No matter how much Texas Gov. Rick Perry protests he has no political ambitions beyond the Lone Star state, no matter how many times he or or his surrogates say he has no intentions, plans, aspirations or desires to be President, no matter how much affection he displays for "the best job in the world," he cannot escape the chatter on the both sides of the aisles that he has his eyes on the national prize. Every move Perry makes is viewed through that prism as pundits and political opponents look for clues in his every word and action, including poring over his inaugural address Tuesday as he was sworn in for an unmatched third term as governor. It was a speech that echoed a familiar theme: Washington is broke and Texas has the answer.
"With bloated stimulus spending, record debt and massive entitlement programs, Washington has America on a collision course with bankruptcy," Perry told the crowd after taking the oath of office on the capitol steps in Austin Tuesday. "You might say historians will look back on this as the Texas century. Americans once looked to the East Coast for opportunity and inspiration, then to the West Coast. Today they are looking to the Gulf Coast they are looking to Texas." Perry also commented on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the turmoil in Mexico, acknowledging the presence of a Mexican border delegation honoring his inauguration.
Perry comes to his unprecedented moment in Texas political history after assuming the balance of then Gov. George W. Bush's term in 2000 followed by two four-year terms in 2002 and 2006. "It took 154 years to get an Aggie into the governor's office, and some of you are probably wondering if he'll ever leave," the handsome, often boots-and-jeans clad 60-year-old son of a Texas farmer told the friendly crowd, referring to his alma mater, Texas A&M. After 10 years in office he has a secure hold on the state bureaucracy, thanks to his powers of appointment, plus a presence on the national stage bolstered by his embrace of the Tea Party and a leadership role in his party's hierarchy as head of the Republican Governors' Association. Perry watchers point out what they feel is a significant bit of scheduling: the governor will not be at the Super Bowl in Dallas Feb. 6 but will be in California honoring the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's birth.
But while he strides across the national arena, back home a $27 billion biennial state budget deficit casts a large shadow over the legislative session. Perry pledged no new taxes in his inaugural address and across the board cuts to the state budget and a staunchly Republican legislature is likely to follow his lead. In his speech, the governor attempted to sound compassionate. "The frail, the young, the elderly on fixed incomes, those in situations of abuse and neglect, people whose needs are greater than the resources at their disposal they can count on the people of Texas to be there for them," Perry declared. "We will protect them, support them and empower them, but cannot risk the future of millions of taxpayers in the process... As legislators do the hard work of trimming agency budgets, the headlines will be dominated by impacted constituencies, but these tough times dictate government doing more with less. That's what we campaigned on, and that's what we'll deliver."
Conservatives will be watching carefully to see how his rhetoric matches his actions during the 140 day session, says Bill Miller, a Republican political consultant and lobbyist. "He's gonna run, but he's waiting until the end of May to announce," Miller told TIME, "Just like [Lieut. Gov. David] Dewhurst is going to wait to announce he's running for the U.S. Senate till then." The Texas left, for its part, is predicting draconian cuts that will injure the vulnerable, eliminate jobs for some 8,000 state workers and reinforce their views of Perry as a heartless right winger. "Rick Perry is typically doing whatever he says he's not doing," Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Kirsten Gray said. "Whatever career aspirations he's chasing, he clearly takes [them] far more seriously than the Texas issues he continues to ignore, like the $27 billion budget deficit."
One thing both sides agree on is Rick Perry is running for President no matter what he and those in his inner circle say.