Democrats explain Perry's true role in Gore's campaign

Posted Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy As Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign has moved at the speed of light in the last two weeks, so have mistakes.

Some of the nation's best newspapers and fact-checkers have reported that Perry was the state chairman for Tennessee Democrat Al Gore's 1988 presidential run.

Wrong.

Perry, then 38 and a Democrat representing a Texas House district stretching from west of Fort Worth to Abilene, was one of several coordinators in different parts of Texas, according to two other Democrats in the campaign.

Both former Texas House Speaker Pro Tem Hugo Berlanga of Corpus Christi, who organized House support, and current state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville remembered Perry as one of the coordinators.

Bob Slagle of Sherman, then the state party chairman and still a member of the Democratic National Committee, said Perry definitely did not lead the campaign.

"I'm sure he was not the state chairman," Slagle, 76, said by phone Friday from his law office.

"I'm positive, because if he'd been the chairman, I would have worked with him on an everyday basis. I did not work with him at all. I don't think there was anyone called 'chairman.'"

Slagle, then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and then-House Speaker Gib Lewis of Fort Worth spearheaded the campaign as Gore tried to come from behind, first against Missouri Democrat Dick Gephardt and then against eventual nominee Michael Dukakis.

Lewis asked Berlanga to round up support for Gore, according to news archives. Berlanga lined up 27 lawmakers, including Perry, to endorse Gore at a January 1988 news conference.

Both Berlanga and Lucio remembered Perry taking one of the leading roles. Lucio was the South Texas coordinator, he said through a spokesman, and Perry flew them both in his private plane around the state to make passionate speeches for Gore.

Perry's exact title has been tangled ever since his 1998 Republican campaign for lieutenant governor, when Democratic opponent John Sharp said, "Let's go way back to 1988 when you were Al Gore's co-campaign manager."

Neither Perry nor spokesman Ray Sullivan disputed the title, according to news reports. Sullivan simply explained that Perry quit because Gore wasn't a "true Southern conservative."

Both Republican presidential opponent Ron Paul of Texas and 2010 gubernatorial opponent Debra Medina have called Perry Gore's "chairman."

Former Star-Telegram reporter R.G. Ratcliffe, now writing for the Austin American-Statesman, first questioned the description last week. Berlanga and Lucio helped explain Perry's role Friday.

"I don't know exactly what he was," Slagle said.

We just know what he wasn't.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Twitter @budkennedy

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