Rick Perry ‘deeply troubled’ by election of gay Texas A&M student president

Tom Dart in Houston
Rick Perry in a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on 13 March 2017. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

During his time as Texas governor, Rick Perry sought to crack down on electoral misconduct despite scant evidence it was a problem.

Now in Washington as Donald Trump’s energy secretary, the former Republican presidential candidate is keeping up his interest in the topic. He has written an article casting doubt on the process that saw Texas A&M University elect its first openly gay student body president amid a controversy over glow sticks.

The US Senate confirmed Perry’s appointment as energy secretary only three weeks ago, but evidently he is not too busy settling into his new job as the custodian of America’s vast stockpile of nuclear weapons that he cannot find the time to opine on student politics at his alma mater.

In an opinion piece published on Wednesday by the Houston Chronicle, Perry writes: “As Texas’ first Aggie governor and as someone who was twice elected Yell Leader” of the university, he is “deeply troubled” by the conduct of its administration and student government association during this month’s election.

Bobby Brooks, an economics junior at the university, was elected after the initial winner, Robert McIntosh, was disqualified following allegations of voter intimidation and a finance reporting failure, according to the campus newspaper The Battalion. The voter intimidation allegations were later dismissed, but McIntosh’s campaign was said not to have provided receipts for multi-coloured glow sticks (like those seen at concerts or raves) used in a promotional video. McIntosh is the son of Alison McIntosh, a Dallas-based Republican fundraiser.

Perry states that he was at first proud of the students for electing an openly gay man, which he saw as “a testament to the Aggie character”.

But, he added, “Brooks’ presidency is being treated as a victory for ‘diversity’. It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for ‘diversity’ is the real reason the election outcome was overturned.

“Every Aggie ought to ask themselves: How would they act and feel if the victim was different? What if McIntosh had been a minority student instead of a white male? What if Brooks had been the candidate disqualified? Would the administration and the student body have allowed the first gay student body president to be voided for using charity glow sticks? Would the student body have allowed a black student body president to be disqualified on anonymous charges of voter intimidation?

“We all know that the administration, the SGA and student body would not have permitted such a thing to happen. The outcome would have been different if the victim was different.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a politics professor at the University of Houston, noted the readiness of Trump to express trenchant opinions on all manner of issues, however minor or outside the normal scope of his day-to-day tasks. “There’s a new brand of politics at play. It is a combination of reaction and anger … kind of a shoot-from-the-hip mentality that is really altering the norms,” he said.

“I think it was ill-advised and inelegant for [Perry] to weigh in on this matter,” Rottinghaus added. “It approximates bullying, which is not becoming of a cabinet secretary, especially one whose jurisdiction doesn’t include this in any particular way. That said, it’s clear that he feels passionately about the university and is willing to put his credibility on the line for it … You can take the governor out of Texas but you can’t take Texas out of the governor.”

Amy Smith, a university spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment but told the Texas Tribune that “his understanding of the election rules of student body president elections doesn’t reflect the facts … Honestly, we were just surprised to see that the secretary of energy would take the time to weigh in in detail and we respectfully disagree with his assessment of what happened.”

A&M’s large, conservative-leaning campus sits about 100 miles northwest of Houston. Perry graduated in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in animal science after his proud spell as a “yell leader” – a student who walks the sidelines during university sports events and whips up the crowd.

Perry was Texas governor from 2000-2015 and twice ran for president. His first bid, for 2012, was scuppered when during a debate he forgot the name of a federal agency he wanted to abolish. It was the Department of Energy.

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