The PJ Tatler

Christmas with Gov. Perry in Austin

This morning I attended an informal holiday reception with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the governor’s mansion in downtown Austin. Arsonists struck the mansion on the morning of June 8, 2008, with a Molotov cocktail, nearly destroying the iconic structure that has been home to Texas governors since 1856. The crime has never been solved, though the evidence points at anarchists. The state Democratic Party was holding its statewide convention in Austin at the time of the blaze.

A little more than four years after the blaze that almost destroyed it, the mansion has been fully restored. Gov. Perry, First Lady Anita Perry, and their famous dog Rory moved back into the historic home earlier this year. Today’s event was intended partly to bring media from around Austin and the state in for a few minutes with the governor, and to showcase the mansion’s Christmas decorations.

I took a photo of the Christmas tree, which unlike some other governors the Texas governor is calling a Christmas tree, but it didn’t come out. So click here to see the Texas Christmas Tree.

This year, his first Christmas back in the mansion after several years, the governor’s home is decorated with a tribute to the U.S. armed forces. The four main rooms on the ground floor honor the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Texas’ 72 Medal of Honor recipients are honored with stars along the bannister that leads to the family quarters upstairs.

Here, Gov. Perry stands below a portrait of Stephen F. Austin in the library, explaining the Army-themed decorations on the mantle and around the room.

Gov. Perry gave a few brief remarks from the staircase, telling stories about the mansion’s history. He pointed to a small indentation in the bannister and explained that Gov. Jim Hogg drove a 16-penny nail into that spot to keep his daughters (one of whom really was named Ima) from using the bannister to slide down from the second floor to the first. Wikipedia backs up the governor’s story. On the bannister upstairs, Perry said, Gov. Mark White’s sons carved their initials. The Hoggs and Whites served Texas about 90 years apart.

The reception was a low-key non-political affair. Invitees were mostly media, but Robbie Cooper brought his sixth-grade daughter for the chance to meet the governor and earn some extra credit at school by writing a report about the visit. A few of us were standing and talking with Perry in the library; nearly everyone else was in the room next door where the coffee and pigs-in-a-blanket were being served. Upon hearing that the girl had had to bury her dog last night, Gov. Perry took her out to the mansion’s canine graveyard and consoled her for her loss. Most of the rest of the reception’s attendees were in the adjacent room and never noticed that the governor had slipped outside for a few minutes. Her extra credit report should be a good one — she was the only person at the reception to spend a few minutes with Rick Perry being less the governor of a huge state than a dog lover and a father.

After the governor’s bannister remarks, we all went outside for a group picture. Rory was slipping in between everyone and ended up bounding around the lawn, enjoying the sunshine and the attention she was getting. The mansion must be a great place for a dog. What other dog gets to live in a pad like this?

It’s fair to say that Gov. Perry had a tough 2012, as have most Americans. But he is ending it in one of the nation’s most beautiful and historic homes and doing a job he clearly loves, and in which he has built up an impressive record for the Lone Star State.