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The Brief: June 8, 2011

Could Rick Perry have just fumbled his still-hypothetical entrance into the presidential race?

Gov. Rick Perry outside the House chamber on May 28, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Could Rick Perry have just fumbled his still-hypothetical entrance into the presidential race?

Things, at least, may get a little more complicated for the governor, who, as the Tribune's Jay Root and Morgan Smith reported Tuesday, has teamed with a controversial conservative Christian group to host a major prayer event.

Still "thinking about" running, Perry recently invited the nation's governors to join him at "a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation" on Aug. 6 at Houston's Reliant Stadium, setting off sirens among those looking for signs that the governor's got an eye on his right flank. Perry has said he'll fast the day of the event, called The Response, and has invited attendees to do the same.

Attention, though, has turned to the event's sponsor, the American Family Association, a prominent anti-gay group whose president, Tim Wildmon, told the Trib that Jews, Muslims, atheists and all other non-Christians would "go to hell" unless they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. One of the group's directors, Bryan Fischer, has also drawn attention for making controversial statements in recent years about Islam, black women and the Holocaust, which he has blamed on gays in the military.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner defended the group. "This is an organization that promotes safe and strong families," Miner said. "The governor looks forward to participating in this prayer service."

But the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal civil rights organization that recently deemed the AFA a "hate group," harshly criticized the event.

"In my opinion there is nothing remotely mainstream about this event,” said Mark Potok, the center’s director of intelligence. "The governor has invited haters to help him put on a day of prayer which seems ultimately aimed at demonizing gays and lesbians."

Former Perry speechwriter Eric Bearse, the event's spokesman, shot back. "I think there are certain groups with a very secular agenda," he said, "that spend a lot of time demonizing organizations that have biblical leanings or seek to implement biblical principles."

Viewed through the Perry-for-President lens, the issue might not hurt the governor in a Republican primary: High-profile conservative Republicans commonly associate with the AFA. But as a representative for People for the American Way, a liberal watchdog group, told the Trib, this may be the first time a politician has organized such an event with the group, possibly presenting challenges for Perry in a general-election context.

As of Tuesday, only one governor, Sam Brownback of Kansas, had said he'd be attending the event.

Culled:

  • Gov. Rick Perry added a "sanctuary cities" bill — the session's most controversial piece of immigration-related legislation — to the special-session agenda Tuesday. Republicans had threatened to resuscitate the bill, which Democrats successfully blocked during the regular session, if Democrats forced a special session.
  • A false tip about a mass grave near Hardin, a small town outside Houston, led police, Texas Rangers, FBI agents and national news outlets in search of up to 30 dismembered bodies Tuesday afternoon. By the time the claim, which was later found to have come from a self-proclaimed psychic, had been proven false, news of the grave had already been reported by major news outlets and cable news stations on the scene. "You hear about bodies being found in other people’s yards. That happens to other people," said the woman who lives with her husband in the house where the grave had been reported. "We’re sitting here trying to eat lunch and my phone starts ringing."
  • A House committee on Tuesday approved an overhaul of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the quasi-governmental Gulf Coast property insurer that's been tied up in litigation over damage payments since Hurricane Rita. In hopes that controversy clears before another hurricane hits, Gov. Rick Perry added the bill, which now goes to the full House and Senate, to the special-session agenda last week.

"It's not just Jews or Muslims. It's anybody that rejects the free gift of salvation through Christ. The Bible teaches there's heaven and hell. Those who believe go to heaven. Those who don't go to hell."Tim Wildmon, the president of the American Family Association, the group sponsoring Gov. Rick Perry's August prayer event

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