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Lone shooting star

"Lone shooting star" Continued...

Issue: "Beyond the body count," Nov. 5, 2011

Two years later, voters elected Perry to the statehouse as a conservative Democrat. He campaigned around his district by flying a 1952 Super Cub propeller plane. Perry, then nicknamed a pit bull for favoring bare-bones state budgets, became a Republican in 1990. He soon narrowly upset an incumbent Democrat to become the state's commissioner of agriculture.

Getting back on track for Perry likely means focusing on his state's economic record: Texas, a state with less than 10 percent of the nation's population, created nearly 40 percent of all new American jobs since 2009. The roots of this Texas miracle are hotly debated. But Perry attributes it to his four governing tenets that he often repeats on the campaign trail: Don't spend all the money, keep taxes low, make government regulations fair and predictable, and eliminate frivolous lawsuits. "You can't spread success," Perry said, "by punishing it."

Others seem to agree: For seven years in a row Texas has been named the top state for job growth and business development in a survey of CEOs by Chief Executive magazine. The state has netted more than 1 million new jobs in Perry's decade as governor: more than those in all other states combined. In 2006, he signed the largest property tax cut in the state's history. He followed up a major tort reform law in 2003 with a "loser pays" law passed this year to curtail lawsuits. As Washington lawmakers talk about fiscal restraint, Perry acts, signing a budget in May that cut $15 billion in state spending during the next two years.

But to reemerge, Perry also will have to confront several controversies of his own creation. Most Texas conservatives remain puzzled by his circumvention of the Texas legislature during his push to mandate that all sixth-grade girls get a vaccine against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer. The legislature passed a veto-proof bill to overturn the order, and Perry later admitted he erred in his approach. A former Perry chief of staff had become a lobbyist for the drug company Merck, which made the vaccine.

"Sometimes he listens to voices and doesn't listen to enough of them in opposition before making a decision," said Cathie Adams, a former Texas GOP chairwoman. "People he has trusted may have had more influence than they ought to have."

Perry's endorsement of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the 2008 Republican presidential primary, and Perry's comment that it was fine for New York to legalize same-sex marriage because it is a states' rights issue also worry social conservatives.

But it is on immigration policy that Perry has the most ground to make up with conservatives: He diverged from his party when he released a statement in opposition to the tough new immigration law in Arizona. The 2008 GOP platform specifically condemned immigration laws like the one signed by Perry in 2001 giving in-state tuition rates and financial aid to children of illegal immigrants. This is what got the boo birds out during September's Florida debate.

"He is a little bull-headed," said Kelly Shackelford, president of Texas-based Liberty Institute. "But he has the most conservative record of what has actually passed than I think anybody we've had running at this level in many, many decades."

One area where this is undeniable is abortion. As lieutenant governor in 1999, Perry helped shepherd Texas' parental notification act. Abortions performed on Texas minors have dropped 32 percent since this law and a 2005 update have been in effect. Perry also signed a prenatal protection act in 2003 that expands the definition of human life to protect unborn children from violent crimes. He has signed laws prohibiting abortions in the third trimester, requiring abortionists to present women informational brochures about abortion and other alternatives, and requires doctors to show a woman considering an abortion an ultrasound of her unborn child 24 hours before the procedure.

"He is the most successful pro-life governor we have ever had," said Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life. Perry has supported budgets that devote millions of dollars to pro-life agencies such as crisis pregnancy centers. Meanwhile, he signed a budget this year revoking more than $60 million in taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, resulting in the planned closures of seven Texas abortion offices.

"For some candidates, pro-life is an election-year slogan to follow the prevailing political winds," said Perry at a recent speech in Washington, D.C. "To me it's about the absolute principle that every human being is entitled to life. All human life ... is made in the image of our Creator."

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