Rick Perry’s mixed legacy, ambitious political future

Tuesday officially marks the last day of Rick Perry’s unprecedented tenure as governor.

“Knowing when to leave is a real gift,” he told The Weekly Standard last March, speaking of his decision not to seek a fourth full term.

After 14 years filled with statewide economic success, colored by political standoffs and punctuated by the occasional scandal, Perry’s lasting gift to the state is a mixed bag.

While critics will dispute his claims that limited regulation, low taxes and business-friendly policies precipitated the “Texas Miracle,” Perry has been a resolute steward of the state’s economic health during periods of uncertainty.

It’s no accident that his years in the Governor’s Mansion coincided with scores of businesses relocating to the state, thereby diversifying the economy and supplying decent-paying jobs to millions of Texans. That was a consequence of his leadership.

But, as Perry acknowledged in his farewell address Thursday, “job creation is not the answer to every ill … it has brought challenges to our state,” including strains on water resources, transportation and infrastructure.

The state’s mechanism for funding its public education system remains unresolved. And more than a third of Texans still lack health insurance coverage.

Perry’s laser-like focus on economic growth was occasionally distracted by confrontations with the federal government over environmental regulations and immigration where his characteristic swagger and penchant for conservative red meat often eclipsed his ability to appear thoughtful.

At times, though, Perry proved himself more reasonable than some are willing to admit. He broke with his right flank by supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, a policy now targeted for repeal by incoming Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The more reasonable Perry was on display Thursday, when he struck a bipartisan tone before the Legislature. “There is room for different voices, for disagreement,” he said. “Compromise is not a dirty word if it moves Texas forward.”

His sage advice suggests he’s learned some lessons — lessons he may apply to his own political future. Right now, that future appears to include a run for the White House, and his prospects look brighter than they did in 2012.

While his legacy is mixed and his future unknown, it’s a safe assumption that Perry will not be riding into the sunset, Butch Cassidy-style.

So this is farewell, but not goodbye.