Since joining the presidential race last month, the polls have made Texas Governor Rick Perry look invincible. Not only does Perry lead nationally, but he also tops the polls in critical early states like Iowa and South Carolina. While Perry’s poll numbers are impressive, he now finds himself being attacked on a number of fronts by his Republican opponents.
While the media and Mitt Romney tried to make hay with Perry’s calling social security a ponzi scheme in his 2010 book, it’s his 2007 executive order mandating that all sixth-grade girls in Texas receive a vaccination for a sexually transmitted disease that is causing problems for the newly minted frontrunner. After getting beat over the head by his HPV mandate in the last two debates, Perry is now looking for a vaccination of sorts to prevent the issue from causing any more damage to his campaign.
In an attempt to move past the issue, Perry admitted in Monday’s debate that, “If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature.” Yesterday, Perry told Politico, “We should have had an opt-in instead of an opt-out.” Talk about a complete reversal on an issue.
Clearly Perry is trying to get the media to move on by admitting that his executive order was a mistake, but his new position seems to be based on what is politically expedient rather than a position of conviction. It also contradicts everything he said about the issue in his last re-election campaign.
Less than a year ago, Perry was recorded saying, “I always looked at HPV as an issue of life. When I asked the state of Texas to make that available for young women, I looked at it as an issue of saving lives. I still look at it that way. We had an opt-out in our piece of legislation and I think whatever the disease might be, that we require our children to have it. HPV is a reality of the world today. A lot of kids are going to die. I’m a pretty pro-life guy.”
Perry’s social conservative bona fides have already been questioned because of his strict interpretation of the 10th Amendment, but by previously justifying his HPV mandate as part of his pro-life convictions, Perry’s reversal opens his pro-life stance for examination. Perry’s previous statement also seems to suggest that any vaccine that is deemed by the federal government to save lives should be mandated. In an election cycle that is being framed by President Obama’s healthcare program, Perry is advocating for government solutions when it comes to healthcare, not the empowerment of individuals.
There are also a number of other problems with Perry’s recent statements.
When he says that he should not have authorized the HPV mandate through executive order, he insinuates that the he could have passed it through the legislative process in Texas. The problem with Perry’s new position is that the HPV mandate was already an actual bill, one that he proudly supported, but the bill faced strong opposition by conservatives in the Texas legislature. Perry’s decision to sidestep the legislature was necessary because it was unlikely that the bill would pass according to Rep. Jessica Farrar, who spoke to The Houston Chronicle in February of 2007. Farrar, a Houston Democrat, was the bill’s sponsor.
It is also worth noting that even after the Texas legislature repealed Perry’s HPV executive order a month after he signed it, Perry didn’t officially rescind his executive order, RP65, until February 17, 2011, as speculation that he may seek the Republican nomination for president grew.
Perry is also now admitting that he should have proposed an opt-in instead of an opt-out for parents, but if that were truly the case, why wasn’t that pursued when the bill was before the legislature? One would have thought that the conservative opposition could have been avoided if this was amenable to Perry. In fact, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst told the Houston Chronicle in May of 2007, “All the Governor would have had to do is talk to us and he would have seen that we would have embraced a program where there was an opt-in instead of an opt-out.”
Perry’s previous position on mandating the HPV virus also seems to be in direct conflict with his support of abstinence education programs. If Perry truly believes that abstinence programs work, why would girls entering the sixth grade need to be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted disease?
In both debates, Senator Rick Santorum has pointed out that we inoculate people with vaccines at public schools to prevent communicable diseases. Requiring students to be vaccinated for the measles is one thing since it can be contracted by human contact or even by being in close proximity to someone who sneezes. It’s another thing to mandate a vaccine for HPV, which can only be contracted by sexual activity.
On the surface is would seem that an executive order that was never implemented shouldn’t be a big deal. However, Perry’s staunch defense of the HPV mandate followed by his total reversal now that he is a presidential candidate will continue to haunt him, and rightfully so.
Perry was supposed to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. However, the HPV issue makes Perry look similar to Romney in more ways than just being a flip-flopper. Like Romney, he supported a government healthcare mandate. While Perry didn’t mandate insurance coverage, a government mandate is a government mandate.
One aspect of this issue that nobody seems to be discussing is the fact that Perry’s executive order would have required the state of Texas to pay for these controversial vaccinations. In an election cycle where major budget cuts and major entitlement reforms are being discussed freely, Perry’s HPV mandate was estimated to have had cost the state of Texas anywhere between $360 and $600 per pupil, which would have included vaccinations for female students who were in the county illegally. One estimate stated that the HPV mandate could have cost the state up to $29 million.
While numerous candidates are raising valid questions about this issue, what the debate over Perry’s HPV mandate has really done is brought in to question Perry’s character and convictions. That is why the HPV issue has gained more traction and attention in recent weeks than Perry’s comments about social security. Perry may want to put this issue to bed, but by the looks of things, his proposed HPV mandate could haunt him throughout the nominating process.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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