But, lets look a little closer at Leininger.
The fact that Perry owes his political career to Leininger is well known in Texas. Leininger has consistently been a top Perry donor and even financed Perry's first campaign plane. A report from TEXANS for PUBLIC JUSTICE is quoted as saying" Time and again, the political and personal fortunes of James Leininger and Rick Perry have intertwined."
O.K, you say. So what? Just another fat cat donor. Every successful politician knows someone who contributes to their campaign. But let's go on.
Leininger has bankrolled the transformation of the Texas GOP from a conservative party to one dominated by religious fundamentalists. The Texas political culture that Perry emerges from is significantly more conservative than the one that shaped George Bush.
Initially, Leininger got involved in politics to promote tort reform. Great idea, you say and I agree with you. He quickly threw his weight behind social conservative causes as well.
Leininger has been a particular foe of secular public education, pouring millions into primary challenges against Republicans who failed to support school vouchers and funding school board candidates who push creationism and a Christian nationalist view of American history. Does anybody see a looming Jeb Bush problem here ?
The TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK, a group that favors separation of church and state has said " Dr Leininger has been instrumental in transforming the Texas State Board of Education and the state capital into major battlegrounds in the nation's culture wars." For example
In 1994, one Leininger -funded group sent out a campaign mailer showing two men kissing; it accused an incumbent school board member of promoting homosexuality. The school board member was defeated by Leininger's candidate.
Photos of gay men, intended to repulse, have been a hallmark of Leininger's campaigns, and not just against Democrats. Leininger FREE ENTERPRISE PAC went after acting GOP LT Governor BillRatliff and key GOP lawmakers accusing them of " promoting homosexual lifestyles" and gay sex education in public schools. To be fair, Perry mildly criticized the campaign , careful to avoid problems with his " banker." But Ratliff said
" You are either with the purveyors of this filth or you are with those of us who are willing to come forward and condemn it."
Perry has continued this relationship with Leininger during his entire tenure as Governor. One of Perry's first appointments to the Chair of the Texas Board of Education was a young earth creationist named Don McLeroy who ran with Leininger's support. When the TexasSenate refused to confirm McLeroy, Perry nominated Gail Lowe, another creationist. When the Senate refused to confirm her as well, Perry appointed Barbara Cargill, also backed by Leininger.. Cargill was the founder ofa Bible - based science camp that teaches " Intelligent Design ." Cargill opposed adding lessons about gender to state sociology standards , saying they would lead to a focus on " transgender, transvestites and who knows what else."
Perry has also increased Leininger's influence the old fashioned way...by appointing his allies to state positions.
He made Leininger's public affairs director chair of the Texas Workforce Commission
He appointed Leininger's company CEO to the Texas Board of health.
He appointed a Leininger employee is president and CEO of OneStar Foundation, a nonprofit created by Perry that administers the state's faith based grants
As Perry has furthered Leininger's agenda. Leininger has, in turn, created a church based political machine that has provided reliable foot soldiers for all of Perry's campaigns. The Texas Restoration Project, a network of pastors who aim to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage is funded by the Niemoller Foundation...which is funded by Leininger. The intent of the organization is to get churches to be far more active in politics. The Restoration group has paid for six Perry speaking engagements at its several retreats over the last ten years.. No other gubernatorial candidates have ever been invited.
In late August, 200 pastors and Christian luminaries were invited to Leininger's ranch for an off-the -record meeting with Perry. If Leininger is lining up his allies to support Perry's presidential bid, it is because his agenda can be transported from Austin to Washington.
It is a scary scenario for the GOP and for the principles upon which this nation was founded. It smacks far too much of what history tells us of the bigoted crusaders who dominated the early Puritan colonies in New England. Perhaps it is not the 19th century Perry pines for, but the 17th century.
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