Texas Governor Rick Perry, poised between 14 years in office and a potential presidential run next year, used his final speech before a legislature dominated by members of his Republican Party to press for bipartisanship.
Perry, 64, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, delivered a speech capping three decades in the government of the second-most-populous state. Perry, who leaves office Jan. 20 when Attorney General Greg Abbott is sworn in, boasted of increasing employment, securing the border and lowering crime.
“We are at our best when we get beyond our differences and attempt to seek common ground,” Perry said during a speech at the Capitol in Austin on Thursday. “There is not a single accomplishment I have spoken of today that occurred without bipartisan support.”
The words of comity came after more than a decade of Republican triumphs that made a state once dominated by Democrats into a Republican stronghold. Perry’s party has held all of Texas’s statewide offices since the 1990s and both chambers of its legislature since 2002. If Perry runs for president, he will have to devise a strategy for a nation in which sharply and almost equally divided states can determine the victor.
Perry, who alluded to his beginnings as the son of tenant farmers in Paint Creek, Texas, started his political career as a Democrat in the state House of Representatives before turning Republican in the late 1980s.
He won his first statewide race, for agriculture commissioner, as a Republican in 1990, helped by political consultant Karl Rove. He later became lieutenant governor and replaced George W. Bush as governor after he won the presidency in 2000. Perry unsuccessfully sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and is weighing whether to run again.
As governor, he clashed with Democrats including President Barack Obama over environmental regulations and how to combat illegal immigration at the Mexican border. He spurned federal funding to expand the Medicaid health-care program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act.
In August, Perry was indicted on corruption charges for allegedly trying to force out a Democratic prosecutor whose office probes political corruption by using his ability to veto its funding. Perry has defended his actions as within the power of an elected governor and sought to have the charges dismissed.
Texas Democratic Party spokesman Javier Gamboa criticized Perry’s call today for unity.
“Texans know the truth,” Gamboa said in a statement. “As the governor of Texas, Perry has sided with the conservative wing of his party.”
Perry touted the state’s successes under his watch, including the growth of jobs. In 2003, he pushed lawmakers to set up the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has given out nearly $487 million to encourage companies to expand and been credited with spurring at least 66,000 jobs, according to state records.
“I have been guided by a simple philosophy: that job creation, not higher taxation, is the best form of revenue generation,” Perry said. “We have built a more diverse economy able to survive even those inevitable slowdowns.”
Perry traveled to California, New York and Illinois to recruit businesses, scoring victories when companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and Apple Inc. expanded or relocated. He often attributed moves to his focus on limiting taxes, regulations and the ability to file lawsuits.
When the state was facing deficits brought on by two national recessions, Perry cut spending to close the gap. The state now has a budget surplus, in part because of a booming energy industry.
“Two times during my tenure as governor we have faced major budget shortfalls and both times we addressed those shortfalls without raising taxes,” Perry said. “We resisted the idea that Texans should pay more so government could cut less.”