Rick Perry ContactBack to top
Address: Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711
Rick Perry BiographyBack to top
- Elected: Assumed office Dec. 2000, term expires Jan. 2015, 3rd full term.
- State: Texas
- Born: Mar. 04, 1950, Paint Creek
- Home: Austin
Texas A&M U., B.S. 1972
- Professional Career:
Farmer & rancher.
- Military Career:
Air Force, 1972-77.
- Political Career:
TX House of Reps., 1984-90; Comm., TX Dept. of Agriculture, 1990-98; Lt. gov., 1998-2000.
- Family: Married (Anita); 2 children
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, 2006, and 2010. As one of the country’s high-profile governors, he ran for president in 2012, offering himself as a bridge between establishment Republicans and the tea party. His inexperience on the national political stage became evident, and he dropped out after committing several gaffes. Since then, however, he has been laying the groundwork for a potential 2016 comeback.
Perry grew up on his family’s farm in Paint Creek, north of Abilene 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 and began to get involved in politics. He was elected in 1984 to the state House as a Democrat and joined a group that called itself the Pit Bulls for their aggressive stance on cutting 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, Perry 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 Texas Farm Bureau and won an upset victory with ads pointing out that Hightower had supported civil rights leader Jesse Jackson for president. In increasingly Republican Texas, Perry was easily reelected 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. Governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately in Texas, and George W. Bush and Perry ran separate campaigns in 1998. Perry had no Republican primary opposition, and 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 won 50%-48%.
After Bush was elected president in 2000, Perry automatically ascended, becoming the first Aggie (as A&M graduates are known) to become 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 spent $18 million on ads and beat former Attorney General Dan Morales in the Democratic primary 61%-33%.
Perry and Sanchez agreed on many issues, but much of the campaign consisted of vitriolic ads. Sanchez charged that Perry was beholden to campaign contributors and did their bidding. In the fall, Perry ran a number of hard-hitting ads linking Sanchez to drug kingpins’ money laundering. An outraged Sanchez called Perry “by far the most disgusting human being I have ever known.” Perry beat Sanchez 58%-40%, although Sanchez had spent $67 million to Perry’s $28 million, and Sharp lost as well. The high Latino turnout that Democrats had hoped for materialized only in the Rio Grande Valley. Rather, the big increases in turnout were in the fast-growing, heavily Republican counties at the edge of metro areas. Republicans also won big margins in the state legislature.
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 were reluctant, but DeLay found an ally in GOP House Speaker Tom 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.” 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. 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, with Perry’s help, 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, and voters were complaining about high property taxes while parents complained about schools starved for money. In 2004, Perry advanced legislation with more spending on schools, a $1 cigarette-tax increase and property tax reductions. But it met fierce opposition from some Republicans 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. In 2005, Perry declared school financing a “legislative emergency,” and he and the legislature struggled through several special sessions to find a solution, but ultimately failed. 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. He 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. Another problem was border enforcement.
Going into his 2006 reelection campaign, Perry had a job-approval rating of under 50%. Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison gave long thought to getting into the March 2006 primary, but decided against it. But Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn decided to challenge Perry, calling for repealing Perry’s business tax. Also entering the race was musician and author Kinky Friedman. “How hard could it be?” was his theme. 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 GOP contest.
Perry won 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. But 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. 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.
By early 2009, the state government had no budget deficit and a $9 billion rainy day fund to draw on. Yet Perry faced some obstacles. In January, 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. Only a fraction of the project would be built. Legislators also questioned Perry’s 2005 mandate that at least 65% of school spending go to classroom instruction.
Despite those setbacks, Perry was building a national profile. He was the head of the Republican Governors Association, and in that role, was a leading critic of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill. He initially refused $555 million in stimulus money that required Texas to expand its unemployment compensation program, but backed down after bipartisan coalitions in the legislature forced him to accept the money. Perry frequently touted Texas’ economic strengths, and his own role developing them, seemingly with an eye on his future. “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. He published a book in 2010 titled, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, which called for giving states more power on issues ranging from taxes to gay marriage.
In seeking another four-year term in 2010, Perry this time had competition for the GOP nomination from Hutchison. She touted her record of delivering federal money for the state and 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 dubbed her “Kay Bailout.” Perry also burnished his conservative credentials by suggesting that Texans disgusted by the economic stimulus might consider seceding from the United States. Most of the attention Hutchison got focused on her protracted equivocating over whether to resign her Senate seat to run for governor. Her initial double-digit lead over Perry in the polls vanished by early 2010. Though she outraised him $19.7 million to $16.7 million, he trounced her 51%-30% in the March GOP primary, with tea party activist Debra Medina drawing 19%.
Perry’s general election opponent was former Houston Mayor Bill White, who had served in President Bill Clinton’s Energy Department and chaired the Texas Democratic Party from 1996 to 1998. White was unable to find an issue that stuck against Perry, and he settled on trying to highlight cronyism in his administration. Perry unleashed a barrage of tough ads that raised questions about White’s tenure as mayor and coasted to another term 55%-42%. He racked up totals in excess of 70% in most rural counties and held White to just over 50% in Houston-based Harris County.
Perry made good on his state’s rights rhetoric, refusing in January 2011 to let his state enforce federal climate change regulations and joining Attorney General Greg Abbott in launching a series of lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air rules. By that time, his state, like most others, was struggling with diminished, post-recession revenues and had accrued a $27 billion budget deficit. Perry refused to raise taxes in response, and instead cut more than 5,000 state government jobs. That, combined with Texas’ success in coping with the recession—it added jobs between December 2007 and June 2011 in stark contrast to the rest of the country—endeared him to conservatives nationally. Syndicated columnist George Will coined a new term, “Texas Exceptionalism.” Part of the reason was Perry’s prowess in luring jobs away from comparatively high-tax states.
Perry’s critics, however, cited problems in his record, especially when it came to the disparity between rich and poor. They noted Census Bureau findings that almost 24% of Texans lacked health insurance in 2009—by far the highest percentage in the country. The Lone Star State also had the nation’s eighth-highest poverty level and the sixth-highest poverty rate for children. Even some Texas Republicans feared that the state had not done enough. Meanwhile, Democrats complained that Perry’s decision to cut $4 billion from education programs to address the deficit in 2011 put the state in an even deeper hole. A committee commissioned by Perry and other leaders in 2009 called the state’s rate of developing educational capacity “woefully inadequate.”
Perry had long professed disinterest in following Bush’s path to the White House. But in May 2011, as rumblings of discontent grew about the emerging crop of GOP candidates, he signaled that he would “think about” entering the race. He and his advisers spent the next several months gauging whether they could still raise enough money and put together an organization to run a credible campaign. Finally, several days after hosting a religious rally in Houston, and on the eve of the Iowa straw poll—the first major signpost in the presidential race—Perry made clear that he would run. “The issue of this campaign will be about how to get America working again,” Perry told Texas television station KVUE. “And let me tell you, we will put the Texas record up against anybody from the standpoint, the last 10 years.” Political observers agreed that his accomplishments would prove attractive to Republican voters. But they also wondered whether his appeal could reach beyond conservative circles and whether he was capable of withstanding the relentless scrutiny accorded top-tier contenders.
Indeed, the aura of formidability that Perry had acquired in Texas did not prepare him for the White House campaign trail. He had long refused to appear before newspaper editorial boards and in 2010 declined to debate White; suddenly he was appearing in weekly debates with well-seasoned Republican rivals. He first caused a stir when he declared that it would be “almost treacherous or treasonous” if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke printed money to stimulate the economy prior to the election. He alarmed people with his foreign policy views after he called the leaders of Turkey “terrorists” and said they should be kicked out of NATO.
But the incident for which Perry was most remembered came at a televised November 2011 debate in Michigan when he sought to explain the three federal agencies he would eliminate. After naming Education and Commerce, he hit a mental block in trying to name the Energy Department. “I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said. Pundits of all stripes labeled the moment one of the most embarrassing in presidential campaign history.
Perry plummeted from first to last in the polls, finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses, and took less than 1% of the vote in New Hampshire. With his prospects appearing no better in South Carolina, he dropped out in January and threw his support to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In later announcing his support for eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Perry tried to put a positive spin on the experience. “I personally learned that $20 million may not earn you any delegates,” he said, referring to the money his campaign raised. “But it’ll give you a great tour of this country.” Back in Texas, questions arose about whether Perry’s White House flirtation had diminished his stature. One ominous indication was his inability in 2012 to elect Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to Hutchison’s Senate seat; tea party favorite and political newcomer Ted Cruz won the primary and general election. Perry refused to expand Medicaid in Texas under the federal health care law, and by January 2013, abandoned his reluctance to tap into the state’s rainy day fund to finance tax cuts along with water and road improvements.
His approval rating in a Public Policy Polling Survey that month was just 41%. By a 2-to-1 margin, voters said that he shouldn’t seek another term. He announced that he wouldn't do so in July 2013 -- a time that political observers noted gave him ample opportunity to get an earlier start on 2016 than he did on 2012.
Perry did indeed spend the ensuing months visiting critical states such as Iowa, where he impressed some political figures with what they called his newfound energy and maturity. "He seemed to have more fire, a lot more motivation," Bud Douglas, chairman of the Humboldt County Republican Party, told The Des Moines Register. He also spent plenty of time in California, where he promoted his state's economic climate, met with conservative scholars and courted potential constituencies. At a deli in Beverly Hills, he told a New York Times Magazine reporter: "I’m more Jewish than you think I am. I read the part of the Bible that said the Jews are God’s chosen people.” All of this appeared to redeem him to many pundits, particularly those on the right. "Rick Perry is no longer dead," wrote Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. "He is alive, well, and hyperactive as a national political figure."
The crisis on the Southwest border, where authorities apprehended tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children since fall 2013, handed Perry a ripe political issue. He annnounced in July 2014 that he would send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to secure the border as part of what he called Operation Strong Safety. "I will not stand idly by," he declared. "The price of inaction is too high." The move led Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro to assert that Perry was "militarizing our border."
Perry also picked a few high-profile fights with other potential 2016 aspirants. When Sen. Rand Paul compared his views to those of Ronald Reagan in the Wall Street Journal, Perry argued in a Washington Post rebuttal that the Kentucky libertarian-leaning freshman had “omitted Reagan’s long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity.” At the same time, Perry sought to soften his conservativism just a tad, touting his support to lessen penalties for marijuana use in venues as diverse as the World Economic Forum and television's Jimmy Kimmel Live! In keeping with his anti-federalist views, he said states should decide whether to legalize the drug.
In August 2014, a Texas grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts. The indictment came on the heels of an ethics complaint that he had abused his veto power in cutting funding for Texas' anti-corruption unit, which is part of the Travis County District Attorney's Office. The governor had called on the county's district attorney, Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg, to resign after an April 2013 drunken-driving arrest, warning that he would veto $7.5 million for the office unless Lehmberg did so. After she refused, he vetoed the funding. Perry denied any wrongdoing. "I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas, and if I had to do it again, I would make exactly the same decision," he told Fox News. He also sought to turn the indictment to his political advantage, noting that even some Democrats questioned the legal move.Show Less
Rick Perry Election ResultsBack to top
2006 (39%), 2002 (58%)