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getting permission from her family. During an impromptu inspection, Howard found one of the fields overgrown with weeds. Rick was sent packing. “I had no trust in him or his father,” Howard said in a recent interview. “I always felt they were opportunists.” \(Perry did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail requests about this story. Efforts to contact his father, Ray, were unsuccessful. “We’re not interested in talking to a reporter,” said Ray Perry’s wife Amelia when contacted by When Rick Perry decided to run for office in 1984 as a state representative on the Democratic ticket, the people of Haskell County embraced him. Everyone knew “Pretty Ricky” or “Tricky Ricky,” as he is more commonly known these days. They also knew his parents, his grandparents, and even his great grandparents. He was the mischievous little tyke who played with toy tractors in the ditch, a proud member of the Boy Scouts and Future Farmers of America, the teenage heartthrob at Paint Creek School. One of the first people Rick Perry approached was Charlie Stenholm, a conservative Democrat who owned a farm in the area and had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. “I was delighted he was going into politics. I knew his mother and father. We gave him every name, every contact we had. My people even worked for him. We believed he would be good for the area, and for a while he was,” Stenholm said in a recent interview. Perry won that election and served three terms in the state Legislature. By 1989, he wanted to run for agriculture commissioner, but Jim Hightower, the Democratic incumbent, was running for re-election. \(Hightower is a former editor of The Texas Observer About that time, Perry met a man who looked and talked a lot like himGeorge W. Bushwho urged him to switch parties and join the Republicans. Changing parties was treason in a Yellow Dog Democratic county, and Perry returned home and talked it over with confidants. “When we visited, he already had his mind made up,” recalled Haskell Mayor Ken Lane. “The Democrats were trying to hold him back, and the Republicans were sitting there holding a carrot out because they knew he was a prime catch. The Republicans wanted to grab him and shove him to the top. It wasn’t a particular weighty decision for him. I haven’t begrudged him much for it, but the county has. I don’t think they’ll ever get over it. They don’t think Republicans should be allowed to walk the streets.” Many residents in Haskell County felt like they had been betrayed. After all, it was their votes that had put Perry into office. “I don’t like a turncoat,” said Dale Middlebrook, a farmer who lives down the road from Ray and. Amelia Perry and has known four generations of Perrys. “Rick saw the handwriting on the wall. He saw there wasn’t any money in the Democratic coffers to get him where he wanted to go.” Perry nevertheless managed to carry the county in the race for agriculture commissioner, with 1,536 people casting ballots for Perry and 859 voting for Hightower. Perry won the rest of the state as well and wound up serving two terms ‘He’s not the same Rick Perry that he was when he was going to Paint Creek School.’ as agriculture commissioner. In 1997, he edged out other Republican contenders to become the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, an office being vacated by then-Lt. Gov . Bob Bullock. Running against him on the Democratic ticket was fellow Aggie, John Sharp. Perry carried the state, thanks largely to a hefty loan from the pro-voucher, right-wing San Antonio businessman James Leininger. But it was Sharp who carried Haskell County, garnering 1,168 votes to Perry’s 994. In 2002, Perry returned to Paint Creek School, where he attended grades one through 12, to kick off his bid for governor. \(He moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 2000 when same red-brick color as the surrounding fields, Paint Creek School still houses grades one through 12 and looks much as it did when Perry attended. Paint Creek was a perfect backdrop for Perry’s Lincolnesque saga. Photos of little Ricky were trotted out. His parents, Ray and Amelia, were on hand to answer reporters’ questions. His father, who had been on the Haskell County Commission for 28 yearsthe very lair of the Yellow Dog Democratstold a Dallas Morning News reporter that he hadn’t voted for a Democratic president since Harry Truman. Much has happened since then, and the sense of disillusion toward Perry is almost palpable these days. The wide-open fields should be bristling with the re-election signs of Haskell County’s most famous native son, but the only place where they seemed to be concentrated is along the rural road leading to the home of Ray and Amelia Perry. “A lot of people feel like they have been used,” said Haskell County Judge David Davis. Residents don’t like Gov. Perry’s financial policies, his stance on public education, or his close relationship with lobbyists. They were especially disappointed when Perry failed to help families displaced after Lake Stamford, located a few miles from the Perry home, flooded. The flooding occurred continued on page 29 NOVEMBER 3, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13