The Ex-Governor Does the Tango

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I cranked up the television about 45 minutes before the first presidential debate. We only have over-the-air channels beamed into a single television, and subsist primarily on Netflix and Amazon — and not much of that. I wanted to make sure everything was working properly before the event. That is how I ended up watching “Dancing With the Stars.” There I saw our former governor, Rick Perry, tangoing with a beautiful woman less than half his age. He was wearing a black-and-white toreador outfit that led me to conclude Gov. Perry has considerably more courage — or less sense — than most Texas men, who would not be caught dead in such a get-up.

Somehow the fact that someone who ran the second time for president earlier this year was now tangoing — not well, but admittedly far better than I could do —on national television seemed weirdly appropriate. He finished dead last again, edged out by a whisper by Vanilla Ice, the rapper.

You cannot make stuff like this up.

Perhaps when this wretched election ends, the loser will also join DWTS, though something tells me neither Mr. Trump nor Ms. Clinton are strong in the rhythm department.

I have bumped paths with Gov. Perry a number of times over the years, and have consistently expressed a low opinion of him. I admit that. I wrote many editorials excoriating his governance. I believe Texas woefully lags behind in quality of education, infrastructure, cleaning up pollution, covering the uninsured, and many other categories because of his lack of leadership — and he was governor for what seemed as long as the Pleistocene era. The state’s economy expanded during his tenure despite him, not because of him. George W. Bush was a far better governor, though I can’t say much for his two terms as president. As the late Molly Ivins once put it, Texas is Mississippi with better roads. I am not so sure about the roads anymore.

Two Perry stories. I once sat in the back of a conference hall, awaiting his arrival to speak at a Texas Daily Newspaper Association convention. I sat in the back row so I could sneak out if I got bored, which does not take much. As he was being introduced, I felt a pair of hands massaging my shoulders. “How are you doing, Gary?” Rick Perry asked. Understand, though we had met a few times in editorial board meetings and such, he did not know me from Adam. I was wearing a nametag, which he read. It was, well, strange.

The 88th meeting Annual Meeting of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association was held March 22-24, in Austin, Texas. Photo by Mark Matson

Several years later, I became president of TDNA. The now-defunct organization had run out of suitable applicants. Again, Gov. Perry was the keynote speaker. His handlers kindly provided a lengthy introduction, which described the governor as the greatest thing since sliced bread — who, if he had been at the Alamo, would have changed the course of history — and so on. I ignored their intro and wrote my own, short and respectful. I noted he was the longest-serving governor in history (this was 2009), and the first Aggie to be governor, and left it at that.

As I delivered the introduction for a man who likely was at least tangentially aware that I continued to write disapproving pieces about him (politicians keep up, believe me), his aides shot daggers at me from the back of the room. I was off-script. And when I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Gov. Rick Perry!” and turned around… Nothing. No governor, just the TDNA exec waving his arms at me. The governor had to take a phone call and was not ready to speak.

I tap danced (not really) for a few minutes, then told folks to dig in to their salads until the governor showed up. About 10 minutes later, he did, and I re-introduced him with a one-liner. Someone took a photo of Perry reaching out to shake my hand. I look as if I’m about to be electrocuted by his touch. The photo is on my refrigerator, my last Tango in Perry. (I hope a few of you get the pun.)

Perry gave a nice speech, praising the free press, as politicians do, though we likely have a different definition of “free.” While I would never have supported him for president — utter lack of substance comes to mind — he was dead-on during his brief campaign in describing Mr. Trump as a “cancer.” Now, he supports Trump and appears to be angling for a cabinet position.

Politics is sort of like “Dancing With the Stars,” I guess. You never know who your tango partner is going to be.

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