"Heavy on rhetoric and light on real action."
At state convention, delegates split with Bush on immigration
Saturday, June 3, 2006
By WAYNE SLATER and ROBERT T. GARRETT
The Dallas Morning News
SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Rick Perry joined his fellow Texas Republicans in railing against illegal immigration Friday, telling the GOP faithful the Bush administration has failed to control a "porous and unsecured border."
"There is no homeland security without border security," Mr. Perry told thousands of delegates to the party's state convention.
The delegates cheered, but the party was at the same time striking a defiant tone against the policies of its leadership in Washington and, in some cases, Mr. Perry himself.
The party's platform – its statement of official positions on various issues – calls for construction of a border-long "physical barrier" between the U.S. and Mexico and deployment of military troops to stop unlawful entry.
In a direct rebuke of the White House and GOP-controlled Senate, a plank titled "No amnesty. No how. No way" rejects President Bush's proposal to provide a path to citizenship for illegal workers.
The Republican governor, who favors a guest-worker program, seized on the immigration issue in a convention-opening speech to about 4,000 delegates, who have demanded a get-tough approach on the border.
"The debate on immigration reform is meaningless until the federal government secures our southern border," Mr. Perry said. "Texas is not waiting on Washington to act."
To that end, Mr. Perry said he has already dispatched the National Guard and provided more money to local law enforcement. And he again touted a program to put surveillance cameras on private property "so that concerned Americans can help protect our nation through online neighborhood watch programs."
Mr. Perry did not mention the delegates' call for a border-long barrier, which he opposes.
His camera initiative sparked uproarious applause from delegates, many of whom support volunteer citizen patrol groups monitoring the border. And he drew cheers by announcing that Texas will start requiring Medicaid applicants to verify they are in the country legally.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican challenging Mr. Perry's re-election as an independent, said the governor had come late to the debate on illegal immigration with "window dressing that is heavy on rhetoric and light on real action."
From committee meetings to the convention floor, Texas Republicans staked out a strong position on immigration apart from the national party, which controls the White House and Congress.
Although the state party platform does not refer to Mr. Bush by name, it is a barbed renunciation of his immigration initiative – and of state and federal laws adopted with bipartisan support.
The platform calls for repealing laws that grant citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants born in the U.S. and that require hospitals to give nonemergency care to illegal immigrants.
In addition, the delegates object to a state law allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a bill that Mr. Perry signed into law. Republicans also want federal funds withdrawn from colleges that provide such tuition discounts.
Robert Black, a Perry spokesman, said that despite opposition by delegates, the governor still supports the in-state tuition law.
Outside the convention hall, two Democratic legislators from San Antonio denounced the convention's tone.
"Governor Perry and the Republican Party have used immigration as a wedge issue to divide people," said state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.
His San Antonio House colleague, Trey Martinez Fischer, said the state GOP platform "is in stark contrast to the national platform that President Bush embraced in 2004," which advocated a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship.
Mr. Perry faces as many as three high-profile challengers. Mrs. Strayhorn and fellow independent Kinky Friedman have petitioned to be on the ballot, and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston is the Democratic nominee.
In his speech, Mr. Perry took a shot at Mrs. Strayhorn by dismissing his "shrillest critic" and by elevating Mr. Bell as "my principal opponent."
Mr. Bell, meanwhile, noted that Mr. Perry is being targeted by some GOP delegates for advocating increased taxes on business to offset property tax cuts in the school finance legislation.
The revamped business tax is designed to offset some of the $15.7 billion in school property tax reductions that Mr. Perry says are coming in the next three years.
Perry allies beat back a call for repeal of the business tax. Instead, the platform calls on the Legislature to reconsider it when lawmakers convene next year.
"Rick Perry hasn't even convinced the delegates at his own convention that he has Texas on the right track," said Bell spokesman Jason Stanford.
Mr. Perry defended his school finance package, casting the business tax increase as a reform that more evenly applies the levy and produces a lower overall tax burden for most Texans.
The governor also touted a provision that forbids employers to deduct the payroll expenses of illegal immigrants. The sponsor of that provision, though, was a Democrat – Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas.
© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co