No Room at the Inn, or the Manger, in Rick Perry’s Texas
by Jim Washburn
Bad Times for the Homeless and Affordable Housing
It pains me as a human being to watch the Republican frontrunners speak. Rick Perry joining the fray has only Texas-sized the quantity of smug, venal self-righteousness flowing out of them. Since I’m never going to get to ask Perry a debate question, I’ll just have to put it and my fabricated answer here:
Q: “What would your answer be if you asked yourself, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
Perry: “Well, I’ve got over 740,000 of my brothers locked up in penitentiaries, and I’m keeping them, at least the ones I haven’t executed, which is 234 so far, including one who was innocent, for all the good it did him in my sorta Texas. So you betcha I’m my brother’s keeper.”
Q: “Isn’t ‘you betcha’ already trademarked?”
Personally, I’m of mixed feelings on the death penalty. Some people turned out bad because they got a raw deal from life; some of them genuinely can change into better people, but with the awful Richard Ramirez sort of things some of them have done, I don’t much give a rat’s ass if the state helps them along to a non-corporeal existence. But there is this: So many people have been convicted of capital crimes who were subsequently found to be innocent that it is prudent to err on the side of mercy, because there’s no means of un-killing an innocent person.
When you intentionally kill someone without cause, you’re a murderer. Look at the cavalier and obstructive course Governor Perry took in the Willingham case, and you might just conclude that, of the two of them, Perry is the one who is the murderer. And he still doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether what he calls “the ultimate justice” is unjustly applied.
Perry’s support of his profligate use of the death penalty drew enthusiastic applause from many in Wednesday’s debate audience at the Reagan Library. Hell, Brian Williams just mentioning that Perry had killed 234 convicts got huge cheers. “I think Americans understand justice,” was Perry’s response to the cheers. Isn’t it great being in a Christian nation?
A little more on Texas justice: Compare the 740,000 imprisoned there with, for example, England, which has twice the population of Texas, and the highest incarceration rate in Europe, yet there are only 82,000 people imprisoned in the entire nation.
That’s right, Texas has a per capita incarceration rate that’s 18 times higher than Europe’s most locked-up nation. Either Texas is doing something very wrong to produce so many more bad people (There’s a strong case for that: Over a 20 year period, the ratio of the state’s increased spending on prisons relative to education was seven to one), or they’re so vengeance-happy that they’re not particular about who they lock up. (There’s also a strong case for that: Texas ranks dead last among the 50 states in what it spends to provide legal council for indigent defendants.)
Perry’s hard-ass approach isn’t reserved just for perceived evildoers. The people of his state get to breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation. In the Bush years, when states such as California fought to enact stricter air pollution laws than the federal government’s, Perry was continually at odds with the already lax Bush EPA, fighting for less regulation and enforcement of environmental laws. He’s only pushed harder against Obama’s EPA. (Along with not enforcing environmental protections, Texas also ranks dead last in worker safety.)
Perry’s been helping to dumb-down Texas textbooks with skewed history accounts and religion-colored science, and has overseen deep cuts in education funding, even for training doctors in that doctor-shy state. There’s an excellent article by Noam N. Levey in the September 9 LA Times about Texas medical care, appropriately titled, “Healthcare erodes under Perry.” (Take your pick: Online the article is titled “Texas healthcare system withering under Gov. Perry.”
One of the opening grafs states, “In the 11 years the Republican presidential hopeful has been in office, working Texans increasingly have been priced out of private healthcare while the state’s safety net has withered, leaving millions of state residents without medical care.” Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, more than 25%. And for those who do have it, insurance premiums relative to income are nearly the highest in the nation, second only to Mississippi. While infant mortality rates have been dropping in the rest of the nation, they are climbing in Texas. Almost a third of Texas’ children can’t even get an annual medical checkup or teeth cleaning. At least they’ll get a cavity search when Perry imprisons them.
You’ve probably already read about Perry making cuts to firefighting budgets amidst record wildfires in his state. With over 1,000 homes lost in the recent and ongoing fires, that’s another 4,000 or more persons added to the ranks of Texas’ homeless population, already swelled by thousands uprooted by hurricanes and with those untouched by the magic fairy wand of “the Texas Miracle.” Even before the fires, many of Texas’ homeless shelters were being crowded at over two times their intended capacity, while turning others away.
As recently as this June, Perry vetoed several bills sent to him—not by crazy liberals but by the Republican-controlled legislature—that would have provided some opportunities and rights to renters and those seeking low-income housing in the state. Some two million people in Texas are classified as living under “worst case housing needs” as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Perry’s worldview, renters shouldn’t even have the right to get a copy of their lease from a landlord.
You can find a balanced look at Texas’ homeless and affordable housing situation at this site.
The odd thing is that Perry is touting his Christian faith as a reason why people should vote for him, yet he seems to have little use for anything Jesus Christ said or did, such as, for example, this from Matthew 25.35:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”