The Lone Star State Beginnings Of Rick Perry

Aug 12, 2011
Originally published on August 1, 2012 4:32 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry will officially make clear his intentions to run for the GOP presidential nomination during a speech on Saturday in South Carolina. But he has sounded like a candidate for a while.

"Until Washington figures out that the only true stimulus is more money in the hands of employers across all economic sectors, as well as a restrained bureaucracy that is no longer overreaching into the workplaces, our national nightmare will continue," he said in San Antonio this week.

Perry has been governor of Texas since 2000, but his connections to the state extend long before then — to 1950, and his hometown of Paint Creek, Texas.

Life In West Texas

The plains of West Texas are harsh, flat, treeless and dusty, with a sky so vast it is almost impossible not to feel diminished. Paint Creek is straight out of Larry McMurtry's novel The Last Picture Show, except it's a lot smaller of a town than Archer City.

Randy Denson, a rancher and the owner and operator of the Cliff House Cafe in Stamford, just down the road from Paint Creek, knows the Perry family very well.

"Rick's a little younger than me," Denson says. "I [had] gone off to college when he was running around here. I'll tell you one thing: He's got a fine mother."

Perry's father was a dry land cotton farmer, which is often a desperate occupation. But in the 1950s when Perry was growing up, a seven-year drought made it a living hell.

In a piece in Texas Monthly last year titled "Boy's Life," Perry said that the only time he saw his mother cry was when her brand new couch was covered in dirt by a fierce dust storm that blew through the cracks in the house; West Texas was forever reminding you who's boss. In the magazine story, Perry said he spent a lot of time alone with his dog — a lot.

"In town, it was all right," says Denson. "But if you were a country boy it was lonely."

To The Air Force

In the summer of 1968, Perry was off to Texas A&M.

The future governor majored in veterinary science. But he was a lackluster student, earning lots of B's, C's and D's. The science classes were too much for him; he was not going to be a vet.

After graduation Perry became an Air Force pilot flying C-130 cargo planes. Unlike with President George W. Bush, whose service as a National Guard pilot was criticized by detractors as halfhearted, nobody could criticize Rick Perry. He was gung-ho.

"He's a fellow who's ... a mission-oriented person. And being a pilot, I mean that's what you're built for — you're built for mission," says Bill Miller, a Republican political consultant in Austin.

Miller says that Perry left the Air Force with the rank of captain and went back to West Texas to become a cotton farmer like his father. But politics soon beckoned. Perry began his career as a Democrat and jumped to the GOP in 1989, winning the race for Agriculture Commissioner.

Miller says that was gutsy.

"You know, he is a risk-taker. He sneaked in sort of the back door of the agriculture race when everybody else above him was losing their races," Miller says.

Political Strengths

Perry has never been the kind of popular governor Bush was, either inside the state Legislature or with the general public. But his political instincts and his understanding of how power works have made him the most powerful Texas governor perhaps ever.

After President Obama was elected, Perry thrust himself into the national spotlight by suggesting that while the national union was strong, if things kept on their current path, perhaps secession wasn't out of the question. It was actually a signal from Perry to the Tea Party that he was going to stand with them.

"It is easy to be dismissive of people who take risks and do things that are kind of out of the ordinary, but when it works you look golden, and that's the way he looks today," Miller says.

Miller also says Perry has always been known as a fiscal conservative who was anti-regulation for banks, businesses and the oil and gas industry. But in the past few months, Perry has begun to describe the way he sees world events through the prism of the Bible.

"I think we're in a time of great revival in this world," Perry said in an interview with televangelist James Robinson in April.

Perry saw the world economic crisis as a necessary trial that must be endured to teach a biblical lesson.

"I think in America that from time to time we have to go through some difficult times, and I think we're going through those difficult economic times for a purpose," he said. "To bring us back to those biblical principles: Not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it's slavery."

Saturday there will be a new sheriff in the GOP race for president — one who knows how to raise big corporate campaign contributions, and who will not let any candidate get to the right of him. And a man, who in more than two decades of electoral politics, has never lost a race.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. For a while, it's been a strong possibility. Now, it is for real. Texas Governor Rick Perry is running for the GOP presidential nomination. He will officially make his intentions clear during a speech tomorrow in South Carolina. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this introduction to Perry and his political career in Texas.

WADE GOODWYN: The plains of West Texas are harsh, flat, treeless and dusty with a sky so vast it is almost impossible not to feel diminished. Paint Creek, where Rick Perry grew up, is straight out of Larry McMurtry's novel "The Last Picture Show." Only Paint Creek, Texas, is a lot smaller town than Archer City.

RANDY DENSON: It's got a small school out there and, I think, two or three churches.

GOODWYN: Randy Denson is a rancher and owner and operator of the Cliff House Cafe in Stamford, Texas, just down the road from Paint Creek. Denson knows the Perry family very well.

DENSON: Rick, he's a little younger than me. I'd gone off to college when he was running around here. I'll tell you one thing: He's got a fine mother.

GOODWYN: Rick Perry's father was a dry land cotton farmer, which is often a desperate occupation. In a piece in Texas Monthly last year entitled "Boy's Life," Rick Perry said that the only time he saw his mother cry was when her brand-new couch was covered in dirt by a fierce dust storm that blew through the cracks in the house. West Texas was forever reminding you who's boss. In the magazine story, Perry said he spent a lot of time alone with his dog - a lot. Randy Denson.

DENSON: But in town, it was all right. But if you were a country boy, it was lonely.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: Then in the summer of 1968, Rick Perry was off to Texas A&M.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: Then in the summer of 1968, Rick Perry was off to Texas A&M.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: The future governor majored in veterinary science, but he was a lackluster student - lots of B's, C's and D's. After graduation, he became an Air Force pilot flying C-130 cargo planes. Rick Perry was gung ho.

BILL MILLER: He's a fellow who's kind of is a mission-oriented person. And being a pilot, I mean, that's what you're built for: You're built for mission.

GOODWYN: Bill Miller is a Republican political consultant in Austin. Miller says that after Perry left the Air Force with the rank of captain, politics beckoned. Rick Perry began his career as a conservative Democrat, but sensing the winds of change in Texas in 1989, Perry jumped to the GOP and won the race for agriculture commissioner. Miller says that was a gutsy play.

MILLER: You know, he is a risk taker. He sneaked in through the back door on the ag commissioner race when everybody else above him was losing their races.

GOODWYN: Perry has never been the kind of popular governor George W. Bush was, either inside the state legislature or with the general public. But his political instincts and his understanding of how power works has made him the most powerful Texas governor perhaps ever. After President Obama was elected, Perry thrust himself into the national spotlight by suggesting that while the national union was strong, if things kept on their current path, perhaps secession for Texas wasn't out of the question. It was actually a signal from Perry to the Tea Party that he was going to stand with them.

MILLER: It's easy to be dismissive of people who take risks and do things that are kind of out of the ordinary, and that was an out-of-the-ordinary thing for a politician to do. But, you know, when it works, you know, you look golden, and that's exactly the way he looks today.

GOODWYN: Miller also says Perry has been known as a fiscal conservative who was anti-regulation for banks, businesses and the oil and gas industry. But in the last few months, Perry has begun to describe the way he sees world events through the prism of the Bible.

Governor RICK PERRY: I think we're in a time of great revival in this world.

GOODWYN: In an interview with televangelist James Robeson in April, Perry saw the world economic crisis as a necessary trial that must be endured to teach a biblical lesson.

PERRY: To bring us back to those biblical principles, not spending all of our money, not asking for pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks, because at the end of the day, it's slavery.

GOODWYN: Tomorrow, there'll be a new sheriff in the GOP race for president: one who knows how to raise big corporate campaign contributions, someone who will not let any candidate get to the right of him, and a man who, in more than two decades of electoral politics, has never lost a race. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.