AUSTIN – Shortly after 2:40 p.m. Monday, Rick Perry rose from behind his barren desk in the State Capitol, pulled on his suit jacket and walked out of an office that had already been stripped clean by packing crews.
He gave a big hug to weeping aides, then took an elevator to the ground floor for his next appointment, leaving his office for the last time as the state’s longest serving governor.
Although Perry won’t step down until he transfers power to successor Greg Abbott in today’s noon-hour inauguration ceremony on the south steps of the capitol, he effectively closed out his 14 years as the state’s 47th governor when he left the building Monday.
“I’m not melancholy. It’s been a great run,” the 64-year-old outgoing governor said in a reflective interview in his last full day on the job. A reporter and photographer were his last two visitors.
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After 30 years in Texas politics, and a record-setting run as governor, Perry acknowledges that he is a bit uncertain about the future.
He becomes a private citizen on Tuesday afternoon, and he and former First Lady Anita Perry have already moved out of the governor’s mansion and into a small two-bedroom, two bathroom townhouse in Austin. They are also building a new home in Round Top, a community about 70 miles away in Fayette County that is widely known for its annual Shakespeare festival, Perry said.
Beyond that, Perry said, he is still assessing a possible second presidential run in 2016 and expects to announce a decision in May or June. As to other endeavors, he said, “I actually don’t know and purposefully don’t know. I have had no conversations with anyone about employment after this. Over the course of the next few weeks, months, I’ll get that managed.”
One position that Perry said is definitely off the table is that of lobbyist. “If I were going to be a lobbyist, I would have done that 20 years ago,” he said. “And that’s not in my future.”
At the peak of his administration, Perry’s second-floor office was the supercharged center of state government, adorned with honors, photographs, mementos and trappings of power. A steady flow of important documents crossed his expansive wooden desk as he signed and vetoed bills, made final touches in speeches and dispatched proclamations.
By midday Monday, he sat in an empty office with barren bookshelves, barren walls and a barren desktop. “We’re just about through," he said. “I’m tired of boxes. I didn’t know I had that much stuff.”
Time to ‘move along’
The clock began ticking down on the Perry administration in June of 2013, when he announced that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term. The decision led to a wholesale shakeup in the Texas political leadership, dominated by a combative governor’s race that Abbott ultimately won in a landslide victory over Democrat Wendy Davis, a former state senator from Fort Worth.
“I’m satisfied that we made the right decision in June of 2013 to move along, and I felt pretty confident that we were going to have a capable, thoughtful fellow coming in behind and I was right,” he said. “Greg’s going to be a very, very good dynamic governor.”
Perry hosted his successor in the governor’s office on Monday and continued a decades-long tradition by marking a scripture in a Bible in the governor’s office. He marked Matthew 20:25-28, which includes a reference to Jesus saying, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.”
The 47th governor also offered an observation for the 48th.
“Greg, There will be things that happen that define your governorship, that define you as a leader by how you respond to them, that you can’t imagine today,” Perry said he told Abbott, citing unforeseen catastrophes in his own administration such as the crash of Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas in 2003 and the massive flood of displaced citizens into Texas from Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Perry acknowledged that he may have some adjusting to do as he peels away from an ever-present security detail and says goodbye to life in the governor’s mansion. He said he expects to endure the same ordinary hassles “that everyone else does,” including losing his car keys or misplacing a cellphone.
‘A regular citizen’
“I’m just going to be a regular citizen at this time tomorrow and happily so,” Perry said.
He called the 159-year-old mansion, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation after a devastating fire, a “fascinating place to live” but said he “won’t miss the noise” from living downtown in urban Austin.
“To just get to hang out in a place where Sam Houston sat on the porch and had a cigar and contemplated all the heavy things that he had to deal with,” Perry said. “I’m not sure there is a place that has any more history.”
Perry also looked back on his accomplishments as governor, including a low-tax, low-regulation business environment that he said helped Texas create 1.4 million jobs over a seven-year period while the rest of the country lost 400,000 jobs. He said he plans to continue to promote that economic model in appearances outside the state, particularly if he jumps into the presidential race.
“It’s a fascinating study in how to do things right,” Perry said. "Almost a third of the jobs created in America have been created in this state since I became governor.”
Looking back on three decades in state government, as a Democrat-turned-Republican legislator, an agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and governor, Perry said he will leave with rich memories from a Capitol in which he invested much of his life.
“Thirty years went by like that,” he said. “It’s been a good go. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting. We made a difference.”
Today’s inauguration schedule
11 a.m. — On the south steps of the Texas Capitol, Greg Abbott will be sworn in as governor and Dan Patrick as lieutenant governor.
12:15 p.m. — Inauguration Barbecue on the west grounds of the Capitol, $10 per person.
2 p.m. — Inauguration Parade down Congress Avenue.
8 p.m. — The Future of Texas Ball, honoring Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick, at the Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St.