Where Perry Falls Flat

Where Perry Falls Flat

By Ruben Navarrette - June 29, 2011

SAN DIEGO -- When it comes to opinions about the governor of Texas, being inside-the-Beltway sometimes means being out of touch.

The Washington Times gushed in a recent editorial:

"Rick Perry is having a good month. With all eyes on his possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the Texas governor is showing that his anti-Washington rhetoric is more than just talk. By vetoing feel-good, nanny-state regulations and thwarting of federal intervention in his state, he's demonstrating the kind of leadership America needs."

A good month? I take it that whoever wrote that editorial wasn't in San Antonio recently for the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The hundreds of activists who attended the event gave a frosty reception to Perry, who was greeted by protesters outside the ballroom and then gave an abbreviated keynote speech before hustling out the door.

The audience was intent on sending a message: Don't mess with Latinos. We understand that you're trying to raise your profile with voters who are worried about immigration and changing demographics. But we don't appreciate your attempts to score political points at our expense, and so we're going to let you know in no uncertain terms that this sort of nativist pandering really ticks us off.

For most of the decade that Perry has served as governor, Latinos in Texas -- aka Tejanos -- pretty much have left him alone. This was true even in 2002, when Perry took the low road in his re-election campaign and "Willie Horton-ized" his Democratic opponent -- Latino oil tycoon and businessman Tony Sanchez -- with television commercials implying, with no evidence to back it up, that Sanchez's $600 million fortune was the result of drug trafficking.

One reason that Perry has gotten a pass from Latinos is that he once served as lieutenant governor -- if only for less than a year -- under arguably the most Latino-friendly Republican governor in Texas history: George W. Bush.

Bush didn't pander to nativists. In 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187 -- a ballot measure that sought to deny education and other services to illegal immigrants. When the proponents tried to enact similar legislation in Texas, Bush pushed back. In his 1998 re-election, Bush got nearly 50 percent of the Latino vote in the state.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette

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