Photo: Texas Governor Rick Perry
Gov. Rick Perry’s inner circle has evolved significantly since he was first elected to the Texas House in 1984.He changed parties, for one thing, becoming a Republican and shucking one political infrastructure for another.
And he changed offices, moving from the House to the Texas Department of Agriculture, from there to the lieutenant governorship and from there, with the election of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000, into the office he holds today.
His closest advisers are a mix of family, old friends and close aides. They know his politics, his history, his strengths and weaknesses, what he eats for breakfast. As he decides whether to seek the presidency and how to proceed from there, Perry has been and will be in conversation with these confidants.
The longest-serving first lady in the history of the state has known the governor since they were children and has been married to him since November 1982. She is a former nurse (the nursing school at Texas Tech University is named after her), worked for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault in Austin, and has been the chief promoter of the Texas Conference for Women, an annual convention set up to “empower and educate” women in the state.
Perry hasn’t committed to a race for president yet but has shared her advice to him with reporters: “My wife was talking to me and saying, ‘Listen, get out of your comfort zone. Yeah, being governor of Texas is a great job, but sometimes you’re called to step into the fray.'”
Perry’s chief political consultant since his 1998 campaign for lieutenant governor worked as political director for the first President George Bush. Carney is based in New Hampshire, where he is the chief executive and president of Norway Hill Associates and commutes frequently to Austin. Perry is his main, but not only, client.
Carney was an adviser to Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, earlier in the presidential campaign cycle but was part of an exodus of aides—including Rob Johnson—who left that campaign earlier this year. He has worked for former U.S. Sens. Bob Dole, Judd Gregg and John Sununu, among others.
Johnson served as campaign manager for Newt Gingrich until he and other aides and consultants—including Dave Carney—bolted in June. Last year, Johnson ran the gubernatorial campaign that zipped Perry past U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary and then past Bill White, the former Houston mayor, in the general election. He was a top aide to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (now a Senate candidate) before joining Perry, and he ran Dewhurst’s 2002 campaign.
A consultant and chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, Delisi is a policy wonk and political adviser who has worked for Perry on the government and political sides of his operation since his campaign for lieutenant governor.
She was his chief of staff in the governor’s office and worked before that in his policy shop, and she directed his 2002 campaign for governor. If Perry runs, it will be her third presidential go-round: she served as a policy adviser on the campaigns of Lamar Alexander and George W. Bush.
Johnson (no relation to Rob) is a lobbyist, a former state House member and one of those deceptive talents known in Texas as “country slick.” Your first impression—that you’re talking to an animated and gregarious East Texas character—can lead you to underestimate his intelligence and ability. Johnson served with Perry in the Texas House, where their friendship began.
He was a senior adviser to then-Gov. Bush, went back to the lobby, then had a similar post with Perry before returning to the lobby once again. Johnson is part of a group—others included the late Ric Williamson, Mike Toomey and Mike McKinney—who forged close and long-lasting friendships with Perry as young members of the House.
Sullivan, a Californian who is now the governor’s chief of staff, got his Texas start working for Karl Rove’s political consultancy and as the backup spokesman for then-Gov. George W. Bush, as the deputy to Karen Hughes. Hughes, with Rove and Joe Allbaugh, formed what was known in Austin and, for a time, after Bush became president, as the “Iron Triangle.”
Sullivan worked on Perry’s campaign for lieutenant governor in 1998. He worked for Perry after the win, left to work on Bush’s presidential campaign, and then became a consultant and lobbyist in Austin and returned to Perry’s staff a few years later. His wife, Leslie Sullivan, has been the chief fundraiser for a number of Perry’s Texas campaigns.
The former state representative from Houston was one of Perry’s close allies in the Texas House, though Toomey was a Republican and Perry was, at the time, a Democrat. Toomey left to work for then-Gov. Bill Clements, then became a lobbyist. He returned to government to serve as Perry’s chief of staff during a budget-cutting session in 2003, then returned to the lobby.
One episode in particular will be get some attention if Perry runs for president: Toomey was a Texas lobbyist for Merck when Perry issued a 2007 executive order requiring sixth-grade girls in Texas to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer. At the time, the only approved vaccine was Gardasil, made by Merck. The Legislature overrode the executive order, and some blamed the flap on the close relationship between Toomey and the governor.
Weeks has known Perry longer than anyone in the governor’s circle, with the exception of the first lady. He is from the same part of the state and cut the governor’s first political commercials. He now operates an Austin-based political and corporate consulting firm, Weeks&Co. Weeks was one of several friends who in 1989 convinced Perry that instead of quitting the Texas House and retiring from politics to become a lobbyist, he ought to switch parties and run as a Republican for Texas agriculture commissioner.
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