Perry still in the spotlight

By Ken Esten Cooke— From now until the time he leaves office in January 2015, Gov. Rick Perry will be in a spot he clearly loves: Center stage.

In announcing his decision not to seek re-election Monday, the governor was careful not to relinquish the spotlight by keeping the state’s political community guessing about whether he will try to seek redemption for his disastrous presidential campaign in 2012.

For the next 18 months, the governor said, his focus would remain on Texas. Perry took office in December 2000, when George W. Bush vacated the governor’s office to prepare for his presidency, and won re-election in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Those winning campaigns have caused his critics no end of consternation but also made Perry one of the strongest governors in the history of the state. The late John Connally is credited with strengthening the constitutionally weak office, but during his long tenure, Perry tightened his grip on the state bureaucracy because his appointees control the agencies and institutions of higher learning. The appointments will lengthen Perry’s influence over the way those bureaucracies execute state policy.

Though Perry has presided over his last regular session as governor, he reminded the crowd that he is still in office by noting that he controls the agenda of the current special session “and additional sessions if required.”

Though frequently lampooned, Perry has survived on his keen political instincts, his fundraising ability and a ready aptitude for retail politics.

In his announcement remarks, Perry mentioned his appointment of Wallace Jefferson to the Texas Supreme Court, noting that the chief justice is a descendant of a Texas slave. Indeed, Perry’s judicial appointments have generally been strong ones — a fact that has attracted little credit. Besides appointing Jefferson, the first African-American chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Perry named Eva Guzman to the state’s highest civil bench. She is the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court.

Perry can also brag about the state’s robust economy.

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