While Rick Perry woos tea party supporters in the early primary states, some of their confederates back home have a message from Texas: They’re not happy with the governor on immigration.
Texas tea party advocates chided Perry on Monday over lawmakers’ failure to enact a so-called sanctuary city bill that would prevent municipal policies that keep police from asking people they stop about their immigration status.
Perry made the issue as a legislative priority in both the regular and special sessions, but lawmakers turned thumbs down. The Senate passed it in the regular session, but not the House. The House passed it the special session, but not the Senate.
But if the governor were really serious about illegal immigration, the tea party activists said, he would call another special session or sign an executive order banning sanctuary cities.
“He needs to come back to Texas and finish the people’s unfinished business,” said JoAnn Fleming, who heads the advisory committee for the Legislature’s Tea Party Caucus.
“We are fed up,” she said, an allusion to Perry’s book espousing states rights. “We are fed up, too, Governor Perry.”
Maria Martinez, executive director of the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, echoed a common belief among tea party types that the governor and legislative leaders were in cahoots to kill the sanctuary city bill even as they publicly claimed to support it.
“It was choreographed so that it would never make it to the governor’s desk,” said Ken Emanuelson of the Dallas Tea Party.
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed blamed the Legislature. “The governor already made this a priority, and the Legislature didn’t pick it up,” she said.
For Perry, who is busy touting his conservative bona fides in the early Republican nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina, the rift over immigration underscores perhaps his most significant weakness with tea party voters. Perry opposes a border wall between Mexico and the U.S., and he signed into law a bill that gives in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants. And he proudly defends it.
Michele Bachmann, who is competing with Perry for the tea party vote, targeted the Texas governor on the immigration issues in their last GOP debate.
But Perry is attempting to walk a narrow ideological line between holding the party’s conservative base and appealing to Hispanic voters who traditionally vote Democratic.
Texas tea party forces say they’re contacting their counterparts in the GOP primary states about Perry’s record on immigration.
Perry’s busy, too. On the same day that the tea party members held their news conference at the Capitol, Perry was meeting in New York City with 100 Hispanic business leaders, including Fernando Mateo, a Republican activist and head of a taxi driver trade group.
A Perry adviser in Austin said Monday that the governor is serious about appealing to Hispanic voters. There’s even been talk inside the Perry campaign about the virtues of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a running mate.
Whatever Perry’s political calculus, Mateo’s delighted the Texas governor is making the effort.
“I’ve never seen a presidential candidate coming into our community — not as a candidate, never mind as president,” he said.
• Slater is a political columnist for The Dallas Morning News.