As I have previously written, one worrisome item in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s record concerns an executive order, later overridden by the legislature, to require that school-age girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus. As the Austin Statesman explained in 2007:
[Documents] show that the governor’s office had been talking about HPV with drug maker Merck for at least five months and that the same state agency that the governor directed to implement the executive order actually drafted the order. And they show that . . .the governor’s office had simply failed to predict the firestorm.
Critics have blasted the executive order, with some saying Perry overstepped his authority and others worrying about the vaccine itself: that it’s too new to know about long-term effects or that getting vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus could encourage young girls to be promiscuous.
Controversy also focused on Perry’s former chief of staff (who was also a Perry donor), who, it just so happened, turned out to be a lobbyist for Merck. This episode seemed to personify a number of criticisms of Perry: that he shoots from the hip, has insufficient interest in policy and has entanglements with lobbyist/cronies.
Perry sought to put all that behind him in New Hampshire over the weekend. According to a Texas Tribune report:
A few hours after unveiling his campaign for president, Perry began walking back from one of the most controversial decisions of his more-than-10-year reign as Texas governor. Speaking to voters at a backyard party in New Hampshire, Perry said he was ill-informed when he issued his executive order, in February 2007, mandating the HPV vaccine for all girls entering sixth grade, unless their parents completed a conscientious-objection affidavit form.
It is not entirely clear what Perry now regrets. Was it the decision itself or the handling of the roll-out?
“I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry,” Perry said at the Manchester, N.H., event in response to an audience question about the HPV controversy, according to ABC News’ The Note. “But here’s what I learned: When you get too far out in front of the parade, they will let you know, and that’s exactly what our Legislature did, and I saluted it and I said, ‘Roger that, I hear you loud and clear.’ And they didn’t want to do it and we don’t, so enough said.”
Instead of making the vaccine mandatory, “what we should of done was a program that frankly allowed them to opt in or some type of program like that,” Perry told the New Hampshire gathering.
I have not yet received clarification from the campaign as to what he failed to “research” — public opinion or the drug itself. His self-evaluation seems to have come recently. Less than a year ago he defended the decision in his reelection bid.
Well, as former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said, all the candidates have some “clunkers” in their records. It’s smart to try to sweep them away earlier rather than later in the campaign. Christian conservatives who opposed his original decision on the HPV vaccine are likely to welcome the conversion, however belated. In isolation it seems like a small issue. However, to the extent the media and his opponents begin to build a narrative about Perry’s governance style and ethics that can be problematic. You can understand then why Perry would want to get the HPV issue out of the way as soon as possible.