The Brief: Top Texas News for July 15, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at the voter ID bill signing on May 27, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at the voter ID bill signing on May 27, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Gov. Rick Perry's political past is no secret in Texas. But tracing the governor's beginnings reveals a history that would strike even his strongest supporters as a little surreal.

Yes, Perry began his career in politics as a Democrat, and as the Tribune's Jay Root writes today, it's an often forgotten history that's sure to receive scrutiny from fellow Republicans if he runs for president.

Perry, elected to the state House in 1984, quickly gained a reputation as a fiscal conservative, but he cast several votes that, given his current reputation as a conservative's conservative, now seem a bit incongruous, to say the least: In 1987, Perry supported a $5.7 billion tax hike, the largest in the state's modern history. He also co-authored a bill to triple the amount of money state lawmakers are paid.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said those votes say nothing of the governor today. “You can pull votes from the 1980s," he said, "but the overall track record is one of fiscal responsibility and conservatism."

One of the most absurd bits of Perry's Democratic days: In 1988, he organized for Al Gore, who ran for president as a southern conservative.

But Perry had been making a name for himself as a strong fiscal conservative, receiving an appointment to the House Appropriations Committee based on his reputation. And near the beginning of his six-year term, he began to field — and shoot down — rumors that he was contemplating a party switch, criticizing former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance's defection to the Republican Party in 1985.

But soon he was sponsoring a bill that put him at odds with Texas trial lawyers. The Texas Observer had dubbed him the "Benedict Arnold of the Democratic Party."

Rumors of Perry's own defection surfaced again, and he announced the switch in September 1989, a year before winning his first statewide race, for agriculture commissioner.

“I intend to vote the same convictions,” Perry at the time of his party switch. “The only difference is there will be an 'R' beside my name.”

Read the full, much juicer story here, along with a slideshow featuring pictures of a younger (and much more Democratic) Perry.

Culled:

  • Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, now running for the U.S. Senate, will announce today the support of three prominent Texas businessmen, including Ed Whitacre, the former AT&T CEO who, the San Antonio Express-News notes, helped guide General Motors through bankruptcy. 
  • The Trib's Morgan Smith reported Thursday on the difficulties facing the Texas Education Agency, which is grappling with budget cuts — it'll have lost about a third of its employees this week — and the perception among school leaders that Gov. Rick Perry's political ambitions may be seepeing into the agency's dealings with schools.
  • Democrats accused U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, of poltical showboating after he filed a bill this week to strip the Obama administration of its immigration enforcement authority and accused the president of "trying a backdoor amnesty," the Trib's Julián Aguilar reports. “This contradiction demonstrates yet another attempt by Representative Smith to engage in a political game centered on blaming our broken immigration system on immigrants,” said a fellow Texan in Congress, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, whose fight for re-election just got a profile in Politico.

“Maybe people would want to lock me up. I think about those who talk about Christian faith being intolerant. Isn’t it just the height of intolerance to say you can’t gather together in public and pray to our God?” — Gov. Rick Perry, on a Christian radio show, responding to opponents of his August prayer event

Must-Read:

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