If there’s been a worse week and a half for a presidential candidate, it’s hard to remember when.
Just as Texas Gov. Rick Perry was trying to recover from his woeful debate performance of more than a week ago, the Washington Post ran a story by reporter Stephanie McCrummen over the weekend that Perry’s family was the long-time leaseholder of a Texas hunting camp whose name incorporated the N-word which was once painted in block letters on a large, flat rock on the property.
There’s disagreement on when the racist name on the rock was painted over — Perry’s campaign says the presidential candidate’s father did so in the early 1980s while at least one person who talked with the Post said he saw the racist rock as recently as 2008.
Whatever the case, it’s not the kind of story that a candidate struggling to recapture his early momentum in the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, wants to be dealing with.
And it would be enough of a crisis for Perry to be dealing with this Monday morning. But, unfortunately for him, there’s another one that could be even more damaging since it underscores allegations that Perry is a pay-to-play politician.
Expanding on the earlier work of Texans for Public Justice, the Associated Press’s Jack Gillum reported Monday that Perry funneled $35 million of taxpayers’ money to two of the most notorious companies in the subprime mortgage disaster, Countrywide and Washington Mutual.
Several years ago, Perry wanted those companies, since absorbed by Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, respectively, to expand their operations in Texas. Not only did they do so after receiving the large subsidies from the governor, they also contributed cash to his campaign funds.
One implication of the story is that by encouraging those two mortgage lenders to geometrically expand their business in his state, he unintentionally made the foreclosure crisis worse in Texas than it might have been otherwise.
And in the wake of all the job losses in the financial sector and beyond that resulted when the subprime mortgage crisis led to the credit markets seizing up, the promises of job creation by the companies rung hollow.
“The state’s contract with Countrywide was specific to creating jobs, and ultimately produced more than 3,800 jobs for Texans,” Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told the AP.
Countrywide pledged to create thousands of new jobs, but later shed more than that in nationwide layoffs. That came as Countrywide and WaMu gave checks to Perry’s re-election campaign, including $2,500 from WaMu’s political action committee as late as March 2008. The companies gave more than $15,000 in total contributions, state records show.
Obviously, both stories are damaging since they raise deeply troubling questions about a candidate many voters are still getting to know.
There are enough questions about the racist rock story to give those who want to give Perry the benefit of the doubt much to cling to. For instance, there are people who visited the site who said they never saw the rock with the racist epithet painted on it and never hear Perry or other members of his family use the offensive name.
Also, Perry named an African-American to be chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court and has appointed other minorities to official positions.
But Perry has been repeatedly accused of cronyism during his time as Texas governor in which both Perry and companies doing business in or with his state appear to benefit financially from the arrangement.
The allegation that cronyism was behind his 2007 executive order to have 12-year old Texas girls receive the HPV vaccine (his former chief of staff lobbies for the drug maker Merck) is at the heart of that controversy. And there are a number of other allegations that the Texas Enterprise Fund, meant to help bring jobs to Texas, was used to reward companies linked to Perry supporters.
Thus, the story about his link to the subprime mortgage disaster could ultimately prove the more damaging of the two stories his campaign finds itself pushing back against at the start of the week. And, of course, it’s only Monday.
Next week’s Republican presidential debate just got a whole lot more interesting.