Bush, Perry rift roots in nixed in-law appointment
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Here's the still-beating heart of the rift between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his predecessor, George W. Bush: When Bush was governor he refused to appoint Perry's brother-in-law to the Texas appeals court bench.
With Perry now running for president, the spotlight is shining on the tense relationship between the two Texans and their allied camps.
In public, both Perry and Bush shrug off any friction.
"Between the Bushes and Rick Perry there is absolutely no rift at all," Perry recently told conservative radio show host Sean Hannity.
When Bush was asked in a separate interview about it, he mentioned Karl Rove, one of his most trusted advisers, and said: "Maybe with Karl. Not with my brother, with my dad, not with me at all. I admire him."
Despite all the niceties, Perry didn't hold back when asked during a recent Republican debate about Rove's comments that Perry's 2010 book "Fed Up!" contained such explosive language that it could be "toxic" in the general presidential election.
"Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks," Perry said.
Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, also has chastised Perry for branding Social Security "a Ponzi scheme."
Perry responded to that by saying, "If Vice President Cheney or anyone else says that the program that we have in place today, and young people who are paying into that expect that program to be sound and for them to receive benefits when they reach retirement age, that is just a lie."
These were just the latest tiffs in a spat that goes back to 1995. Perry was the state's agricultural commissioner and Bush was the newly sworn-in governor. Perry lobbied for the appointment of his wife's brother, Joseph E. Thigpen, to a vacancy on the 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland. Bush turned him down.
Bill Ratliff, who was Perry's first lieutenant governor, said Perry blames Rove for denying the request. "It created some friction between the two and Karl got blamed."
Bill Miller, a veteran Austin political consultant, confirms Ratliff's recollection.
"The staff always takes the blame," Miller said. "Karl absolutely was the surrogate."
In a letter on commission stationary and dated Dec. 17, 1994, Perry wrote a recommendation to Clay Johnson, Gov.-elect Bush's director of appointments.
"Let me, for the sake of 'truth in advertising,' share that Joseph is my brother-in-law," Perry said. "He is an outstanding talent who has the ability to be a distinguished jurist."
The appointment would last only the two years remaining on the vacant seat's term, then the judge would face an election. "I obviously will campaign vigorously for him in 1996," Perry said of Thigpen.
Bush spokesman Freddy Ford did not return messages seeking comment on the matter. Mark Miner, Perry's campaign spokesman, said the request "has no bearing on the good relationship between President Bush and Governor Perry."
"This happened years ago," Miner said, "and people have moved on."
Thigpen, who like Perry grew up in West Texas, served as district attorney from 1977 until 1984 of a rural district that stretched north of Abilene.
He also filled in as needed as a neighboring county's attorney from 1989 to 1993, when he was fired because the county commissioners claimed he wasn't often available when they sought his counsel.
That mark on his record made Bush look for another candidate, and Jim R. Wright was appointed to the Appeals Court in April 1995.
Thigpen, now 65, said he didn't want to discuss being passed over.
"I'm an old man," he said, "and I prefer to be left that way."
Since the appointment flap, the Perry and Bush camps have drifted farther apart. This year, the establishment embodied by former President George H.W. Bush, father of George W. Bush, is pitted against the enraged tea partyers Perry wants to help him win the nomination.
Many who know both former governors say it's little wonder they never saw eye to eye.
The Bush family was patrician. The Perrys were tenant cotton farmers.
George W. Bush went to Yale and Harvard, famously quit drinking and rarely curses. Perry graduated from Texas A&M, enjoys fine wine and frequently peppers his speeches with "damns" and "hells."
The two men share the experience of being college cheerleaders.
It's unclear whether bad blood between the two could make it harder for Perry to attract large donors in Texas and around the country who previously backed Bush.
Contacted by phone, several people who raised more than $200,000 for Bush campaigns indicated that the Perry-Bush relationship wouldn't likely sway which candidate they ultimately support.
Rove and Perry reconciled briefly in 1998, when Perry was in a dead-heat race for lieutenant governor. Rove believed an attack ad Perry was running was too negative, so he asked Perry to ditch it. In return Rove delivered the all-important endorsement of George H.W. Bush, which helped propel Perry to victory.
George W. Bush was already in full national campaign mode while also keeping close tabs on Texas government to ensure it didn't derail his plans to run for the White House. When Bush took Rove and the rest of his inner circle to Washington, Perry built his own Texas campaign team that twice helped him win the governor's post.
The feud further escalated when Rove and many other top Bush advisers went to work for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her fierce battle against Perry for the 2010 gubernatorial nomination. Bush's father even endorsed her.
Despite the political firepower behind Hutchison, Perry trounced her and cruised to his second re-election.
Some say Perry will want the support of the Bush family and its national political muscle over a long campaign.
For now, though, Team Bush, which left the White House with record-low approval ratings, is an easy target. Austin tea party activist Don Zimmerman called Perry's chiding Rove on national TV "a no-brainer."
"One of the weapons the Democrats will have against Governor Perry is to say, 'Here comes another Bush,'" Zimmerman said. "He's going to run away from that image as fast as he can."