[7 September UPDATE: Maybe he didn’t. See note at bottom of post.]
There are many on the right who see something sinister in the fact that 2012 presidential contender Rick Perry chaired then-Senator Al Gore’s campaign in Texas. But there is a very important truth that must be understood: the 1980s were the beginning of the end of a century-long era when Texas was essentially a one-party state.
To be elected in this state in this era, there was no question about the necessary party affiliation – you simply had to be Democrat. The state party did, however, have its liberal and conservative wings.
The Great Realignment began with the improbable election of Republican Bill Clements as governor in 1977, and gained momentum with the switch of congressman Phil Gramm to the GOP after he was punished by the Democrats for helping Ronald Reagan push conservative budgets through Congress.
Throughout the 80s, more and more conservative Democrat politicians came to the realization that the GOP represented their true values much more than the Democratic Party did. Voters were starting to come to this realization as well, and more and more Republican candidates were being elected.
Perry says that he joined Gore’s campaign because the latter was then considered to be a southern conservative. The conservative wing of the party (which still existed back then) saw Gore as their strongest candidate. Keep in mind, this is several years before Gore left those roots behind to join the Gaia cult.
Ironically, it was Perry’s experiences during that campaign that finally persuaded him that the Democratic Party was no longer his home. Disillusioned with nominee Dukakis, Perry voted for George H. Bush in November, 1988. Then, bucking family and friends, he publicly switched to the GOP in 1989 before scoring a stunning upset in the state Land Commissioner race.
Here’s how Time Magazine described Perry’s 1988 experience in a July 16 article:
A decade later, Perry said the 1988 presidential primary election helped push him to his party switch. In the fall of 1988, he voted for Bush over his party's nominee, Dukakis. "I came to my senses," he told the Austin American-Statesman in 1998. Perry's efforts for Gore left few public footprints, and contemporaries on both sides of the aisle have few memories of the alliance. A longtime Hobby staffer suggested it was likely that Perry's co-chair title in Gore's 1988 Texas campaign was little more than an honorific, not a recognition of any organizational responsibility. His role was limited to a single appearance, Perry told the San Antonio Express-News in 2001, adding that he had served at the request of Lewis. But it was a fact of his political biography that would be waved in his face in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary race by Tea Party candidate Deborah Medina and U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and it likely will be raised again if he chooses to seek the GOP presidential nomination. Perry has never denied the association but has treated it as a road-to-Damascus moment. "On the surface, Al Gore appeared to be the more conservative of the candidates," Perry told the Express-News, adding, "Fortunately, we found out who the real Al Gore was, and I was long on the side of the angels by then."
The point is: joining Gore’s campaign in 1988 seemed consistent with Perry’s west Texas conservative values. Serving on the campaign opened his eyes to the reality that the Democratic Party had become. His response was the only logical one. This is a non-story.
7 September UPDATE: Politifact reports September 7 that the accepted story about Perry’s involvement in Gore’s 1988 campaign is for the most part a legend made up by his political opponents. While he was in fact a vocal supporter of Gore (who was in fact the most conservative Democrat running that year), he did not serve on the campaign in any capacity, in either a formal or an honorary role. I’m curious to know why Perry never made a serious effort to counter the false narrative.