Who Is Rick Perry?
Republican politician Rick Perry was born on March 4, 1950, in the small community of Paint Creek, Texas. After graduating from Texas A&M University in 1972, Perry worked as a salesman, Air Force officer and cotton farmer. He was elected governor of Texas in 2000 and remained in office until 2015, making history as the longest-serving governor of the state. Perry also made two unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination in the 2012 and 2016 elections. In December 2016, he was tapped for the role of U.S. secretary of energy by President-elect Donald Trump.
Early Life and Education
A Texas native, Rick Perry was born on March 4, 1950, in Paint Creek, a tiny unincorporated community in West Texas. His father, Joseph Ray Perry, and mother, the former Amelia June Holt, were ranchers. Perry's father also served as the Haskell County commissioner for many years and introduced his son to politics. As a boy, Perry was active in the Boy Scouts, and eventually earned the highest rank of Eagle Scout. He graduated from Paint Creek High School in 1968 and entered Texas A&M University.
During college, Perry became one of A&M's five yell leaders (analogous to male cheerleaders). He was also known for his many pranks played on fellow classmates. In 1972, Perry graduated with a bachelor's degree in animal science. A member of A&M's Corps of Cadets, he earned a commission in the Air Force, completed pilot training and flew C-130 tactical airlift until 1977. Perry left the Air Force with the rank of captain and returned to Texas. Soon he had entered the cotton farming business with his father.
In 1984, Perry was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. As a Democrat, he served three two-year terms in office. In 1988, Perry supported Al Gore in the Democratic presidential primaries and chaired the Gore campaign in Texas. In 1989, Perry announced that he was switching to the Republican party.
The following year, as a newly minted Republican, Perry challenged Jim Hightower, the incumbent Democratic agriculture commissioner, and won. He served as the agriculture commissioner until he was elected lieutenant governor of Texas in 1998.
Perry assumed the state's governorship in December 2000 when then-governor George W. Bush resigned to become president of the United States. Perry was elected in his own right to full gubernatorial terms in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
A social conservative, Perry supported a successful Texas Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005. He also signed both parental notification and parental consent legislation for pregnant minors seeking abortions. In 2003, he signed the Prenatal Protection Act, which explicitly included fetuses in its definition of human life. He also revealed that he was strongly against embryonic stem cell research.
Perry came to national attention through the Tea Party's support of his socially conservative views, which came to light with his promotion of "The Response USA," an Evangelical Christian prayer rally he co-sponsored in 2011 in partnership with the American Family Association.
In conjunction with his conservative views, Perry signed a bill further restricting abortions in July of 2013. As part of the bill, all abortions in Texas after 20 weeks of pregnancy were to be banned. The controversial bill gained the media's attention before it was signed, when Senator Wendy Davis spent more more than 10 hours engaged in a filibuster. Although the bill initially fell through, Perry called for lawmakers to reevaluate the bill in a second special session, which led to its signing.
2012 Presidential Candidate
In April 2011, Perry announced he would run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency in the 2012 presidential election. He faced stiff competition, however, from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. During his campaign, Perry spoke out in favor of a smaller federal government, a flat 20 percent tax and developing energy security for the nation. He touted his accomplishments in Texas, especially in the area of job creation, and called for the closure of the departments of education and commerce.
On the national stage, Perry failed to attract enough voters to become a leader in the race. His mediocre performances during debates did not help his cause, either. After disappointing finishes in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, Perry withdrew from the race: "As a Texan, I have never shied away from a good fight. ... But as someone who has always admired a great Texas forefather — Sam Houston — I know when it is time for a 'strategic retreat.'" In his resignation statement, he threw his support behind his former adversary Gingrich, calling him a "conservative visionary."
In July 2013, Perry — who, by this time, had become the longest-serving Texas governor in history — made headlines when he announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014; he stated that he would be leaving office following the 2014 elections, retiring at the end of his term, on January 20, 2015. "The time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership," Perry stated during a news conference. He also floated the idea of possibly running again for the U.S. presidency.
2016 Presidential Bid
On June 4, 2015, Perry made his second bid for president official when he announced that he would run for the Republican nomination in the 2016 election. “We are just a few good decisions away from unleashing economic growth, and reviving the American dream,” Perry said at a political rally in a Dallas suburb, adding: “It can be done because it has been done — in Texas.” He dropped out of the race that September after his campaign failed to gain momentum during the summer and he found himself at the low end of national polls.
During his run for the Republican nomination, Perry was a harsh critic of frontrunner Donald Trump, calling him "a cancer on conservatism." In a speech in July 2015, Perry said Trump "offers a barking carnival act that can best be described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued."
However, in May 2016, after dropping out of the race, Perry endorsed Trump and became an active supporter, stumping for him on the campaign trail. On November 8, 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win election as the 45th president of the United States.
U.S. Secretary of Energy
The following month, President-elect Trump named Perry his secretary of energy.
Critics of Perry's appointment noted his call to eliminate the Department of Energy in a 2011 televised presidential debate. They also recalled his words about climate change during his second presidential run, particularly his criticism of “the idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that is not settled yet.”
Additionally, Perry was a supporter of the oil and natural gas industries, as well as the XL Keystone Pipeline. He was also on the corporate board of Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company responsible for building the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was at the center of a protest by Native Americans.
In his favor, Perry had a track record of supporting some forms of renewable energy, including wind, and had passed legislation in 2005 when he was Texas governor to increase the state's dependence on renewable energy.
Once installed as energy secretary, Perry touted research into alternative energy, particularly the work of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy in the areas of solar energy and battery storage. He also threw his weight behind protections for coal and nuclear power, at one point pressing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to provide subsidies for power plants with at least 90 days' worth of those particular fuel sources.
Additionally, Perry worked on initiatives designed to protect the electricity grid from cybersecurity attacks, drawing support from both sides of the political aisle.
In October 2019, it was reported that Perry had submitted his resignation, with plans to leave the Department of Energy by the end of the year.
In August 2014, Perry was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The charges stemmed from the governor's efforts to force the resignation of Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she had been arrested for driving while intoxicated.
To push Lehmberg out, Perry reportedly threatened to cut funding to the state's Public Integrity Unit, which Lehmberg ran. Perry objected to these accusations, claiming that they were politically motivated. Other prominent Republicans, including Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, expressed their support of him.
Perry later faced legal problems as energy secretary in the form of a federal whistleblower lawsuit from a former Department of Energy photographer. The photographer, Simon Edelman, took photos of a March 2017 meeting between Perry and Robert Murray, a Trump donor and the CEO of Ohio-based Murray Energy. The photos showed the two men hugging and Murray passing on an "action plan" for reviving the coal industry, which reportedly mirrored policy later pushed by the Trump administration.
Edelman claimed that the day after the photos appeared in a left-leaning publication in early December 2017, he was escorted out of the DOE headquarters and placed on administrative leave. Additionally, he said his laptop, external hard drives and photo equipment were confiscated, and he was later informed his contract agreement would not be renewed. A DOE spokesperson subsequently called the accusations "ridiculous."
In October 2019, Perry was drawn into the controversy surrounding President Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. After being fingered by Trump as the one who suggested the July 2019 phone call in which the president urged his Ukrainian counterpart to begin investigations, Perry received a House subpoena requesting documents related to his involvement in the call as well as to a Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company.
'Dancing With the Stars'
In August 2016, Perry decided to join Season 23's cast of Dancing With the Stars. The announcement was not the biggest surprise, considering he had been a source of tabloid fodder with his occasional strange behavior and political commentary in previous years. Perry and his partner, Emma Slater, were eventually eliminated during the third week of competition.
Rick Perry has written two books: On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For (2008) and Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington (2010).
Family and Personal
In 1982, Perry married Anita Thigpen, the longtime girlfriend he had known since elementary school. They have two grown children, Griffin and Sydney.
Perry, who grew up in the Methodist church, was a member of the Tarrytown United Methodist Church in Austin, the same one attended by George W. Bush, until switching to Lake Hills Church in 2010.
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