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Bush, Perry rift roots in nixed in-law appointment

By Will Weissert

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 6:17 a.m. MDT

Former President George W. Bush speaks during an announcement to combat cervical and breast cancer in developing nations, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. The George W. Bush Institute announce the Pink Ribbon-Red Ribbon to combat cervical and breast cancer in developing countries.

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Here's the still-beating heart of the rift between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his predecessor, George W. Bush: When Bush was governor he refused to appoint Perry's brother-in-law to the Texas appeals court bench.

With Perry now running for president, the spotlight is shining on the tense relationship between the two Texans and their allied camps.

In public, both Perry and Bush shrug off any friction.

"Between the Bushes and Rick Perry there is absolutely no rift at all," Perry recently told conservative radio show host Sean Hannity.

When Bush was asked in a separate interview about it, he mentioned Karl Rove, one of his most trusted advisers, and said: "Maybe with Karl. Not with my brother, with my dad, not with me at all. I admire him."

Despite all the niceties, Perry didn't hold back when asked during a recent Republican debate about Rove's comments that Perry's 2010 book "Fed Up!" contained such explosive language that it could be "toxic" in the general presidential election.

"Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks," Perry said.

Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, also has chastised Perry for branding Social Security "a Ponzi scheme."

Perry responded to that by saying, "If Vice President Cheney or anyone else says that the program that we have in place today, and young people who are paying into that expect that program to be sound and for them to receive benefits when they reach retirement age, that is just a lie."

These were just the latest tiffs in a spat that goes back to 1995. Perry was the state's agricultural commissioner and Bush was the newly sworn-in governor. Perry lobbied for the appointment of his wife's brother, Joseph E. Thigpen, to a vacancy on the 11th Court of Appeals in Eastland. Bush turned him down.

Bill Ratliff, who was Perry's first lieutenant governor, said Perry blames Rove for denying the request. "It created some friction between the two and Karl got blamed."

Bill Miller, a veteran Austin political consultant, confirms Ratliff's recollection.

"The staff always takes the blame," Miller said. "Karl absolutely was the surrogate."

In a letter on commission stationary and dated Dec. 17, 1994, Perry wrote a recommendation to Clay Johnson, Gov.-elect Bush's director of appointments.

"Let me, for the sake of 'truth in advertising,' share that Joseph is my brother-in-law," Perry said. "He is an outstanding talent who has the ability to be a distinguished jurist."

The appointment would last only the two years remaining on the vacant seat's term, then the judge would face an election. "I obviously will campaign vigorously for him in 1996," Perry said of Thigpen.

Bush spokesman Freddy Ford did not return messages seeking comment on the matter. Mark Miner, Perry's campaign spokesman, said the request "has no bearing on the good relationship between President Bush and Governor Perry."

"This happened years ago," Miner said, "and people have moved on."

Thigpen, who like Perry grew up in West Texas, served as district attorney from 1977 until 1984 of a rural district that stretched north of Abilene.

He also filled in as needed as a neighboring county's attorney from 1989 to 1993, when he was fired because the county commissioners claimed he wasn't often available when they sought his counsel.

That mark on his record made Bush look for another candidate, and Jim R. Wright was appointed to the Appeals Court in April 1995.

Thigpen, now 65, said he didn't want to discuss being passed over.

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