How much is this ever-present phalanx of state policemen costing the taxpayers of Texas? They won’t know at least until after next year’s presidential election, thanks to a provision, tucked into a school finance bill in July, that will keep the governor’s travel records sealed for 18 months.
Although security around public officials has been tightened considerably since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the secrecy that surrounds Perry’s travels is unique, according to Ken Bunting, executive director of the Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition.
And the governor’s critics contend that it has as much to do with politics as safety — especially after the embarrassment for Perry when taxpayers learned that they had been paying for scuba gear and golf cart rentals for officers who accompanied Perry and his wife to the Bahamas in 2004.
“I’m appalled,” said Democratic state Rep. Lon Burnam. “He wants to keep the details buried when he goes to the Bahamas.”
Indeed, this is a battle that has been raging since long before Perry decided to run for president.
Texas newspapers have tried for years to see Perry’s travel records, which would include the costs of the governor’s security detail. But the state Department of Public Safety, run by Steve McCraw, a former FBI official and a longtime Perry friend, has said that the safety of Perry and his family could be jeopardized if the public knew how many officers accompany them, where they stay and Perry’s traveling patterns.
After the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express and Austin American-Statesman sued the DPS, two Texas courts ruled that the records should be released. They were overturned last month by the state Supreme Court. But the case is still alive: the Supreme Court sent it back to a lower court, ordering DPS to cite precisely which records would put Perry in danger if they were released.
In the meantime, during a special session that ended July 1, the Texas Legislature, at Perry’s urging, added language to a school finance bill that will seal the governor’s travel records for 18 months — until after the 2012 presidential election. The measure would cover the records going forward, not those in the past, which have been the subject of the court fight.
One Republican legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the governor as “extremely concerned” about keeping his records sealed, and said Perry was actively lobbying key legislators to get it passed in the waning days of the special session. The legislator said Perry’s wife, Anita, also was pressing legislators on the issue.