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Jim Hightower and Rick Perry’s Army of God
Posted on Aug 18, 2011
Peter Scheer: So you’ve written extensively for the Observer on budget cuts and the budget situation in Texas, which is very bleak. And here in California and everywhere in the union, there’ve been a lot of budget problems with the states. But you write in a recent article, “Texas spends less per resident than any state in the country, but the two-year spending plan that lawmakers approved on Memorial Day weekend is especially cold-blooded.” Can you just—I wonder, actually; you’ve also written some profiles on people who are really hurting with the budget cuts, including a tea party supporter. And I wonder if this is the kind of thing that will play well in the primaries, or if stories emerge of what he’s done in Texas, people will be maybe more wary of Rick Perry.
David Mann: That’s an interesting question. I think it would seem like at the moment, balancing the budget without raising taxes, which is the line that Perry will use, could be quote popular in a Republican primary. I think the question would be, if he gets into the general election, is that going to be popular with general election voters and people who are more moderate? As you say, we had a huge budget deficit in Texas; it was as bad or worse, depending on how you run the numbers, than California’s budget deficit. It was about a quarter to a third of state spending, again depending on which numbers you use. But we were up at about $27 billion in our total shortfall for the two-year budget that’s upcoming, and that’s a huge number. And Perry decided, along with other Republicans, that we were going to balance that budget through spending reductions alone. Tax increases were off the table, and so was using our so-called rainy day fund, where we had $9 billion that we were apparently, or supposedly, saving for a rainy day, that we ended up not using.
Peter Scheer: Right. How does it get any rainier than this recession.
David Mann: Exactly. So what we ended up doing was cutting programs very severely, including a reduction of $4 billion to public education, which is really the first time in at least 40 years that Texas has reduced spending on public schools. And of course Medicaid, health care programs also saw severe reductions, and basically every state agency in government saw their funding cut between 10 and 25 percent. So we’re looking at a really rough two years; the Texas budget is not in good shape; it’s not going to be in good shape two years from now when they have to do another budget. And of course there’s a human toll. Millions of people across the state are really going to be suffering; teachers are being laid off, schools are being consolidated and shut down, people are losing health care programs and health insurance to the state. It’s not a pretty sight.
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David Mann: Well, sure. One of the … there’s two that really come to mind. One is a guy I talked to who runs a community mental health clinic in San Antonio. And as you mentioned, Texas spends less per resident than any other state, and we’re especially bad when it comes to mental health treatment; I think we’re 49th in mental health spending. So this mental health clinic gets precious few dollars from the state; they have a waiting list that stretches several hundred people; they can never keep up with the need. And they’re looking at a cut of about 30 percent to their funding. And it’s already meager funding; they already can’t meet the need, and now they’re trying to find a way to cut that even more. And when I talked to the guy who runs the clinic, he … you know, he didn’t really know what he was going to do. Do you lay off key staff, do you just reduce services. … I mean, in the end you’re just going to have to turn people away who have severe mental illnesses, and they’ll either end up on the street or end up in jail, or both. And when you hear that kind of thing, it’s kind of heart wrenching.
Then you mentioned a guy who was a tea party supporter; he was another person I talked to, he actually owns a nursing home. And nursing homes at one point in the budget cycle were looking at about a 30 percent reduction in their rates that they get from the state. And this guy’s a tea party supporter, and he told me, ‘You know, I like the tea party rhetoric; I want to reduce government spending. But I just didn’t think that nursing home residents would be facing such a severe cut.’ Now, in the end, they did soften those cuts to nursing homes quite a bit. But like I said, nursing home residents and just about everybody else in the state are looking at severe reductions.
Peter Scheer: We’re speaking with David Mann, the editor-in-chief of The Texas Observer, about Gov. Rick Perry. Let me ask you about—you had a story on your site recently, I imagine in the publication, about Rick Perry’s Army of God. And it was about a group of the New Apostolic Reformation, a group of sort of extreme religious figures who visited Perry and said that God speaking through them … well, maybe you can explain this better than I can, but the idea that sort of God is directing him to run.
David Mann: Yeah, these folks are really on the edge of even the evangelical movement. These are folks that believe that they are literally modern day prophets and apostles, and that they are in communication with God, and that God is making prophecies through them of things that will happen. And even for evangelical Christians, I think their philosophy is quite radical. And they do have a relationship with Gov. Rick Perry. As you mentioned, in our reporting we discovered a meeting in 2009 where two Texas pastors who are in this movement, and kind of professed themselves to be prophets, had a meeting with Gov. Perry and prayed with him and prayed over him and delivered a prophecy. And they said God had prophesized that Texas will take a leadership role, that Texas will be a prophet state in installing godly government in America, and within that, Gov. Perry would have a prominent role.
And he’s … it’s not clear exactly how close a relationship he has with this movement; there’s kind of a loose affiliation of prophets and pastors around the country, some in Texas, some in Missouri and Kansas City. But we can say that quite a few of the people who sponsored Rick Perry’s recent prayer event, “The Response” in Houston a couple of weeks ago, a number of the people who organized that and supported it and sponsored it were in this New Apostolic Reformation movement, and do think of themselves as modern day prophets. This isn’t a movement I was very familiar with before we did this story, and I don’t think a lot of people have really heard of any of these folks. In fact, many of the people in Texas Republican politics who we talked to hadn’t heard of some of this. And I think when this gets wider publicity, it could be potentially a political problem for Perry. Because this is not just the religious right; these folks make Rick Warren and John Hagee look fairly moderate by comparison.
Peter Scheer: Right, they believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by Jezebel and other demons, and they do things like—I’m just getting this from your story—like driving stakes with biblical quotes into the ground in every Texas county, things like this?
David Mann: Yeah, they’ve done some elaborate ceremonies. They believe that certain institutions are run by demonic forces. Alice Paterson, who’s one of the prominent prophets, has said that she believes the Democratic Party is run by demonic forces. Another prophet has made similar remarks about the Statue of Liberty, and that’s gotten some press. The Masons, you know, they’ve made remarks about Freemasonry being a demonic force. And they have done elaborate ceremonies at Mason buildings and temples around Texas, where they pray over them and try to cast out the demonic forces. In fact, some of the prophets have claimed to have seen demons in plain sight at public meetings. So as I said, it’s definitely a group of people with some fringe beliefs, with some fairly radical beliefs, and things that some voters could find kind of frightening, even evangelicals.
Peter Scheer: What is his support like among Latinos—big block of voters in Texas—and is that a threat, possibly, in the general?
David Mann: Yeah, Perry has shown that he will try to appeal to Latino voters. He’s gotten anywhere between 30 and 40 percent of the Latino vote here in Texas, in his gubernatorial races; he’s been very close to some prominent leaders in the Latino community, and especially along the border, he’s gotten close to mayors and sheriffs down there and gotten their endorsements. So he’s certainly shown in the past that he recognizes the voting strength, the potential voting strength of the Latino community, and shown that he will make a play for that vote. Over the summer he did an event in Los Angeles with some Latino religious right leaders, and clearly has shown that he thinks his conservative cultural beliefs, especially on abortion, will align with some Latino voters. And much like George W. Bush did, I think Perry will certainly try to appeal to the Latino vote in the general election.
Peter Scheer: Well, thanks so much for sharing these insights with us.
David Mann: My pleasure.
Peter Scheer: That was Texas Observer editor David Mann. This is Truthdig Radio; I’m Peter Scheer. … [Thanks to our guests] Jim Hightower and David Mann of The Texas Observer. I also want to thank our board op Jee, engineer Stan Misraje and Alan Minsky. For Robert Scheer and the rest of us at Truthdig, thanks for listening.
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