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For Perry Administration, the End is Beginning Now

The state's longest-serving governor is beginning his last year in office. His people are finding long-term jobs, and his allies and appointees can start thinking about what happens next.

Gov. Rick Perry addresses the National Right to Life convention.

Gov. Rick Perry’s people are starting to burrow into nonpolitical jobs in other corners of government. A former chief of staff is now a public utility commissioner. A former spokeswoman is now with the Texas Department of Insurance, another is on his way to Parks and Wildlife. A former aide who heads the Transportation Department is off to one of the state’s big river authorities, insulated by one step from state politics.

The end times are coming. The governor announced last summer that he would not seek re-election to the job he has held since December 2000. The campaigns to replace him are under way. Unless the Legislature has a special session, it will not meet again while he is in office.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in the history of the state, is slowly and surely becoming a lame duck. Why not wait for the next governor and see what he or she wants to do?

The governor’s appointees are off the leash, too, if they feel like being off the leash. Perry recently lost a tug of war with Chancellor John Sharp of the Texas A&M University System over an interim president for that system’s flagship university. The Board of Regents, 100 percent of whose members were appointed by Perry, voted 100 percent with Sharp. Another round is coming — that same board will vote for a permanent president after a search — but most of those regents will still be working with Sharp after Perry is gone. The power is shifting, there and all over state government. 

This is normal, but Perry has been in office for so long that it doesn’t seem normal. And as lame ducks go, he probably will retain more power for a longer period than most.

It takes six years for a Texas governor to cycle through all of the various appointments to boards and commissions and so on. Perry has cycled through it twice. The agencies headed by his appointees have hired steadily from his staff and from the ranks of people trained by and loyal to his people.

Nobody has had this much control over state government since Bob Bullock, the former comptroller and lieutenant governor, left office in 1999. Bullock’s influence seeped into every facet of state government as people who worked for him steadily moved into other agencies and offices.

Perry, who started as a state legislator when Bullock was comptroller, and whose real understanding of state government was formed in part by his time on the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, watched and learned. As he moved through the agriculture commission, the lieutenant governorship and then his current office, he has replicated the network.

There are Perry people everywhere you turn in Texas government, from the appointees to the top two or three layers of government agency organization charts.

That network won’t shrivel in a day — there are still functioning vestiges of Bullock’s network around, and he’s been dead for longer than Perry has been governor.

The appointees are still Perry people, even though he is leaving. They and the legion of former aides and sympathizers are still, well, sympathetic. Part of this appointment and employment arrangement is that a like-minded group of people end up running things. They’re still in charge, and will be, for several years.

It will take the next governor four years — all of a first term — to replace two-thirds of Perry’s appointees. If his successor is a Republican, the changes in philosophy could be minor.

At the staff level, as with Bullock’s folks, Perry’s influence could outlast a couple of future governors.

Politically, it’s a different deal. The attention of the big supporters — donors and activists — is moving to others. Even Perry’s political besties will transfer their affections as power shifts, and the start of his last year and the noise of the 2014 elections will mark the change.

This is normal. This transfer of power happens all the time in politics and government. If it seems weird, it’s just because it hasn’t happened in Texas for a long time.

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Politics Rick Perry