With his announcement Monday that he will not seek an unprecedented fourth full term as Governor of Texas, Rick Perry (R) will retire from the office in January 2015. Sadly, he will leave behind a record of right-wing extremism that few could match.
Here are ten of the worst moments from his 13 years as governor and his “oops” 2012 presidential campaign:
1. He allowed Texas to become the nation’s worst polluter. Texas under Perry has led the nation in carbon dioxide emissions and is home to five of the ten worst mercury emitting power plants in the country. Rather than try to do something about this, Perry sued the federal government to try to avoid complying an EPA ruling that the state was in violation of the Clean Air Act. A proud climate change denier, Perry called the 2010 BP oil spill an “act of God” while speaking at a trade association funded by BP. And his solution to the nation’s economic ills in 2011: more oil drilling.
2. He executed a likely innocent man and impeded an investigation into the matter. In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Huntsville, Texas after being convicted of arson and the murder of his three children. Despite significant evidence that arson had not caused the fire (thus exonerating Willingham), Perry refused to grant a stay of execution. Five years after Willingham was executed, a report from a Texas Forensic Science Commission investigator found that the fire could not have been arson. As the commission prepared to hear testimony from the investigator in October 2009, Perry fired and replaced three of its members, forcing an indefinite delay in the process. With a record of executing juveniles and mentally disabled, Perry said in a 2011 GOP presidential debate that he had “never struggled” at all with his decisions to administer the death penalty to more than 230 people.
3. He actively sought to dismantle Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Perry argued that Texas and other states should be able to opt out of federal entitlements like Medicaid and Social Security — even though such a move would actually cost his own state’s economy billions of dollars. Despite their popularity and success, he called these programs and Medicare “Ponzi schemes,” and suggested they are actually unconstitutional.
4. He consistently backed legislation to restrict women’s reproductive rights. Perry has made news in recent weeks for his embarrassing attacks on State Senator Wendy Davis (D) and his efforts to ram through a likely unconstitutional bill to shut down the vast majority of Texas clinics that provide abortion. But his attacks on women’s reproductive choice are nothing new; in 2011 he pushed for and signed “emergency legislation” to require women to have unnecessary sonograms prior to abortions.
5. He demonized LGBT Texans and worked to increase legal discrimination against them. Perry was staunch defender of Texas’ unconstitutional anti-sodomy law which criminalized the private consensual sexual behavior of adults. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, Perry called ban “appropriate,” and blasted the Court decision as the result of “nine oligarchs in robes.” As a presidential candidate, he ran a shockingly anti-gay ad, blasting open service by gay and lesbian members of the Armed Services as part of President Obama’s “war on religion.” He vocally opposed the Boy Scouts of America’s half-measure allowing openly gay Scouts but not leaders, claiming the tiny step “contradicts generations of tradition in the name of political correctness.” Even in his speech Monday, he proudly boasted that Texas had defended “the sanctity of marriage” by writing discrimination into the state’s constitution. 6. He backed nullification of federal laws and even raised the prospect of secession. Perry rose to national prominence in 2009 when he threatened to have Texas secede from the United States. “If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that,” Perry told reporters after a Tea Party event. He also signed nullification legislation — a state law that portends to undo federal law, despite the Constitution’s clear guarantee of federal supremacy — as governor, the likes of which were used by secessionists in the 19th Century.
7. He refused to let the federal government provide healthcare for low-income Texans, despite the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country. Health care in Texas is abysmal. More than 25 percent of Texans — 6,234,900 people and growing — lack health coverage, the highest of any state in the country. However, when Obamacare was passed and offered millions of dollars in federal money to expand Medicaid and cover poor Texans, Perry rejected the offer even though it wouldn’t cost Texas a dime for at least three years. Despite his state’s awful track record on covering low-income residents, Perry claimed that Texas has the “best health care in the country.”
8. He vetoed bipartisan Equal Pay legislation to protect Texas women. Though women, on average, continue to earn 77 cents for every dollar men make, Perry vetoed legislation that would have helped women fight discrimination. The bill, HB 950, which passed the Republican-held Texas legislature, would have built on the federal Lilly Ledbetter Act. Perry, worrying that the bill would lead to regulations, vetoed the measure.
9. He called for repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, to end popular election of Senators and the federal income tax. In his book Fed Up!, Perry said that both the 16th and 17th Amendments were “mistaken” and should be repealed. The 16th Amendment allows the federal government to collect income taxes and accounts for 45 percent of all revenue, while the 17th Amendment allows voters, rather than state legislatures, to choose their U.S. senators. Perry opposed both amendments, saying they were merely passed in “a fit of populist rage.”
In his announcement, Perry noted, “Our responsibility remains to the next generation of Texans, who will inherit a state of our making. We alone are responsible for the kind of Texas that will greet them.”