Rick Perry has been an elected official of the state of Texas for fully half of this magazine’s 60-year history, and governor for nearly a quarter of it. He is among the 20 longest-serving governors in American history. By virtue of lucky draws (a booming resource economy; uninspiring challengers) and skill (a genuine talent for retail politics), he has occupied the most bully of Texas pulpits longer than any of his 46 predecessors in the job. It’s an opportunity few men have been given, and fewer women. It’s fair to ask what he’s done with it.
He tried, and failed, to implement the Trans-Texas Corridor—a $150 billion boondoggle so unpopular that his own party’s platform opposed the project.
He tried, and failed, to mandate a vaccine for teenage girls—an intrusion so unpopular the state Legislature overrode his executive order.
He projected regressive attitudes regarding gay rights, creationism and capital punishment, on which latter count he has overseen the execution of 278 Texas inmates since taking office on December 21, 2000.
Perry’s most lasting legacy is probably his denial of Medicaid expansion, by which he chose to exchange the health and even the lives of Texans for cheap partisan posturing.
What has Rick Perry done for Texas? He has postured. He has played to his base, shooting coyotes and laughing off dual indictments for abuse of power, but he has not led it.
And even on the way out the door, with his so-called Texas miracle teetering on the edge of crashing oil prices, he dismisses factuality, telling The Washington Post in December that “We don’t grapple with” income inequality in Texas. Actually, Texas ranks among the top five states in terms of income inequality. But note that Perry didn’t say Texas doesn’t have an inequality problem. Just that he has no interest in doing anything about it.
If it weren’t for all that still-remarkable hair, the temptation would be strong to dismiss Perry’s long tenure as a large, empty hat.
As Greg Abbott assumes office today, Perry’s three-decade run as an employee of the state government will come to an end and he will, to judge by appearances, turn his full attention to his quest to become an employee of the federal government.
What an opportunity for Texas. —The Editors