Perry’s Merck problem

Since officially announcing his candidacy for president last month, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, has quickly advanced to front-runner status while weathering his fair share of political storms along the way.

He has been labeled “anti-science” for his skepticism of global warming and his support for teaching creationism in public schools.

Mitt Romney has accused him of wanting to kill Social Security and Politico featured an article asking (rhetorically?) “Is Rick Perry Dumb?”

These issues may have gotten a lot of play in the news media, but they haven’t hurt Perry in the eyes of most Republican primary voters. Clumsy rhetoric aside, he is seen by many as the most electable candidate with strong socially and fiscally conservative credentials.

The Perry campaign’s most recent headache may jeopardize that standing.

At CNN’s Tea Party debate on Monday, Michelle Bachmann, attacked Perry for an executive order he signed (and was later repealed by the Texas legislature) mandating that, before entering the sixth grade, all girls in Texas be vaccinated against human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.

“To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” Bachmann said in the debate.

Perry argues that his primary concern was to save lives and the order did include a “Parents’ Rights” clause that allowed parents to opt out if they conscientiously objected to the mandate.

After signing the order, he put out a statement saying, “Parents need to know that they have the final decision about whether or not their daughter is vaccinated. I am a strong believer in protecting parental rights, which is why this executive order allows them to opt out.”

This is little consolation to conservatives who bristle at any undue government intrusion into their lives, but as the candidate perceived to be the most viable alternative to Mitt Romney, it’s going to take more than that to turn them off from Perry.

Bachmann is hoping a corruption charge will do the trick.

“It’s very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been a cause (of the vaccination policy)” she told Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show.

At Monday’s debate she argued, “The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”

According to The Texas Tribune, Governor Perry has received close to $30,000 in campaign contributions from Merck, the only drug company producing the HPV vaccine at the time he signed the executive order.

To make matters worse, Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, worked as a lobbyist for Merck after working for the governor.

Perry has received millions of dollars in contributions from countless sources, corporate and otherwise, and the degree to which tens of thousands of dollars from Merck influenced his decision remains to be seen.

But if the corruption charge sticks, we could be looking at an invigorated Bachmann campaign in the short term and a likely Romney presidency in the long term.

 

Reach the columnist at dcolthar@asu.edu

 

 

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