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PRIMARY 2012

Perry has a way with words

Candidate's quotes often controversial

He's been dubbed the "no apologies candidate," but it's unclear whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry's rough edges will help or hinder his presidential campaign. What's certain is the candidate's straight-shooting style, which he's honed during his 26 years in elected office, keeps him in the headlines and captivates voters.

He strikes hard at issues other candidates shy away from - like global warming and capital punishment - and rarely revises or softens his remarks, even as they draw criticism.

Voters in Texas have rewarded him with three terms as governor.

But Perry has already raised eyebrows early in his campaign with jabs at the Federal Reserve and an assertion that evolution is just a "theory that is out there," while comments he made in the past are getting a new life. Here's a sampling of some of those:

"From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented."

May 2010, in reference to the BP Gulf Oil Spill

About two weeks into the three-month BP oil spill, Perry made this comment when speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. At the time, several liberal groups and lawmakers were calling for an immediate halt to of off-shore drilling, but Perry condemned that viewpoint, saying the cause of the explosion that set off the oil leak was still unknown. He cautioned the legislature to not jump to conclusions and suggested the incident may have been an act of God.

"Willingham was a monster. Here's a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that, quite frankly, you all are not covering."

October 2009 to an Associated Press reporter, related to the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham

Perry is widely known for his hard line on executions, with more than 230 carried out in his time as governor. But one of those men - Cameron Todd Willingham - is now believed by many, including a panel from the state's forensic science commission, to have been condemned based on faulty data of intentionally murdering his three children in a 1991 house fire.

In 2009, arson expert Craig Beyler wrote in a report prepared for the Texas Forensic Science Commission that the investigators in the case "had poor understandings of fire science and failed to acknowledge or apply the contemporaneous understanding of the limitations of fire indicators." He concluded that a "finding of arson could not be sustained."

The case could come back to haunt Perry, who denied a last-minute stay of execution request that was based on a new analysis showing no signs of arson in the case. In 2009, he failed to reappoint three key members of the state's forensic-science panel as they were poised to re-examine evidence in the case, a move his critics say was meant to delay them from hearing politically damaging materials. The governor's office at the time said the move was "business as usual" and that the members' terms were up.

In his presidential campaign's infancy, Perry has yet to address the case.

"I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books."

December 2002, responding to a Supreme Court decision on Texas's anti-sodomy law

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case that the state's sodomy law, which made it a crime for two consenting adults of the same gender to have sex, was unconstitutional. Perry made this statement defending the statute, and nine years later Texas has yet to formally repeal the law, though it's not enforced.

Perry wrote about the case in his 2010 book Fed Up!, calling the Supreme Court justices "nine oligarchs in robes." In that same year, he ran for re-election under a platform that specifically opposed the legalization of sodomy and called for Congress to not allow federal courts to rule on sodomy cases.

"If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas."

Aug. 16 in Iowa, in reference to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

Perry made this comment - that some saw as a subtle threat - just days after announcing his presidential bid. As several nervous laughs bubbled up from the audience, Perry chose to continue rather than back off, adding that it would be "almost treasonous" for Bernanke to print more money.

The comment reverberated through the political world, with analysts and Perry's competitors condemning the statement. When asked about the comment by an audience member at a Bedford event a few days later, Perry continued the onslaught, questioning the Federal Reserve's intentions and calling for Bernanke to "open their books up."

"Frankly, the mistrust that is there today, if they would simply open up and be transparent with the American people, I think it would go a long way to finding out if there is some activities that have been improper or if they have been handling themselves quite well," Perry said.

"I absolutely understand they want to get back to their homes. . . . I'd like to get back to the mansion."

September 2008, regarding the victims of Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Ike ravaged the coastal town of Galveston, Texas, and displaced more than 40,000 of its residents. Perry, in an attempt to sympathize with the evacuees, likened their situation to his own displacement after a fire destroyed the governor's mansion a year earlier. At the time, Perry was living in a $10,000-per-month rented home.

"I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life."

April 2011, in executive proclamation

Conditions in Texas in the spring were the driest the state had seen in nearly a century. As wildfires spread across the state, Perry took unconventional steps and called on a higher power, proclaiming three Days of Prayer for Rain.

Perry, a Methodist who attends an evangelical mega-church, is no stranger to public prayer. Just days before he started his campaign for president this month, he participated in a Texas prayer rally attended by 30,000 people. And shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Perry took part in a prayer held in a public middle school gymnasium.

"The fact of the matter is that I didn't do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry."

Aug. 13 in New Hampshire, in response to a question about Perry's 2007 mandate that Texas girls receive the human papilloma virus vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer

With this statement, made just after the candidate announced his campaign, Perry swiftly changed directions on what many have called the most controversial issue of his 10-year governorship.

Until this month, Perry had long-defended his 2007 executive order that would have mandated the HPV vaccine for Texas girls, despite the fact that it was overturned by the state's legislature. In May 2007, he stood surrounded by women infected with HPV and challenged legislators to "look these women in the eyes and tell them, 'We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and granddaughters, but we just didn't have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric.' " (New Hampshire offers the vaccine at no cost to girls 11-18.)

At the time, news agencies highlighted Perry's possible connection to Merck, the sole provider of the vaccine, reporting that the company's political action committee donated to his re-election campaign and that Perry's former chief of staff was one of Merck's top Texas lobbyists.

The change of tune is out of character for Perry, and is possibly meant to mend relations with those who opposed his mandate, saying it would promote promiscuity, or to separate himself from the persona of a politician who caters to his friends.

"I don't think our founding fathers, when they were putting the term 'general welfare' in (the Constitution), were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that."

From an interview last fall with Newsweek, which was released Aug. 12 by The Daily Beast, in answer to a question on whether Perry believes the Constitution gives Congress the right to tax for Social Security

With this interpretation of the founding fathers' intentions, Perry seems to be saying that Social Security is unconstitutional. In his book Fed Up! and several times after, Perry has called the program a "Ponzi Scheme."

Protesters taking issue with his stance derailed a Perry campaign stop earlier this month in Portsmouth. Perry seemed unwilling to clarify his statement, at one point taking a bite of a pastry and then complaining that his mouth was dry rather than responding to a vocal heckler.

Later that day at a stop in Dover, Perry's spokesman Ray Sullivan said he's never heard the governor call Social Security unconstitutional. A few days later, Sullivan softened the candidate's stance in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying Perry "wants to see the benefits for existing retirees and those close to Social Security be strongly protected."

"It's a theory that is out there. And it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach creationism and evolution - because I feel you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

Aug. 18 in Portsmouth, responding to a question about evolution

At the Portsmouth event last week, a mother leaned down and whispered in her son's ear, "Ask him about evolution." As Perry gave this response, she continued to prod the boy to "ask him why he doesn't believe in science." Reporters caught the exchange on camera, and it instantly caused a stir.

Perry voiced his skepticism again the following day in South Carolina, telling voters, "God is how we got here."

"When (Texas) came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we're kind of thinking about that again."

In a video posted in March 2009, speaking to a group of tech bloggers in his office

Perry once said he'd consider having Texas secede from the nation he now seeks to lead, a point that had some critics questioning his patriotism. Two weeks after his original statement, Perry toned down the rhetoric but again raised the idea of the state's fierce independence.

"We've got a great union," he said, speaking to reporters at a Tea Party rally in Austin. "There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?"

In Portsmouth last week, the comment elicited mockery on the campaign trail, as hecklers begged Perry to follow through on his threat.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com.)