Confident, even cocky again, the retiring three-and-a-half-term governor of Texas is up to something. In the past few weeks, he has challenged fellow New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to a verbal duel, lassoed Toyota's headquarters for Plano, Texas from Southern California, and courted New Hampshire activists to come to Texas and see the economic miracle he has wrought. This month, Perry will also hightail it off to Iowa, another key primary state.
Could it be possible that Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, who fizzled in his presidential bid in 2012 wants to try his luck again in 2016? He is certainly not correcting the impression, recently saying on "Meet the Press," "I think America is a place that believes in second chances."
One thing for sure is that he looks better and sounds better - so far at least - than he did in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination the last time around. In August of last year, Perry changed direction, sartorially speaking. He started wearing black horn rimmed designer glasses and traded in his cowboy boots for dress shoes.
Perry says that both are for good reasons - deteriorating eyesight in his left eye from a teenage accident and back surgery. The effect is to make him look more professorial and less aw-shucks or dumb-dumber as some said about him in the primary debates. At the Conservative Political Action Committee in March, Perry did strut his new stuff and came out looking less like "the gun-toting, big-talking Texan of the Republican presidential primary, and more like Steve Jobs," according to one attendee.
Perry has a lot to overcome. He faired so poorly in the early debates and seemed so sleep deprived that even Republican commentators said that he needed to "raise his game" and that perhaps bring a mattress next time. The nadir was in November 2011, when he began a fiery rant about the need to eliminate three government agencies in order to drastically cut federal spending, but only remembered the Departments of Education and Commerce. When asked about the third, he stammered, " The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops." Minutes later, he said it was the Energy Department. He never recovered and suspended his race on Jan. 19, 2012.
Perry excused his performance by saying that debates were not his thing and that he made the mistake of having back surgery just weeks before getting into the race, which left him in pain and on pain killers. Last month, Perry confided to Mica Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "I did not prepare well enough to run for president of the United States." Brzezinski retorted, "You're not on drugs today. That's great."
Also, to Perry's credit - in the fourteen years that he has run the Lone Star state - Texas is top in the nation on job growth and has a relatively low unemployment rate, 5.2% in April compared to the national 6.3% and 64, 000 jobs added - the most of any state. No wonder, Perry is going around boasting: "I'm the Jobs Governor." And he brazenly makes forays into California and New York to lure more businesses his way. Out West, Gov. Jerry Brown mocked a Texas ad campaign to take jobs away as a "burp, barely a fart." On the East coast, Governor Cuomo has not responded yet to a debate on jobs.
Of course, critics will charge that Texas is one of ten lowest-wage states and that it has the highest percentage of people with no health coverage, the second highest percentage of children with no health insurance, and comes in first for women without coverage.
No doubt about it, Perry will be smarter about running for president next time around. He says he will decide sometime after the fall elections. In the meantime maybe he can spend his remaining months in office not only improving his debate performance but the record he will be defending. Will it work?
Eileen Shields-West is board chair of Refugees International. Shields-West is author of The World Almanac of Political Campaigns (1992), and edited and contributed to Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child (2008).