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Rick Perry

Out of the running Last modified: October 7, 2015

Former Texas Gov. James Richard “Rick” Perry has compiled a strong and generally conservative record during his long tenure in public office. As the governor of Texas from 2000 through 2014, he helped shepherd his state through a national recession and delivered economic growth. Perry is one of the most experienced 2016 candidates in terms of holding political office, with three decades in office under his belt. He announced his campaign for the GOP nomination in June 2015.

While he favors low taxes and a light regulatory touch, allegations of crony capitalism are likely to be something Perry will need to address, as Texas was a major practitioner of corporate welfare under his tenure. He is a staunch social conservative and tends towards the more hawkish wing of the Republican party.. His conservative social views means he can potentially appeal to all segments of the traditional “three-legged stool” of conservatism: economy, defense, and social conservatism.

Perry’s 2012 debate performances may haunt him as many voters wonder whether he has the gravitas to be president, but by most accounts he is a much improved candidate in 2016. He has given a well-regarded speech on race relations, avoided gaffes that might remind voters of his previous presidential campaign, and shown a general mastery of public policy issues. His poll numbers have put him into the bottom of the second tier of candidates, but both his campaign fundraising and that of the independent super PACs backing him have raised enough money to mount a competitive campaign. Like many of the candidates in the 2016 GOP field Perry will likely need a little help to move into the top tier, but his record and political acumen is likely to give him an edge over others hoping to go from underdog to frontrunner.

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Perry was born on March 4, 1950, in Paint Creek, Texas (outside of Abilene), to ranchers Joseph Ray Perry and Amelia June Holt. His father was a Democratic Haskel County commissioner and a member of the school board, and introduced Perry to politics early in life. In 1982, Perry married Anita Thigpen, with whom he had attended elementary school. They have two children, Griffin (an Eagle Scout like his father) and Sydney.

After graduating from Paint Creek High School, Perry attended Texas A&M University, where he majored in animal science, graduating with a degree in 1972. A poor student, Perry was nonetheless heavily involved on campus as a member of the Corps of Cadets and as senior class social secretary.

Perry got a job as a door-to-door salesman for the Southwestern Company before being commissioned in the United States Air Force and completing pilot training in 1974. He rose to the rank of captain in 1977 before joining his father farming cotton.

Perry’s political career began when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat. In spite of his political affiliations, he became known for favoring limited state budgets.

Although he supported the candidacy of Al Gore in 1988, Perry switched parties in 1989. The next year, he reached office for the first time as a Republican, beating troubled incumbent Jim Hightower to become agriculture commissioner. This campaign was notable for employing Karl Rove as a strategist, with whom Perry would later part ways.

In 1999, Perry became the state’s first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction, and he assumed the governorship in 2000 when George W. Bush left the office to become president. He went on to be elected in 2002 by a substantial margin, and was again elected in 2006 and 2010, each time by comfortable margins, making him the first governor elected to three four-year terms.

In 2011, Perry was a relatively late entry into the race for the Republican nomination for president. While he gained momentum in the early going, poor debate performances and controversy eventually wore down his campaign, and he eventually endorsed Mitt Romney after briefly supporting Newt Gingrich.

In 2014, Perry chose not to seek re-election as governor.

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Perry grew up in the Methodist church, and was a member of that denomination until 2010, when his family began attending a nondenominational evangelical megachurch. While he cited proximity to his rental home as the reason, Perry’s switch matched the shift of many conservatives from mainline denominations to larger non-denominational churches.1 He has often taken more strident positions on contentious theological issues such as biblical inerrancy and the existence of hell, only to soften his tone soon thereafter.2

Perry’s ties to business have raised concern from opponents on both sides of the aisle. Perry has been accused of using economic development programs in Texas to reward key players in industry and campaign donors. In particular, Perry’s Texas One program, which markets and promotes growth throughout Texas, has been cited as an example of cronyism.3

As governor, Perry also orchestrated the delivery of multimillion dollar awards to Holt Cat, a Caterpillar heavy equipment and engine dealer, whose CEO has contributed over $600,000 to Rick Perry’s political campaigns since 2000. The corporation also became a member of Texas One in 2013. Other key donors have found their way into Texas One’s membership during Perry’s tenure.4

While Perry signed a resolution in support of state rights under the 10th Amendment, he was notably successful in obtaining federal dollars for Texas. Broadly, outside of social issues, there are open questions as to what Perry believes the proper role of government is in terms of spending and taxation.

Perry was caught in 2011 claiming he had not supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP,5 although he had signed a letter urging Congress to pass an “economic recovery package” in the midst of Congress’ debate over the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008,” which included TARP as its main component.6

Perry has taken stands that are opposed by many in his party, such as favoring in-state college tuition for illegal aliens.7 While unpopular with the conservative base, it does show his willingness to put principles before politics.

According to one Texas media outlet’s accounting, Perry managed to keep 41 percent of his campaign promises, while 31 percent were listed as “promise broken.”8 The remaining promises he either compromised on or were listed as either “in the works” or not rated. Many of those listed as “promise broken” were areas where Perry proposed legislation to fulfill his promise, but the legislature failed to pass his proposal.

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Leadership Skills dropdown arrow

While he is famous for a couple of key gaffes, and is often painted as a Southern rube by opponents, Perry is a remarkably confident and assured speaker. His speech at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) drew raves from attendees. He works hard to address areas of weakness and has spent months prepping to improve upon his poor debate performances in the 2012 nomination contest. He has generally fared well on the campaign trail so far, giving a well-regarded speech on race relations and performing well in interviews.9 He has authored two books, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For and Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, both of which argue for a return to conservative values and limited government.

As governor, Perry put together seven state budgets, all of which were balanced in accordance with Texas state law. He has aggressively used the line-item veto, using it to slash over $3 billion in spending. As a Democrat in the Texas Legislature in the 1980s, he was part of a group known as the “Pit Bulls,” a group known by its fiscally conservative stances. Throughout his legislative career, he was touted for his discipline and effectiveness.10

Perry’s economic record is likely to be one of his most valuable assets on the campaign trail. During his governorship Texas’ job growth led the nation, an achievement that is sure to be touted often during the 2016 nomination contest.

As the governor of a state firmly in Republican hands, Perry has had little need to forge bipartisan compromises with Democrats. But his own history as a Democratic state legislator in the 1980s and a strong record of getting his economic agenda implemented in Texas suggests good political skills and an ability to create coalitions to support his preferred policies.

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Free Markets dropdown arrow

Throughout Perry’s lengthy tenure as governor, Texas has maintained relatively low taxes with relatively few regulations. He has cut property, sales and payroll taxes while resisting the creation of a state income tax.11 This has attracted a number of businesses to the state from high-tax, high-regulation states like California.

In 2003, when faced with a $10 billion budget shortfall, Perry opted to sign a budget to cut spending as opposed to raising taxes.12 However, in 2006, he introduced the business margins tax. While the ostensible purpose was to reform the way schools are financed, what it did was cut property taxes and replace the lost revenues with a new business tax.13

During his presidential campaign, Perry proposed a variation of the flat tax that would allow taxpayers to choose whether to pay their current tax rate or a flat 20 percent rate. This was part of a broader economic plan to simplify the tax code and reform entitlements.14 Perry has signed the Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayer Protection Pledge.15

This isn’t to say Perry is pristine on the issue of raising taxes. In 1987, as a state legislator (albeit as a Democrat), he voted for the largest tax increase in the history of Texas. After switching parties to become a Republican, in 1990 Perry voted for a $500 million tax increase. Also, as is true of many state leaders, Perry has signed or voted for a number of fee increases.

The state budget nearly doubled during his tenure, as did debt. Perry opposed raising the federal debt limit in the fall of 2013, saying spending should be addressed instead.16

Perry supported passage of the Wall Street bailout in 2008, having co-signed a letter with Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia urging Congress to pass an “economic recovery package” on October 1, 2008, at the time the legislation was under consideration.17

Perry has touted the benefits of Texas’ right-to-work law18 and supports a national right-to-work law.19

In his brief 2012 campaign, Perry proposed to bring many Texas-style reforms to the federal level. Texas already has a balanced budget amendment, and Perry supports applying that to federal spending. He has proposed to reduce non-defense discretionary spending by $100 billion in his first year in office, require presidential signatures for every federal budget, and tighten rules regarding emergency spending. He also supports a presidential line-item veto.20

Perry’s office has endeavored to expand Texas’ transportation system through public-private partnerships. His Trans-Texas Corridor proposal would have introduced private contractors, who would partially build, finance and wholly operate the corridor in exchange for toll revenues.21

On regulations, Perry has repeatedly touted Texas’ reputation as a low-regulation state. He opposes net neutrality, a federal policy that would limit the ability of Internet service providers to manage their systems and instead give the government the authority to set terms and conditions for Internet service.22

Perry has made extensive use of business incentives and subsidies in order to lure business to Texas or support industries and companies he views as important to the state economy. Two incentive programs, the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, were created while Perry was governor and have showered hundreds of millions of dollars on corporations.23 Free-market advocates almost universally oppose these sorts of programs as wasteful, ineffective, and prone to corruption and political favoritism.

Perry was a booster of the state’s program to provide tax credits to movie producers who film in the state, another form of corporate welfare,24 and also sent a letter to Congress in 2014 urging them to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.25 In May 2015, however, Perry reversed himself, announcing “the time has come to end the Export-Import Bank” because Republicans “won’t have the moral credibility to reduce corporate taxes if we continue to subsidize corporate exports.”26

Throughout his career, Perry has been an ardent and vocal supporter of free trade. In a Club for Growth white paper written during his presidential run, the governor was quoted as describing NAFTA as a major job stimulus package.27 In his second book, he advocates for free trade with India and China.28 Naturally, as governor of a border country, he has favored removing roadblocks to trade with Mexico. Despite this, he has recently criticized what he called a lack of transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiations and said he thought it would be acceptable for the deal to be put off until a new president is in office.29

Perry supports a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and sees entitlement reform as paramount to properly fixing our health care system. In 2007, Perry signed a Medicaid reform package that combined subsidies with incentives for low-income Texans to maintain their health. He has been a strong and consistent supporter of tort reform as a means of reducing health care costs and signed a bill requiring losing parties in frivolous lawsuits to pay the other party’s legal bills.30

Perry is an outspoken proponent of bold entitlement reform. In addition to standard-issue conservative positions on allowing younger people to utilize personal retirement accounts if they choose, Perry has recommended allowing states to opt out of Social Security entirely. Further, he has said that Medicare should be a state program free of any requirement from the federal government.31 He has favored drug screening for welfare recipients and restrictions on welfare benefits being used to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, lottery tickets or adult entertainment, among other things.

Like George W. Bush before him, Perry has been a relative moderate on the subject of immigration. He opposes E-Verify, and has opposed trade barriers between the United States and Mexico. Further, he signed a bill to give in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who otherwise meet Texas’ residency requirements.32

He has also said he does not believe it’s realistic to try to deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country.33 Perry has insisted that a secure border must be part of any immigration reform,34 and he has been sharply critical of the federal government’s failure to secure the border.35 As governor he deployed Texas National Guard troops to the border with Mexico to deal with a flood of illegal immigrants in June 2014.36

Perry’s energy policy is straightforward and unequivocal. He believes the United States should end all restrictions on the exportation of crude oil and natural gas,37 favors construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,38 offshore drilling and fracking. A noted global warming skeptic, he has opposed EPA efforts to impose cap-and-trade or regulate carbon emissions.39

A supporter of property rights and a former farmer himself, Perry has opposed EPA overreach into his state. He vetoed a bill that would have created a task force to manage the endangered species listings in Texas,40 and he also fought the Bureau of Land Management in its efforts to secure 90,000 acres of private land.41

In protecting the business interests of Texas’ lucrative energy sector, Perry has made himself an enemy of the EPA. Citing the devastating impact any cap-and-trade proposal would have on his state, he has opposed efforts to regulate carbon emissions, going so far as to sue the EPA in 2010.42

Perry’s track record on agriculture is surprisingly thin for someone who was once the Agriculture Commissioner in his state, but it does show a free-market orientation. He is on the record in opposition to direct farm subsidies, instead favoring incentives such as lowering the capital-gains and inheritance taxes. He has supported ethanol subsidies in the past, though he now cites them as a driving force behind increased costs for feed corn. In 2011 he argued the U.S. should “carefully but thoughtfully move our farmers and ranchers away from a subsidized system to a market-driven system.”43

At a March 2015 event in Iowa, Perry explained his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a mandate requiring fuel refiners to include ethanol in gasoline, saying he didn’t believe the federal government should be dictating the issue.44 As governor he requested a waiver from the federal government for the RFS.

Perry supports repealing Sarbanes-Oxley, which imposed additional regulations on businesses concerning their accounting practices.45 He also said Dodd-Frank, which imposed additional regulations on Wall Street, was unnecessary and the previous regulatory system was “just fine,”46 although he’s also said the largest banks should be required to keep more money in reserves to avoid future financial crisis.47 He has vowed that if he is elected president, there will be no bailouts of troubled banks.48

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National Security dropdown arrow

Perry has criticized recent defense cuts, arguing, “When you see the military buildup of China, the depletion of our own military forces, with a reduction of spending of some 21 percent in the last four years, how can you not think of a previous era soon after the end of the war in Vietnam, and wonder if we’re not once again inviting threats to our interests at home and overseas by allowing the hollowing out of our military?”49

A former Air Force pilot, Perry has flown in Latin America, North Africa and Europe. Since his unsuccessful 2012 bid, Perry has traveled to Britain and Israel and consulted with conservative academics on international policy. However, his experience remains limited by the scope of the positions he has held.

Perry could reasonably be described as a foreign policy hawk, at least in terms of rhetoric. He supports an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear capabilities,50 and has been sharply critical of President Barack Obama’s proposals to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, citing potential danger to American soldiers. He has announced his support for putting “boots on the ground” to defeat ISIS and has raised the possibility that terrorists could be using the unsecured southern border to infiltrate the U.S.51

In keeping with his hawkish foreign policy views, Perry called on public employees to divest retirement funds from all investments in companies that do business with Iran,52 and he has vowed that as president he would void the deal with Iran that the Obama administration negotiated because he believes it enables Iran’s nuclear weapons program.53

Perry has called for the U.S. to arm the Ukrainian government to help it fight against Russian-backed separatists. He also favors increasing sanctions against the Russians and basing NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic nations.54

Perry has been critical of the Obama administration’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with Cuba and start loosening the embargo.55

In one of his more interesting debate moments, Perry said that he would eliminate foreign aid for all countries, including Israel.56

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American Exceptionalism dropdown arrow

Speaking at the 2011 Values Voters Summit, Perry had the following comments regarding American exceptionalism:

“[S]ome hold this worldview that government must be central in our – in our lives and serve as our caretaker. They seek more than equal opportunity, they seek equal outcomes. And you know, those in the White House today don’t believe – they don’t believe in American exceptionalism. They’d rather emulate the failed policies of Europe.… American exceptionalism is the product of unlimited freedom. And there is nothing troubling our nation today that cannot be solved by the rebirth of freedom – nothing.

“I happen to believe in this great country of ours. I believe in the capacity of our people to create prosperity through private ingenuity. I believe in the values of the American people. Americans know anything worth achieving in life requires hard work, not government’s handouts. And this present generation of Americans, they’re not looking for government to lead the way. They’re looking for America to get out of the way so that they can make the most of the freedom for their families.”57

Perry has warned about the “profoundly disturbing trend of judicial activism.”58 In remarks to the National Right to Life Political Action Committee, he said “If I’m the president of the United States and have the opportunity to put individuals on the United States Supreme Court, they will not be squishy. They will be individuals who understand what the constitution says. They will be individuals who understand what the 10th Amendment says.”59 He has also praised Justices Alito and Roberts as “strict constructionists, not a legislator in a robe.”60

Perry was critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits)61 and also disagreed with the court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage), stating that he “fundamentally disagree[s] with the court rewriting the law and assaulting the 10th Amendment.” He added that “our founding fathers did not intend for the judicial branch to legislate from the bench, and as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.”62

Perry opposes the court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and believes it should be overturned.63

An evangelical Christian, Perry has stated that while he believes the government ought not establish a specific faith, he also doesn’t “think we should allow a small minority of atheists to sanitize our civil dialogue on religious references.”64 He has stated his belief in intelligent design and has supported its teaching in Texas, as well as declaring Aug. 6 a Day of Prayer and Fasting in the state of Texas. He has also signed legislation allowing students to express their religious beliefs in classroom assignments, organize prayer groups, and speak at school events about religion.65

Perry gave a generally well-regarded speech on race relations in June 2015, acknowledging both the nation’s historical failures of slavery and segregation as well as the Republican Party’s failure to compete for black voters, while making a forceful argument that liberal policies have not solved many of the issues facing African-Americans and that conservative policies could do so better.66

Perry supported limits on campaign contributions more than 20 years ago but no longer does. He has referred to McCain-Feingold’s limits as an “unconstitutional restriction of free speech.”67 He vetoed legislation that would have forced some nonprofits to disclose their donors, citing the chilling effect on First Amendment rights it would have had and the federal government’s harassment and targeting of conservative groups.68 He also praised the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, citing the ruling’s defense of religious liberty.69

Perry has a very conservative track record in terms of judicial appointments.70 He has stated that he would, as president, appoint strict constructionists in the mold of Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the bench.71

As governor, Perry has been a stalwart supporter of education reform. He has challenged the unions on merit pay and school choice while supporting programs aimed at lowering dropout rates. Texas has more than 600 charter schools, though Perry’s pilot for a voucher program was scuttled.72 Perry strongly opposes Common Core education standards, having signed into law a bill to prevent their implementation in Texas.73 He also challenged his state’s colleges to offer a bachelor’s degree for $10,000 or less in an effort to make college more affordable, and in response several Texas institutions have succeeded in offering some undergraduate degrees at or near that price.74

A supporter of abstinence-based education, Perry rankled conservatives by proposing an executive order to require schoolgirls to be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer. The legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill nullifying the executive order, which became a hot topic when Michele Bachmann challenged him on it in the 2012 Republican debates.75

Perry describes himself as a fan of the 10th Amendment, and his record supports this.76 On the issue of the Renewable Fuel Standard, he has said he doesn’t believe the federal government should be dictating gasoline blends to states and that state governments should be free to decide the matter.77

Most recently he defended Colorado’s “right to be wrong” regarding legalization of recreational marijuana, even though he opposes the policy.78

While he continues to support the death penalty, Perry made reform of the criminal justice system one of his priorities as governor of Texas, including establishing drug courts to keep low-level offenders out of prison.79 As a result of these reforms, Texas was able to close three prisons because they were unneeded, reduce recidivism by 25 percent, and save billions of dollars in the process while crime rates remained low.80

Perry has a pro-life track record, having supported parental consent laws and legislation that imposed safety regulations on abortion clinics that critics say forced 22 of the state’s 41 clinics to close so far81 and could close another 10 to close as well (the legislation is undergoing court challenge).82 In 2011, Perry stated that he opposes legal abortion in all cases, except for those that would save the mother’s life.83

Perry has said marriage should be between a man and a woman, but he believes individual states ought to decide for themselves.84 He supported a 2005 amendment to the Texas constitution declaring legal marriage to be between a man and a woman,85 but he does not appear to support a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the issue.86 He has suggested, however, that the type of people he would appoint to the Supreme Court might overturn that ruling.87

Perry has a long record supporting individual gun rights and opposing gun control. Following the recent shooting at a movie theater in Louisiana he suggested that “gun-free” zones are a bad policy and said, “I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who have appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle and use firearms, to carry them.”88 Perry was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, which cited his signing several pro-gun pieces of legislation including a “Castle Doctrine” that allows citizens to legally defend themselves in their own home instead of having a legal obligation to retreat, and a bill allowing concealed-carry permit holders from other states to also carry concealed weapons in Texas.89 He is himself a concealed-carry permit holder.90

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Vulnerabilities dropdown arrow

Perry was indicted in 2014 by a grand jury for allegedly abusing the power of his office. The charge stems from his threat to veto funding for the Travis County Integrity Unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg stepped down following a drunken driving charge.91 The indictment is widely regarded as meritless and politically motivated but will likely dog him on the campaign trail. Legal scholars and even left-wing pundits have dismissed the indictment as a political stunt.92 A state appeals court dismissed one of the two charges against Perry in late July of 2015.93

Perry’s real-estate dealings have earned the scrutiny of opposing campaigns. However, no concrete evidence of wrongdoing has emerged, and Perry has put his wealth into blind trusts, which now provide most of his income.94 Absent hard facts, it seems unlikely any of these accusations will have legs.

Perry’s business development and incentive programs are likely to draw scrutiny, as are his appointments of top donors to key positions. In both cases it will be charged that Perry used his power to reward insiders and cronies.

More troubling for Perry is his lack of national donor support and the perception of a rift between him and key Bush allies. This could make fundraising and recruiting top-tier talent for a run more difficult.

He is occasionally gaffe-prone: During an early Republican debate during the 2012 nomination process he famously forgot which federal departments he would eliminate if elected president.

He was lieutenant governor when George W. Bush was governor, an association that may not be much of an issue in a Republican nomination battle but will surely be brought up in a general election, similar to how John Kerry was tagged with the label of “Michael Dukakis’ lieutenant governor.”

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