Beyond ‘Oops’: Perry’s Past May Raise Confirmation Questions

Source: By The Associated Press • Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent years perfecting his cowboy swagger — he rarely left home without his signature cowboys boots and even claims to have once used a .380-caliber Ruger pistol to gun down a coyote while jogging. He’s probably best known, though, for the 40 seconds he spent on a 2011 presidential debate stage trying desperately to remember the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to shutter if elected, before sheepishly muttering “Oops.”

The answer was the Energy Department, which President-elect Donald Trump has now tapped Perry to run, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.

But the longest-serving governor in Texas history has less publicized past episodes that could raise political or personal questions when Perry appears before the Senate for confirmation.

Here’s a look at a some of them:


Perry led Texas for more than 14 years, but mere weeks after he left office he began serving on the corporate boards of two energy firms linked to Texas billionaire and GOP mega-donor Kelcy Warren.

One company, Energy Transfer Partners, is attempting to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion project carrying oil from North Dakota to Illinois that has sparked protests garnering national attention. The other, Sunoco Logistics Partners, recently announced plans to acquire Energy Transfer Partners in a $21.3 billion deal.

Like Trump, Perry has in the past been a climate change skeptic and cheerleader for coal. In 2005, he issued an executive order fast-tracking construction of coal-fueled power plants around Texas — but those stalled amid legal challenges from environmental groups.

Texas also became a leading wind energy producer under Perry, and the governor’s office used state incentive funds to funnel public dollars to companies promoting alternative energy.


Perry oversaw two state funds meant to encourage job-creating investment in Texas or to lure top employers to the state. But critics accused him of “crony capitalism” after outside auditors condemned both for rewarding firms Perry had business or political ties to — some of which got funding with little transparency or scant evidence they’d actually create jobs.

In 2007, a Perry executive order mandated HPV vaccines for sixth-grade girls statewide, sparking such outcry that the governor was overruled by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature. Perry said his move was to prevent the spread of a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer — but the vaccine maker, Merck, was a past Perry donor and employed one of his former aides as a lobbyist.

A remote West Texas waste dump site began in 2013 accepting low-level radioactive waste from Texas and other states. The 1,380-acre facility belongs to Waste Control Specialists, then owned by Harold Simmons, a billionaire who was a top donor to Perry and Republicans nationwide but who has since died.

The company has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to begin taking higher level nuclear waste in West Texas as a stopgap measure since a plan for a permanent repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain hasn’t been federally approved. The Energy Department sets policy for nuclear materials’ storage and handling, meaning Perry may make major decisions in an area he’s already very familiar with.


Two years ago, Perry was indicted by a grand jury in Austin on coercion and abuse of power charges stemming from his publicly threatening — then executing — a veto of funding for state public corruption prosecutors. The move came after the investigative unit’s Democratic director rebuffed Perry’s calls to resign following her drunken driving conviction.

Perry dismissed the case as politically motivated, and the coercion charge was tossed on appeal before Texas’ highest criminal court voided the abuse of power charge in February. Still, Perry said it hurt his second White House run in 2015, which lasted barely three months.


While his debate brain freeze was the hardest thing for Perry to live down, there’s more in the former governor’s public career that could resurface if he joins Trump’s Cabinet.

In 2011, The Washington Post reported about a rock outside a hunting camp Perry’s family once leased that was painted with the name “Niggerhead.” Perry’s campaign said the governor’s father painted over the rock — located near Perry’s West Texas childhood home of Paint Creek — soon after he began leasing the site in the early 1980s.

Perry also has drawn past criticism for not denouncing Texas secession forcefully enough. At a 2009 rally, Perry said of his state seceding, “We’ve got a great union,” but added, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that.”