Know Your Right Wingers
SOURCE: August Pollak
Tony Perkins is the public face of the Family Research Council, an organization, started by James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, that that has become influential throughout the conservative Christian activist community. The organization strongly fights on “values” issues like opposing same-sex marriage, restricting abortion rights, and limiting federal funding for family planning. In 2005, the Center for Media Transparency called Perkins a “rising star” in the evangelical movement and said he was a “modern-day Ralph Reed.”
Perkins was born in 1963 in Barker, Louisiana. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and later received his undergraduate degree from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. He went on to earn a master’s in public administration from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Perkins and his wife Lawana have been married for more than 20 years and have five children.
Perkins was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1996. There he burnished his social conservative credentials by proposing many anti-gambling measures, including introducing a repeal of the 1992 land-based casino law four different times from 1997 to 1999. The other bills he proposed, like putting restrictions on abortion clinics that would force them to close, ranged from typically conservative to reactionary.
His lawmaking also had a touch of paranoia to it; in a reactionary, unnecessary move akin to English-as-the-national-language legislation, Perkins managed to pass a law in 1997 that protected teachers who read or posted excerpts of the preamble to the Louisiana state constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and a laundry list of other important contemporary and historical documents, including any acts of Congress. Apparently he was nervous schools would start outlawing such documents.
In 1998, Perkins proposed a change to the state’s income tax that would provide a tax credit for married couples based on their years of marriage; it called for an annual deduction of 1.5 percent liability per year of marriage. Perkins’ idea was to make staying together more appealing from a tax credit point of view. Gay couples, who are ineligible for marriage in Louisiana, would have been ineligible for the tax credit.
Then, in 1999, Perkins successfully passed a measure that would have forced abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as surgical centers. Such measures are called TRAP bills by the reproductive rights community, since they single out abortion from other medical procedures. Any abortion clinics that didn’t meet the requirements would have to be shut down if they couldn’t afford to make the changes to meet the new standards. He also proposed a resolution to support the congressional ban on the medically inaccurate term “partial birth abortions” in 1999, which Congress didn’t adopt officially until 2003. [confusing – his bill would support a congressional ban that didn’t exist?] The act was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.
In 1999 he also proposed a bill that would have protected the “rights” of pharmacists to “exercise [their] professional judgment or personal creed” in the workplace, a move that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions, for instance. That same year, he called for the protection of so-called covenant marriage recognition, which would limit the right to divorce.
In 2002, Perkins made a failed attempt at the Republican Party endorsement for one of Louisiana’s U.S. Senate seats, coming in fourth behind Republican Suzanne Terrell, who later lost to Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in the general election. During the primary debate on Oct. 29, 2002, The Advocate reported that Perkins said of health care: “I have never seen a tax cut that I didn’t like … I don’t think that government expansion is the prescription for every ailment.” In a competitive race, the primary challengers said they stood for bipartisanship, and Perkins got in on the act, saying “I won’t vote with [President George W. Bush] 100 percent of the time. I’ll vote for him when he’s right.”
Perkins took his position at the Family Research Council (FRC) in September 2003, overlapping a little with his time in the Louisiana legislature, where he finished out his term in early 2004. As it turns out, Perkins thought Bush was right a lot. In an FRC weekly e-newsletter called “Tony Perkins’ Washington Update,” Perkins didn’t just limit his agreement with Bush to “values” issues. The email list largely toed the Republican Party line on everything from opposition the expansion of the SCHIP children’s health program (legislation one might argue a pro-family organization should support) to opposition of the stimulus bill, even after Democrats had stripped from it a family planning expansion for Medicaid.
“Perkins’ Washington Update” contains eye roll-inducing witticisms like “‘Planet’ Parenthood,” referring to Obama overturning the Global Gag Rule, “On Conscience, HHS Rules!,” describing Bush’s midnight regulation giving doctors and other medical professionals the option to refuse to provide abortions or birth control on moral grounds, and, perhaps best of all, “Obama Daschles Hopes of Pro-Lifers,” describing Obama’s original choice for Health and Human Services secretary.
Most significantly, FRC has supported and mobilized anti-choice and anti-gay evangelical voters to support keeping family planning funding at stagnant levels since 2000, supporting the passage of anti-gay measures in the states, and pushing for the partial-birth abortion ban in 2005.
Much of the FRC’s agenda focuses on opposing abortion, family planning, and gay rights. Interestingly enough, FRC Action, the political advocacy arm of the organization, chose not to endorse a conservative candidate in the presidential race. The reason? Perkins said they could not support a candidate with a history of supporting a candidate that is “pro-abortion rights.” That apparently included Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s tepid pro-choice history, despite the fact that he courted anti-choice voters and didn’t seem to have an opinion on the fact that insurance companies sometimes cover Viagra and not birth control.
Perkins co-authored a book last year called Personal Faith, Public Policy with Harry R. Jackson, Jr., an African American preacher based in College Park, Maryland. Jackson is a Democrat who speaks out publicly against gay marriage.
FRC once criticized Campus Progress’ parent organization, the Center for American Progress, for having close ties with the Obama administration, but the FRC had much influence under the Bush administration. One of their former employees, Susan Orr, was tapped to run the office of population affairs, which oversees the distribution of family planning funds even though she was on record opposing birth control.
Perkins doesn’t just represent a minority of radical right-wing religious conservatives. He also represents a trend of anti-intellectual propaganda perpetuated by organizations pretending to have religious principles but ultimately end up falling in line with Republicans on fiscal issues as well as social ones. Perkins’ outlook promotes bad public policy and pushes the economic and social disparities further apart.
In His Own Words:
“I mean, I think it’s kind of ironic that in a week that the president outlawed interrogation tactics that are called torture on terrorists that he also passed a measure, signed a measure, that will take taxpayer funds to promote abortion overseas. I mean, there’s a contradiction in that. And apparently he sees unborn children in places like Honduras or maybe even Kenya as more of a threat to this country than terrorists who kill Americans.”
“I think it’s also very instructive when you look at how the homosexual community is responding. … And what do we have here? That the homosexual community wanting to exclude someone because their faith says that same-sex marriage is wrong, [it’s] very clear, very instructive in what is at stake here in this public policy debate.”
–On Obama choosing evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at inauguration, Fox News’ On Point, Dec. 18, 2008 (video and transcript here)
“The reality is that kids need a mom and a dad. That is what marriage is about. It is not about two moms, two dads, three dads, three moms. It is about a mom and a dad. And that’s what public policy should promote.”
–Tony Perkins debates Dan Savage on Proposition 8’s passage in California, Anderson Cooper 360, Nov. 12, 2008 (see video below, full transcript here)
“Victory. It’s the first time in 34 years that the court has ruled on an abortion case on the pro-life side.”
–On the Supreme Court upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, despite the fact that the court had previously ruled that limits on abortion are legal, Anderson Cooper 360, Apr. 19, 2007 (transcript here)
Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.