Gov. Rick Perry (R)|
Last Updated October 5, 2001
|Assumed office Dec. 2000,
term expires Jan. 2003
Born: Mar. 4, 1950,
Education: Texas A&M U., B.S. 1972
Religion: United Methodist
Marital Status: married
- Political: TX House of Reps., 1984-90; Comm., TX Dept. of Agriculture, 1990-98; Lt. Gov., 1998-2000.
- Professional: Farmer & rancher.
- Military: Air Force, 1972-77.
Office: State Capitol, P.O. Box 12428, Austin
512-463-2000; Fax: 512-463-1849; Web: www.state.tx.us.
Rick Perry, then the Republican lieutenant governor, became governor of Texas on December 21, 2000, when George W. Bush, assured of his election as president, resigned the office. Perry grew up on his family's farm in Paint Creek, near where his great-great grandfather settled after fighting in the Civil War and was elected to the Texas house in the 1890s. His family owns a 10,000-acre ranch, and his father served 28 years as a county commissioner, as a Democrat. He was an Eagle Scout and went to Texas A&M to study to be a veterinarian; that didn't pan out though he did receive a degree in animal science. But he became a yell leader--cheerleader on lesser campuses, and a coveted position at A&M. These were the years of great student rebellions, but apparently not at 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; this part of West Texas was for a very long time strong Democratic territory. He got on the Appropriations Committee and was one of three young legislators known there as the "pit bulls." In 1989 he was passed over for a leadership position and switched to the Republican Party. In 1990 he ran for Agriculture commissioner against the picturesque incumbent Jim Hightower, a populist who was perhaps the most liberal Democrat ever elected to statewide office. Perry got the support of the Farm Bureau and won an upset victory even while Democrat Ann Richards was winning the governorship. In an increasingly Republican Texas, Perry was easily re-elected in 1994.
Then in 1998 Perry ran for lieutenant governor. This is an important position in Texas, more powerful than the governorship, some say; the lieutenant governor not only presides over the state Senate but controls its proceedings and appoints its committee members and chairmen. The incumbent was Bob Bullock, a grizzled veteran and glorious political fighter, the strongest Texas Democrat after Richards lost in 1994. George W. Bush took care to work closely with Bullock, and developed a close and trusting relationship with him; Bullock endorsed Bush for re-election in 1998, even though he was godfather to one of Democratic candidate Gary Mauro's children, and he predicted that Bush would be president, and a good one. Bullock retired voluntarily in 1998, and died in 1999; his widow Jan introduced Bush at the 2000 convention in Philadelphia. Governors and lieutenant governors are elected separately in Texas, and Bush and Perry ran separate campaigns; Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, worked for Perry in 1990 and 1994 but not in 1998. Nevertheless there were clear signs that Bush was vitally interested in Perry's candidacy, for without a Republican lieutenant governor he would be open to criticism in a presidential campaign that he was leaving the governorship to a Democrat. Perry, interestingly, had no Republican primary opposition for a post that obviously could lead directly to the governorship. Perry and his Democratic opponent, state Comptroller John Sharp, managed to raise $15 million for the campaign; George and Barbara Bush appeared at Perry's fundraisers. Sharp was a new Democrat who had done some interesting work on government reform, and served as student body president at A&M when Perry was yell leader. Perry's 50%-48% win opened the way to the governor's office for him, and to the presidency for Bush.
As lieutenant governor, Perry--contrary to the expectations of many--followed the Bush tradition of bipartisanship, working with senators of both parties, and breaking an impasse that threatened to turn the end of the 1999 session into chaos. He helped to pass record tax cuts, a teacher pay increase and more money for public schools. He also made a few missteps. Videotape caught him angrily protesting when his driver was stopped for speeding by state police. A letter sent to lobbyists specifying minimum contributions for them and their clients inevitably became public. His relations with Democratic Speaker Pete Laney, whom he had opposed for that office in 1992, were frayed, and Laney criticized him for campaigning for Republicans running against Democratic incumbents in 2000. For five weeks after the election it was not clear, of course, whether he would become governor, but he was obviously preparing. On December 21 he was sworn in--interestingly, the first Aggie governor of Texas. In his first major policy speech in January 2001 he made little mention of some of his trademark conservative issues--school vouchers, more prison construction, opposition to hate crime bills that mention special groups. Instead he called for $300 million for college scholarships, $40 million for teacher training in math education, affordable health insurance for teachers: where Bush had emphasized reading, Perry emphasized math; where Bush had emphasized the early grades, Perry called for doing more on higher education. Perry positioned himself in the center quickly, signing a hate crimes bill and a bill to provide DNA testing for defendents and prisoners, but also vetoing a bill banning the execution of mentally retarded persons.
There is one problem Texas doesn't have: its electricity deregulation, begun in 2001, has created no California-type problems; it allows utilities to make long-term contracts and since 1995 the state has built or is building 37 new power plants. Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Conservation Commission ordered a 90% cut in nitrogen oxide emissions from refineries and factories and a 55 mile per hour speed limit on freeways in the Houston area to reduce air pollution. Perry appointed blacks to the Supreme Court and the University of Texas Board of Regents--both firsts--and named Henry Cuellar, a Hispanic, Secretary of State.
Will Perry win a full term in 2002? He was helped when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced in March 2001 that she would not run. But he may face serious Democratic competition from Tony Sanchez, the largest shareholder in International Bancshares and founder of Sanchez Oil & Gas, who is said to have a $600 million fortune and to be willing to spend between $10 and $30 million on a campaign. In early 2001 prominent Democrats like John Sharp and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros were urging Sanchez to run; Sanchez had contributed to many Democrats and also to George W. Bush, who named him to the University of Texas Board of Regents. A Sanchez candidacy would likely reduce the inroads Republicans have been making among Latino voters, who were 10% of the electorate in 2000 (Perry has been taking Spanish lessons) and might raise the spirits of Texas Democrats who have had much reason to be dispirited about Texas politics.
Probably Safe. Democrats are optimistic about wealthy businessman Tony Sanchez, hoping that his ability to finance a campaign and his Hispanic surname will end the party's dry spell. However, Sanchez has been mired in controversy and may not be as effective as Democrats hope. Sanchez could make this race very interesting, but Perry starts with the advantage.
||George W. Bush (R)
|Garry Mauro (D)
||George W. Bush (R)
||George W. Bush (R)
|Ann Richards (D)
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