Romney-Perry feud dates back to 2002 Olympic Games

Texan angered over exclusion of Boy Scouts

Texas Governor Rick Perry (left) suggested that Mitt Romney (right) caved in to pressure from gay rights groups. Texas Governor Rick Perry (left) suggested that Mitt Romney (right) caved in to pressure from gay rights groups. (Danny Johnston/Associated Press/File 2005)
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / August 30, 2011

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Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are developing a rivalry for the White House, but their bitter personal feud dates back much further - to a spat over the role of Boy Scouts as volunteers in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Perry, who proudly wears an Eagle Scout pin on his lapel, has harshly criticized Romney for a decision made while he ran the Olympics not to allow Boy Scouts to be official volunteers during the games.

“Several years have gone by, and neither Mitt Romney nor anyone else who served as an official of the 2002 Winter Olympics has given a clear and logical explanation of why the door to volunteerism was shut on a willing ‘army’ of Boy Scout volunteers,’’ Perry wrote in his 2008 book, “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For.’’

The Texas governor suggests that Romney made the decision based on political opportunism, citing the controversial issue at the time of Boy Scouts not allowing gay troop masters.

Romney said then that Boy Scouts couldn’t volunteer because most weren’t 18 years old, the mandatory minimum age the Olympics set for volunteers.

The dispute serves to highlight the contrast between two very different candidates for the presidency who appear headed toward a bitter clash for the nomination. They will appear on the same debate stage for the first time next week.

Where Romney frequently exudes corporate cool and is distrusted by Tea Party activists, Perry relies on red-hot rhetoric and is embraced by many in the Tea Party movement. Where Romney got business and law degrees from Harvard, Perry was a “yell leader’’ at Texas A&M.

Family lore for Perry involves pulling out a laser-sighted pistol while jogging to shoot a coyote that threatened his daughter’s Labrador retriever. For Romney, it was putting the family dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, in a dog carrier atop the station wagon during a 12-hour trip from Massachusetts to Ontario.

“They have different demeanor and a different political profile,’’ said Republican consultant Terry Holt, who is unaligned in the race. “Romney seems to be a fairly cautious, methodical person. Rick Perry is a bit more of a punch in the nose.’’

Their relationship has not been deep, but they have had several interactions over the years, many of them not chummy.

In an encounter cited by both sides as helping define their frosty personal interactions, Romney went to Texas in 2006 to meet with Perry. But Perry was furious at the time that Romney, who was chairman of the Republican Governors Association, had on its staff an adviser who was also working for one of Perry’s political rivals.

The adviser, Alex Castellanos, was working for Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was running against Perry as an independent. Perry was upset that the Republican Governors Association would have someone on its staff who was working against a Republican governor.

“Perry was not happy that Mitt’s consultant was working for this woman,’’ said one Romney confidant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. “He was grumpy about it. But I think that’s typical. They’ve since had lots of conversations.’’

Castellanos, who stayed on the staff and later worked for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, did not return messages seeking comment.

Perry later became the only sitting governor to endorse Rudy Giuliani for the presidency in the 2008 campaign. When Giuliani dropped out and the field narrowed, he endorsed Senator John McCain, who outlasted Romney to become the nominee.

Romney’s primary relationship in Texas politics has been with former President George H.W. Bush, who was friends with Romney’s father, former governor George Romney of Michigan.

The Bushes are also known to have an antagonistic relationship with Perry.

Still, after Perry won the primary in his 2010 reelection bid, Romney loyalists say, Romney gave $10,000 to Perry’s campaign, among the several gubernatorial candidates that he donated to.

But it is the dispute over the role of the Boy Scouts in the Olympics that seems to expose the rift between Romney and Perry.

Perry used the incident to cast Romney as a New England moderate, someone willing to cave under pressure, and as a political opportunist.

“Whether pressure from gay rights groups caused Olympic organizers to resist volunteer assistance from the scouts, we know that Romney, as a political candidate in the politically liberals [sic] state of Massachusetts, has parted ways with the scouts on its policies over the involvement of gay individuals in scout activities,’’ Perry wrote in his book. “He once said during a debate with Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994, ‘I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.’ ’’

Romney, though, cast the decision as a pragmatic one. He told reporters in 2000 that the Boy Scouts were not being excluded for any reason other than that they didn’t meet the age restrictions. He also said the scouts were given a list of possible volunteer opportunities, most of which involved activities before the Olympics began or were behind the scenes.

“We’re very pleased to have Scouts help out,’’ Romney told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City in 2000.

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