for it,” said voter Deborah Williams as she left the center after casting her ballot. “People watching me has never bothered me.”

Gloria Alfred, who’s seen more elections than most, was more convinced that poll watchers kept people from voting. She argued the poll watchers targeted black neighborhoods “because a lot of us are kind of illiterate” about voting rules and it’s easier to use the legalese to intimidate. “I imagine a lot of people feel they shouldn’t even come to vote,” she said.

—Abby Rapoport



dept. of justice

Disorder in the Court

It’s not uncommon for Houston lawyer Geoffrey Hoffman’s clients to wait more than a year for a hearing before an immigration judge. “I have cases postponed until 2011, 2012,” he says. With a whopping backlog of more than 247,000 pending cases nationwide—7,444 in Houston alone, as of June—the immigration courts move at a glacial pace. In August, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency finally did something about it. Assistant Secretary John Morton directed his attorneys in a memo to examine pending deportation cases nationwide and dismiss those cases where non-criminal immigrants had legitimate U.S. citizenship claims.

In Houston, the number of cases dismissed increased from 27 in July to 271 in August. Hoffman, faculty supervisor of the University of Houston’s Immigration Clinic, says that two of its 100 active cases have been dismissed so far. One of those dismissals involved a man who was in the process of filing for his legal residency when he received a ticket for not having a driver’s license. Because of the driver’s license violation, ICE ordered his deportation, despite the fact he’d since become a quadriplegic. “Cases like this should be dismissed,” Hoffman says, “so the immigration courts can be used in the most efficient way.”

Republican senators, including Texas’ John Cornyn, don’t see it that way. News of the dismissals created a national controversy among immigration hardliners who called the new policy “back-door amnesty.” In late October, Cornyn and other GOP senators on the committee demanded a report from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano by November 15 on the number and types of dismissals ICE had granted. In the letter, the senators took offense at the agency’s “selectively enforcing the laws against only those aliens it considers a priority.” 

—Melissa del Bosque