Since Rick Perry joined the presidential race this month, his campaign entourage has included not just the standard array of political advisers and aides, but a squad of Texas law enforcement agents.
The security forces scout and secure locations days in advance. Well before the governor's visit to Tommy's Country Ham House in Greenville, S.C., last weekend, more than a half-dozen suited and armed agents were giving orders to the crowd of more than 400.
How much is this ever-present phalanx of state policemen costing the taxpayers of Texas? They won't know at least until after next year's presidential election, thanks to a provision, tucked into a school finance bill in July, that will keep the governor's travel records sealed for 18 months.
Although security around public officials has been tightened considerably since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the secrecy that surrounds Perry's travels is unique, according to Ken Bunting, executive director of the Missouri-based National Freedom of Information Coalition.
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The governor's critics contend that it has as much to do with politics as safety — especially after the embarrassment for Perry when taxpayers learned that they had been paying for scuba gear and golf cart rentals for officers who accompanied Perry and his wife to the Bahamas in 2004.
Indeed, this is a battle that has been raging since long before Perry decided to run for president.
Texas newspapers have tried for years to see Perry's travel records, which would include the costs of the governor's security detail. But the state Department of Public Safety, run by Steve McCraw, a former FBI official and a longtime Perry friend, has said that the safety of Perry and his family could be jeopardized if the public knew how many officers accompany them, where they stay and Perry's traveling patterns.
The move to seal the records has drawn criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats.