Former Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry told a crowd in Washington, D.C. on Thursday that both his home state and the nation must examine both their racist histories and current racial inequalities.
“America is a more tolerant and welcoming place than it’s ever been before,” he said. “So why is it today that so many black families feel left behind, even after federal programs like food stamps and housing subsidies?” Arguing that the country’s social safety net and War on Poverty has failed, Perry criticized President Obama for expanding Medicaid and allowing more workers to get overtime pay — policies that will cover millions of families of color.
He called on his party to reach out more to voters of color with alternative policies, saying, “When [Republicans] gave up on winning African American support we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln.” His alternative policies include scrapping environmental regulations, lowering corporate taxes, and funneling more federal dollars to private and charter schools.
In the speech, Perry then touted his decision to appoint the first African-American member of the Texas Supreme Court, and bragged about the number of African-American families that have moved to Texas from “blue states” like California, New York and Illinois. But the speech largely avoided his record as governor, which included a slew of actions that disproportionately and negatively impacted the growing communities of color in Texas.
In 2011, Perry signed a voter ID law that counts handgun permits as an acceptable form of identification, but not student IDs. Courts later found the law “was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose” and “has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans.” This was further proven when the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement the policy for last November’s midterm elections, and it disenfranchised hundreds of eligible voters and more than doubled the number of people forced to cast a provisional ballot — the majority of which are never counted. Earlier this summer, when Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Texas calling out the state’s voter ID policy and other laws making it more difficult to vote, Perry accused her of “dissing…the people of Texas.”
In 2013, Perry signed a stringent package of abortion restrictions into law that since then have shuttered half the clinics in the state — clinics that provided pap smears, cancer screenings and other health care in addition to abortions. This has forced women in the state to travel further, pay more, and wait longer at the state’s remaining clinics — a major burden those with low incomes. Reproductive rights advocates say women of color “pay the price” under such laws.
As the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health describes: “We are living in two starkly different nations for reproductive healthcare, one of which is caught in something resembling a pre-Roe v. Wade time warp, where women with money travel to get an abortion when they need it, and where women of color and low-income women risk their health and economic security, desperate to access care.”
Though Perry has recently emerged as a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform, his years in the governor’s mansion paint a different picture. Texas led the nation in executions when he was in office, with over 20 per year during Perry’s tenure. Similar to other states, Texas’ death penalty is disproportionately applied to African Americans, who make up only 11.8 percent of the state’s population but comprise 37.4 percent of those executed.
Some of those put to death during Perry’s governorship presented compelling evidence that they were innocent, while other cases violated international law.
In 2011, Perry oversaw the execution of a Mexican national for a decades-old murder charge, despite pleas from the State Department, the Mexican government and human rights groups to hold off, fearing repercussions for U.S. citizens arrested abroad. The Perry Administration also violated Leal’s due process rights by limiting the Mexican consulate’s access to the inmate during his trial.
Under Perry’s leadership, Texas further beefed up it’s already growing border militarization — famously sending the National Guard down to the border in 2014 where the armed officers found themselves “fighting boredom” as border crossings dropped to the lowest level they have been in years.
Perry has said he’ll oppose any comprehensive immigration reform — which would enable hundreds of thousands of Texans to come out of the shadows — until the border is deemed “secure.”