Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose agency oversees the nation's nuclear arsenal, is inserting himself into an unusually small political dispute: an election for student body president at Texas A&M University.
In an op-ed submitted to the Houston Chronicle, the former Texas governor suggested that his alma mater's first openly gay president may have stolen the outcome. Perry wrote that the campus election "at best made a mockery of due process and transparency" and at worst "allowed an election to be stolen outright."
"It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for 'diversity' is the real reason the election outcome was overturned," he wrote. "Does the principle of 'diversity' override and supersede all other values of our Aggie Honor Code?"
Those who know Perry best said they're not surprised that he would take the unusual step of weighing in on a parochial issue at his alma mater — even though he's now a member of President Trump's Cabinet.
"There are three institutions that are most important to Rick Perry: his wife and family, the U.S. military and Texas A&M. It depended on the day, or the weekend, which one had the top priority," said Ray Sullivan, a former Perry chief of staff and veteran of the ex-governor's unsuccessful presidential runs in 2012 and 2016.
The campus election ended with junior economics major Bobby Brooks winning about 4,200 votes. Another candidate, Robert McIntosh, son of Dallas-based GOP fundraiser Alison McIntosh, got nearly 5,000 votes but was disqualified amid complaints he intimidated voters and failed to provide receipts for glow sticks used in an online campaign video.
McIntosh appealed to a student court, which dismissed charges of voter fraud but upheld those of incomplete financial disclosure, awarding the election to Brooks this week.
Brooks takes office next month but has declined to comment since the publication of Perry's op-ed. He posted on Facebook after being declared election winner, though: "To those of you who spoke poorly about me based upon my sexual orientation or personal religion (and talk gets around, my friends), I forgive you. I really do."
Perry is following in the footsteps of his new boss, though on a far smaller scale. Trump spent months claiming without any evidence that his presidential election against Democrat Hilary Clinton would be rigged against him — until he won it.
A Texas A&M spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Thursday. Energy Department Spokesman Bob Haus said Perry "did this is in his personal capacity, and DOE has no official comment on this op-ed."
A 1972 A&M graduate with a degree in animal sciences, Perry was twice elected yell leader, a coveted role akin to a male cheerleader. He was Texas' longest-serving governor from 2000 until 2015, then moved to a home he built in rural Round Top, Texas, near his alma mater's campus in College Station.
Perry took an active role in A&M policy as governor, pushing the school to implement a plan devised by a conservative Texas think tank seeking greater scrutiny on faculty productivity that university officials charged put ideology ahead of academics. He also helped place close allies in key school positions — including one who brandished a pocket knife as the university discussed his firing. Current A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp was once Perry's roommate.