- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, elected with strong conservative support in November, has taunted that political base recently and could face serious opposition in the state Legislature amid a developing power struggle.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, has begun to assert himself on several hot-button issues after a relatively quiet six years in office in a state where the constitution gives its governor little formal power. His executive order earlier this month ordering all Texas girls entering the sixth grade to be immunized against a venereal disease that causes cervical cancer provided the most heat and criticism from conservatives.

But another Perry edict, to speed up state review of proposed coal-fired power plants, was checked by a state judge last week. And another Perry suggestion, that the state should sell its lottery to help fund cancer research and care, hasn’t caught on.

Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy, said Mr. Perry’s latest moves constituted “bizarre behavior” in view of his courting of conservatives last year when, for a time, it appeared Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, might return to Texas and run for governor.

“He solidified himself with the social conservatives then, and now he’s just totally ignoring them on this issue, which they are to very sensitive to,” said Mr. Murray. “It suggests he’s not planning to run in any Republican primaries in the future.”

But a spokesman for Mr. Perry denied that his boss has usurped too much power, and Mr. Perry has argued that the Texas Constitution gives him the power to lead “as the chief executive officer of the state.”

“To ask the governor to stop directing agencies would be tantamount to asking him to stop leading,” said his press secretary, Robert Black.

Mr. Black also said accusations against his boss as invalid. He said Mr. Perry showed strong leadership in 2001 with his Trans Texas Corridor plan, a massive proposal to build 4,000 miles of superhighways and railroads across rural Texas from the Mexican border to the Red River. He said his boss stood tall in 2003 when he strongly resisted efforts to raise taxes in the state and later led “the most sweeping tort reform legislation” in the United States.

“If you’re going to throw big ideas out on table,” said Mr. Black, “somebody’s going to get mad at you.”

But it was the HPV edict that bounced the hardest and loudest. Mr. Perry did not inform most of the legislative leadership of his plan before he announced it.

Almost immediately, some of the state’s leading conservatives berated the idea, claiming that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, marketed under the name Gardasil, might also increase preteen promiscuity. Some opposed the edict for its mandatory nature, and others criticized it as neither needed nor helpful.

They combined to fllod the airwaves and the Internet in opposition. Last week in Austin, a legislative committee passed a resolution to rescind Mr. Perry’s order, with a full-scale bill predictably not far behind.

Also last week, a group of Texans filed a lawsuit in district court in Austin, challenging Mr. Perry’s authority to issue the order and seeking to block any state money from being spent on the vaccine until that question is resolved, said Kenneth Chaiken, the attorney representing the families.

“The school-age girls of Texas are not guinea pigs who may be subjected to medial procedures at the apparent whim of Texas’ governor,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.

The best bet, said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor, is that a bill to rescind the Perry executive order will pass. Then he sees a strong possibility that Mr. Perry will veto that, and a miffed Legislature then will override his veto and kill the program.

Mr. Black, the governor’s spokesman, said yesterday Mr. Perry will “stand firm” on his belief the HPV plan is “morally right,” and he added, “Legislators will have to determine what they stand for.”

Others should not have been surprised at the HPV overture, he added, because Mr. Perry mentioned his support for it in his re-election campaign last summer.

“Evidently, someone wasn’t listening,” said Mr. Black.

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