Perry: From “Oops!” to hopes

Published 8:46 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rick Perry’s official kickoff in Addison on June 4 for his most recent presidential race was meticulously planned, right down to having a C-130 transport plane like he’d flown while in the Air Force.

He had several former Navy SEALs with him — the gung-ho brand of soldiers noted for such daring accomplishments as taking out Osama Bin Laden.

Perry even had Tara Kyle in tow, the widow of Chris Kyle, the American sniper who had taken out more enemies than any other sniper in history, only to be gunned down by a guy he was trying to help.

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Clint Eastwood directed a movie about him.

It was a fairly obvious effort to underline that,  among the dozen and a half probable contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Perry has some military credentials, and is ready for the country to stand toe to toe with anyone.

One thing that apparently hadn’t been quite so meticulously planned by the Perry team, or was disregarded given all that toughness, was the Texas heat.

The announcement press conference was held close to high noon, in an airplane hangar, so the C-130, emblazoned with “Perry for President,” was the dominant backdrop.

However, a metal hangar that isn’t air-conditioned, that is out in the sunlight when it’s 90-plus in the shade, and there ain’t no shade, is about as comfortable as a barbecue pit.

Everyone there was sweating, including former Texas First Lady Anita Perry. She noticed.

“Welcome, and thank you, to a hot hangar on June 4th,” she announced.

Former Texas Governor Perry presumably noticed, too, since he was sweating like he’d just run a mile in his suit.

This is Perry’s second chance to make a first impression — if folks will give him the chance. He had announced his candidacy for president the first time in August of 2011, after insisting for months there was no way he’d run for president.

Up until then, Perry had led a charmed political life. Elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1984. Re-elected in 1986 and 1988 — when he was one of the Texans chairing the presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore — before Karl Rove recruited him to switch to the Republican Party in 1989.

He did so to run in 1990 against Jim Hightower, the popular two-term populist Democratic Agriculture Commissioner. Perry narrowly won, and was re-elected in 1994.

In 1998, he was elected lieutenant governor over his old Aggie buddy, Democratic state Comptroller John Sharp. Perry had the good fortune to be on the same ballot below Gov. George W. Bush, running for re-election.

Perry got almost 700,000 fewer votes than Bush, but still had about 68,000 more than Sharp — a lead of 1.85 percent.

Then in 2000, Bush won the presidency, Perry became governor – and stayed for 14 years. Some of his re-election races are closer than others, but he still wins.

It wasn’t until he announced in August of 2011 that he would seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination — something he’d repeatedly promised he wouldn’t do — that his unbeaten record encountered trouble.

Though he started out as a hot property, leading the polls even before he’d announced, he committed enough blunders that onlookers began to think he might not be ready for prime time.

For Texas political columnists, even before his “Oops!” debate pratfall, Perry became the gift that keeps on giving. In a slack time politically in Texas, he got a lot of ink, but not so much skillfully applied as splattered.

He finished fifth with 10.4 percent, in the first state, Iowa. A week later, he ran a poor sixth in New Hampshire, with 0.7 percent. On Jan. 19, he announced he was quitting the race.

This time, he has gone to school on his mistakes, and taken coaching on how to channel his swagger and go beyond the cowboy persona. He has been  briefed a lot on what presidents actually do, and the lay of the land in world-level politics.

A lot of onlookers don’t think it will take — particularly with an indictment for coercion hanging over him. But you never know; Perry may have gotten his political mojo back.

Ric Williamson was elected to an adjoining House district the same year Perry as Perry. Williamson, who eventually was named chairment of the Texas Transporation Commission by Perry, died in late 2007.

At his funeral, another from that freshman class, Cliff Johnson, told a story.

Williamson hated small planes. He would fly in one — but only if Perry was at the controls.

Why make an exception for Perry?

“Because,” Williamson responded, “he’s the luckiest SOB in the world.”

We’ll see.

Contact McNeely at or 512/458-2963.