The eyes of Texas have been upon James Richard "Rick" Perry ever since he boot-scootin' boogied onto the public-service stage. Now political observers are watching Perry's fortunes fluctuate as a Republican candidate for president.
Political junkies have followed the career of Perry — an Eagle Scout, veterinary student and son of a farmer and a bookkeeper — from his initial election as a Democrat to the state House of Representatives in 1984. They have studied his endorsement of Al Gore for president in 1988. They watched him as he changed parties in 1989.
Perry was successful on the Republican side of the aisle as well, going on to win elections as head of the Texas Department of Agriculture in 1990, and lieutenant governor — under Gov. George W. Bush — in 1998. When Bush became president, Perry two-stepped in as governor in 2000 and has been re-elected ever since.
The Lone Star cognoscenti will tell you that Perry is pro-gun, anti-abortion and an opponent of same-sex marriage. He believes in cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, balancing the budget and increasing domestic energy production. Here are a few other things folks will tell you about Perry that you might not know:
1. He helped build the annual Aggie bonfires. As a college student at Texas A&M University, Perry was on the construction crews of the traditional bonfires built each season before the rivalry football game with the University of Texas. When a 40-foot tower of logs collapsed in 1999 and killed 12 people, Texas A&M stopped sanctioning the yearly event. At the time, Perry — then lieutenant governor — was asked about the tragedy. He explained the tradition to The New York Times: "This is an extraordinary coming together of the student body to build this bonfire. ... It is very much a part of Aggie lore and traditions and values. It represents great teamwork. It represents friendship."
2. He once made lawn mower safety a campaign issue. When incumbent Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower cut his finger on a lawn mower blade in 1990, challenger Perry told The Associated Press: "This incident fully emphasizes his total lack of common sense. ... It's probably a good thing Hightower is not a farmer, because there are machines much more dangerous than lawn mowers on the farm, like shredders and bush hogs and balers."
3. He had to settle for just being governor. "Texas constitutional and statutory law give more formal power to the lieutenant governor than to the governor," says Harvey Tucker, a political science professor at Perry's alma mater, Texas A&M. In times past, Tucker explains, "a Texas lieutenant governor who became governor — when that position became vacant — might want to retain the title and power of lieutenant governor while serving as governor." But in November of 1999, the Texas Constitution was amended to prevent anyone from serving as both lieutenant governor and governor. Tucker adds: "Rick Perry was the first lieutenant governor affected by this change."
4. He loves The Wizard of Oz. "During our interview," wrote veteran Perry watcher Paul Burka in a 2002 Texas Monthly profile, Gov. Perry "mentioned that his 'favorite movie of all time' is The Wizard of Oz. For him it has lessons that translate to politics. (No, no, it's not that you can get along without a brain.) To Perry, political power is often an illusion, a little man behind a curtain projecting an image."
5. He is a record-setter. According to Harvey Tucker, Perry holds state records for a) total time serving as Texas governor and b) consecutive time serving as Texas governor. He has been governor since Dec. 21, 2000. The previous record for total served, eight years, was held by Republican William P. Clements, who was in office January 1979 to January 1983, and January 1987 to January 1991. To boot, Tucker says, Perry continues to extend both records.