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Texas Ties, Bonhomie Bond Cuellar and Perry

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a friend in Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who says he won't campaign against his home-state governor should he win the GOP presidential nomination.

While most Democrats are likely reveling in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s sliding poll numbers in the GOP presidential primary campaign, at least one is wishing him well.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said that if his home-state governor wins the GOP nomination, he would refuse to campaign against him.

Perry’s candidacy puts Cuellar, a member of the House Democratic leadership, in an awkward spot, wedged between party allegiance and loyalty to a friend.

As a result, he will sit on the sidelines should Perry clinch the nomination to run against President Barack Obama; neither his party nor his friend can count on his active participation on their behalf.

“I am torn a little bit,” said Cuellar, who served as Perry’s first secretary of state. “I will not campaign against Perry, I will say that up front. It’s a personal thing with Perry. When it comes to the elections, I’m voting Democratic. But certainly, at the same time, he is a friend of mine.”

The relationship goes back to the 1980s, when the men served in the Texas Legislature — or as Cuellar put it, “I knew him when he was a Democrat.”

Perry served as a Democrat from 1984 until he switched parties in 1989. He served two more years as a Republican before becoming state agriculture commissioner and then lieutenant governor. Cuellar served in the Legislature from 1987 to 2001.

When then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned in December 2000 to become president, Perry took over as governor, and in his first appointment the next year, he named Cuellar secretary of state.

The bipartisan appointment was not unheard of for the era in Texas politics from which the men emerged, said Bill Ratliff, who was Perry’s lieutenant governor when Cuellar was secretary of state.

“Back in the days that we served, it wouldn’t have been an unusual situation,” he said. “Governors usually put their friends in there, but it’s not an influential office.”

In that position, though, Cuellar said he did influence at least one decision that has come back to haunt Perry’s presidential ambitions.

Perry was considering a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses and another that would allow children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities.

“I told him to veto the driver license legislation, and he vetoed it, and I told him to sign the tuition bill, which I think was the right thing to do,” Cuellar said.

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