Rick Perry: 'I'm a Legit Rural Guy'
Douglas Burns/Carroll Daily Times Herald
Texas Gov. Rick Perry paused outside Marty Burchett’s Fourth Generation clothing store on the east side of Harlan, Iowa's town square. Trailed by campaign staff and the international media, the Republican presidential candidate didn’t burst in the door to the small shop.
Perry glanced down at the cup of coffee he’d just purchased at The Coffee Plant, a local gathering place where minutes ago he'd held a meet-and-greet, and asked Burchett, “Ma’am is it OK if I bring this in here?”
It was. The clothing store was one of several small businesses Perry visited in Harlan during a town-square walk Wednesday afternoon.
Harlan Tribune co-owner Alan Mores said Perry’s skill at retail politics belied the image he presents in debates.
“It is not his television persona,” Mores said. “His southern hospitality oozed out of him.”
Following the string of Harlan stops, Perry boarded his campaign bus and conducted a 30-minute interview with The (Carroll) Daily Times Herald, a wide-ranging session in which the governor talked about his beloved Texas A&M football team and hunting, explained his views on immigration, abortion and the death penalty, and defended tough campaign ads now running on Iowa television that accuse President Obama of waging a “war on religion.”
Throughout the interview, aboard the bus rolling north on Highway 59 to Denison, Perry stressed his rural roots. He was raised on a farm in rural Texas, an hour from Abilene.
“I’m a legit rural guy and I get offended when people think if you’re from a rural setting or a rural area that somehow or another you’re not intellectually as engaging or you’re not as smart,” Perry told The Daily Times Herald.
Perry said wisdom that comes from growing up in a rural community is priceless.
“As a matter of fact, we were talking about New York City and that hustle and bustle and this almost chaotic surrounding is difficult,” he said.
Perry said he grew up 16 miles from the nearest post office. As a result, he said, some people challenge him now for perhaps not developing “characteristics” for working with people — at which Perry said he chuckles.
“I did spend a lot of time alone with my dog and horses,” Perry said.
Perry said that the nation needs to appreciate the disproportionate military service of rural residents, who per capita, have a stronger presence in the nation’s defense.
“It has always in this country been the rural, blue-collar individuals who have over-proportionally populated our military,” Perry said. “This isn’t a new phenomenon. This has been going on forever, and I will suggest to you one of the reasons for that is because these rural communities, the values of faith and freedom and patriotism are still taught in our public schools to some degree.”
In the ABC News/Yahoo/Des Moines Register debate a week ago Saturday in Des Moines Perry said: “If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn’t you cheat on your business partner or why wouldn’t you cheat on anybody for that matter?”
By his own standard, does this mean President Obama would be more trustworthy as a business partner than Newt Gingrich, the current GOP front-runner who has been married three times and admitted infidelities? Is President Obama, married just once with no hint of breaking marital vows, a better role model for Americans in terms of family values?
“I will tell you this about the president: I think he is a faithful husband. I think he is a good father,” Perry said. “I disagree with him on a lot of different issues but I do respect him for his faithfulness. I respect him for being a role model for his children.”
Perry said he didn’t think divorce was a disqualifier for public office, but he noted that President Harry Truman famously observed that men who would cheat on their wives cannot be fully trusted in other capacities.
Where, Perry asks, would the institution of marriage be in the United States of America if all our nation’s citizens had been married three times like Gingrich? How damaged would children be if they each had to deal with these three women during Christmas: a mom, an ex-stepmom and a new stepmom?
“The ideal is to have a man and a woman in traditional marriage and raising that child, both having that father figure and mother figure,” Perry said. “That’s the ideal. It is not the preponderance of what we find in America today.”
How, Perry suggests, could Iowans take the Republican Party seriously, if after decades of running on a family values narrative, the GOP punches Gingrich’s card in the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 3?
“I’m a big ole’ fat sinner just like everybody else — you included,” Perry said. “The point is: if you admitted your sin to God and truly repented of your sin, and by the grace of God, you’re forgiven, at that particular point in time your slate is washed clean.”
In other words, someone who has been married four times and is right with God is fit for office, Perry said.
A Perry advertising blitz is challenging President Obama, saying in no uncertain terms that Obama is engaged in a war on religion. What has Obama done to diminish the faith of Iowans, to make it more difficult for them to be Christian?
Specifically, Perry said that the U.S. Justice Department, under Obama’s leadership, is attacking the ministerial exemption on hiring for staff based on the belief system in the church.
“That does affect you directly,” Perry said.
The governor also suggested that Obama policies are making it more difficult for Catholic charities to operate because of the church’s opposition to abortion.
Perry defended his ads as fair.
“I don’t consider that to be a tough ad,” Perry said. “I just consider that to be the truth.”
If Perry’s pro-life view on abortion prevails and the procedure is again criminalized in the nation, what should the penalties be for a woman who has an abortion and for a doctor who performs one?
Perry answered that with criminalization, there would be substantially fewer abortions and that it is up to the Congress to make decision on penalties. He said that should Roe v. Wade be overturned, the states would decide for some period of time until support could coalesce for a National Defense of Life measure to outlaw abortion, perhaps as a Constitutional amendment.
“Punishments and what-have-you are not the purview of the president,” Perry said. “Those are the purview of Congress.”
How many people have been put to death while Perry has been governor of Texas, and is he utterly convinced that all of them were rightfully convicted?
“Two-hundred-thirty-plus, and when I’m saying 230-plus, somewhere between 230 — and I can’t tell you the exact number, but I’ll get you the exact number,” Perry said
He said all those executed in Texas under his watch as governor had full access to the law and lengthy appeals processes.
“I am comfortable that when I stand before God and he judges me that the decisions I have made relative to dispensing justice in Texas will not be one of the things he downgrades my performance on,” Perry said.
In a September Republican presidential debate, the audience cheered a reference to the 234 executions that had taken place in Texas during Perry’s service as governor. Perry, who was elected lieutenant governor of Texas in 1998, became governor in 2000 after George W. Bush left that office for the presidency.
On immigration reform Perry said securing the border is the most serious issue for the nation to face.
“I know how to do that,” Perry said. “I’ve been dealing with this border for 11 years. You put the boots on the ground. You have the aviation assets. You use the strategic fencing.”
He added, “You can shut down and secure the border within 12 months. That’s my commitment.”
After these measures of enforcement, he said, the immigration policy should be to enforce existing laws and have a longer-term conversation about visas for high-technology fields.
Carroll County, Iowa, is big hunting country. Is that a true story about Perry carrying a Ruger handgun and shooting a coyote while out jogging in South Austin, Texas?
“Yes, it is,” Perry said.
Douglas Burns is an editor and columnist for the Carroll Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, where this article first appeared.