Perry’s Retirement signals the End of a Traditional Mexican-Republican Love Affair

UT Dallas_tex_orangeby Alex Gonzalez

Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement that he won’t seek re-election has sent Texas into a “political shake up.” But for most Latinos the question ought to be how this shake up will change the dynamic of politics in Texas between Mexican-Americans and the Republican Party.  Will “the General” Greg Abbott have the Texas swagger, passion and dedication to lure more Latino voters into the GOP like Perry and George W. Bush did? Rick Perry’s passionate persona–which is naturally very political–is as big as Texas itself; and for ten years, Perry and W. Bush pushed for a vision of regional cooperation between Mexico and Texas unmatched by any other free-trade Republican. Also, both Perry and W. Bush embodied a traditional love affair that Texas Republicans felt for Mexican-Americans and Mexico.  From 2000 to 2010 Perry and W. Bush fomented a love affair between Texas Mexican-Americans, Mexico and the GOP. So when Perry leaves in 2014, it will the end this love affair since no other Republican, thus far, has showed the vision, passion and  love for Mexican-Americans in Texas like W. Bush and Perry did.     

If Greg Abbott indeed becomes Governor, will he have courage to build bridges between Texas and Mexico instead of populism of  “more fences,” and will he risk political capital on it, and thus, defy the isolationism and “more fences” mantra that arouses Tea Party groups?

Both Perry and W. Bush favored trade over fences because they are free-trade conservatives who love Texas history and see Mexican-American as part of that integral history. As a result, In Texas, Many Mexican-Americans still cling to the W. Bush years. From my perspective -which is one shared by most Mexican-Americans in Texas who still melancholically look to the W. Bush years for inspiration -Rick Perry embodies the fatherly/protector  figure of George W. Bush; and Latinos really loved that unfiltered passionate candor Perry and W. Bush  exuded when they talked about Latinos.  And both Perry and W. Bush were unapologetic about it.

I am sure many Democrats in Texas are happy to see Perry go since that is the game of politics from the opposite side, and  during the last session Perry unsuccessfully pushed the “sanctuary bill”  to appeased Tea Party Legislators and activists.  But Rick Perry also presided over many policies that currently help Latino students, including the Texas Dream Act that grants in-state-tuition to undocumented students, B.A.s for $10,000 to low-income students and the Top Ten Percent.  Furthermore, Perry is popular among Latinos, even outside Texas, because he was not afraid to use compassionate religious descriptions when he talked about helping undocumented immigrants. W. Bush and Perry were like the Republican Robin Hood that when the big Party-bosses failed to stop the wave of anti-Latino (Mexican) sentiment within the GOP, they acted like leaders and stood before the populist crowds and told them that what they were doing was wrong. For example, remember the debate on Foxnews when Perry  said: 

If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said. “We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society.”

Gov. Perry later apologized saying that I was probably a bit over-passionate in using that word, and it was inappropriate. But we all know that he meant it, and we loved his “passionate” moment; what he said was just a manifestation of his strong religious convictions to defend what he felt was an unjust attack on young undocumented students who just want make a better life for themselves. Perry feels as passionate about Mexican-Americans as he is about the pro-life issue because he sees  most Latino Texans are religiously and culturally conservative, even if some of them are Democrats.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a United For Life event event in Los Angeles

On matters of trade between Texas and Mexico, Perry was a free-trade visionary.  Days before the 9-11 attacks, Perry presented a plan to the Texas Legislature about bi-national health insurance coverage for both U.S. and Mexican border residents.

On March of 2007, leading a large delegation of Texas executives trying to drum up business in Mexico, Gov. Rick Perry criticized the U.S. Congress for failing to pass an immigration bill that would legalize millions of workers. He stated that “We need those individuals to continue to grow our economy,” he said of Texas’ undocumented workers, most of whom hail from Mexico. “The vast, vast majority of those individuals want to come and work and take care of their families.”

Gov. Perry was also a big supporter of NAFTA. In a speech in 2007, he told a delegation of Mexicans businessmen that the NAFTA agreement not only signaled a new era of economic possibility, but a new era of bi-national cooperation. That is why it is wrong, and inherently detrimental to our relationship with Mexico for the U.S. Congress to pursue a protectionist policy that forbids Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways.

Legislation authored by border legislators…Mexican and U.S. sides of the border compose one region, and we must address health care problems throughout that region…Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.

This was plan successfully promote by President W. Bush but later terminated by President Obama.

Gov. Perry also had his own visionary plan: The NAFTA Superhighway/Corridor project. The corridor was Rick Perry’s biggest vision to make Texas the heart of NAFTA. It was to consist of a two-mile wide $184 billion transit system of toll roads, rail lines and utilities from the Texas-Mexico border all the way up to the Minnesota-Canadian border linking all the three countries of North America.   But the project was killed by the politics of losing “sovereignty” conspiracies politics.  

The other great Republican Texan who loves Mexico and Mexican-Americans is President George W. Bush.

When W. Bush Presidency began, President Bush, being from Texas, had an affinity toward Latinos. In his first official trip abroad, Bush went to Mexico and came up with the Guanajuato Proposal: Mexico and the United States will now focus on resolving mutual pressing problems. The Fox – Bush Summit in Guanajuato promised a new era for the US-Mexico. Mr. Bush stated that Mr. Fox “is the kind of leader that Mexico has needed for a long time. This Fox-Bush combination “could turn out to be a great blessing for both Mexicans and Americans alike. In 2001, Sep 7th, 4 days before 9/11, Vicente Fox spoke before a joined Session of congress. But, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this new vision suffered a severe regression.

And even though the 9/11 attacks created a new level of suspicion between the two nations, President Bush kept pushing forward to bring Mexico and the US together. In 2005, he brought Canadian Prime Minister Martin and President Fox to Texas where the leaders three leaders signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America—partnership to increase the free flow of goods and to harmonized trilateral policies in North America. At the same time, Bush persuaded the Republican US Senate to pass and comprehensive immigration reform, which would also have guaranteed a guest-worker program to supply low-skilled worker to the US labor.

Immigration: Immigration Bill v. “Sensenbrenner Bill”. On December, 2005, the House passed the Sensenbrenner Bill” criminalizing all violations of federal immigration law, including illegal presence, which indirectly shifts the responsibility of immigration enforcement to state and local law authorities.  Conversely, the U.S. Senate led by W. Bush and under the leadership of Republican Bill Frist approved a wide-ranging overhaul of immigration laws to bolster security at the Mexican border and to grant many illegal immigrants a path toward legalization.  President Bush commended the Senate on its work in “passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. And W. Bush, just like Perry was not afraid to call on Republicans who demonized Latinos. In a speech in Arizona to the Border Patrol in 2007, he told audience:

 If you want to scare the American people, you say this is an amnesty bill. That is empty political rhetoric tying to frighten our fellow citizens people.

Also, in 2007, President Bush enacted a pilot program to allowed Mexican firms to operate in the US. But Obama signed an unrelated bill that canceled a George W. Bush-era pilot program in the US and designed to grant temporary access to Mexican cross-border truckers.  The plan was in preparation for a larger inclusive US-Mexico trucking program.

The reality in American politics is that specific groups of voters have specific needs and issues important to their region or background, and Bush and Perry understood that.  The Latino Population in the southwest is 80% Mexican-American and in Texas is 90%. That is why every single Republican running for office—including the Latino candidates—always cite president W. Bush as how Latino are Republicans; but they cite poll numbers rather than saying I am like President Bush.          

So if you look at the time-frame, it was when Bush was President between 2000-08 that Rick Perry pushed for his biggest plans of  partnerships with northern Mexico, and when he signed the legislation in Texas to help Latinos in Higher education. While Bush was pushing for the SPP to enhance more free-trade with Mexico and pushing for an immigration bill in Congress in 2006-07, Perry was touting his Texas NAFTA Superhighway project and his appreciation for northern Mexico. But that was then.

The current Republican leadership in Texas is nothing like the leadership of 2000-08. In fact, not even the few Latino Republicans have the passion, or dedication, to build or evoke an emotional bond with Latinos, despite the fact the politics in Texas is more about emotions, proud history, and regional populism than facts.

Attorney General Greg Abbott

For example, NAFTA has increased 7-times to almost ½ trillion annually, but Republican activists and some Party Leaders rather focus an playing the “more fences” games since the Tea Party still controls some element of the base;  so they  avoid telling Republicans that 40% of Texas trade and 1.6 million jobs are directly related to trade with Mexico.

So it is difficult to predict whether Greg Abbott will have charisma and strength to push back the base to the same way Perry and Bush did when needed. Or whether he will have the courage to stand before a crowd of Republican audience and argue that Mexico and Texas have an inexorable future together because of regional trade and Latino history. Will the General tell the crowds the Mexican-Americans and both side of border are united by a history and culture, those are the emotive speeches Perry and W. Bush used with Latino voters?

Greg Abbott is very humble amicable politician who plays the populists anti-Obama card well; and he does ventures into Republican Latino political events to talk about how Latinos and Republicans belong together, but he does not exude the same cultural adoration for Mexican-Americans that both Perry and Bush naturally showed. It is not coincidence that in 2006-10, while Republicans in Congress from Texas got about 30%, Perry got about 40% of the Latino vote. So it could be argued that Rick Perry is the last of a great Republican Texas Mexican-American era.


Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst, Founder of Latino Public Policy Foundation (LPPF), and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to or @AlexGonzTXCA


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