Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry got hit hard in the recent debate over his executive order to vaccinate young girls against a sexually-transmitted disease. My friend Rich Shipe was telling me even before Perry threw his hat in the ring that a lot of social conservatives oppose him for that reason. Here is the story:
Four years ago, Gov. Rick Perry put aside his social conservative bona fides and signed an order requiring Texas girls to be vaccinated against HPV.
The human papillomavirus is a sexually spread virus that can cause cervical cancer, and he says his aim was protecting against that cancer. But it didn’t take long for angry conservatives in the Legislature to override a measure they thought tacitly approved premarital sex, and for critics to accuse Perry of cronyism.
Now Perry’s taking heat on the issue anew as he runs for the presidential nomination of a GOP heavily influenced by conservatives who are sour on the government dictating health care requirements. Illustrating the delicate politics at play, he’s both defending himself and calling his action a mistake.
“If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently,” Perry said Tuesday night as he debated his rivals, insisting that he would have worked with the Legislature instead of unilaterally acting. But he did not back down from his stance that girls should be vaccinated against the virus, which is generally spread by sexual contact. He argued that it wasn’t a mandate and noted that he included the right for parents to opt out of the vaccinations.
“This was about trying to stop a cancer,” he said. “I am always going to err on the side of life.”
Not that the explanation satisfied his GOP opponents. . . .
It all began when Merck, which won approval for the first HPV vaccine a year earlier, was spending millions lobbying state legislators to require girls to be vaccinated with the new product, Gardasil. The company also was donating money to a national organization called Women in Government, which in Texas was led by state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, who chaired the House public health committee. She was also the mother-in-law of Perry’s chief of staff at the time, Deirdre Delisi — the same woman who now is one of Perry’s top presidential campaign aides.
Schedule and campaign finance reports show that on one day — Oct. 16, 2006 — Deirdre Delisi held a staff meeting to discuss the vaccine and Merck’s political action committee gave Perry $5,000. The drug maker had previously given $6,000 in donations. Perry’s office called the timing of the donation a coincidence.
A review of campaign finance reports shows that Merck’s political action committee continued to contribute, a total of $17,500 to Perry’s campaign fund between 2008 and 2010 even though Perry’s order was eventually overturned.
By early 2007, Toomey and Dianne White Delisi were working to overcome opposition among lawmakers to a bill to require the vaccination. But conservatives said they feared the requirement would infringe on personal liberties and signal approval of premarital sex. Rather than wait for the Legislature to act, Perry signed an executive order on Feb. 2, 2007, requiring the vaccination — with an opt-out provision. It surprised even his allies who acknowledged that it was out of step with his limited-government stance.
Perry explained his action by pointing to his long-documented passion about fighting cancer. He had signed a host of legislation to that end, including a constitutional amendment in Texas that created a cancer research institute funded with $3 billion from bond sales.
“We have a vaccine that’s going to save young women’s lives,” Perry said in 2007. “This is wise public policy.”
The governor quickly found that Texas parents didn’t like the idea of the government telling preadolescents to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease. Within three weeks, the House public health committee approved a bill negating the order but Perry persisted in defending his initiative. By May 8, when it was clear the Legislature was going to pass the bill stopping his order, Perry said he would stop fighting.
What do you think about this? Is there a legitimate “pro-life” reason to order a vaccine that might prevent deaths from cancer? What about the appearance of “crony capitalism”? If you disapprove of what the governor did, do you consider this a deal-breaker in your ability to support Perry? Does that apply just to the primary, or also, if he becomes the Republican nominee, if he runs against President Obama?
HT: Rich Shipe