“Rick Perry’s big achievement for Texas was breaking old stereotypes and promoting Texas exceptionalism in job creation, quality of life and conservative governance. The Perry Administration proved that limited government and federalism can spark economic opportunity, innovation and a better quality of life,” said Ray Sullivan, a Texas Republican strategist and Perry’s former chief of staff.
From a legislative standpoint, many of the key laws Perry signed have already been overturned, or will become touchstones for debate in the legislative session kicking off in Austin this month.
Conservatives who run the state legislature will take aim at a 2001 measure that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public high schools. Perry stood by the bill during his 2012 run for president, which cost him support among conservative activists and immigration hardliners, but newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), among others, have made its repeal a top priority.
Another Perry proposal, a $145 billion infrastructure project known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, was formally canceled in 2010. Perry’s rivals in his 2006 reelection bid all opposed the project.
But Perry’s longevity allows Abbott to inherit a much more powerful office than Perry took over from his own predecessor, George W. Bush. While Texas’s constitution gives its governor far less power than in many other states, Perry has been able to expand the governorship’s reach into areas of responsibility once delegated to the legislature or other state agencies.
And the members of his administration are still around. Perry installed literally thousands of appointees, from the state Supreme Court to the Water Development Board — more than 7,700 of them during his time in office. About 1,400 will remain in office even after Perry leaves, according to one count.
Perhaps more than anything else, Perry’s temperament has instructed future governors — both in Texas and elsewhere — on how to represent one’s state. Perry aggressively pursued companies headquartered in other states, promoting Texas’s low-tax and limited regulatory atmosphere in contrast with higher-tax states, not coincidentally those run by Democratic governors in states like California, Maryland, Illinois and New York. Perry helped raise funds for a semi-private economic development firm that ran advertisements in all four states.
“Governor Perry rightfully deserves tremendous credit for establishing the premier business model for the way government should operate and for attracting so much business to the state,” Abbott said in an interview last year.
And Perry has an economic record he can point to if he decides to run for president again. Since he took office, about one-third of the new jobs created in the United States sprang up in Texas, including about 1.4 million since the beginning of the great recession.
“Our formula for success is simple: Keep taxes low, implement smart regulations, provide an educated workforce and stop lawsuit abuse at the courthouse,” Perry said in a farewell address to the legislature last week.
Perry’s formula for political success was a little different. He came of age in a state where the dominant Republican was George W. Bush, a governor firmly entrenched in the business wing of the party. When Perry took over, he struck some as a poor man’s knock-off of his predecessor — down to the similar mannerisms and identical laugh.
But as the Texas GOP evolved, so did Perry. In his 2010 reelection bid, facing an establishment favorite in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), Perry appealed to the emerging tea party faction within the state’s conservative electorate; he was one of the first Republicans in the tea party era to invoke the Tenth Amendment, guaranteeing states’ rights, a subtle implication that Texas could secede from the union, without ever saying so in so many words.
As he contemplates a second presidential bid, Perry’s natural constituency within the GOP isn’t the business Republican who might have gravitated to Bush as much as the conservative activist who might otherwise be attracted to the embodiment of the evolving Texas Republican Party, Sen. Ted Cruz. (Perry has been around politics for so long that he would rely on an almost entirely new team of strategists, led by California-based strategist Jeff Miller, if he runs for president again. His team from 2012 has largely scattered to other candidates.)
Perry’s critics are legion, both in Texas and elsewhere. Many say the jobs created in Texas are low-paying, exacerbating an already large gap between the rich and poor. Perry declined to expand Medicaid, and the number of uninsured residents in Texas has dropped far slower than in other states after implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
He vetoed equal pay legislation in 2013 and signed numerous abortion restriction measures into law. Critics also point to education and health care budgets, which haven’t grown as quickly as the state’s booming population.
“The state is growing, but a lot of these benefits that are supposed to come with [that growth] haven’t happened,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of the liberal group Progress Texas. “The state is in a good position, but it doesn’t mean that our overall health is great.”
Perry also leaves office with an indictment hanging over his head. In August, a grand jury indicted the governor over his threats to veto millions of dollars in funding for a state Public Integrity Unit run by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. Though even Democrats have come to Perry’s defense, the charges remain pending.
But 14 years after taking office, Perry’s influence on Texas, on the Republican Party at large and on the successor who’s replacing him is far-reaching. He may not be done yet: Perry has plans to travel to Iowa in short order, and he says he’ll decide on a second presidential bid in four or five months.
“He endured mighty criticism from the editorialist and political opponents and pressed on to win nearly all of his policy and political battles,” Sullivan, his former chief of staff, said in an e-mail. “Of course, he never lost an election in Texas.”