The Rick Perry campaign has been getting some bad press both in the mainstream media and in the conservative blogosphere on the Texas governor’s decision to mandate the HPV vaccine and on his apology over the weekend on this decision.

In response to a request for documents from Politico, the Perry team dumped some 700 documents in the laps of Ben Smith and Byron Tau. Smith concludes, “Perry himself was almost entirely absent from the implementation of this key decision. . . . By the time the emails begin in August of 2006, the decision seems a fait accompli, and staffers never refer to Perry’s own views on specifics, though in October 24 emails they consider a request from the Governor’s office on how to structure the vaccination program to avoid turning it into a permanent Medicaid responsibility.”

This is true insofar as it goes, but it gives the impression this was not an important decision that commanded Perry’s attention. We know it was, though, because Perry kept telling the press and Texas voters how important it was.

In 2007 he berated the opponents of his executive order, as the Austin Statesman reported:

Three months after Gov. Rick Perry ignited a firestorm by issuing an executive order to require schoolgirls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, he is letting a bill go into law that will undo his mandate.

In an emotional speech to reporters Tuesday, during which the governor surrounded himself with women whose lives have been affected by the cancer-causing infection, Perry laid blame for future cervical cancer deaths at the feet of lawmakers who supported the bill.

Gov. Rick Perry suggested that lawmakers who rejected his mandate would have some responsibility in future cancer deaths. At Tuesday’s news conference were women who have fought HPV. Foreground from left are Barbara Garcia, Cheryl Lieck, Amanda Vail and Tracey Buchanan. Dr. Edward Tyson, left, and Amy Sweet also attended.

Perry thanked the minority of legislators who voted against the bill and said, “No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.”

Gesturing to Barbara Garcia, 27, of Houston, who has to use a wheelchair because of cervical cancer, and Amanda Vail, 29, of Houston, who said she contracted HPV after being raped, Perry said, “I challenge legislators to look these women in the eye and tell them, ‘We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and your granddaughters, but we just didn’t have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric.’  ”

The bill’s author, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, criticized the governor’s decision “to use cancer victims as his backdrop for an issue that he has grossly misjudged.”

He said that the critics of the mandatory vaccination were peddling in “hyperbole that doesn’t stand up in light of clinical data.”

Moreover, as late as 2010, Perry was still defending the action in an election debate, denying it was a mistake and insisting it was a pro-life position.

So why the change of heart from such deeply and passionately expressed views? We still don’t know. Maybe the traveling media corps can ask. But the notion that this was a blip on Perry’s radar screen is belied by his defense of the policy over a period of years.

It seems that Perry at least owes the voters a fuller explanation for his abrupt change of heart. When did he realize his decision was a mistake? And to be specific, was the decision itself faulty, or was the error in using an executive order to accomplish his aim? Or was it in not eliminating a potential conflict of interest (for example, by returning a campaign donation from the Merck lobbyist who pushed for the vaccination program)? There could be very good answers to these queries; we just don’t know what they are yet.