Guy Benson
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Last Thursday night, Rick Perry put his foot him his mouth on a question about immigration, education, and illegals:
 


Less than a week later, Perry is backpedaling and apologizing for his word choice:
 

“I probably chose a poor word to explain that to people who don’t want their state to be giving tuition to illegal aliens, illegal immigrants in this country,” Rick Perry told Newsmax.TV in an interview in a response to question about his comment during the debate that those who opposed tuition breaks for illegal immigrants lacked a “heart.”

“That’s their call and I respect that,” Perry continued. “And I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word and it was inappropriate. But here’s what I do believe: It is a state’s sovereign right to decide that for themselves. In Texas in 2001, we had 181 members of the legislature — only four voted against this piece of legislation — because it wasn’t about immigration. It was about education.”


First of all, kudos to Perry for the mea culpa.  His "heartless" line really ticked off a lot of conservatives -- even Chris Christie hammered him for it -- so this apology is both the right thing to do, and is good politics.  I'd also submit that the final bit of his explanation above might be his strongest defense of Texas' controversial policy.  Perry's home state is a pretty conservative place. The legislature in Austin is controlled by Republicans.  Yet a nearly-unanimous bipartisan majority of Texas state legislators voted for this policy. 

You may disagree with the substance of the policy, but the politics -- apparently -- were a no-brainer in the Lone Star State (a place where the GOP is adapting to survive and thrive in a jurisdiction with a swelling Hispanic population).  For that reason, it's a little hard for me to stomach Mitt Romney exploiting this issue to beat up on Perry.  Remember, Romney made huge concessions to Democrats on a universal healthcare bill that he championed and signed into law.  A beaming Ted Kennedy stood over his shoulder as he put pen to paper.  Does anyone believe that Romney would have vetoed an education bill in Texas that had the support of roughly 97 percent of the legislature?  I ask that question seriously.

Finally, is support for this sort of policy a deal-breaking example of unforgiveable conservative heresy?  If your answer to that question is "yes," it's time to go RINO-huntin' for....Marco Rubio:
 

In 2001, Perry signed the first state law in the country that allowed the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. Former Florida state Rep. Juan Zapata said the Texas law was "the model" for legislation that he repeatedly—but unsuccessfully—pushed in his state. Two of his key allies then are now among the GOP's most sought-after stars: Bush, the subject of perpetual draft movements to run for president, and his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, a sure bet for the GOP's vice presidential shortlist in 2012.

About one dozen states offer some form of tuition assistance to the children of illegal immigrants. Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, was the co-sponsor of such a bill in 2003 and 2004, before he became speaker of the Florida state House. Bush, whose wife was born and raised in Mexico and who speaks fluent Spanish, also championed the legislation.

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Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography