Gov. Rick Perry (R)
Elected: Assumed office Dec. 2000, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd full term.
Born: March 4, 1950, Paint Creek .
Education: Texas A&M U., B.S. 1972.
Religion: United Methodist.
Family: Married (Anita); 2 children.
Military career: Air Force, 1972-77.
Elected office: TX House of Reps., 1984-90; Comm., TX Dept. of Agriculture, 1990-98; Lt. gov., 1998-2000.
Professional Career: Farmer & rancher.
Republican Rick Perry succeeded George W. Bush as governor of Texas on December 21, 2000, and was elected to full four-year terms in 2002 and 2006. In December 2008, he became the longest-serving governor in Texas history.
|Rick Perry (R)||1,716,803||(39%)|
|Chris Bell (D)||1,310,353||(30%)|
|Carole Keeton Strayhorn (I)||797,577||(18%)|
|Kinky Friedman (I)||546,869||(12%)|
|Rick Perry (R)||552,545||(84%)|
|Larry Kilgore (R)||50,119||(8%)|
|Rhett Smith (R)||30,225||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (58%)
Perry grew up on his family’s farm in Paint Creek, in Haskell County, near where his great-great grandfather settled after fighting in the Civil War; he was elected to the Texas House in the 1890s. Perry’s family owns a 10,000-acre ranch, and his father served 28 years as a county commissioner, as a Democrat, like pretty much everyone in those parts at that time. Rick Perry was an Eagle Scout and went to Texas A&M University to study to be a veterinarian. While working on a degree in animal science, he became a yell leader, or cheerleader, a coveted position at A&M. It was the late 1960s, a time of great student rebellions, but apparently not in College Station; Perry says he never saw a war protest. After college, he served five years in the Air Force, piloting C-130 transports. In 1977, he returned to work on the family ranch. In 1984, he was elected to the state House as a Democrat. He was part of a group called the Pit Bulls, who focused on trying to cut state agency budgets. In 1989, he was passed over for a leadership position by Democratic Speaker Gib Lewis and switched to the Republican Party. In 1990, he ran for agriculture commissioner against the colorful populist incumbent Jim Hightower. With the help of Karl Rove, then working as a consultant in Texas, Perry got the support of the Farm Bureau and won an upset victory with ads pointing out that Hightower had supported civil rights leader Jesse Jackson for president. In the increasingly Republican Texas, Perry was easily re-elected in 1994.
Four years later, when storied Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock retired, Perry ran for that office, which in Texas is a powerful position. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, controls its proceedings, and appoints its committee members and chairmen. Governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately in Texas, and Bush and Perry ran separate campaigns in 1998. Interestingly, Perry had no Republican primary opposition for a post that obviously could lead directly to the governorship. His Democratic opponent was state Comptroller John Sharp, who Perry had known during college (Sharp had been student-body president at A&M when Perry was a yell leader). Perry’s 50%-48% victory opened the way to the governor’s office.
After Bush was elected president in 2000, Perry became the first Aggie governor of Texas. In 2002, when Perry had to run for the job, Democrats believed that he was vulnerable and gamely tried to put together a ticket. The chief organizer was Sharp, who decided to run for lieutenant governor again, not governor, and worked to get a gubernatorial candidate who could swell Democratic turnout among Latinos. His dream candidate was Tony Sanchez, chief shareholder of International Bank of Commerce and Sanchez Oil & Gas in Laredo, who was said to have a net worth of $600 million. Sanchez was no political naïf. In the early 1970s, he had worked for Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, one of the state’s canniest politicians. Sharp and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros persuaded Sanchez to run for governor. Sanchez spent $18 million on ads and beat former Attorney General Dan Morales in the Democratic primary 61%-33%. Meanwhile, in the April 2002 runoff, Democrats nominated for senator the business-friendly former mayor of Dallas, Ron Kirk, who is black. Sharp had his “Dream Team,” which he hoped would drive Latino and African-American turnout while he appealed to Anglo voters.
Perry and Sanchez agreed on many issues, but much of the campaign consisted of vitriolic ads. Sanchez’s theme was that Perry was beholden to campaign contributors and did their bidding. Perry hit Sanchez for not voting in some elections and for his business practices. In the fall, he ran a number of hard-hitting ads linking Sanchez to drug kingpins’ money laundering. It was undisputed that some $25 million had been laundered through Tesoro Savings & Loan, a company Sanchez owned, in the early 1980s. Sanchez said that he had not known of the transactions and pointed out that no one at the S&L had been charged with a crime. Nevertheless, Perry’s ads linked the money laundering to the 1985 murder of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Mexico. In one Perry ad, another DEA agent said, “We investigated the murder. The same drug dealers who killed Kiki laundered millions in drug money through Tony Sanchez’s bank.” Sanchez was outraged. He called Perry “by far the most disgusting human being I have ever known.”
Election Night was a nightmare for the “Dream Team.” Republicans won up and down the line. Perry beat Sanchez 58%-40%, although Sanchez had spent $67 million to Perry’s $28 million. Kirk and Sharp, who led the Democratic ticket, both lost. The high Latino turnout that Democrats had hoped for did materialize, but only in the Rio Grande Valley. Turnout in Latino neighborhoods in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio was not up by much. Rather, the big increases in turnout were in the fast-growing, heavily Republican counties at the edge of metro areas. Republicans won big margins in the Legislature: 19-12 in the state Senate and 88-62 in the state House. The new Republican leaders of the Legislature were Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Senate and Speaker Tom Craddick in the House—the first Republican speaker since 1871. Perry called his victory a mandate for restricting tort lawsuits, providing rate relief on homeowner insurance, changes in medical malpractice law, and government-paid vouchers for private school tuition.
Redistricting dominated the Texas political landscape in 2003. Early that year, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay urged the Legislature to pass a new congressional district map. Senate Republicans and Dewhurst were reluctant, but DeLay pressed longtime ally Craddick. As the legislative session neared adjournment, the House Redistricting Committee approved a new map that added five to seven new Republican seats and jeopardized each of the delegation’s 10 Anglo Democrats, though it protected the five incumbent Latino Democrats and two African-Americans. On the eve of the House’s scheduled May 12 debate, 51 Democrats fled the state and secretly settled at a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla., to prevent the Republicans from getting the two-thirds required for a quorum. The spectacle attracted national attention, and the state police were dispatched to track down the “Killer D’s.” Once their location was revealed, the Democrats insisted they would not return to Austin until after May 15, the final day the House could take up the bill in its regular session. The maneuver worked, temporarily. But Perry convened a special session on June 30. After House Republicans passed their plan, the 30-day session deadlocked when senators abided by their traditional rule for two-thirds approval to debate legislation. Perry called a second 30-day session. When Republicans threatened to take action this time with a simple majority, 11 Senate Democrats fled to Albuquerque to prevent a quorum for legislative action or apprehension by state law-enforcement officers. With cheers from Democrats nationwide and growing anger from Republicans, they remained there for the month of August. When Perry indicated in early September that he would call a third special session, Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire effectively broke the deadlock by returning to his legislative duties. On October 9, DeLay’s redistricting plan was passed by the Legislature.
School finance has long been a major issue in Texas government and politics. In 1993, Democratic Gov. Ann Richards and the Democratic Legislature passed a “Robin Hood” plan to distribute money from high-property-value school districts to poorer ones. By 2004, many school districts had reached their maximum taxing levels, voters were complaining about high property taxes, and others were saying the schools were starved for money. In 2004, Perry advanced legislation with property-tax reductions, more spending on schools and a $1 cigarette-tax increase. But it was fiercely criticized by Republican state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and failed to pass. In September 2004, a state trial judge ruled that the school finance system was unconstitutional and gave the Legislature a year to come up with a solution; the state appealed directly to the Texas Supreme Court. In 2005, Perry declared school financing a “legislative emergency.” The House and Senate came close to a deal but failed in the final hours of the session. Perry vetoed a $35 billion education bill in June 2005 and called a special session to consider the issue. A couple more special sessions failed to produce a solution. In November 2005, the state Supreme Court ruled the financing system unconstitutional, on the grounds that it amounted to a statewide property tax. In September, Perry appointed a commission headed by his old college friend and political foe Sharp. It recommended a plan that Perry brought before a special session in April 2006. The Senate passed a bill in May with a one-third property-tax cut, a $2,000 pay raise for teachers, a 4% spending increase, new math and science initiatives and a cigarette-tax increase. It also incorporated changes in business taxes and expanded the franchise tax to reach every significant business operation, with revenues to be used to finance property- tax reductions.
Perry next tackled Texas’s traffic-choked roads. Interstate 35 from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex on south has been pounded by trucks headed for the border at Laredo, the busiest crossing point for truck traffic between the United States and Mexico. Perry argued that the state’s 20-cent gas tax was no longer adequate to build needed infrastructure, and in 2005, the Legislature authorized his Trans-Texas Corridor plan to build a network of toll highways, with freight and passenger-rail corridors and utility zones for water and gas pipelines and electric transmission lines, at a cost of $184 billion or more. The first segment of the Central Texas Turnpike bypassing Austin opened in September 2006. The plan was to build a highway corridor just east of and parallel to I-35. This sparked protests from local governments, landowners and others. Comptroller Strayhorn called it the “Trans-Texas Catastrophe.” But Perry plunged ahead. Another problem was border enforcement. In 2006, Perry ordered video surveillance cameras placed on the border and sent large numbers of state troopers to protect Texans from Mexican drug cartels operating just south of the border. “Enforcing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, but Texas will not wait for them to act,” he said. He denounced proposals for a border fence and for taking away birthright citizenship.
Going into his 2006 re-election campaign, Perry had a job-approval rating of under 50%. Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison gave long thought to challenging him in the March 2006 primary, which she had also considered in 2002, but decided against it. Strayhorn decided to challenge him, saying memorably: “I am not a weak leadin’, ethics ignorin’, pointin’-the-finger-at-everyone blamin’, special session callin’, public school slashin’, slush fund spendin’, toll road buildin’, special interest panderin’, rainy day fund raidin’, fee increasin’, no property tax cuttin’, promise breakin’, do-nothin’ Rick Perry phony conservative.” She called for repealing Perry’s business tax and called the property-tax reductions a “$23 billion hot check.” Also entering the race was musician Kinky Friedman. “How hard could it be?” was his theme. “The far religious right and the politically correct left are holding the greatest state in the Union hostage. . . . Musicians can run this state better than politicians. We didn’t put the train in the ditch. We’ll work late at night. We won’t work in the morning, though.” Democrats had more difficulty coming up with a candidate. Finally Chris Bell, a one-term congressman from Houston who had been defeated as a result of the 2003 redistricting plan, stepped forward. Just before the filing deadline, Strayhorn said she would run as an independent rather than go up against Perry in the Republican primary. Early 2006 polls showed Perry running around 40% and his three opponents each receiving about half as many votes.
Despite a long and raucous campaign, that was pretty much how things turned out. In the March primary, 656,000 votes were cast on the Republican side and 509,000 on the Democratic side—a bit of a decline in Republican strength. In November, Perry received 39% of the vote, to 30% for Bell, 18% for Strayhorn and 12% for Friedman. Perry carried metro Dallas 41%-31%, Houston 38%-31%, and San Antonio 36%-28%. Bell carried metro Austin 39%-31% and the border counties 38%-33%. Whites voted 44%-24% for Perry, African-Americans 63%-16% for Bell. Hispanics, who cast 15% of the votes, voted 41%-31% for Bell. Republicans gained one seat in the state Senate, for a 20-11 margin, and lost seats in the state House, leaving their majority at 81-69.
In June 2007, with a booming economy and a budget surplus, Perry signed a $152 billion, two-year budget. It raised spending 12% and included $3 billion in bonds for cancer research, a health-insurance pool, a $146 million increase in college aid and a $100 million increase in funds for border security. The Legislature rejected his proposal to sell the state lottery to pay for health insurance and his property-tax changes. He vetoed an eminent domain bill—inspired by fears about the Trans-Texas Corridor and supported by the Texas Farm Bureau—that would have provided compensation for any diminished access to property. But he signed a bill limiting toll road construction to regional toll agencies—another swipe at the Trans-Texas Corridor. Perry opposed the border fence ordered by Congress. “We know how to deal with border security, and you don’t do it by building a fence. You do it by putting boots on the ground,” he said. However, he said a “strategic” fence might be useful in urban border areas.
On other issues, Perry signed a bill barring confiscation of guns in a state of emergency and, after the Virginia Tech University massacre of 32 students, supported repeal of the law prohibiting guns on campuses, saying, “It makes sense for Texans to be able to protect themselves from deranged individuals.” He issued a widely criticized order requiring teenage girls to receive the HPV vaccine, which has shown promise in combating genital warts and cervical cancer.
In January 2009, the state government faced no budget deficit and had an $11.7 billion rainy day fund to draw on, though revenues were declining. Yet Perry faced some obstacles. In November 2008, Democrats had reduced the Republicans’ majority in the state House to 76-74, and in January 2009, 11 “Anybody-but-Craddick” Republicans forced out conservative Speaker Craddick and installed, mostly with Democratic votes, a more-moderate Republican, Joe Straus. In January 2009, the Texas Department of Transportation officially abandoned the Trans-Texas Corridor project in the face of widespread opposition from landowners and suspicion of the foreign contractor, Cintra. Some of the roads would still be built, but not all of the 1,200-foot-wide corridor of toll roads, rail lines, pipelines and electrical transmission wires. Legislators also questioned Perry’s 2005 mandate that at least 65% of school spending go to classroom instruction.
In December 2008, Perry, as head of the Republican Governors Association, came out against President-elect Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill. He said, “The message that the bailout sends is that you don’t have to be responsible for your actions.” He also said, “I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens and its interference with the affairs of our state.” In March, he opposed taking $555 million in stimulus money that required Texas to expand its unemployment-compensation program. Nonetheless, a bipartisan majority in the Senate voted to accept the $555 million and to change state law, and the House voted to tap the Texas Enterprise Fund for unemployment compensation if the state refused to take the federal money.
Perry also began to seek a national profile, promoting Texas’s economic strengths and his own policies. “Our low taxes, controlled government spending and fair legal system give us a leg up on other states,” he said, noting that Texas led the nation in exports and Fortune 500 company headquarters. Looking out at the rest of the nation suffering from recession, he said, “I can’t imagine what Texas would look like if we had applied the same principles and the same decision-making in Texas that they’re applying in Washington. Well, California.” In February 2008, he published a book, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, which depicts the Boy Scouts as a bulwark against “nihilism” and “moral relativism.”
Perry has made it clear he will seek another four-year term in 2010. He is likely to have competition for the GOP nomination from Hutchison. In late 2008, she had $8 million for a race, compared to Perry’s $6.6 million. Texas law barred him from raising money until the end of the legislative session in June 2009. Hutchison criticized the Trans-Texas Corridor as Perry’s “quest to cover our state with massive toll roads.” She also attacked him for reducing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and called for more education funding. After Hutchison voted for the $700 billion government rescue of the financial services industry, Perry’s campaign press secretary called her “Kay Bailout.” Perry also burnished his conservative credentials by supporting a “Choose Life” license plate in the 2009 legislative session and a bill requiring women seeking an abortion to first view an ultrasound of their unborn child.