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How Little Rick is making it big in the presidential race

The Independent

David Usborne reports from Texas on Mitt Romney's tricky rival

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Kenny Thompson's heart was in his mouth one spring morning 30 years ago as he watched a small plane bounce down the earthen air strip across the road from his house, mud caked on its wheels, its engine screaming in a way he had never heard before. "He was revving her up so tight and there was a point, you know, when either he pulled her up or put on the brakes. I didn't honestly know if he was going to make it".

The pilot, he was to find out later, was Rick Perry, who had grown up in the same remote community of Paint Creek, here in North Texas, and had just finished five years in the Air Force. He missed the crown of the road by inches, recalls Mr Thompson, a county commissioner here. The plane in bright yellow colours then passed below the power lines on the other side before finally lifting into the sky.

This was Perry all over. He was the kid who had once pushed a huge snowball from a classroom roof meaning to hit members of the girl's basketball team; it landed on the school superintendent instead. "If everyone knew everything he done as a kid, they would be shocked," says Don Ballard, a childhood friend and schools superintendent today. At university he dropped firework bombs into the upstairs plumbing so they would explode inside lavatory bowls three floors below, under unsuspecting bottoms.

There is affection in these tales because Little Rick, as they used to call him, was later to start a political career that eventually led him to the governor's mansion in Austin, four hours south of here. But as Perry makes his late bid for the Republican presidential nomination, there are some in Paint Creek and in Austin who wonder whether this time the gamble is too big. They see mud on his wheels again.

All his political life, Mr Perry has been blessed with good luck, even going back to 2000 when the Supreme Court crowned George W Bush president. Then Lieutenant Governor, Mr Perry replaced Bush as Governor of Texas without an election. This year, he's been lucky too. The weak economy has made President Barack Obama suddenly vulnerable; and other Republicans – notably Governors Hailey Barbour and Mitch Daniels – who might have leapt into the nomination race and blocked his path chose not to.

And when on 12 August, Mr Perry travelled to South Carolina – a key early primary state – to confirm his candidacy, the impact was immediate. Pundits and the polls reached the same conclusion: if no one else jumps in, the race for the GOP nomination will end up being between him and the former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, with Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party darling, playing a strong game but probably not making it all the way.

The Governor has a good story to tell. In Paint Creek, his tenant farming parents lived for the first few years of his life in a cabin without indoor plumbing: all that remains today is a lonely tree across a dirt road from a collapsing chicken shed. If Bush had a silver spoon, Perry had an outhouse and a shovel.

"It gave everyone a good work ethic," says Mr Ballard. "Most everyone would start at five in the morning and for all I know the Governor is doing that to this day. You go to work, you go to church, and come back home and go out to work again. That's how it was. These are the values those kids grew up with."

However, in an election that will be dominated by the economy and the unemployment crisis in America, Mr Perry has a tale no other candidate can match. Relative to the rest of America, Texas is booming. In the last two years, there has been a net increase of more than a quarter of a million jobs in the state. That accounts for half of all the new jobs created across the entire nation since the end of the last recession.

Throughout his tenure, Mr Perry has been assiduous in maintaining Texas as a business-friendly haven with low taxation, minimal red tape, and assorted other incentives, including help from job creation and investment agencies he set up to increase the Lone Star allure. Along the way, he has made sure that many of his appointees to those bodies have been friends ready to return the favour with big campaign donations.

The model has worked well in Texas, which, since he himself defected from the Democrats in 1989, has increasingly become Republican territory. His Texan supporters don't much question the ethics of the money that washes back and forth in Austin – the state's campaign funding laws are among the most lax in the country – or see anything wrong in his wearing his Christian beliefs on his sleeve or expounding relentlessly conservative views, whether about blunting federal government or dismissing global warming.

On the national stage, however, Mr Perry may find much lower levels of tolerance. His record of conservative governing and conservative views – he has even expounded in favour of creationism over Darwinism – means he probably has the Christian evangelicals who dominate the primary process sewn up, but winning the hearts of moderate and establishment Republicans, not to mention the critical slice of independents, whom he will need in the general election, will be much harder.

"It's just not clear to me how he gets past that," warns Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas in Austin and a specialist in presidential politics. "His policy positions are of a sort that will not appeal to independent voters in the general election. His tendency towards extremist positions on things like global warming are controversial in his own party let alone among independents."

The economic circumstances would have to be "truly dire" for someone who "raises as many red flags as Governor Perry seems to, or Michele Bachmann", actually to take the White House next year, suggests Professor Buchanan, who for now has his money on Romney. "Perry has to reassure people on the question of electability."

Since declaring, Mr Perry, who has a shoot-from-the-hip style, has twice said things that are likely to unsettle independents. He rehearsed his doubts about global warming being man-made and suggested that the money-printing policies of the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, made him a traitor.

"Perry's task right now is to hew between two different sides," agrees Mark Jones, chairman of the politics department at Rice University in Texas. "At one level he needs to compete for social conservatives, but at the same time he can't alienate the establishment and more moderate Republicans who are Romney followers. He must demonstrate to all camps that he represents a real option to defeat Obama."

Professor Jones also warns that beyond the job numbers – and even they are a little deceiving because a high proportion are low-paid or energy sector jobs – voters may not like what they see in the "seamy underbelly of Texas society and politics, particularly if they look at the underbelly of Texas education, health care, and environment policy. It's going to be really tough for Rick Perry to prevail."

Back in Paint Creek, Mr Thompson, who is fixing "Road Closed" signs in a sun-baked corrugated iron barn on his farm, sees a problem too. Mr Perry's statements on global warming bother him, and he is disturbed that underfunding of schools has put Texas at the bottom of many national education rankings. "I think a political leader needs to be compassionate," he says, banging a spanner against the tailgate of his pick-up. Maybe it goes back to his decision more than 20 years to cross to the Republicans, but Mr Perry is not the universally popular man you might expect in this community, which for the first time in half a century has seen a complete failure in its cotton crops because of a savage drought that took hold last October.

"I'm gonna say right here, he scares me," admits Wallar Overton, a 72-year-old farmer and school board member, who was Perry's scoutmaster when he was a young teenager. Driving along the gravel roads here, he points to the house Perry's parents still live in today, with pecan trees in the front garden, and towards the dirt pond where the Governor learnt to swim. "I'm scared of the different programmes he would cut. I am not going to vote for him and he knows that."

The last stop on the tour with Mr Overton is an empty, parched field. But squint and you see a straight stretch running towards the road that's of a slightly darker hue, and in the distance a tattered windsock drooping from its pole. It's the old airstrip where Mr Perry almost came a cropper in his single-engine plane all those years ago.

Mitt Romney – and even President Obama – might eventually have reason to wish he hadn't made it that day. But that will only be the case if the Governor manages shake off some of his Texas clay.

Perry's polls lead

Rick Perry took a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential nomination race in two polls released yesterday.

Although he formally entered the race only on 13 August, 29 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said Mr Perry would most likely be their choice to oppose Barack Obama in 2012, according to a Gallup poll. Gallup said 17 per cent favoured Mr Romney, while Ron Paul was third at 13 per cent, and Michele Bachmann came fourth with 10 per cent.

Mr Perry also had a 13-point lead over Mr Romney in a survey of Republican primary voters conducted by the Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling. Reuters

Perry vs Bush

As he emerges as a top contender for the Republican nomination for president, Rick Perry will come under fierce scrutiny from voters across the US. Things that may give them pause for thought include his loudly proclaimed Christian views, his questionable records in areas such as education, the environment, and slash-and-burn budget management. But there is something else: the country may simply not be ready for another Texas governor in the White House. But how similar would he be to George W Bush, really?


* Bush's upbringing was a privileged one, hailing from a long political dynasty. To his critics he was a man who got his start in politics by way of Yale University and by rifling through his daddy's Rolodex.

* Perry's start was tougher. He came from a part of the state his father called "The Big Empty", and it hasn't changed that much today. His mother hand-sewed the shirts he went to school in.

Military service

* When Bush ran for election in 2000, his campaign was haunted by questions about his allegedly evading Vietnam using his parents' contacts to serve instead in the Texas Air National Guard.

* Perry will have no such difficulties, adding five years of service in the United States Air Force to his narrative of patriotic service to America. He flew C-130s in the Middle East and made captain.

Karl Rove

* For Bush, no single person was more important to his political rise than the Texas political strategist Karl Rove, who became a bogyman of the political left serving Bush in the White House.

* Perry will be getting no such help from Rove. The two men have had testy relations for years. Rove has criticised Perry allegedly for distancing himself from Bush and assailed him for calling Ben Bernanke a traitor.

Compassionate conservatism

* When he ran for the White House, Bush coined that phrase to describe his brand of Republican politics that was conservative but yet more moderate on issues that included immigration.

* Perry is a proud out-and-out conservative and has a record on health care, education and the environment that would anyway disqualify him from claiming any compassionate mantle.

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Poster's note: Be sure to watch the reporter's video interview of Robert Morrow included in this article.


Peddling Perry rumors on a national stage

Ken Herman, Commentary

Austin (TX) American-Statesman

Updated: 9:40 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29, 2011

Published: 7:26 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011


Ray Sullivan called me last week. Sullivan, a longtime Rick Perry aide and now communications director for Perry's presidential campaign, has a problem. Sullivan's wife, Leslie, is a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. But that's not the problem Sullivan called me about.

Sullivan called about Robert Morrow. Morrow is a problem for Perry. And any problem for Perry is a problem for Sullivan. Morrow, from his Austin home, has become a key purveyor of nasty, unsubstantiated allegations about Perry's personal life. You may be aware of Morrow's recent full-page Austin Chronicle ad trolling for bad stuff about Perry.

"Here is what we are learning about Rick Perry," Morrow wrote in a recent late-night email listing unsubstantiated stuff about Perry and concluding with "I think it is just a matter of time before a credible source" comes forward to substantiate the rumors.

Maybe. Maybe not. We've been down this road more than once with rumors about Perry. Lots of journalistic sweat and dollars have been spent on them. Reporting on such things is tricky. At this newspaper, we're not much interested in public officials' personal lives unless those personal lives affect public duties or offer evidence of rank hypocrisy. We are interested in discerning the truth, but unless it meets that criteria, we might choose not to write about it.

My American-Statesman colleague Mike Ward, one of the best diggers in our business, recently wound up at what he called a "nasty little townhouse" in North Austin to meet someone sources indicated might know something of potential note about Perry. Ward knocked on the door and identified himself. As Ward told me, "I kind of look like a cop." He kind of sounds like one, too. The conversation did not last too long.

"This guy basically said, ‘We don't want nothing, and you need to get the hell out of here.' He had a knife he was cleaning his fingernails with and he said, ‘I think you get it.' And I said, ‘I get it,' " said Ward, father of two cute kids.

Lots of opposition research sweat and dollars also have been spent chasing Perry rumors. To date, nada. But we're in a presidential campaign now. Things are different in a presidential campaign. And that's why Morrow is a problem for Perry.

"Morrow's (allegations) are more false rumors, with a different story line. The fact is that decades of intense media scrutiny, political opposition research and more than $100 million in attack ads have proven nothing other than Perry's solid and stable family, financial and political life," Sullivan told me in an email. "Unfortunately, the current political environment and exponentially larger number of media/information outlets allow crackpot conspiracy theorists like Mr. Morrow to run amok in cyberspace and in some cases traditional media outlets."

Indeed, Morrow's Chronicle ad drew some national media attention. "Dangit: So Far No Dirt on Perry" was the headline on a U.S. News blog item about the ad.

And Morrow has discussed his allegations on talk radio shows, a forum that — along with the internet — perpetuates such nonsense as the nonscandal about President Barack Obama's birth certificate and whether the Clintons were involved in the death of Vincent Foster.

"The challenge for the campaign is how to deal with it," Sullivan told me. "Response might further the storyline and push it into the mainstream media. Ignoring it may allow it to gain currency in certain uninformed circles."

So I went to meet Morrow. Right now you are conjuring up an image of a guy living by himself in an apartment housing voluminous materials he believes are proof positive about every great political conspiracy theory of the past half-century.

Erase that image. Substitute this one: A guy living by himself in an upscale, 4,000-square-foot home in Davenport Ranch housing voluminous materials he believes are proof positive about every great political conspiracy theory of the past half-century.

"So when I was researching Bill and Hillary Clinton, I went to Amazon.com, and I literally bought every book ever written on the Clintons," he said as he opened the doors on a cabinet in an upstairs room. "So when I say these things about these politicians, I'm not just, you know, pulling it out of my (place where books generally are not found). I back it up."

We're talking about 200 to 300 books, by Morrow's estimate.

"Come on over here, I'll show up my JFK collection," he said as we headed to another room. "Here's my library on the JFK assassination, also known as the 1963 coup d'état. In my opinion, Lyndon Johnson and his Texas oilmen used their CIA-military connections to murder John Kennedy for many reasons, both personal and political. This is an 8-foot tall bookcase, 4 feet wide, with some of the best JFK books out there."

And on another wall in that room, "That's another 8-foot-by-4-foot bookshelf with a lot of political books and information. Got a lot of books on the Bushes. Here's ‘Family of Secrets' by Russ Baker, where he pretty much implies that George Herbert Walker Bush was involved in the JFK assassination, which I think is very likely because Bush was high-ranking Texas CIA in 1963, and he was supported by the exact same people that Lyndon Johnson was, the Texas oilmen, military contractors, CIA people."

Morrow, 47, is a large man; 6-foot-4 and apparently working out.

His dining room has a framed photo of him in the gold basketball uniform he wore in high school in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where his family has done well in a real estate business started by his late dad in 1961.

Morrow is a Princeton University graduate and has an MBA from the University of Texas. He now has no job but is involved in investments and day trading and political research.

His home is valued by the Travis Central Appraisal District at $712,000.

"I'm a truth seeker and a truth teller. Even if it's the ugly truth," he said of his political research. He acknowledges he's yet to produce evidence or witnesses to back his Perry allegations. But, while other purveyors of tips about Perry want to remain in the background, Morrow is quite comfortable as a center of attention, a fact evidenced by the reporters' business cards on his kitchen counter. He speaks in precise, quotable sound bites that he can repeat word for word, over and over again. He's a "libertarian operating within the Republican Party" and backs Ron Paul for president, says so on the sign on his pickup truck. He's also a three-time delegate to Texas GOP state conventions.

And he does not like to be associated with conspiracy theories.

"I don't really call it conspiracy theories. I'm a researcher and go where the truth takes me," he said.

Morrow knows the Perry people are not sure what to do about him. "They were waiting for me. But that's like saying they're waiting to get kicked in the nuts with the truth," he said.

The Perry dossier on Morrow, shared with reporters, says he is "an intelligent, articulate guy (Princeton degree, MBA from UT-Austin), but he has an obsessive personality ... and he has focused his obsessions on one off-the-wall political conspiracy theory after another, usually focused on alleged sexual transgressions and murder."

The Perry campaign, in unflattering terms, is working to discredit Morrow and discourage journalists from dealing with him.

"His current obsession is Texas Gov. Rick Perry," the campaign notes.

I got to Morrow's home just after his hourlong stint on a New Orleans radio show titled "Ringside Politics With A Punch" on which host Jeff Crouere let Morrow, in a return appearance, spout his graphic and detailed and unsubstantiated allegations about Perry. Brian in Metairie called to complain to Morrow about "the lives you could be destroying just on hearsay."

"The people who have told me these things are very credible," Morrow replied.

Mo in New Orleans, who claimed experience as a private detective, told Morrow the whole thing sounded like "a smear campaign." It should be noted that Mo in New Orleans said his problem with Perry has to do with "his Muslim connections."

Like most radio talk shows, this one comes back from commercials with catchy music and a catchy catchphrase. "Ringside Politics With a Punch," we were told after one break, "is like a box of chocolates. You never know when you'll get a nut." And then Morrow was back on the air.

Is Morrow a nut? He's different, I'll say that. And we'll see if his scandalous allegations about Perry ever will be backed with evidence or witnesses. But there is no doubt that he has intelligence, drive, money, time and a knack for gaining attention.

That's why Sullivan called me.

kherman@statesman.com; 445-3907

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  • 3 months later...
Guest Robert Morrow

** Longtime Texas gay activist Glen Maxey writes a story about Rick Perry and his gay sex with men.

"Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry" - the title comes from one of Perry's gay lovers who did not know that Perry was running for "Head Figure Head."


Glen Maxey, a well known gay activist in Austin, on Rick Perry -

“Has Rick Perry had sex with men? Personally, I believe he has. The strength and volume of stories and witnesses are to me very, very convincing. To recap, here are the alleged same-sex encounters described in this book: • Four random men at gay bars who told me personally that they or their friend had hooked up with Perry • A young male hustler who told friends and me that he had sex on multiple occasions with Perry and his friends • A man who claimed to have answered a Craigslist Ad and ended up having sex with Perry

• A man with his pinkie finger in Perry’s belt loop at a gay party • A Former Legislator who had encounters with Perry at a legislative conference • A guy who called Perry his “Sugar Daddy” and disappeared when a reporter merely questioned him about it • A widely rumored relationship with an official appointed to statewide office, which exploded into the public • A curious set of three young gay men who allegedly were “rearranged” from jobs at the Capitol ostensibly for being gay—one of whom had to sign a suspicious confidentiality agreement • A jogger who claims that Perry hit on him on the jogging trail • A New York City policeman who disappears with Perry during a fundraiser The evidence I’ve seen and heard convinces me."

Maxey, Glen (2011-12-13). Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry (Kindle Locations 1834-1846). Glen Maxey. Kindle Edition.

Note: Glen only knows the “gay angle” to Rick Perry. Two years ago in 2009, I learned about the “woman angle” to Rick Perry. I think Preacher boy Perry has been rampant on both fronts. I am convinced.

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