Perry Confronts New Challenges With New Team

Governor Rick Perry offers words of advice to new and veteran House members during a speech on the opening of the 83rd Legislative Session on January 8, 2013
Governor Rick Perry offers words of advice to new and veteran House members during a speech on the opening of the 83rd Legislative Session on January 8, 2013

When Rick Perry jumped into the presidential race in 2011, no one doubted that the people who helped turn him into a Texas powerhouse would guide the effort.

Dave Carney, who had worked for him since 1998, became the top consultant. Rob Johnson, who ran his 2010 re-election race, was the campaign manager. His former chief of staff Deirdre Delisi became the top policy guru. Longtime aide Ray Sullivan was named communications director. And Mark Miner, Perry’s wry spokesman, was the national press secretary.

Today, as Perry heads into the 2013 legislative session, they are all gone. And that’s only part of the exodus.

Since Perry returned from the campaign early last year, his former deputy chief of staff Kathy Walt, who began working for Perry when he was still lieutenant governor, left to become manager of government affairs at the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Former spokeswoman Catherine Cesinger went to the Department of Public Safety. Adviser Travis Richmond is working at Delisi Communications. Chip Roy, who helped write Perry’s book Fed Up! and later ran the state’s lobby office in Washington, D.C., is now Ted Cruz’s chief of staff. And longtime Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier is about to join Cruz, too.

Of course, no one expected Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history by far, to keep the same people in the same jobs forever. Johnson, Sullivan, Delisi and Miner went to consulting or lobby jobs and all still are on good terms with the governor.

Carney, who had been at Perry’s political side since the 1998 lieutenant governor’s race, is back in his native New Hampshire after a sudden departure from the presidential campaign in late 2011.

He was pushed out by Perry adviser Joe Allbaugh, who took the reins of the campaign after the governor’s shoddy debate perfomances had begun to take a toll on his once promising candidacy. The governor’s office said Allbaugh continues to advise Perry. Allbaugh did not respond to an email about his role on Team Perry.

On the political front, Perry’s former appointments director Teresa Spears is now working part-time for the state and part-time for his campaign, according to Frazier.

Cal Jillson, political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said he's not surprised to see a bunch of departures from Perry World.

"Perry's staff operation has always been a high turnover machine by design," he said. "He has brought people in, trained them in his thinking and goals, and then put them out into high profile positions in the bureaucracy and the courts. These people then form the broader 'Team Perry' and they know their future promotion prospects depend on him. This is how he has made up for the institutional weakness of his office."

It’s also worth mentioning that there are some veteran Perry hands that are still on the inside, among them his longtime speechwriter Eric Bearse, who is paid from the gubernatorial campaign. At the Capitol, Perry's former body man, Clint Harp, is director of business development, Kim Snyder still handles the scheduling, former Sen. Ken Armbrister remains his legislative director, and Allison Castle oversees a press shop that includes veteran aides Josh Havens and Lucy Nashed.

But it’s sort of jarring to see so many of those trusted, former top aides, who seemed willing to lay down on the tracks for Perry in that ill-fated 2012 presidential race, sitting on the sidelines as he starts a new legislative session and potentially heads into a re-election battle or a 2016 presidential race.

Do they know something we don't know?

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, says moves are likely to have more impact on Perry's legislative agenda than his political future. 

"Last time he inserted himself early and very aggressively. This time we're seeing signs that he's entering the process with a somewhat lower and less aggressive profile, and part of that may be reflected in the staff changes," Henson said.