One Statesman in the Field

In the GOP Presidential debates, one candidate continues to stand out. He stands out because unlike the others, he is a statesman. I know this is a term that can have several meanings, but especially among conservatives one of the definitions from The Free Dictionary is the most popular: “A male political leader regarded as a disinterested promoter of the public good.” That man is Rick Perry.

Rick Perry stands out by being willing to do two things. He admits when he is wrong and he sticks to what he believes is right even when the majority disagree with him.

With regard to the former, he has readily admitted that he should have done things differently with regard to his executive order regarding HPV vaccination. Despite this, Michelle Bachmann continues her attack unabated. She even lies when she attacks him, because she talks about a vaccine being imposed on little girls. The Gardasil vaccination had a parent opt-out provision. No child was forced to be vaccinated. It would have been better to have had a legislative mandate combined with an opt-in policy. Perry openly says this, even if it doesn’t stop his opponents and detractors from ignoring it.

The only other chink in his armor is his support for a law he signed which allowed for non-citizen children domiciled in Texas without immigration documentation to be considered Texas residents for the purposes of paying college tuition. From the boos in the crowds it was apparent that most Republicans nation-wide do not support this. Nonetheless, Perry explains very clearly and carefully why he signed what was a veto proof bill passed with four “no” votes out of 183 Texas legislators, with Republicans in firm control of both chambers.

But here’s what Yankees like Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum don’t get. Texas is not the only state that has done this. New Mexico and California have as well. Not surprisingly, Arizona is the only state with an actual border with Mexico that hasn’t. In addition to Arizona, only three other states prohibit in-state tuition for children with undocumented immigration status. However, in addition to Texas, New Mexico, and California, eight other states specifically allow it. These include Kansas (passed with a Republican supermajority in both houses), Nebraska (non-partisan, but with a supermajority of members who were otherwise Republicans), and Utah (again, with a dual supermajority of Republicans), New York (split control), Oklahoma (Republican House and even split in the Senate), as well as Illinois, Washington, and Wisconsin (Democratic simple majority in both houses).

Now you may be thinking to yourself, if only four states have prohibited state universities from considering undocumented students as residents, and eight have specifically permitted it, what about the other thirty-eight?  They have not legislated on the matter at all. What is not prohibited is allowed.

But back to Perry. He gets the elephant in the room. His opponents – and the debate watchers that were interviewed afterwards – have nothing to contribute to the discussion. They only have a mantra that is isn’t right for all residents of Texas to receive benefits that non-residents of Texas don’t get. Remember that it is Texas legislators who overwhelmingly chose to consider all residents of Texas as residents for the purposes of in-state tuition, at state-funded Texas universities. What his opponents don’t want to discuss is what happens if you prevent Texas residents who are undocumented from getting an education. Rick Perry tells it like it is. His opponents will never address the issue head on. They can’t and they won’t.

Perry understands the concept of a secure border. He can talk about his reasoned views. I agree with him that it is impossible to build a 2000-mile fence, but disagree that the border can be policed with “enough boots on the ground” as he likes to phrase it, making it the heaviest fortified border in the world.  Nonetheless, he also realizes that the oft-repeated sound bite that we have to secure the borders before we deal with the issue of undocumented immigrants already in the country is a bunch of nonsense.

A child who has been brought into the United States and is growing up does not have the leisure to wait for nothing substantive to be done about the border, even before nothing is done about her situation. She is growing up. She will work hard in high school while her parents work hard doing jobs for $3.00/hour that citizens won’t do at any wage. She may very well have to do this at several schools while her parents (who may be part of the 80% of agricultural workers in the U.S. who are undocumented) move around for work. They and she will work hard just to get enough money for in-state tuition – probably not at the University of Texas, like Mitt Romney wants to say – but at a small, cheap, local college. This is the real face of undocumented children. This is the person that Rick Perry’s opponents and those booing in the audience want to keep in the margins of society. Ideally they want to “send her back where she came from” (a country with no effective government run by drug cartels murdering at will in the most gruesome ways), but barring that, at least make sure she makes nothing of herself.

I will say it again (and probably not for the last time): this is the real face of undocumented children. Rick Perry gets it and it willing to talk about it, whether it is popular or not. Rick Perry gets it and Rick Perry gets my vote.

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