Points Toward the Presidency: Rick Perry

Points’ coverage of Rick Perry’s drug policies appeared at 8:13 this morning.  Exactly one hour later, the Huffington Post carried the news that Perry was dropping out of the race and would endorse Newt Gingrich as the Republican candidate.  Our memo on Gingrich will appear next week– what happens next is anybody’s guess. –the eds.

Editor’s Note: In our second post in this series, guest blogger Kelsey Harclerode explores the twists and turns of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s approach to drugs legislation.  Readers new to Points may also want to examine our coverage of Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman.  The remaining candidates– whoever there are– will be profiled in the days between the South Carolina and Florida primaries.

Dude, Where's My Car?

When a Presidential hopeful has to refute claims that he was either drunk or on drugs during a speech, as Rick Perry found himself doing (repeatedly) after a New Hampshire speech last fall, one would assume that his policies on drinks and drugs would also be lively.  And that is one assumption on which Texas Governor Rick Perry definitely does not fail to deliver. There is a lot to cover, so let’s get right down to it.

Although there are long-standing allegations that Perry has a cocaine habit (and a thing for strippers– oh yeah, and another thing for boys), and although he started his career as a Democrat, no evidence has surfaced to suggest that Perry has ever dabbled in drugs, or even drunk to excess more than the average man from West Texas.  In a recent Parade magazine interview, he flatly denied ever having tried drugs, “unless you call caffeine a drug. Or cold beer or whiskey.”

But Perry’s drug policy stances don’t mirror his personal commitment to temperance so much as they do his debating techniques: policy-wise, he’s all over the place. Whereas Rick Santorum’s positions were incredibly predictable, Perry definitely throws some curve balls into the policy arena.Let’s begin with the infamous and contentious war on drugs. Governor Perry has been an ardent supporter of the drug war during his time in office and on the campaign trail. In fact, Perry believes that we should escalate the war on drugs by increasing border security and sending U.S. troops to Mexico in order to combat Mexican drug cartels. In his 2010 book, Fed Up!, Perry lambasts President Obama for what he believes has been an insufficient allocation of Border Patrol Agents in Texas.  He then claims that this shortage of manpower had contributed to the “soaring violence infesting our border communities as a result of the drug trade.”

Some Things We Can All Agree On...

In the same book, Perry openly discusses his position on medical marijuana, and this is where things start to get interesting. Despite his opinion that most Texans (outside of Austin, anyway) would not like to legalize medical marijuana, Perry believes that any and every state should have the final say if their citizens do want to legalize the drug. In a 2010 appearance on The Daily Show, he noted emphatically that “if you want to go somewhere where you can smoke medicinal weed, you ought to be able to do that.”

This commitment to the everlasting conservative ideal of state’s rights above all else is actually refreshing, given the way most of the Republican candidates flip-flop on the true locus of governing power. Furthermore, Perry has been consistent: his statement to Jon Stewart coincides with a 2001 Western Governors’ Association Resolution that he signed, which affirms that Association’s belief that the states are in the best position to determine drug policy– not the federal government.  This Resolution also supported the concept of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, as well as the expansion of intervention and drug treatment programs. Despite his tough-on-crime reputation (he’s presided over more executions than any governor in modern history), Perry has continued to support incarceration alternatives for non-violent drug offenders and has increased the number of drug courts in the state of Texas from seven to seventy-four since 2001. His website proudly includes the statistic that the arrest rates of those who have participated in drug courts are 10-30% lower than those who do not enter into the alternative system.

Lest you think at this point that Perry’s maybe a little soft on druggies, don’t worry: in 2005 he allocated $7.1 million dollars in grants to thirty-one programs focused on “preventing and reducing drug abuse, dismantling drug trafficking organizations, locating and eliminating illegal drug laboratories, and reducing drug-related violent crimes,” but a review of the funding recipients shows that in fact not one penny was wasted on prevention or harm reduction—it all went to good ol’ fashion enforcement and prosecution.

While Perry’s efforts in regards to drug use and crime have raised few eyebrows, he has made some drug-related decisions during his time as Governor that some have found…questionable. One of the most notable scandals– revived early in the presidential

...Some Things We Can't

campaign season by then-candidate Michelle Bachman– concerned the 2007 executive order for the mandatory vaccination of young Texas girls with the HPV vaccine Garadasil. Bachman’s complaint was about the safety of the vaccine and the overreach in executive power (and as Points reader know, it comes from a long line of similar suspicions.) Whether you care about those issues or not, the fact that Merck, the drug company that produced the vaccine, had donated $28,500 to Perry beginning in 2001, and had previously employed his former chief of staff and is a little fishy– to say the least. To add fuel to the Big Pharma fire, this same situation replayed itself in 2009 when Perry mandated meningitis vaccines for all Texas college students after receiving a $5,000 donation from Novartis, the drug company that just happens to distribute a meningitis vaccine.

In 2007, Perry used discontent lingering over his HPV-vaccine mandate as an excuse to criticize a potential needle exchange bill. In a speech that May, he expressed his dismay that legislators would question the morality of the HPV-vaccine, but support a program that “encourages drug addicts to continue to abuse illegal drugs.” He hasn’t blinked since: in 2011 his spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed, stated that the Governor “remains opposed to a program that would create an incentive to continue illegal drug use.”  No indications yet of what a President Perry might do to limit federal financing for needle exchange—financing that was just restored in 2010 after a 21 year ban.

As a Presidential candidate, Perry has continued to provide unpredictable and questionable policy remarks. The majority of his drug-policy comments during the 2012 primary season have been focused on clarifying or, in some cases, trying to obfuscate his past statements and decisions. Concerning legal access to medical marijuana, for example,

That Damn 10th Amendment!

the Washington Post asked Mike Miner, Perry’s spokesman, about the Governor’s current stance shortly after he’d joined the race. Miner attempted to avoid actually confirming Perry’s prior comments by repeatedly stating that “the Governor is opposed to the legalizing of drugs.” Miner’s stonewalling actually forced the interview to a close.  However, he later sent in a follow-up comment affirming that “while the Governor is personally opposed to legalizing the use of medical marijuana, if states want to allow doctor-prescribed medical marijuana, it seems to him that under the 10th amendment, they have the right to do so.” In short, the Governor supports the legalization of medical marijuana, but he’d prefer not to admit it, and he’s definitely not going to be happy about it.

In a similar vein, Perry has since clarified that he regrets the mandatory HPV-vaccination kerfuffle, and fully admits that it was a mistake. One position on which he has yet to back down (despite public outrage) is his recent support for the drug-testing of welfare recipients. Silent on the matter for much of his term as governor, Perry announced last month that he was in favor of it—perhaps in preparation for Florida’s primary?  It’s unclear now, but, hey, don’t worry! If Perry stays true to his record, we should be receiving a clarification on this matter just as soon as this post is published.

Position on the Points Inhale-Scale:
1. He has neither confirmed nor denied inhaling.
2. He’s totally cool if Californians continue to toke.
3. “And…the…uh…what’s the third one there? Oops!”