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Rick Perry's HPV vaccine problem

Rick Perry is in a political bind over ordering girls to receive injections to protect against a sexually transmitted disease. The controversy is of special interest to tea party and social conservatives.

By Staff writer / September 14, 2011

Jerry Falwell Jr., left, and Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry converse before the start of convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Jill Nance/News & Daily Advance/AP

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry finds himself in a political bind over his effort to make middle-school girls receive injections to protect against a sexually transmitted disease.

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As a result, the feisty GOP presidential front-runner not known for backing down from controversial positions (think Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme”) has acknowledged that he made a mistake in issuing the unilateral order rather than working through the Texas Legislature.

“If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently,” Governor Perry said during Monday night’s GOP candidates’ debate co-hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express.

Perry’s political dilemma is obvious: He’s the only governor to have issued an executive order mandating the vaccine for girls. Virginia is the only other state with the requirement, and there’s a legislative effort there to repeal it.

The controversy is of special interest to tea-party and social conservatives. It touches on government mandates, parental rights, the suggestion that young girls may be sexually active, and the influence of special interests on politicians and the issues they push.

Presidential contender Michele Bachmann, struggling to regain her momentum among tea partyers, quickly pounced on the issue.

"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong,” she said during the debate Monday night.

Ms. Bachmann also criticized Perry for what she later called “crony capitalism” – receiving campaign contributions from drugmaker Merck, manufacturer of the Gardasil product designed to prevent the HPV virus linked to cervical cancer.

"If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," Perry responded, suggesting that any campaign contributions from the drug manufacturer had been inconsequential.

But the Washington Post reported this week that Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns in fact received nearly $30,000 from Merck, most of it before he issued his 2007 executive order mandating the vaccine (which was later overridden by the Texas Legislature).

Citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the Post also reports that “Merck and its subsidiaries have also given more than $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) since 2006, the year that Perry began to play a prominent role in the Washington-based group.”

It’s also been noted that Perry’s former chief of staff (who now does fundraising for Perry’s presidential campaign) was working as a lobbyist for the drugmaker at the time the Texas governor pushed to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for 11- and 12-year-old girls.

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