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McNeely: Perry courts blacks, Hispanics

July 9, 2015 at 4 a.m.


Rick Perry suddenly is working to cast himself as the Republican presidential hopeful reaching out to blacks and Hispanics more than all the rest.

The appeal to blacks was planned, in a July 2 speech at the National Press Club. The appeal to Hispanics was unplanned, in TV news interview responses to Donald Trump discussing Mexican immigrants in less than complimentary terms.

Perry pitched to black voters that they should remember the Civil War and "like" the Republican Party. The Republicans, after all, freed blacks from slavery a century and a half ago, Perry said.

"It is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children," he said. "I am proud to live in a country with an African-American president. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership."

Perry acknowledged that although Republican President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing black slaves in 1861, a century later, the Republican nominee for president, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans," Perry admitted.

As for Hispanics, multibillionaire Trump teed up the issue while announcing his presidential candidacy June 16. He said the U.S. "has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems."

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Trump declared. "They're sending people that have lots of problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."

Trump's charge spurred networks like NBC and Univision to cancel plans to televise beauty pageants partly owned by Trump. Macy's department store dumped his clothing collection.

Perry, who during his first presidential run said of those who would end in-state college tuition for qualified illegal immigrants "I don't think you have a heart," stood out strongest in responding to Trump's remarks.

On Fox News, Perry said Trump is "painting with this broad brush" that "Mexicans are bad people, they're rapists and murderers. Yes, there are bad people that cross the border, but how about let's get a commander-in-chief that knows how to secure the border, and at that particular time we can have a conversation about how to deal with this immi gration issue."

Democrats were ready for Perry's remarks on blacks. Even before his speech, the African-American spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, Michael Tyler, questioned Perry's track record on helping minorities.

"Governor Perry lost moral legitimacy when he signed into law one of the most restrictive voter ID measures in the country that would make it harder for an estimated 600,000 registered Texas voters to vote in person," Tyler said.

Democrats also attacked Perry for opposing a federal minimum wage increase, and refusing Texas' acceptance of the several billion dollars a federally-financed expansion of Medicaid would bring to Texas — the state with the highest percentage of uninsured people, many of them blacks and Hispanics.

"Reminding black voters that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation isn't going to erase Rick Perry's record," Tyler said.

Adios, grassroots board ... Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who made a big deal of appointing a "Grassroots Advisory Board" of tea party types when he took office, chose the Fourth of July weekend to declare independence from the group.

The obvious reason for the split, though Patrick didn't mention it, is that the group went maverick, demonstrating it was as liable to produce grass burrs as grass.

On April 21, the group surprised Patrick by sending an open letter, on stationery from "Lieutenant Governor's Grassroots Advisory Board," addressed to the 31 senators over whom Patrick presides, damning Gov. Greg Abbott's top priority goal of expanding pre-kindergarten.

On Friday afternoon, Patrick quietly released a statement severing his connection to the group.

"Several members of the grassroots advisory board have expressed a desire for greater independence," he wrote. "As such, Chair JoAnn Fleming and I have mutually agreed to dissolve the grassroots advisory board and work together as we have for the last several years on a less formal basis."

Said Fleming: "We do not want our endorsements and positions to be viewed as anything other than our own independent decisions."

Obviously, neither does Patrick.

— Dave McNeely, an Austin columnist covering Texas politics, appears Thursday.

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