Perry was elected three times to full gubernatorial terms and is the fourth Texas Governor (after Allan Shivers, Price Daniel and John Connally) to serve three terms. With a tenure in office of 14 years, 30 days, Perry was, at the Time he left office, the second longest-serving current U.S. governor (after Terry Branstad of Iowa). Perry ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 2012 and 2016.
A fifth-generation Texan, he was born on March 4, 1950, in Haskell, Texas, and raised in Paint Creek, Texas, the son of dryland cotton farmers Joseph Ray Perry and Amelia June Holt Perry. He has one older sister. Perry's ancestry is almost entirely English, dating as far back as the original Thirteen Colonies. His family has been in Texas since before the Texas Revolution.
His father, a Democrat, was a long-time Haskell County commissioner and school board member. Perry has said that his interest in politics probably began in November 1961, when his father took him to the funeral of U.S. Representative Sam Rayburn.
Perry was in the Boy Scouts (BSA) and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. The BSA has honored Perry with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. Perry graduated from Paint Creek High School in 1968.
Upon graduation from high school, Perry attended Texas A&M University where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets and the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. He was elected senior class social secretary, and one of A&M's five "yell leaders" - students that lead Aggie fans in a series of "yells" during athletic events or other school events. He graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science.
Perry said that the Corps of Cadets gave him the discipline to complete his animal sciences degree and earn a commission in the Air Force. In a 1989 interview, he said that "I was probably a bit of a free spirit, not particularly structured real well for life outside of a military regime, I would have not lasted at Texas Tech or the University of Texas. I would have hit the fraternity scene and lasted about one semester."
In the early 1970s, Perry interned during several summers with the Southwestern Company, as a door-to-door book salesman. "I count my time working for Dortch Oldham [president of the Southwestern Company] as one of the most important formative experiences of my life", Perry said in 2010. "There is nothing that tests your commitment to a goal like getting a few doors closed in your face." He said that "Mr. Oldham taught legions of young people to communicate quickly, clearly and with passion, a lesson that has served me well in my life since then."
Upon graduation from college in 1972, Perry was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force and completed pilot training in February 1974. He was then assigned as a C-130 pilot with the 772nd Tactical Airlift Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base. Perry's duties included two-month overseas rotations at RAF Mildenhall in England and Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. His missions included a 1974 U.S. State Department drought relief effort in Mali, Mauritania and Chad, and two years later, earthquake relief in Guatemala. He left the United States Air Force in 1977 with the rank of captain, returned to Texas, and went into business farming cotton with his father.
In 1984, Perry was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat from district 64, which included his home county of Haskell. He served on the House Appropriations and Calendars committees during his three two-year terms in office. He befriended fellow freshman state representative Lena Guerrero of Austin, a staunch liberal Democrat who endorsed Perry's reelection bid in 2006.
Perry was part of the "Pit Bulls", a group of Appropriations members who sat on the lower dais in the committee room (or "pit") who pushed for austere state budgets during the 1980s. At one point, The Dallas Morning News named him one of the ten most effective members of the legislature.
In 1987, Perry voted for a $5.7 billion tax increase proposed by Republican governor Bill Clements. Perry supported Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries and worked in an unspecified capacity for Gore's campaign in Texas. On September 29, 1989, Perry announced that he was switching parties, becoming a Republican.
In 1990, as a newly minted Republican, Perry challenged Jim Hightower, the incumbent Democratic Agriculture Commissioner. Karl Rove was Perry's campaign manager.
In the Republican primary on March 13, 1990, Perry polled 276,558 votes (47%), with Richard McIver garnering 176,976 votes (30%) and Gene L. Duke, who placed third, polling 132,497 votes (23%). Since Perry fell shy of the necessary 50% to win outright, a runoff was held between Perry and McIver set on April 10, 1990. In the runoff, he emerged victorious, garnering 96,649 votes (69%) to McIver's 43,921 votes (31%).
During 1990, Hightower's office was embroiled in an FBI investigation into corruption and bribery. Three aides were convicted in 1993 of using public funds for political fundraising, although Hightower himself was not found to be involved in the wrongdoings. Perry narrowly defeated Hightower in November 1990, garnering 1,864,463 votes (49%) to Hightower's 1,820,145 votes (48%).
According to the book Boy Genius: Karl Rove, the Brains Behind the Remarkable Political Triumph of George W. Bush, Rove raised $3 million to raise Perry's profile, "while tarnishing the name of Jim Hightower" resulting in Perry's name becoming a "household name in Texas—and Hightower's name synonymous with corruption".
As Agriculture Commissioner, Perry was responsible for promoting the sale of Texas farm produce to other states and foreign nations, and for supervising the calibration of weights and measures, such as gasoline pumps and grocery store scales.
In April 1993, Perry, while serving as Texas agriculture commissioner, expressed support for the effort to reform the nation's healthcare, describing it as "most commendable". The healthcare plan, first revealed in September, was ultimately unsuccessful due to Republican congressional opposition. In 2005, after being questioned on the issue by a potential opponent in the Republican governor primary, Perry said that he expressed his support only in order to get Clinton to pay more attention to rural healthcare.
In 1994, Perry was reelected Agriculture Commissioner by a large margin, getting 2,546,287 votes (62 percent) to Democrat Marvin Gregory's 1,479,692 (36 percent). Libertarian Clyde L. Garland received the remaining 85,836 votes (2 percent). Gregory, a chicken farmer from Sulphur Springs, Texas, was on the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority with Perry in the early nineties as a Republican, but became a Democrat before running against Perry in 1994.
In 1998, Perry chose not to seek a third term as Agriculture Commissioner, running instead for Lieutenant Governor to succeed the retiring Democrat Bob Bullock. During this election, Perry had a notable falling out with his previous top political strategist Karl Rove, which began the much-reported rivalry between the Bush and Perry camps. Perry polled 1,858,837 votes (50.04 percent) to the 1,790,106 (48.19 percent) cast for Democrat John Sharp of Victoria, who had relinquished the Comptroller's position after two terms to seek the lieutenant governorship. Libertarian Anthony Garcia polled another 65,150 votes (1.75 percent). Perry became the state's first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction, taking office on January 19, 1999.
Perry assumed the office of governor on December 21, 2000, following the resignation of George W. Bush—who was preparing to become President of the United States. He won the office in his own right in the 2002 gubernatorial election, where he received 58% of votes to Laredo oilman and businessman Tony Sanchez's 40%. He was re-elected in the 2006 gubernatorial election against three major opponents, polling 39% of votes against runner-up former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell of Houston with 30%. In the 2010 gubernatorial election, Perry became the first Texas governor to be elected to three four-year terms, polling 55% of votes to former Houston Mayor Bill White's 42%.
According to Texans for Public Justice, in his three gubernatorial campaigns, Perry received hard-money campaign contributions of $102 million, half of which came from 204 donors.
In the 2001 legislative session, Perry set a record for his use of the veto, rejecting 82 acts, more than any other governor in any single legislative session in the history of the state since Reconstruction.
In 2003, Perry formed the non-profit organization, the OneStar Foundation, designed to connect non-profits with resources and expertise to accomplish their missions and to promote volunteerism. He tapped the state Republican chairman Susan Weddington, who stepped down from that position after six years, as the president of OneStar. She left in 2009, and he chose Elizabeth Seale as her successor.
In his presidential campaign, Perry highlighted the economic success Texas achieved under his governorship. The efficacy of Perry's economic policies has been questioned by some sources. A proclaimed proponent of fiscal conservatism, Perry has often campaigned on job growth and tax issues, such as his opposition to creating a state income tax. In 2002, Perry refused to promise not to raise taxes as governor, and in the following years did propose or approve various tax and debt increases. In 2009, Perry signed Grover Norquist's pledge to "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes".
Texas began borrowing money in 2003 to pay for roads and was projected to owe $17.3 billion by the end of 2012, increasing total state debt from $13.4 billion in 2001 to $37.8 billion in 2011. The state's public finance authority sold $2 billion in bonds for unemployment benefits, and it was authorized to sell $1.5 billion more if necessary. Texas federal borrowing topped $1.6 billion in October 2010, before the bond sales.
In 2003, Perry signed legislation that created the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has since given $435 million in grants to businesses. The New York Times reported that many of the companies receiving grants, or their chief executives, have made contributions to Perry's campaigns or to the Republican Governors Association. (Perry became chairman of the group in 2008 and again in 2011.) Perry was criticized for supporting corporate tax breaks and other incentives, while the state government was experiencing budget deficits.
As Governor of Texas, Perry received grades of B in 2004, B in 2006, B in 2008, B in 2010, C in 2012, and B in 2014 from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in their biennial Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors.
As governor, Perry was an opponent of federal health-care reform proposals and of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, describing the latter as "socialism on American soil". His focus in Texas was on tort reform, signing a bill in 2003 that restricted non-economic damages in medical malpractice judgments. Perry touted this approach in his presidential campaign, although independent analysts have concluded that it has failed to increase the supply of physicians or limit health-care costs in Texas.
During Perry's governorship, Texas rose from second to first among states with the highest proportion of uninsured residents at 26%, and had the lowest level of access to prenatal care in the U.S. Perry and the state legislature cut Medicaid spending. The Los Angeles Times wrote that under Perry, "working Texans increasingly have been priced out of private healthcare while the state's safety net has withered."
Perry's office said that Texas represents a model private-sector approach to health-care. His spokeswoman stated that "Texas does provide an adequate safety net to those truly in need... and many individuals simply choose not to purchase healthcare coverage."
Perry is anti-abortion and has signed bills with rules or restrictions for abortion procedures and funding for them.
In December 2011, Perry said he had undergone a "transformation" and now opposed all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest. The next day he clarified that he would allow an exception for abortions that would save a mother's life.
In February 2007, Perry issued an executive order mandating that Texas girls receive the HPV vaccine, which protects against some strains of the human papilloma virus, a contributing factor to some forms of cervical cancer. Following the move, news outlets reported various apparent financial connections between Perry and the vaccine's manufacturer, Merck. Merck's political action committee has contributed $28,500 since 2001 to Perry's campaigns. The order was criticized by some parents and social conservatives, and a lawsuit was filed later that month. In May 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a bill undoing the order; Perry did not veto the bill, saying the veto would have been overruled, but blamed lawmakers who supported the bill for the deaths of future cancer victims.
On July 1,2011, Perry both had adult stem cell surgery in Houston and started "laying the groundwork" for the commercialization of the adult stem cell industry in Texas.
Perry grew up in the United Methodist Church. He and his family were members of Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin until 2010, when they began attending Lake Hills Church, a non-denominational evangelical megachurch in western Travis County. Perry told the Austin American-Statesman that he began attending Lake Hills because it was close to the rental home where he and his wife lived while the Governor's Mansion was being renovated.
In 2006, Perry stated that he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that those who do not accept Jesus as their Savior will go to hell. A couple of days later, he clarified, "I don't know that there's any human being that has the ability to interpret what God and his final decision-making is going to be."
In his 2008 book On My Honor, Perry expressed his views on the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. "Let's be clear: I don't believe government, which taxes people regardless of their faith, should espouse a specific faith. I also don't think we should allow a small minority of atheists to sanitize our civil dialogue of religious references."
In June 2011, Perry proclaimed August 6 as a Day of Prayer and Fasting, inviting other governors to join him in a prayer meeting hosted by the American Family Association in Houston. The event was criticized as going beyond prayer and fasting to include launching Perry's presidential campaign.
Perry has called himself "a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect", and has expressed support for its teaching alongside evolution in Texas schools, but has also said that "educators and local school officials, not the governor, should determine science curriculum".
In 2005, Perry said he would not "approve an education budget that shortchanges teacher salary increases, textbooks, education technology, and education reforms. And I cannot let $2 billion sit in some bank account when it can go directly to the classroom".
Following a second rejection of Perry's bill, Perry asked John Sharp to head a task force charged with preparing a bipartisan education plan, which was subsequently adopted.
In 2001, Perry expressed his pride in the enactment of the statute extending in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who meet Texas' residency requirements. It also required the undocumented students to pledge to apply for permanent residency or citizenship if this became a possibility for them. In September 2014, Gov. Perry stated during a debate his continuous support for the program.
In 2002, Perry described the Texas same-sex anti-sodomy law as "appropriate". The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the statute in Lawrence v. Texas, determining that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
In his 2010 book, Perry referenced the Lawrence decision, writing "Texans have a different view of the world than do the nine oligarchs in robes." In 2011, Perry admitted that he did not know about the Lawrence decision; when told that the Supreme Court case had struck down Texas's anti-sodomy law, Perry said: "I'm not taking the bar exam ... I don't know what a lot of legal cases involve ... [M]y position on traditional marriage is clear ... I don't need a federal law case to explain it to me."
Perry supported Texas Proposition 2 in 2005, a ballot proposition that amended the Texas constitution by defining marriage as "only a union between a man and a woman" and prohibiting the state from creating or recognizing "any legal status identical or similar to marriage" (such as civil unions).
In 2011, after New York legalized same-sex marriage, Perry stated that it was their right to do so under the principle of states' rights in the Tenth Amendment. A spokesman later reiterated Perry's support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying that position was not inconsistent, since an amendment would require ratification by three-fourths of the states.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Constitution, Perry condemned the decision, saying: "I'm a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue."
In his first book, On My Honor, published in 2008, Perry drew a parallel between homosexuality and alcoholism, writing that he is "no expert on the 'nature versus nurture' debate" but that gays should simply choose abstinence.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, he criticized the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for the U.S. military. Perry said using foreign aid as a policy tool against foreign countries that violate the human rights of homosexuals was "not in America's interests" and was part of a "war on traditional American values".
Perry, an Eagle Scout, has called on the Boy Scouts to continue their ban on homosexuality and blamed America for not living up to the ideals of the Scouts.
Perry's campaigns for lieutenant governor and governor focused on a tough stance on crime. He has supported block grants for crime programs.
Jeff L. Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, said of Perry that "He has done more good than any other governor we've ever had ... unless, of course, it involves the death penalty. On the death penalty, Rick Perry has a profound mental block."
In 2007, Perry signed a law ending automatic arrest for cannabis possession.
Perry supports the death penalty. In June 2001, he vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally retarded inmates.
Cases in which Perry has been criticized for his lack of intervention include those of Cameron Todd Willingham and Mexican nationals José Medellín and Humberto Leal Garcia.
Perry commuted the death sentence of Kenneth Foster, who was convicted of murder despite evidence that he was only present at the scene of the crime. Foster was convicted under a Texas law that makes co-conspirators liable in certain cases of homicide. In this case, it tied Foster to the triggerman. Perry raised doubts about the law and urged the legislature to re-examine the issue. "I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment", Perry said in a statement at the time.
Perry also refused to grant a stay of execution in the case of Cameron Todd Willingham even though an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission determined parts of the original investigation may not have looked at all of the evidence correctly. Perry called Willingham a "monster" and later replaced the chairman of the Science Commission.
In 2002, Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $175 billion transportation network that would include a 4,000-mile network of highways, rail, and utility lines and would be funded by private investors. Plans for the project were dropped in 2009 in favor of more incremental road projects.
Perry has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. He possesses a Concealed Carry License (CCL) and has signed a number of bills that increased CHL access.
During a large surge in illegal immigration through the U.S. southern border in the summer of 2014, Perry criticized U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that the surge was "a humanitarian crisis that he has the ability to stop." On July 21, 2014, Perry announced he would send in 1,000 National Guard troops to secure the border. Although illegal immigration levels declined over 70% after Perry deployed the National Guard, PolitiFact.com rated his claim that the decline resulted from the surge as "mostly false."
On August 15, 2014, Perry was indicted by a Travis County grand jury. The first charge of the indictment was abuse of official capacity, which has since been ruled unconstitutional, for threatening to veto $7.5 million in funding for the Public Integrity Unit, a state public corruption prosecutors department. The second charge, which has also since been ruled unconstitutional, was coercion of a public servant, for seeking the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she was convicted of drunk driving, and incarcerated.
Perry pleaded not guilty to both charges. Perry's supporters called the charges political and partisan, and several Democratic commentators, including David Axelrod, Matthew Yglesias, and Jonathan Chait stated they believed the charges were either weak or unwarranted.
As of February 2016, Perry was cleared of all charges. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that courts could not limit veto power and that prosecuting Perry over his action violates "the separation of powers provision of the Texas Constitution" and infringed on Perry's First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
By the end of his third full term, he had served more than 14 consecutive years in office. A University of Texas at Austin–Texas Tribune poll released in June 2013, showed Perry leading potential primary challenger Attorney General Greg Abbott by double digits, 45–19%. In February, the same poll had Perry leading by a 3-to-1 margin (49–17%) of 32 points over Abbott.
However, Perry decided not to run for re-election to a fourth full term, announcing in front of family and supporters at the Holt Cat headquarters in San Antonio on July 8, 2013 that he would retire instead.
Perry retired with the 10th longest gubernatorial tenure in United States history at the end of his term on January 20, 2015 at 5,143 days as well as the record of the longest serving Texas Governor.
Perry was considered as a potential candidate since as early as the 2008 presidential election, initially denying he was interested in the office but later becoming more open-minded. He formally launched his campaign on August 13, 2011, in Charleston, South Carolina. While he was initially successful in fundraising and was briefly considered a serious contender for the nomination, he struggled during the debates and his poll numbers began to decline. After finishing fifth with just over 10% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses on January 3, 2012, Perry considered dropping out of the presidential race but did not. After a poor showing in New Hampshire and with "lagging" poll numbers in South Carolina, Perry formally announced he was suspending his campaign on January 19, 2012.
Almost immediately following the 2012 election, Perry was mentioned as a potential candidate for the presidency in the 2016 presidential election, with a Time magazine article in July 2013 saying that "everything is aligned for Rick Perry to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016."
Perry officially launched his 2016 presidential candidacy on June 4, 2015, in Addison, Texas. A version of the Colt Ford song "Answer To No One" boomed from loudspeakers, as Perry took to the stage. He then announced his candidacy at the scheduled press conference.
Perry withdrew on September 11, 2015—becoming the first in the field of major candidates to drop out—following poor polling after the first debate. In the weeks before he dropped out of the race, Perry's campaign was in dire financial straits, spending nearly four times as much as it raised.
On January 25, 2016, Perry endorsed United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for president. On May 5, 2016, following the suspension of Cruz's presidential campaign, Perry endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency.
On December 12, 2016, multiple sources reported that Perry would be nominated by Trump to serve as Secretary of the United States Department of Energy. On December 14, 2016, it was officially announced that Perry would be nominated as Secretary of Energy by President-elect Donald Trump. During a previous presidential campaign, Perry said he intended to abolish the department. His nomination was approved by a 16–7 vote from the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on January 31, 2017.
On March 2, 2017, Perry was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 62–37 vote.
In April 2017, Perry ordered a study of the U.S. electric grid with particular consideration to coal power.
In a CNBC interview on June 19, 2017, he downplayed the role of human activity in the recent rise of the Earth’s temperature, saying natural causes are likely the main driver of climate change. Politifact rated this statement false and in contradiction of the conclusions of scientists at the EPA as well as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Perry has been mentioned as a possible challenger to U.S. Senator and fellow 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, whom Perry had initially endorsed after suspending his own campaign, in 2018. Speculation about Cruz being challenged in the Republican primary arose in the wake of the 2016 Republican National Convention, when Cruz controversially refused to endorse Donald Trump, the eventual Republican presidential nominee, whom Perry had endorsed after Cruz suspended his campaign.
In a poll conducted from August 12 to 14 of that year by Public Policy Polling, Perry had a 46%–37% lead over Cruz. Later that month, Trump stated that he had "been hearing a lot about that, and I don’t know if he wants to do it, but boy, will he do well. People love him in Texas, and he was one great governor."
On February 2015, Perry announced that he would join the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, which owns and operates one of the largest energy asset portfolios in the United States, and Sunoco Partners, another major Dallas energy company. According to SEC filings, Perry resigned from the boards of both companies on December 31, 2016.
On August 30, 2016, Perry was announced as one of the celebrities who would compete on season 23 of Dancing with the Stars. He was partnered with professional dancer Emma Slater. Perry and Slater were eliminated on the third week of competition and finished in 12th place.
Perry has written two books:On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For was published in February 2008. It celebrates the positive impact of the organization on the youth of America and criticizes the ACLU for its legal actions against the Boy Scouts of America.Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, was written with senior advisor Chip Roy and published in November 2010. It discusses his support for limited federal government.
He has given a number of speeches, including one at the Heritage Foundation on his views of the proper role of the federal government and the military in disaster management.
In 1982, Perry married Mary Anita Thigpen, his childhood sweetheart whom he had known since elementary school. They have two adult children, Griffin and Sydney. Anita attended West Texas State University and earned a degree in nursing. She has spearheaded a number of health-related initiatives such as the Anita Thigpen Perry Endowment at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which focuses on nutrition, cardiovascular disease, health education, and early childhood development. She helped develop and host the Texas Conference for Women.
Perry played himself in minor roles for several feature films, including Man of the House, Deep in the Heart, and Hating Breitbart.
In 2001, the American Cowboy Culture Association, based in Lubbock, handed Perry its "The Top Cowboy of Texas" award. In accepting the honor, Perry cited the importance of his father, Ray Perry, and a former neighbor in Haskell County, the late Watt R. Matthews (born 1899), who Perry said taught him "not only about Texas and [its] history... but also about the importance of the values that we learned growing up in a rural environment".
Perry is a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and was awarded its Gold Good Citizenship Medal.