Perry Sworn in for Unprecedented Third Term

Texas Gov. Rick Perry took the oath office for an unprecedented third full term on Tuesday, saying historians will call this the "Texas Century."

Perry, the longest serving governor in the United States, has often been mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential contender but says he has no interest in the office. The West Texas Republican bashed Washington -- a favorite target of his populist ire-- again during his inaugural speech.

"With bloated stimulus spending, record debt and massive entitlement programs, Washington has America on a collision course with bankruptcy," Perry said.

As he was speaking, Texas officials prepared to release one of the leanest budgets in state history to overcome a shortfall estimated at between $15 billion and $27 billion. Still, Perry said the state would protect the vulnerable during the 2011 Legislative session, which began last week and will last until the end of May.

"The frail, the young, the elderly on fixed incomes, those in situations of abuse and neglect, people whose needs are greater than the resources at their disposal - they can count on the people of Texas to be there for them," he said.

Perry also touted Texas as an example for the entire nation.

"You might say historian will look back at this century and call it the Texas Century. Americans once looked to the East Coast for opportunity and inspiration and then they went to the West Coast. Today they are looking to the Gulf Coast - they are looking to Texas," Perry said. "This is our time, this is our place in history. We must seize the moment."

State lawmakers looked on during the brief ceremony on a cloudy and chilly morning, where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also was sworn in.

Corporate donors and wealthy Texans are picking up the $2 million tab for the 2011 inaugural, but the pomp is being scaled back to strike a more austere tone during tough economic times.

"Only Rick Perry could look at a $27 billion budget deficit, major cuts to essential programs and thousands of likely job losses and think he deserves credit for scaling his party back to $2 million," said Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. "After Republicans wrap up their $2 million party, taxpayers will pay the real cost of the GOP budget deficit when our communities are forced to pick up the tab."

A spokesman for the Republican governor, Mark Miner, scoffed at the criticism from a political party that hasn't won a statewide office since 1994 and wields little influence in the Texas Legislature. He said inaugural planners purposely made the celebration less lavish than the event four years ago but also didn't want to do away with a long-standing tradition. Miner said no taxpayer dollars were being spent on the event.

"The Democrats in Texas have been out of office for so long that they've forgotten how to celebrate," Miner said. "It's customary for governors to have a swearing-in and maybe someday (the Democrats) will experience that."

Organizers have taken great care to project a tone that fits the tough fiscal situation. Besides eliminating a potentially costly parade, they are changing the black tie ball to an evening "celebration" where attendees are being asked to wear cocktail attire. First Lady Anita Perry is using a dress she's already worn -- to her son's wedding last year -- after some modifications by designer Robert Danes. The final cost of the inaugural, however, might not change much from four years ago when a scheduled parade got canceled due to icy weather. Organizers spent a little less than $2 million then and are on target to do the same this year.

Red McCombs, a San Antonio businessman, was one of at least three donors who gave $100,000 to help pay for the inaugural festivities. The others were telecommunications giant AT&T and energy mogul T. Boone Pickens. Exxon Mobil and Farouk Systems -- owned by former gubernatorial contender and flat-iron maker Farouk Shami -- were among the $50,000 donors, while Chesapeake Energy, Anheuser Busch, Hewlett Packard, Time Warner Cable all gave $25,000.

The ceremony takes place on the same day that Texas House members are supposed to get their first look at an actual state budget proposal. Officials stress it's only a first draft, but the fact that it's scheduled for delivery on Tuesday makes for a stark contrast with the celebratory tone of the inaugural. Texas is facing a budget shortfall of at least $15 billion, though some analysts -- and plenty of Democrats -- say it would take $27 billion to maintain the services residents have come to expect from an already lean state government.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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