SAN ANTONIO — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who is nearing a decision on a presidential run, drew a tepid response Thursday as he reached out to Hispanics at a national gathering of Latino officials and political leaders.
After his address at the 28th annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in San Antonio, Perry told McClatchy that he is continuing to eye a potential 2012 bid for the White House. "I'm still giving it good cogitation," he said.
Perry spoke for nearly 13 minutes, touting his record of Hispanic appointments and striking familiar themes about Texas job growth and the state's robust economy. The more than 600 Hispanic leaders applauded politely after the address. A few stood but most stayed seated.
The subdued reception underscored Hispanic discontent with Perry's inclusion of a controversial "sanctuary city" bill in the Texas legislature's current special session, which ends next week. The bill — which threatens local governments with the loss of state aid if they prevent law enforcement officers from asking about immigration status — has been approved by the state Senate and faces a key committee vote in the House on Friday.
Hispanics have also criticized Perry for his embrace of another hot-button measure that requires voters to show photo identification before casting ballots. The bill passed the Republican-led legislature in the regular 140-day session that ended on May 30, and Perry signed it into law.
"Governor Perry is a phenomenal politician and he can campaign like no other, but you've got to get beyond the person," said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and the chairman of the state's Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. "Latino voters will look at action but not words. When Latinos scrutinize the actions that have been taken in this state, they'll look for another choice."
Hispanics' importance in the unfolding presidential race was evident in a study released by group in advance of Perry's appearance. Latinos are expected to turn out in record numbers in 2012, with at least 12.2 million casting ballots. The Latino vote will increase 26 percent above 2008, and Latinos will account for at least 8.7 percent of the country's voters, according to the study by the NALEO Educational Fund.
Nationally, the Hispanic population grew from 35.3 million to 50.5 million from 2000 to 2010, an increase of 43 percent. The growth among Hispanics accounted for 56 percent of the nation's total population growth over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census.
Perry, the state's longest-serving governor in his 11th year in office, has begun taking a serious look at the 2012 presidential race after months of ruling himself out.
With his animated delivery, telegenic looks and anti-Washington message, Perry is a proven crowd-pleaser at Republican gatherings and is drawing increased encouragement to enter the GOP presidential field. A rousing speech last weekend at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans prompted chants of "Run, Rick, Run."
In his San Antonio address, Perry stayed away from polarizing themes and never mentioned the sanctuary cities bill, immigration or the border. He praised Hispanic contributions and said "the future of Texas is tied directly to the future of our Hispanic population," noting that Latinos constitute more than a third of the state's residents.
Perry said he has made historic strides in naming Hispanics to state boards and commissions, including appointments of the first Latinas to the state's top two courts — the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — as well as the secretary of state. He also noted that he named Jose Cuevas as chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, an appointee whose name bears striking similarities to the popular tequila, Jose Cuervo.
"That is the right job for that man," Perry said.
Perry also said that Hispanic ownership of Texas businesses has shown "explosive growth," boosting the Texas economy and providing jobs for thousands of Texans.
"The future of this state is incredibly bright because of men and women like you," Perry said.
(Dave Montgomery reports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)
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