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POLITICS: PennAve

Tea Partiers reluctant to laud Rick Perry

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Tea Party,Texas,2016 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rick Perry

Rick Perry might be Texas Democrats' Public Enemy No. 1, but the state's Tea Partiers still aren’t all ready to make nice.

The Texas governor made headlines when he showed up at the Travis County courthouse in Austin to get booked following a much-ballyhooed indictment for abuse of power. He’s become an unlikely martyr of sorts through the process — even the New York Times’ editorial board came to his defense — but many conservative grassroots leaders in his home state don’t see his pillorying as a reason to circle the wagons. Perry might be a Republican’s Republican, but many Tea Partiers are still miffed.

“People are lining up behind him on this issue,” said Jonathan Stickland, a conservative Texas state representative. “But this doesn’t forgive all the sins he’s committed in the past against conservatives.”

Stickland said that while the governor is a solid conservative on social issues, he’s disappointed his base by supporting in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants and mandating that girls be vaccinated for HPV. The state representative also said that the governor didn’t sufficiently follow through on his Texas Budget Compact. The base might rally around him now, Stickland added, but that doesn’t mean they will rally around his anticipated presidential run.

He isn’t alone. Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party activist who won Sarah Palin’s endorsement in an unsuccessful primary challenge against Rep. Pete Sessions, said she expects corruption charges against the governor to materialize.

“When this goes to trial, are we indeed going to find corruption? I think the answer is yes,” she said.

Pierson added that if the governor was comfortable using the line-item veto to punish a political opponent, he should have also used it to remove waste from the budget.

“Here he is being indicted for using veto power, which we couldn’t get him to use!” she said, adding that he should have vetoed a number of subsidies, including the Texas Moving image Industry Incentive Program, designed to boost film production in the state.

Julie McCarty, president of the Fort Worth-area NE Tarrant Tea Party, added that Perry is seen in some circles as insufficiently tough on illegal immigration and that many of the activists she works with believe he hasn’t done enough to secure the border.

“Just because we’re supporting him in this case doesn’t mean we support him across the board,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we want to see him [run] for president.”

None of this is to suggest that the governor’s response to his indictment has hurt his support with his base. Luke Macias, a Republican consultant based in Austin, said that of the state’s three top elected officials — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Joe Straus and Perry — the governor by far has the strongest support from grassroots conservatives. Macias added that the state’s new abortion clinic regulations and its ban on abortions after 20 weeks wouldn’t have happened without the governor’s active support; activists have long memories, and the trust he won from pro-lifers will last.

That said, all the mug shots in the world couldn’t burnish some conservatives’ confidence in the bombastic governor. Grassroots Texan Network founder Ken Emanuelson, for instance, sounded tepid at best when he spoke to the Washington Examiner about Perry’s legal situation.

“I would feel uncomfortable stepping out publicly and saying that I’m confident that there’s no reason to think that Rick Perry’s been involved in cronyism,” he said. “I really believe the opposite is true.”

Perry might have won the news cycle, but many activists are still skeptics.

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Betsy Woodruff

Political Writer
The Washington Examiner

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