Perry misled debate audience about meeting with cancer patient ‘lobbyist’

Patrick Michels/Texas Independent

In his third GOP presidential debate Gov. Rick Perry had a way of fumbling and tripping over words. But it was a familiar issue, and perhaps the most articulate answer he delivered at Thursday evening’s Fox News/Google debate, that was perhaps most misleading.

Perry was asked to readdress his controversial 2007 executive order requiring middle school girls to receive the HPV vaccine, in light of criticisms lodged by opponent Michele Bachmann and others, who linked Perry’s decision to his financial ties with Merck, the vaccine’s only manufacturer at the time.

Those ties include nearly $30,000 in campaign donations and a former Perry chief of staff who served as a lobbyist to the company, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

Perry’s answer was that he’d been “lobbied” by a woman suffering from cervical cancer as a result of HPV. But as he took political cover behind Heather Burcham, who died months after they met, Perry wrongly suggested his controversial executive order came after she “lobbied” him. In fact, Perry did not meet her until after he had already issued the order, as ABC News reports, in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the Texas Legislature from shooting down his order.

“I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer. I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office. She talked to me about this program,” said Perry. “I readily admitted we should have had an opt-in but I don’t know what part of opt out most parents don’t get and the fact is I erred on the side of life. I will always err on the side of life as a governor as a president of the United States.”

But by the time he met Burcham, Perry had already made up his mind. The two first greeted one another while she was lobbying the Texas Legislature to endorse the HPV vaccine order; they became friends after that. During Burchman’s 2007 memorial service, Perry called the Legislature’s decision to not pass his order a missed opportunity.

The issue has drawn ire from many Republicans, including GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum, for what he and others see as an attempt at government intervention into a family’s personal choice. In addition to the thousands given to Perry’s campaign by the drug manufacturer’s PAC, they have also donated even more generously to the Republican Governor’s Association, a group Perry led until he launched his presidential campaign.