DALLAS — Gov. Rick Perry is backtracking on one of the most controversial decisions he made since taking over as Texas governor in 2000.
Perry, campaigning in Iowa on Monday, called his order to require sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated from the virus that causes cervical cancer "a mistake."
His sudden admission was years in coming.
Hours after announcing his presidential campaign on Saturday, at his first stop in New Hampshire, Perry said that his order requiring the vaccination of girls against the human papillomavirus — HPV — was wrong.
"[T]he fact of the matter is, I didn't do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry," Perry said.
Perry's 2007 executive order mandated that the vaccine, Gardasil, made by Merck, be given to sixth-grade girls.
He bypassed the Legislature, stunning parents and lawmakers — especially conservatives, who felt it was government intrusion into family decisions.
The concern and criticism persists over Perry's HPV order among some conservative voters he wants to attract in early caucus and primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Despite a firestorm of protest at the time, Perry pressed ahead and said in his State of the State address on Feb. 7, 2007: "I understand some of the concern some of my good friends have about requiring this vaccine, which is why parents can opt out if they so choose. But I refuse to look a young woman in the eye 10 years from now who suffers from this form of cancer and tell her we could have stopped it, but we didn't."
"Others may focus on the cause of this cancer," Perry continued, "but I am going to stay focused on the cure. And if I err, I'm going to err on the side of protecting life."
Opposition grew after media reports that Perry's former chief of staff was one of Merck's top lobbyists in Texas.
Lawmakers decisively overturned Perry's order by veto-proof margins. Although he harshly criticized lawmakers, the governor did not attempt to veto the bill.
The HPV decision followed him into the 2010 Republican primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. During an interview on WFAA's Inside Texas Politics in November 2009, Hutchison took the Governor to task.
"[Perry] mandates 12-year-old girls to be vaccinated with an executive order for heaven's sakes," Hutchison said. "Didn't even ask; didn't even ask for an expert opinion; didn't even even ask the Legislature for their approval. That is dictatorial."
Yet during the primary and general elections that he won, Perry continued to defend his decision.
At the Belo Debate at WFAA in January 2010 before the primary, Perry was asked if his HPV edict had been an error in judgment.
PERRY: "I always stand for life. That issue was about being pro-life."
QUESTION: "So it was not an error?"
PERRY: "No sir."
On Saturday in New Hampshire, Perry dropped the long defense of his decision and now says it should have been a opt-in program.
"Here's what I learned: When you get too far out in front of the parade, they will let you know," Perry said. "And that's exactly what our legislature did, and I saluted it and said, 'Roger that; I hear you loud and clear.'"
Perry hopes the social conservative voters he vitally needs nationally now hear of his back-tracking loud and clear.