clock menu more-arrow no yes

What Rick Perry thinks about the issues

Ron Jenkins/Getty

Rick Perry is so conservative that when he ran for president in 2011, he proposed eliminating so many federal agencies that he couldn't remember them all.

In his 14 years as governor of Texas, Perry pursued a low-tax, deregulatory agenda. And as he launches his 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, he's sure to lean on that record.

But like many politicians, when Perry had the responsibility of governing a state, he diverged from his party's national line on some issues. He tried to build new highways all over Texas. He let unauthorized immigrants get in-state tuition at colleges and universities. He mandated that girls entering the sixth grade be vaccinated for HPV. And he supported reforms of his state's criminal justice system.

In his campaign announcement speech Thursday, Perry unsurprisingly emphasized the most conservative parts of his record and agenda, saying, "We need to return power to the states and freedom to the individuals." And he tried to tout his credentials on foreign policy and national security, arguing that America needed to lead in a dangerous world.

Slash taxes and eliminate several government agencies

During his 2011 presidential campaign, Perry proposed slashing both federal taxes and federal spending. On taxes, his plan gave Americans the option of paying a flat tax rate of 20 percent with many fewer deductions, eliminating the federal estate tax, and cutting the corporate and capital gains tax rates.

On spending, he backed a cap of federal expenditures at 18 percent of GDP, and a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. He proposed eliminating the Departments of Commerce, Education, and Energy, and repealing Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law. He's no fan of the Federal Reserve either, saying in 2011 that its easy money policies might be "treasonous," and that if Ben Bernanke visited Texas, "we would treat him pretty ugly."

Mandated HPV vaccine, then disavowed it

One of the biggest controversies Perry was involved in during his governorship focused on his 2007 executive order mandating that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated for HPV.

Though there was an option for parents to have their children opt out of the vaccine, Perry was criticized by conservatives who thought the vaccine encouraged sexual risk-taking, people who doubted the science of vaccines and feared they could cause health problems, and others who thought Perry was serving the interest of pharmaceutical companies. (Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey was a lobbyist for Merck, and pushed for the executive order).

So as his presidential campaign geared up in 2011, Perry declared that the executive order was "a mistake" and backed the legislature's support for overturning it. "I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry," he said. "If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently."

Opposes same-sex marriage and supported Texas's sodomy ban

As governor, Perry supported Texas's law banning gay sex, which the Supreme Court overturned in 2003. He's also been an opponent of same-sex marriage, saying that "it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue," but that "obviously gay marriage is not fine with me."

In June 2014, Perry reportedly made comments comparing homosexuality to alcoholism. He soon walked that back, saying, "I stepped right in it." His main interest, he said, was in talking about how "whether you're gay or straight, you need to be having a job."

Tough on border security, but let unauthorized immigrants get in-state tuition

As governor, Perry has argued repeatedly for the importance of border security. During the summer 2014 child migrant crisis, he deployed the National Guard to his state's border with Mexico. On immigration reform, he's said, "I don’t think anyone with a sense of reality thinks that we’re going to ship 11 or 12 million people back to where they’re from." But he's argued that border security has to come first.

As governor, Perry signed a law that let unauthorized immigrants pay in-state tuition at Texas public universities. And when he was questioned about it during a 2011 presidential debate, he said that if you oppose the law, "I don't think you have a heart." Lately, he's said that that "was a really bad choice of words," but that he stands by his support for the law. He said the choice he faced was, "Are you going to put these people in a position of having to rely upon government to take care of themselves, or are you going to let them be educated and be contributing members of society, obviously working toward getting their citizenship?"

His sweeping plan for new highways was blocked

Early in his governorship, Perry unveiled an ambitious plan to build a network of toll roads and rail lines that would be called the Trans-Texas Corridor. But as the New York Times's Deborah Sontag recounted, the plan became intensely controversial. What horrified some opponents, Sontag writes, "was the realization that the corridors were going to rip through the heart of rural Texas and require 146 acres of right of way for every mile of road — or 584,000 acres total." After public opposition grew, Perry's party abandoned the plan, and Perry himself eventually disavowed it.

Criminal justice policy shouldn't be driven by "fear"

Perry argues that under his leadership, "Texas fundamentally changed its course on criminal justice." He says the state started focusing "on diverting people with drug addiction issues from entering prison in the first place, and programs to keep them from returning."

Specifically, he touts his support for drug courts allowing some low-level offenders to avoid going to prison, and greater investment in treatment and rehabilitation programs for drug addicts. "I am proud that in Texas, criminal justice policy is no longer driven solely by fear, but by a commitment to true justice, and compassion for those shackled by the chains of addiction," he wrote in a 2015 essay.

A skeptic of climate science

Like many Republicans, Rick Perry questions the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. He's claimed that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data," and that global warming is "a scientific theory that has not been proven" and "is more and more being put into question." He said last year that "calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world," and that he was "offended" that skeptics of climate science were called "deniers."

Drastic overhaul of Social Security is necessary

In 2011, Perry said that our Social Security program is a "Ponzi scheme," and argued that the program needed a massive overhaul to survive. (PolitiFact rated the "Ponzi scheme" characterization as false.) He proposed letting younger workers have access to private accounts in Social Security, as well as letting some state and local government workers opt against paying into the program.

A foreign policy hawk

In the Republican Party's split between hawks and doves, Perry has sided firmly with the hawks. He's argued that ISIS "represents a real threat to our national security," and called on Obama to "do more with our military and intelligence communities" against them. The more non-interventionist policies of Sen. Rand Paul, Perry says, would "only endanger our national security even further."

In his announcement, he criticized President Obama for prematurely withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Our president failed to secure the peace," he said. He also said he'd withdraw from any nuclear agreement with Iran that "legitimizes their quest to get a nuclear weapon."