SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry was a champion of fiercely conservative social activism long before the tea party was born. He oversaw the "Texas Miracle" job-creation boom and became the state's most powerful governor since Reconstruction.
But nationally, Perry is better known for his 'oops' presidential debate brain freeze or for not opposing forcefully enough the notion that Texas could secede from the union. For many outside the Lone Star State, he's a political punchline on par with Dan Quayle — if he's known at all.
Now, the longest-serving governor in Texas history is quitting his day job. Perry announced Monday that he won't seek a fourth full term in office next year, but notably didn't say whether another run for the White House in 2016 could be next.
"The time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership. Today I'm announcing I will not seek re-election as governor of Texas," Perry said Monday. "I will spend the next 18 months working to create more jobs, opportunity and innovation. I will actively lead this great state. And I'll also pray and reflect and work to determine my own future."
But for that future to include another run for president, Perry will first need to concentrate on rebuilding his tattered image outside of Texas.
"He's starting behind the eight ball," said South Carolina-based Republican operative Hogan Gidley, an adviser to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — both unsuccessful presidential hopefuls who have remained national conservative forces.
Perry had never lost an election during his 27-year political career when he strapped on his signature cowboy boots and strode into the race for the GOP presidential nomination in August 2011, becoming a near-instant front-runner.
But his White House run flamed out spectacularly, culminating in a debate in Michigan where Perry remembered that he'd pledged to shutter the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Education but forgot the third one, the Department of Energy. Quipped late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon: "It turns out George Bush was actually the smart Texas governor."
It wasn't the first time Perry's mouth had gotten him into trouble. Ending a television interview in 2005, Perry smirked at the camera and signed off: "Adios, mofo."
Those incidents, however, did little to lessen Perry's influence in Texas, where he is considered the most powerful governor since the Civil War.
Perry, who took office when then-Gov. George W. Bush left for the White House in December 2000, set the tone for his tenure the following June — vetoing more than 80 bills in what became known in Austin as the "Father's Day Massacre." Since then, he's vetoed scores of other would-be laws, including a $35 billion public education budget and a ban on executing mentally disabled inmates.
But most of Perry's power has come from his sheer longevity. He remained in office long enough to tap loyalists — sometimes even his top donors — to every major appointed post statewide.
"He's made the state into his personal fiefdom," said Matt Glazer, a Democratic consultant.