Rick Perry is the man of the moment. When he announced on Sunday that he was officially joining the race for 2012, he managed to suck up much of the attention from the Iowa straw poll—that hadn't already been sucked up by Sarah Palin, that is—leaving precious little for winner Michele Bachmann, and even less for the unfortunate Tim Pawlenty. Despite not even attending the event itself, he beat Newt Gingrich (who was there) in votes as a write-in candidate, and then forcefully took over the role of Mitt Romney's new nemesis. Such is the power of Perry.
It's not hard to see why: Unlike Romney, who many find a bit dry, Perry is a colorful, controversial figure. The past few days, the media has been awash in Perry-related anecdotes. While other outlets have constructed decidedly more slanted lists such as "Top 10 Things Texas Gov. Rick Perry Doesn’t Want You To Know About Him," we in turn are merely hopeful, for the moment, to keep the conversation going. So we've parsed through the deluge of information (old and new) to highlight the best Rick Perry-related conversation starters. Note: They range from the mildly diverting to the deeply unfortunate.
1. He signed a law requiring women to hear their fetuses described to them before abortions. Perry put a piece of legislation on the fast-track this year as an "emergency" that required women to first get a sonogram before abortions, Reuters reported. The women are then offered a chance to hear the heartbeat and look at the images, which they may decline. "But the woman's doctor must describe the image, explaining the size of the embryo or fetus and the presence of organs and limbs." Then, unless they live more than 100 miles from the abortion doctor, women have to wait 24 hours before going through with it. "This is government intrusion at its best,'' Democratic state Rep. Carol Alvarado said during debates, wielding a trans-vaginal probe.
2. His father-in-law performed his vasectomy. Make what you will of this one. Here goes: Frank Bruni at The New York Times writes that he learned during a CNN segment this weekend that Perry's father-in-law had performed his vasectomy. In fairness to Bruni, he adds, "I’m not sure where on the spectrum of family values that falls or why voters need to know it." And in keeping with that vein...
3. His nickname (not to his face, we gather) was once "Crotch." In an op-ed for the Daily Beast, Paul Begala recalls how he first met Rick Perry in 1985, when Perry was a Democratic freshman state rep. "He wore his jeans so tight, and, umm, adjusted himself so often that my fellow young legislative aides and I used to call him Crotch."
4. He once killed a coyote to protect his dog while he was jogging. Heard this one? Rick Perry apparently jogs carrying a .380 Ruger—loaded with hollow-point bullets—because he is afraid of snakes, the Associated Press reports. This came in handy when a coyote came out of the bush toward his daughter's Labrador retriever. It took only one shot, which Perry credited to the laser pointer on his gun that helped make a quick, clean kill. He reportedly said, "Don't attack my dog, or you might get shot... if you're a coyote." We like to imagine there was a long pause before the "if you're a coyote" caveat. (Bonus fact: He also made killing a catfish with your bare hands legal in Texas. As Roll Call puts it, "Clearly catfish are the coyotes of the water.")
5. He signed a proclamation dedicating three days of prayer for rain. It did not work. This one even we've covered, but let's refresh our collective memories. In April, there was a historic drought in Texas. In response, Perry called upon Texans to pray for rain for the next three days, even signing an official proclamation. Was it effective? According to Think Progress: "the problem has only gotten worse since then." Let's hope he has greater effect with his daily prayers for Obama.
6. He once executed a (most likely) innocent man. This falls into the deeply unfortunate category, needless to say, and there is a 17-page New Yorker article devoted to this story. In short, in 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas after being convicted of arson and the murder of his three children. According to Think Progress, "even after significant evidence emerged showing that arson had not caused the fire (thus exonerating Willingham), Perry refused to grant a stay of execution." They also add this grisly detail:
Five years after Willingham was executed, a report from a Texas Forensic Science Commission investigator found that the fire could not have been arson. As the commission prepared to hear testimony from the investigator in October 2009, Perry quickly fired and replaced three of its members, forcing an indefinite delay in the hearing.