Texas political scramble: Perry says no to another term

Dave Montgomery Special to the Business Press

SAN ANTONIO – Ending months of speculation, Gov. Rick Perry, the state’s longest serving governor, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election next year, saying it’s time to pass on “the mantle of leadership.”

Perry also left open the door to a future run for president, saying any future decision will be announced “in due time.”

The Republican governor’s decision against running for an unprecedented fourth term opens the door to a political spectacle that Texans haven’t seen in more than two decades: a wide open governor’s race without an incumbent on the ballot.

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Perhaps the biggest beneficiary is Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Perry ally who has long been considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination to succeed Perry as governor. Former Republican Chairman Tom Pauken of Dallas is also seeking the governor’s office. On the Democratic side, State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth has been increasingly touted as a potential contender to challenge Republicans’ nearly two decade hold on the governor’s office although she has not committed to any race beyond her re-election bid for state Senate.

Other possible Democratic gubernatorial candidates include San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention; his twin brother, Joaquin Castro, a first-term congressman from San Antonio; and Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Perry’s announcement resolved one of the state’s biggest political guessing games. The Republican incumbent said nearly a year ago that he might consider running for a fourth term as governor, as well as a second run for the presidency. In recent weeks, speculation had been growing that he was moving away from a re-election bid but still harbored interest in the White House.

The 63-year-old governor made his announcement in a cavernous HOLT CAT warehouse in southeast San Antonio, choosing a company site he has cited to exemplify the healthy Texas economy that has taken shape under his watch. Planners arranged a stage with standing U.S. and Texas flags alongside a giant video screen with Perry’s logo.

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Perry said he remains “excited about the future and the challenges ahead” and plans to spend “the next 18 months working to create more Texas jobs, opportunity and innovation.” Austin political consultant Ray Sullivan, who served as communication director during Perry’s presidential race, said he believes Perry is moviing toward a second White House bid in 2016. “I belive he will mount a presidential cammpaign but nobody will know until they hear that from him,” said Sullivan, who also served as chief of staff in the governor’s office. “I think it’s fair to say he’s interested.” He also predicted that Perry will work to correct past mistakes, including giving himself more time to build a team and prepare for an entry into the race.  

Perry became the state’s 47th governor on Dec. 21, 2000, when he moved up from lieutenant governor to succeed George W. Bush after his predecessor left for the White House. Perry has been one of the state’s dominant political figures of the past quarter-century, boasting a resume that also includes service as a state legislator and two terms as agriculture commissioner.

Throughout his tenure, Perry has steadfastly embraced a limited government, low-tax philosophy that he credits for the state’s prolonged economic growth and robust business climate. He is the only governor since World War II to sign budgets that reduced general revenue spending. Perry has cast an enormous reach over state agencies by filling regulatory boards and commissions with his appointees.

He has also marshaled a strong following among social conservatives for his high-profile stands against abortion, a position that puts him at the center of a contentious legislative battle in Austin to push through toughened abortion restrictions opposed by Democrats. Perry’s critics contend that the governor’s policies have curtailed needed social services and health care for lower and middle-class Texans.

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After securing his record as the state’s longest serving governor, Perry appeared at the peak of his political power when he won an unprecedented third term in 2010 following a Republican primary victory against then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and a general election triumph over former Houston Mayor Bill White.

Perry showed early promise as a presidential contender in 2012, exuding the image of a tough Texan with a proven record of economic success in his home state. He quickly surged to the top of the polls against his Republican adversaries but began to founder after missteps topped by his now infamous “oops moment” when he forgot during a debate one of the federal agencies he wanted to eliminate if elected president.

He was forced out of the race just before the South Carolina primary, ending his candidacy about five months after he started. With no state term limits, Perry’s record tenure has surpassed more than a dozen years, easily eclipsing that of other long-serving incumbents. Gov. Allan Shivers, a conservative Democrat, served an unbroken stretch of seven and a half years from 1949-1957. Gov. Bill Clements, the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, served two nonconsecutive terms in 1979-1983 and 1987-1991.

Clements’ decision not to seek re-election to a third term in 1990 opened the door to the state’s last wide-open governor’s race in which an incumbent governor wasn’t on the ballot. Bush left in mid-term after winning the 2000 presidential election, but Perry was already in place as his successor and ran for election to a full term in 2002. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling said that Perry has “enhanced his political standing considerably over the last five months” and “would be tough to beat for re-election.”

Although the poll showed 45 percent of voters approving of him compared to 50 percent who disapproved, his approval was up a net 8 points from January. The poll also showed that Perry would have prevailed in a hypothetical matchup against several Democratic candidates.

Perry’s political career started in 1985 as a representative for a rural West Texas district in the state House of Representatives. He was first elected to statewide office in 1990, and served as Texas Commissioner of Agriculture for eight years. He grew up in Paint Creek, a small farming community north of Abilene that he often cited as part of his biography during his presidential race. His father, Ray Perry, served as a Haskell County Commissioner, school board member and a World War II tail gunner. Between 1972 and 1977, Perry served in the United States Air Force, flying C-130 tactical airlift aircraft in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

He is a 1972 graduate of Texas A&M University where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets, a junior and senior yell leader and an animal science major.