While Gov. Rick Perry and his supporters prayed in Houston, several hundred protesters rallied against him on the grounds of the state Capitol on Saturday afternoon.
The Travis County Democrats organized a march through the streets of Austin from the historic Victory Grill to the south steps of the Capitol. Once there, protesters criticized Perry’s policies as governor. Several religious, community, state and national leaders joined the rally.
Andy Brown, chairman of the Travis County Democrats, said the demonstration was scheduled to coincide with The Response, but was intended to be anti-Perry, not anti-prayer.
“It’s up to us to warn the nation,” Brown said. “It’s obvious he’s hoping to run for president, so we want to bring light to his abysmal record.”
The march to the Capitol attracted 100 to 150 followers, and the numbers swelled to several hundred by noon, organizers said.
The rally was originally set to be held in the Capitol’s rotunda, but Brown said the State Preservation Board forced the event out into the 100-degree heat due to security concerns. Attendees stayed cool by fanning themselves with paper plates bearing drawn-on, crossed-out silhouettes of Perry’s hair.
“I think the [Preservation Board’s] direct quote was that the event had ‘too much momentum,’” Brown said. “We’ve become a bit of a victim of our own success.”
Among the speakers was U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. He said Texans have a unique insight into how Perry would run the country if elected president, and promised to travel across the nation warning people about the governor’s track record in public policy if he declares his presidential candidacy.
“We need a truth squad carrying the message,” he said.
Doggett blamed Perry for reapportioning his congressional district in the last legislative session, making it more difficult for him to be re-elected. He also lambasted the governor for cuts to public and higher education, his battles over federal aid, and failure to address health care concerns from toxic emissions.
“If you think about it, haven’t we had more reason to pray than ever in Texas history?” Doggett asked at the rally to a mixture of cheers and laughs.
Another speaker was state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin. He said Perry’s event was a self-serving and cynical pre-announcement.
Naishtat, along with several other speakers, criticized the governor for teaming up with the American Family Association, an organization he called divisive and extremist. Naishtat warned the GOP would do well to focus on uniting its party instead of dividing.
A Democratic group also released a harsh video over the weekend that compared Perry to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who ran for president in 1968 on a states rights' platform.
Several religious leaders spoke at the event at the Capitol, including Rabbi Kerry Baker, the Rev. Jim Rigby and Ora Houston of St. James Episcopal Church.
“He’s talking about bringing Texas to its knees," Rigby said of Perry. "I think he’s doing a great job at that.”