The cracks are widening in Gov. Rick Perry’s shiny exterior.
The campaign for Republican presidential candidate has taken a toll on the politician once known for his rugged good looks. In a matter of months, he’s traded his sharp cowboy boots for orthopedic shoes, and on occasion, I’ve even seen a hair out of place – a sure sign the end is near.
Although I’m not a fan of Perry, his self-destruction came as a surprise. For better or worse, I thought the politician from Paint Creek could pull it off, but his recent gaffes are reminiscent of Howard Dean’s campaign-ending yowl in the 2004 Democratic primary. Rick is unraveling before our eyes, and as the campaign has crumbled, it has given me cause to reflect on my own “Perry experience.”
From 1998 to 2007, Perry continually popped up along my path of writing and reporting. This is slightly unusual because I’m not a political reporter, I’ve never worked for an Austin-based publication, and we attended Texas A&M University in different decades.
It started with my first job out of college. I landed a post at The Cattleman, a beef cattle magazine published by Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Fort Worth.
TSCRA hosts a convention for its membership every spring, and government and industry leaders are invited to speak.
I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly politically curious until post-college, so it was during this time frame that I first remember tuning in to Perry, even though he’d held state office since 1985.
When I joined the magazine staff, Perry was lieutenant governor, and he became governor in 2000. I heard him speak at almost every major TSCRA event during that time until I left in 2001.
Before I quit, I had memorized the opening to his speech. The speeches weren’t identical, but they were a variation of the same old schtick.
“But I stand before you today, the son of tenant farmers and part of the first generation of my family to attend college,” he said.
It was a poor attempt to relate to his ranching audience, some of which still operated under meager circumstances. Of course, some in the crowd lapped it up, but to me it came off as slick and insincere. I appreciate humble beginnings, but it loses meaning when it becomes nothing more than a turn of phrase.
By 2002, I was back home in Wise County and had started a stint here at the Messenger. It was summertime, and then-editor Skip Nichols sent me to cover a Perry pit stop at the Decatur Public Library.
He blew into town touting the Trans Texas Corridor, a massive alternative to interstate travel, and a good size crowd showed up to “meet the governor.”
Of course, I was already unimpressed but assumed my station, notebook in hand. The arrangement of the room was not clear, though, and instead of standing at the back of the crowd, where I prefer, I was at the front, next to Gov. Sexy Hair himself.
In the post-speech interview, he noted my Aggie ring, like his, and attempted to discuss A&M instead of any real issues, declaring the interview over when the topic of education was mentioned.
I fell into fits of laughter this week when I looked back at that story and read the following:
“‘You want the best economic development tool in America, you educate a child,’ Perry said.
He admitted that there are problems with the school finance system that will have to be addressed in the next two to three years.”
Evidently, those issues were not addressed as we were witness to its failure this year.
Five years later, I found myself in Tyler at the Texas Rose Festival writing a feature about the elaborate event. The ceremonies include crowning a Rose Queen and naming her court, which is similar to the presentation of debutantes.
As luck would have it, Perry’s daughter was on the court that year. I arrived early one morning before the parade to finish a few last-minute interviews, but everything stalled when I ran into none other – Gov. Perry – alongside one of the floats.
As is his custom, he immediately noted my Aggie ring and blabbed his way through a few minutes of A&M chit chat before handing me his point-and-shoot camera and asking me to snap a photo of him and his daughter.
All the while I was tempted to tell him I voted for Kinky Friedman in the previous election.
In the end, I chalked it up to another random encounter with Rick, and I’ve learned to accept him at face value. I’m not convinced he’s capable of effectively running a government, but the man can style his hair.
Despite my dislike for Perry and what he represents, I was convinced he would win – because he always does – and waltz into Washington guns blazing. But his path to the presidency has become riddled with potholes, each seemingly deeper than the last.
It’s been suggested that his miscues and elementary mistakes are due to lingering back pain, which would also explain the shoes and slurred speech, if he’s on painkillers. Perry had spinal fusion surgery in July, and although his camp claims he’s operating at full speed, it’s obvious he’s off his game.
He needs some more swing in his swagger to make up lost ground in this presidential race, but it seems that his spiral into oblivion will land him squarely back in the governor’s office, and not even a new hairspray will help.