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To Try to Predict Perry's Future, Look to His Past

Gov. Rick Perry looks like he will be in office as long as voters will have him. He talks like he wants voters to keep him where he is. Many think he's just bluffing, but that's not how he has operated in the past.

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Just listen to him. Rick Perry is saying he might run for another term as governor and that he has not ruled out the possibility of another run for president.

Set aside what you think of that, whether you are for him or against him, what you think the odds of success might be.

Remember this: In his long history in state politics — closing in on three decades — Perry has run for everything he said he was going to run for.

Given his history, the safest assumption is that Perry will be on the ballot again in 2014, running for governor. And if the Republicans lose the presidential election this year, he might really and truly be angling for the party’s nomination in 2016.

This makes a lot of Texans — and not just Democrats — slap their foreheads. They cannot believe anyone has been governor for this long, and some of them cannot believe Perry is the guy who is setting the record.

But there he is, going to work in the second-floor office in the middle of the state Capitol, moving back into the rebuilt Governor’s Mansion this summer, comfortably situated at the top of a government run, in large measure, by people he appointed or sponsored.

He looks like he is there as long as voters will have him. He talks like he wants voters to keep him where he is. And yet, the lobby and the Legislature and the political class are locked in a ceaseless conversation based on a post-Perry Texas. They are chasing a fictional story line.

It happened to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who thought about running for governor in 2006, only to be assured by donors and party activists that Perry would serve until 2010 and then move on to something else, clearing the path to the Governor’s Mansion for her.

The two played a game of bluff right up to the end, with Hutchison’s people telling reporters and others that the governor was not really going to run — that he just wanted to preserve his power by telling people he wasn’t a lame duck.

Well, he was not a lame duck. Hutchison, who polled as the most popular Republican officeholder in Texas, was left to wind down her career in the Senate, where her term ends in just a few months.

Perry wasn’t bluffing. He first said he was thinking about running again, then he said that he was probably going to run again and then he announced that he was running again. Everybody got so busy analyzing what might happen that they stopped listening.

The analysis then — instructive now that the game has been renewed — went like this: Perry, challenged for governor by Chris Bell, a Democrat; Kinky Friedman, an independent; and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican running as an independent, won the 2006 election with only 39 percent of the vote. At the top of that ballot, Hutchison, in a stronger showing, finished her run for the Senate with 61.7 percent against a Democrat and a Libertarian. Furthermore, the governor had had time to play out his legislative agenda, and his six years in office matched a sort of unofficial term limit for Texas governors.

No such limit exists in law, but among modern governors, Bill Clements set the previous record, serving four years on either side of Mark White.

Perry is on the verge of serving as Texas governor longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as president — a 12-year, 42-day run that the Texas governor will match at the beginning of February.

He attracts the same sort of grumbles that Roosevelt did, with opponents mumbling that he has been there for too long, that it is time for fresh ideas, that maybe the state should limit its chief executive’s time in office after all.

Others have lined up, gently. Attorney General Greg Abbott, by all accounts on good terms with Perry, has more than $12 million in his political account and has made it clear he would like to be the next governor. He does not want to repeat Hutchison’s mistake, but he is ambitious. Others are sniffing around, too, looking at jobs that might open up if Perry moves on. Like Abbott’s post.

None of those dreams come true unless the governor is bluffing about his plans.

There is always a first time, but who is willing to bet on it?

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State government 2012 elections Governor's Office Rick Perry