Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 61, upended the GOP field of presidential contenders last week with his decision to enter the race. The new man in the ring, with his Texas swagger, has wasted no time since his entrance, taking on contenders left and right. In less than 24 hours, the 2012 presidential race's newest candidate managed to call President Obama the "greatest threat to our country," raise questions about rival Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts and suggest that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke might be close to committing a "treasonous" act.
But who is the man behind these words? Did you know that the Republican presidential candidate, an Air Force veteran, was once a Democrat?
Here are 10 things you might not know about Rick Perry.
Born James Richard Perry, Rick Perry grew up in Paint Creek, West Texas, to former World War II tailgunner Ray and Amelia Perry, who were cotton farmers. He has one older sister, Milla Perry Jones. He met his wife of 28 years, Anita Thigpen, at a piano recital in elementary school. Thigpen was a nurse before marriage to Perry. The two have a son Griffin, 27, and a daughter ,Syndey, 24.
|A model student?|
Perry was the first generation in his family to attend college. Huffington Post notes his poor record as an animal science major student at Texas A&M University, rarely earning anything above a C. His only two As at the University were "World Military Systems" and "Improv of Learning." The article reports that even though Perry was a student leader, he had to get out of academic prohibition in order to do so.
|A Democrat or Republican?|
Upon graduation from Texas A&M, he joined the Air Force flying C-130 tactical aircraft in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. After reaching the rank of captain, he returned to Texas to work on his family cotton farm until he almost joined Southwest Airline's pilot training program. Instead, he leaped into politics, entering the state House of Representatives as a conservative Democrat in 1985. As the Texas chairman of Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign, Perry supported Gore's presidential bid. He changed allegiances in 1989 to a Republican and won the election for agriculture commissioner.
|Another Texan, yes. Another George W. Bush, no.|
Evangelical Christian Perry grew up in a Methodist church. Since the 1990s, his family has been members of Tarrytown United Methodist Church, the same church of former President George W. Bush. Perry has distanced himself from his former patron Bush, criticizing his stance on government spending, immigration and education. In 2007, Perry bashed Bush at a Republican House party in Iowa. He says, as captured in YouTube video, "George Bush was never a fiscal conservative, never was. I mean, '95, '96, '97, '99, George Bush was spending money." Of Bush's No Child Left Behind law, Perry harshly criticized it, calling it a "monstrous intrusion" in an interview with National Review.
|Treat Students as Customers|
In July 2011, Randy Diehl, the dean of the college of liberal arts at the University of Texas, rejected Rick Perry's plan for the school system to reduce costs. The proposed reforms included treating students as "customers" in order to reduce costs, basing tenure decisions on student evaluations and making research more limited unless it were for direct financial gain. The proposals "over-emphasize the student's role as 'customer' at the expense of the more vital role of 'learner,'" the College of Liberal Arts said. "The higher education experience is not akin to shopping on iTunes or visiting Banana Republic."
|Treading Fine Line on Immigration|
In 2001, Perry touted a new law that extended in-state tuition to children of undocumented workers. He said at Border Summit , "We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, "We don't care where you come from, but where you are going and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there." To pacify the anti-illegal immigration conservatives, Perry pushed for a bill that would have prohibited Texas cities from acting as safe havens for illegal immigrants and would allow local law enforcement to become more involved in immigration enforcement but it failed to pass.
As a proponent of states' rights, Perry said New York's same-sex marriage bill is fine and that Texas' same-sex anti-sodomy law was also "appropriate."
|Leading Country's Briskest Job Creation|
Gov. Perry has touted Texas' job growth under his tenure, which was twice the national average. Indeed, of all the jobs created since June 2009, 30 percent were created in Texas. As governor, Perry has made international recruitment the framework for his economic policy and more than two dozen Chinese companies are now in Texas, according to the Washington Post. China is Texas' third largest export-import partner. Perry has welcomed Chinese firm Huawei Technologies to base its U.S. operations in Plano, despite the U.S. government security panel's blocking Huawei from acquiring or partnering with U.S. companies because of security concerns that secrets could be leaked to China. Perry defended his move, arguing it will create more jobs.
Perry is anti-abortion and opposes government funding for elective abortion. In 2011, he signed a bill that prohibited taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. In 2005, he signed a bill that limited late-term abortions at the third trimester and required girls under the age of 18 to have parental consent before an abortion.
|If It Comes to That|
In 2009, Perry made comments that sparked questions about his thoughts on the possible secession of Texas. Perry responded to a reporter's question about secession, saying, "Texas is a unique place. ... My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that."