Texas governor Rick Perry is denying widespread rumors that he and his wife plan to divorce and that he will resign from office over his alleged infidelity with a man, according to a published report Friday. Perry told the Austin American-Statesman that political enemies are responsible for the "smear campaign" involving widespread rumors that his wife caught him in bed with a man. The first-term Republican, who was elected in 2002, said Thursday he was forced to respond publicly because the "obvious, orchestrated effort" had reached critical mass, with rumors spread by e-mail and on Web sites. Perry said the rumors "are not correct in any shape, form, or fashion. These are irresponsible. They're salacious. They're hurtful to my family."
The governor's press staff has said it has fielded calls about the rumors for about two months. At the governor's mansion on Thursday, Perry's 54th birthday, he said he had decided to speak out on what he sees as a dangerous new political trend. "I don't think a rumor can just get to critical mass by itself," Perry said. "I think you have to have a well thought-out, organized effort to disseminate that kind of information and keep it going day after day after day after day." The governor's wife, Anita Perry, declined to comment after her husband's interview.
Perry said the rumors had been heard by his son, Griffin, at Vanderbilt University and by his daughter, Sydney, a high school student in Austin. Perry's staff, in trying to track down the source of the rumors and who is helping to spread them, has found references on multiple Web sites. The governor's staff, after weeks of declining to have Perry personally address the rumors, approached the newspaper this week and said Perry wanted to respond. In mid February he had referred questions about an interview on the topic to press secretary Kathy Walt. She said then that the governor would not respond to unsubstantiated rumors.
The governor declined to blame a specific source for initiating the rumors but had harsh criticism for Texas Democratic Party chairman Charles Soechting, who referred to them at a February 24 political rally in Houston. Soechting was one of several speakers before the arrival of then-presidential candidate John Edwards. Soechting referred to an event earlier that day in which a dozen people carrying signs such as "It's OK to be gay, guv" stood outside the governor's mansion and encouraged Perry to address rumors about his sexuality. "Ladies and gentlemen," Soechting said. "I ask you to stay tuned. There's a lot of things happening in Texas. For those of you that know, there's a lot of stuff happening at the state capitol. And you're going to be excited when you learn more and more about it. So I wish I could tell you more, but I think if you've got someone sitting next to you [who] knows what's going on, just get them to whisper it to you. How many of you all know? Raise your hands up. That's right. They had a rally up there in support of the governor today. Some of his friends said, 'Come out, Rick, and we'll support you.' Anyway, it's a good time for us."
Perry criticized Soechting for talking publicly about "uncorroborated filth.... Yes, I think he crosses the line of everything decent. I think he crosses the line of good behavior." Soechting, told of Perry's accusation, said, "What crosses the line of everything decent is the utter hypocrisy of Rick Perry injecting his mean-spirited politics into everyone else's personal life while insisting his own personal life is off limits. What is truly indecent is the state of children's health care, public schools, and insurance rates under Perry's regime." Soechting's statement was issued by the Texas Democratic Party. Voting in the state's primary is Tuesday.