On Monday Rick Perry announced his intentions not to run for a fourth consecutive term as Governor of Texas. The move immediately fueled speculation on who would replace him (smart money is on AG Greg Abbott) but more importantly it signifies the end of the longest reign for a Governor in Texas history. No Governor, Republican or Democrat, has had a bigger impact than Perry.
Rick Perry grew up in rural Paint Creek, Texas. He worked hard and eventually was able to gain admittance to Texas A&M where he eventually graduated with a BA in Animal Science. Following his graduation Perry served as a pilot in the Air Force for four years. After this Perry entered into the cotton business with his father.
From an early age Perry had been interested in politics. His father, Joseph Ray Perry, was a longtime Democratic Commissioner and school board member for Haskell County. In 1984, Perry ran for the legislative seat including Haskell County, as a Democrat. Winning this race Perry was able to gain a set on the Appropriations Committee where he and a number of other members blocked budgets they deemed not austere enough. In 1989, citing irreconcilable differences with the national Democratic Party platform, despite supporting Al Gore for President in 1988, Perry switched parties.
His first run as a Republican came in 1990 for Agricultural Secretary. Perry faced incumbent Jim Hightower. Perry was helped by a scandal that embroiled Hightower and he was able to squeak out a narrow win. In 1995 Perry was easily reelected and he began making his name well-known in state circles. The defeat of Democratic Governor Ann Richards in 1994, along with Republicans gaining a record number of legislative seats signified Democratic reign in the state was waning, if not over.
In 1998, Rick Perry ran for Lt. Governor when George Bush’s Democratic Lt. Governor, Bob Bullock, died in office. Bush’s campaign team refused aid Perry. As a result, Bush won a landslide victory in preparation for a Presidential run in 2000 while Perry won by less than 2%. Bush’s victory in 2000 turned out to be Perry’s gain and he ascended to the Governor’s mansion. Since that time, despite numerous issues, elections and scandals Perry has ruled Texas politics.
Like his predecessor, when Perry came to office in 2000 Democrats were managing to cling to a narrow majority in the House. However, following redistricting Republicans gained control of the Legislature for the first time in state history. Unlike Bush, Perry did not need nor show any inclination to cooperate with members of the other party. This was a sharp divergence from the actions of both of the state’s former GOP Governors.
This would not be the only time Perry irked Democrats in the state. In 2003, despite Republicans winning the popular vote in the state with almost 60%, not to mention Perry being elected to his first full term, Democrats still controlled the majority of the state’s Congressional delegation. As a result, in 2004 Rick Perry signed a controversial new redistricting map passed by the legislature that ended Democrats Congressional reign. Republicans gained four Congressional districts that year and ensuing lawsuits finally led to the SCOTUS declaring Texas had a right to redistrict whenever it chose.
Rick Perry’s “Cowboy Politics” did not play well in his first term. Despite having the support of many members in the Legislature, Perry’s reelection was no sure thing. He faced three challengers in 2006: former Democratic Congressman Chris Bell, outgoing Republican State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn and music singer Kinky Friedman. Despite worries that Strayhorn would siphon off GOP votes Perry won with a plurality, 39% of the vote.
Perry’s second term proved much more fruitful than his first. He was able to appoint replacements to the state Supreme Court, new trustees to the University of Texas system board and stamp his personal ideas on a number of fiscal, agricultural and economic bills. Perry also began to dabble in social issues, becoming outspoken in his opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
In mid-2008, Perry announced he would run for an unprecedented third term. Having already completed half of Bush’s second term and two of his own a victory in 2010 would mean a run of 14 years. The move was met with derision in some party circles however. In 2002, in seeking to avoid a party primary, Perry promised Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who was toying with the idea of running for Governor, that he would only serve two terms and she could run in 2010. Having broken that promise Hutchinson announced she was running. Soon followed the announcement of Truther Debra Medina.
Hutchinson and the Bush family were incredibly close personally. As a result, the ongoing feud between Perry and the Bush’s, and by extension Karl Rove boiled over during the campaign. But using the scrappy campaign tactics that had long served him so well, Perry painted Truther Debra Medina as extreme and Hutchinson as a creature of DC. Having served three terms as Senator, Hutchinson was liked in Texas but unable to avoid the charge. Trailing by as many as 20 points in early polls against Hutchinson among Republicans, Perry gained ground and then approached the necessary 50% support to avoid a run-off. On primary night, Perry barely garnered 51% of the vote and became the GOP nominee. That November, Perry easily defeated Democrat Bill White 58%-42%. Republicans also further solidified their hold in the state legislature.
With history on his side and a Tea Party following, Perry with the legislature began cutting taxes, reforming the UT system in incremental steps, and cutting spending. Perry also entered into a water war with Oklahoma and New Mexico over who had water rights in bodies of water that crossed state boundaries. But what seemed to make Perry’s reign in Austin unshakable was his economic record. Following the Bush administration’s announcement they would open up federal land to oil drilling, Southern Texas became a haven for oil and industry. By 2011 Texas had an 8.2% unemployment rate compared to 9.1% nationally. Critics contended this number was inaccurate as 26% of residents lacked Health Insurance and 9.5% of employees worked at or below minimum wage.
Perry made his economic record the foundation of his 2012 presidential campaign. He entered as the immediate frontrunner and conservative foil to Mitt Romney but quickly floundered. Perry stumbled out of the gate with his announcement, his performance in the debates and his Iowa Caucus showing (fifth out of seven). Following disappointing results in New Hampshire he dropped out right before the South Carolina primary and endorsed Newt Gingrich.
Despite Perry ruining his image nationally he is still king in Texas. He and AG Greg Abbott were at the forefront of court and DOJ efforts to block Texas’s 2011 redistricting map. The SCOTUS eventually ordered the San Antonio District Court to give more credence to the legislatively passed map. In 2012 Perry defended his education cuts as necessary even as tax revenue skyrocketed and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the cuts invalidated unless they were spread out more evenly across school districts.
In 2013 the legislature has already undergone one special session and currently is in another (Texas has a biannual legislature). The State Capitol was rocked with protests and drama when a Perry endorsed anti-abortion bill made it to the state legislature. It culminated in state Democrats being able to block the bill and run down the clock on the special session. However, Perry immediately called another session and the bill is likely to pass. When it does, abortions will be banned at five months (current law is 26 weeks in Texas) and create new health mandates for abortion clinics to meet.
Rick Perry’s announcement on Monday signals a close to a record history in Texas. A record of a Governor who will have served for 14 years, was a Democrat and a Republican, saw the state through multiple recessions and its current boom, and numerous disputes with the DOJ. He outraged the state party establishment (doubt he and the Bush team will ever make up) and made the state legislature dance to his tune. Voters consistently seemed to be down on him but come election time he easily had the most votes at the end of the night.
Looking at Perry’s long history, it is safe to say Texas is better off after having Rick Perry at the helm for the last decade!