North Texas Tea Party members have long criticized Gov. Rick Perry for not being conservative enough, but they say they’ve got his back on at least one issue: his recent indictment.
They often call Perry out for not doing enough during his tenure but several local Tea Party members say they believe that the charges facing the governor are purely political.
“We don’t want to see him attacked unjustly,” said Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party. “When we attack him, it’s about things he should have done and didn’t.
“There are things he can be attacked on, but this isn’t one of them.”
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Since Perry’s Aug. 15 indictment, which alleges that he abused his gubernatorial powers with a veto last year, the governor has defiantly spoken out about the charges.
He didn’t shy away from publicity. Instead, he held several news conferences and smiled in his mug shot, which has been published worldwide and even turned into a fundraising shirt. After he was booked on felony charges, he and his legal team went for ice cream at Sandy’s Hamburgers in Austin.
“He has handled this like a rock star,” McCarty said. “He has gotten great publicity and favor. A lot of Tea Partiers wish he was a little stronger. … But hats off to him. He’s making lemonade out of lemons.”
Perry has pledged to fight “this injustice,” which he has described as a political ploy, “with every fiber” of his being.
Last week, his attorneys formally asked a judge to dismiss the charges against him — abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant — for which, if convicted, he could face 109 years in prison.
“There’s no question it’s politically motivated,” said Mike Olcott, a member of the NE Tarrant Tea Party and the Fort Worth 912 Project. “Most people I’ve talked to are questioning whether he did anything wrong.
“This indictment has no effect on what I think of him,” he said. “I think it’s all politics.”
‘All hat, no cattle’
Don’t get them wrong.
Local Tea Party activists say the governor is far from perfect.
“Perry is moderately popular with mainstream Republicans, but many in the conservative grassroots are ready for him to exit the stage,” said Ken Emanuelson, a longtime leader in the Dallas Tea Party and the founder of the Grassroots Texans Network, which works to promote “fundamental American principles.”
“I’d say there’s a view of Rick Perry in Texas Tea Party circles that I might sum up as ‘All hat, no cattle,’ ” he said. “Perry gives fine conservative speeches, but after a decade in office, with a Republican majority in both houses, he’s made no meaningful effort toward implementing conservative reforms in Texas.”
He said conservative governors in some states have put in place “bold reforms” in education, tax policy, welfare, criminal justice and immigration policy.
“Rick Perry’s Texas hasn’t been leading,” Emanuelson said. “We’re bringing up the rear.”
At the same time, when he tends to criticize the governor, some of his Republican friends have one response: “We could’ve done worse,” he said.
Many say they believe that Perry will still make a bid to become the next president in 2016.
But they say they’d much rather support U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in that venture.
Securing the border?
One key point of contention with several Tea Party members is the position Perry has taken on securing the Texas-Mexico border as a growing number of immigrants flood into South Texas.
“I think all of us are very happy that he sent the National Guard to the border,” Olcott said. “But we think he has the constitutional authority to do more.”
He and others say they fear that Perry is bowing to pressure, perhaps from big-business donors who need the workforce that comes in from other countries, or perhaps from other Republicans who encourage the governor not to go too far.
They give Perry props for doing more than any other Texas governor to secure the border.
But they fear that the National Guard and Department of Public Safety troopers sent to the border have become little more than baby sitters for those continuing to make their way into the country and wish Perry would empower the agencies to turn people away at the border.
“You hear all the time, ‘Our rule of engagement is not engagement,’ ” McCarty said. “There’s no force being used to turn people away.
“Rick Perry could be such a hero; he could waltz into the presidency,” she said. “If he took a strong stance on the border, … if he had some strong words and strong actions fighting Obama, oh my gosh, he would be a hero.”