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August 30, 2011 6:20 pm

Rick Perry: God’s Candidate?

avatar by Maxine Dovere

Presidential candidate Rick Perry. Photo: Ed Shipul.

“I promise you this, I will work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential to you as I can.” Rick Perry, Republican Party event, Iowa, 2011

Rick Perry is running for president. Playing a shrewd game of Texas Hold ‘Em – the Governor of Texas held his campaign announcement until the moment that the Lone Star leader could take the sparkle off anyone’s Iowa straw poll victory. ‘The Response,’ a prayer rally in Houston’s Reliant Stadium at which he virtually called upon God (and country) for support, saying, “we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” Abraham Foxman, National Director of the ADL said “He called this rally as a governor. He didn’t try to camouflage anything. He’s pleasant and he’s smart, he has good relations with the Jewish community, but this is a conscious disregard of law and authority. What troubles me most is this is his perception of where America is at.”

Rabbi Chaim Lazeroff of Chabad of the Southwest pointed out that this rally was “a prayer rally – everyone should accept that Christian prayer would be recited …It’s important for a politician to have a religion he strongly believes in and be men of faith.  America stands for freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”  He’s allowed to express his religion as a private person.

Rick Perry is making his positions known.  The Texas governor presents himself as a champion of the Tenth Amendment (which reserves to the states powers not explicitly given to the national government), a position popular among right leaning conservative Republicans, making him quite welcome among Tea Party movement members. Publicity for his latest text, “Fed Up!” an anti-Washington treatise, which decries the dangers of federal power and has been termed a “fierce” anti-Obama message, was coordinated with the announcement of his presidential bid.

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Perry has implied that Texans are so angry at federal health care and environmental programs that they might consider secession. How deep, really, are the governor’s conservative credentials vis a vis concrete application? His opposition to some federal programs may be colored by “convenience.”  Perry has personally received some $83,000 in farm subsidies – during the time he held public office. In “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” he rails against the more than $245 billion spent by the federal government on “farm subsidies,” Perry, as a West Texas cotton farmer, received federal farm subsidies over 11 years from 1987 to 1998.

Now in favor of a federal amendment barring gay marriage, Perry changed his former position regarding this issue, certainly a “hot button” one among conservative Republicans. Initially favoring each state’s right to decide its own policy, the candidate now supports promulgation of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the US – not a typical stance for a staunch 10th amendment proponent.

Are Perry’s announced positions sincere, consistent philosophical stances or solely politically convenient?  Despite loud and vocal criticism of federal intervention – specifically, the stimulus programs – Texas under Perry accepted $17 billion in federal stimulus funds – used to balance Texas’ budgets during each of the past two years. Further, a $1 million federal planning grant to study application of health care programs was accepted by the Texas governor. The Houston Chronicle has reported that the newly declared candidate termed Social Security “a “Ponzi scheme,” a claim echoing his statement in his book, “Fed Up” in which he says the social security system is established at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government…set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme.” According to Huffington Post’s Elise Foley, he later “walked back his claims.”

While Governor Perry rejected more than a half billion in federal stimulus dollars for the state’s unemployment insurance program, he has “formally requested that the federal government reimburse Texas $350 million — the estimated cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants in county jails and state prisons in 2009 and 2010.”

Perry’s relationships with the Jewish community have won him some favor. In June, 2011, he signed a bill requiring homeowner associations to permit religious displays of under 25 inches to be displayed on residents’ doors. The bill stemmed from a lawsuit bought (and lost) by a Jewish couple ordered by a residential association to remove a mezuzah from the door of their apartment.  They refused, were fined, and subsequently moved. State legislator Garnet Coleman later helped pass a bill to allow the display of religious items, including mezuzot.

Meir Shlomo, Consul General to the Southwest, told the Algemeiner that Perry has been in Israel three times and has developed productive economic relationships with many Israeli companies. He noted that the governor had strongly condemned the second flotilla, and that his stance on Israel was greatly appreciated. Further, Perry’s encouragement of employment initiatives has increased his support among the Jewish business community.

Perry became a Republican in 1989 after being a Democrat, switching parties to become a Conservative. As Agriculture Commissioner in 1991, he created the Texas-Israel Exchange, which promoted information and research sharing. In a 2009 interview with The Jerusalem Post, while leading an economic development delegation to Israel, Perry said the alliance between Texas and Israel was “a natural one,” comparing the spirit of Masada and the Alamo. He told the Jerusalem Post that “we’re talking about two groups of people who were willing to give up their lives for freedom and liberty.”

In the last several years, Governor Perry’s relationship with the Jewish community has become more visible.  For the past two years, he has hosted an official Chanukah lighting service with Chabad. Says Rabbi Chaim Block, who has met with Perry several times. His pro business approach has appeal to Jews in all types of industries and in the medical community.

Fred Zeidman, a Houston lawyer, served as chairman of the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington for eight years. A supporter of  Mitt Romney, Zeidman told JTA “None of us remember him being quite as devout as he seems to be now, but we wouldn’t necessarily have known.” He questions whether Perry may be appealing too much to conservative Republicans, which say Zeidman “could prove harmful in a general election.”

In the high tech campaign world virtually every past and current association is open to public scrutiny. Rick Perry has uniquely strong relationships with the Muslim community, in Texas and internationally. According to Mohamed Elbiary, founder of the Freedom and Justice Foundation, a Muslim public policy organization, “We’ve seen him for 20 years at state level, as lieutenant governor and state governor. Throughout that whole history, he’s never taken an anti-Muslim or anti-Islam position.” Mahmoud Eboo, President of the Ismaili Council for the USA, says the governor’s relations with Texas’ 30,000 to 40,000 Ismailis, a Shia sect, have been “particularly positive.” “I believe …his relationship with the Muslim community generally and the Ismaili community in particular has been cordial and respectful.”

Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Houston, calls other Republican candidates’ questioning of Muslims and Islam a “chilling” trend. “I think what is happening is they’re using this anti-sharia law stuff as a red herring to get everybody fired up,” Mr. Carroll says. “In order to show how patriotic you are, [you have to demonstrate how negative you can be about Muslims. Upon entering the race, most of Perry’s contenders immediately set about distancing themselves from Islam and Muslims.”

Is Perry’s approach to the Muslim community simply a multi cultural outreach or has it other intents. The Texas governor has developed a close relationship with “His Highness” Prince Shah Karim Al-Husayni, the Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of the 18 million strong Shiite sect of Nizari Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan claims a direct decent from Prophet Mohammed and controls a vast international network of business and philanthropic ventures.

Al-Husayni is reported to be worth roughly $800 million, plus have control of the Aga Khan Development Network, (AKDN) one of the largest “private development networks” in the world.

In 2009, Perry agreed to cooperation between Texas and Al-Husayni’s organizations in the “fields of education, health sciences, natural disaster preparedness and recovery, culture and the environment. He brokered a partnership between the University of Texas and Aga Khan University in Pakistan in 2008 to expand cooperation on programs including the Muslim Histories and Culture Project, which trains high school teachers on Muslim history and culture curricula.

Perry spokesperson Catherine Frazier affirmed that Perry “has a good relationship with the Muslim community in Texas.” Asked about his views on Shariah, she wrote: “Gov. Perry took an oath to uphold the U.S. and Texas constitutions, and the principles enumerated in those documents are what guide his leadership.”

The Rick Perry Campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

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