Rick Perry Now Says HPV Vaccine Campaign Was Mistake, Not Political Payoff

Perry’s effort to force the vaccine on 12-year-old girls cannot be dismissed as a mistake. By Kirsten Powers.

Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters / Corbis (left); Win McNamee / Getty Images

At her Iowa speech earlier this month, Sarah Palin railed against a “permanent political class” and “corporate capitalism that is leading to this cronyism that is killing our economy.” It didn’t take a genius to figure out that one of the people she was talking about was Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it at Monday’s CNN/Tea Party debate, accusing Perry of forcing 12-year-old girls to take the HPV vaccine Gardasil as payoff to political contributor Merck.

Perry’s retort that he’s not a cheap date was less than reassuring. He quipped, “I raise about $30 million, and if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000? I’m offended.” So, Governor, why don’t you tell us at what price you can be bought?

Turns out the magic number may be $29,500, which is how much money Merck has actually donated to Perry through its political action committee since 2000. The Wall Street Journal reported that Merck also donated $352,500 to the Republican Governors Association since 2006, when Perry upped his role there, ultimately taking over as chairman in 2008 and again in 2011.

The Gardasil mandate gets murkier when you consider that a former top aide, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist to Merck. Furthermore, the Associated Press reported in 2007: “Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff met with aides about the HPV vaccine on the same day the manufacturer donated money to his gubernatorial campaign.” A Perry spokesman called the timing a “coincidence.”

When Bachmann lobbed the “crony capitalist” grenade during the debate, Perry attempted to cast his big-business payoff as being part of his “pro-life” worldview, saying, “I’m always going to err on the side of life.” If only this were true. At one point, Perry shot back that "cervical cancer is a horrible way to die," and that he was trying to "stop a cancer."

Well, if this governor wants to stop cancer, you know what he should be worried about? Health insurance for the people who live in his state. According to a 2007 American Cancer Society report examining the impact of health-insurance status on cancer treatment and survival, “Uninsured Americans are less likely to get screened for cancer, more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease, and less likely to survive that diagnosis than their privately insured counterparts.” Yet Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured in the country, a rate that has increased by approximately 2 million people under Perry’s reign.

No matter how many times Rick Perry says the words “I hate cancer”—and he says them a lot—they are meaningless as long as he is busy trying to kill an “Obamacare” that has resulted in more people with health insurance. Even worse, he argues continually against the Obama mandate for health insurance while he himself signed a government mandate for health care in his own state.

The Gardasil kerfuffle is really just the tip of the iceberg. The crony capitalism charge has been made before about Perry’s Emerging Technology Fund, which served as a sort of slush fund to funnel millions of dollars in taxpayer money to his major contributors. The slipperiness with which he has handled the HPV issue suggests that Perry is willing to be flexible with the facts in covering up his cronyist tendencies.

Perry’s attempted out on the HPV mandate is that he made a mistake and it was thankfully overridden by the Texas legislature. Whew. Can we just move on? But wait. Why was it a mistake if it was so important in eradicating cancer? Or is it just that he hates getting political heat more than he hates cancer? He also leaves out of his pandering the small detail that he fought the legislature on this kicking and screaming and blasted them for “overturn[ing] an order that could save women’s lives.”

Perry continued to stand by his 2007 decision well into 2010, when he was running for reelection. When attacked by his opponent in a debate on the Gardasil issue, he defended the decision calling it an “optional vaccination requirement.” No apologies there. In one debate he claimed, "That piece of legislation was not mandatory, in the sense of when you can say no, something's not mandatory," a claim that PolitiFact Texas called “Mostly False.”

Suddenly in August 2011, on his first day on the presidential-campaign trail, Perry decided to apologize for a decision he had tenaciously clung to before. It’s probably just another “coincidence.”