AUSTIN — Whether Gov. Rick Perry was an Aggie Yell Leader in college, an agriculture commissioner fighting “food terrorists” or a governor challenging the federal government, he has been a champion for his “team.”
And if you’re not on his team and lose, no apologies.
Perry, 60, is seeking re-election. He already is Texas’ longest-serving governor, with almost a decade in office.
Perry’s “team” his year is made up of the “passionate” conservatives, mostly Republican, who are angry at both Republicans and Democrats in the nation’s capital.
In the past, his team has been businessmen who wanted to stifle litigious trial lawyers, or it was national GOP leaders who sought to crush congressional Democrats through three Perry-called special sessions on redistricting.
Perry does not reject outright the idea that he may be the most partisan governor in modern Texas history.
“I’m just a guy who’s passionate about my team,” Perry said in a recent interview aboard his campaign plane.
“The Republican Party is better suited for … values that I believe in: fiscal conservatism, pro-life, pro-national defense,” he said. “If you don’t believe in those, then, sorry, I’m not going to compromise my values. Some people see that as partisan. I don’t.”
That line-in-the-sand, uncompromising Republican is a far cry from the conservative Democrat who once supported federal farm subsidies and entered state politics as a freshman Texas House member in 1985, according to some who knew him then.
“If you use the tea party as a fashionable allusion to what it means to be a conservative today, then some of the things he was strongly advocating 25 years ago would be at odds with the positions he is taking today,” said Steve Carriker, a former Democratic state senator who represented the same region as Perry in the Legislature.
Former U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Stamford, who lost his seat as a result of the 2003 redistricting, knew the Perry family before Rick Perry entered politics. Stenholm said Perry started off as a right-of-center conservative Democrat who could mix fiscal conservatism with compassionate government services.
“He has shifted his political philosophy to the far right,” Stenholm said. “That’s not the Rick Perry who grew up in Haskell County.”
But longtime Perry friend, former state Rep. Cliff Johnson, said Perry entered politics as a conservative and has only grown more so because of his experience of seeing government in action.
“Perry’s naturally become more conservative,” Johnson said. “He’s tilted to the right more and more as he’s grown in experience.”
Perry said he had a parochial view of the world growing up on a cotton farm in the community of Paint Creek, 14 miles outside of Haskell and 55 miles from Abilene.
There were Hispanics in the community, but Perry said he did not meet someone who was Jewish until he was in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University and really only got to know blacks while serving as a pilot of a C-130 transport in the Air Force. The last Democrat he can remember voting for for president was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“I’ll confess, I wasn’t paying much attention. I was flying,” Perry said. “Jimmy Carter. Peanut farmer. Georgia. Fooled us.”
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