Rick Perry may be retiring from the job he's had for fourteen years, but he isn't slowing down.
"I'm not going to ride off into the sunset," he told NBC News in an interview in Washington D.C. "I'm pretty sure I'm not going to go back to Paint Creek, Texas, and shut my doors."
The Texas governor, 11 months away from the end of his record-setting tenure at the helm of the state, is sunny about a political future that could include another run for president. That decision won't come until next year, he says, but Perry insists he'll remain active in the political debate over the role of government in American life, whether he runs or not.
"We'll continue to travel," he promises. "I hope to continue -- after I am governor -- to have the discussion about red state versus blue state policies and to push the concept that Washington needs to be less consequential," he told NBC News.
Trying to push Americans into a relatively small box and say, 'here is how you all are going to perform and act and function' is not a productive or positive way to lead this country.
It's not a new message for Perry, who has made headlines for his trips to rival states to encourage businesses (some call it poaching) to pull up stakes and move to Texas.
His tone is softer, though, than it was before his disastrous 2012 run. Rather than the wry allusions to secession and the rhetoric steeped in faith and morality that earned Democrats' fear -- and later, ridicule -- Perry is talking about how his small-government vision complements America's diversity.
"Trying to push Americans into a relatively small box and say, 'here is how you all are going to perform and act and function' is not a productive or positive way to lead this country," he said. "We're just too diverse -- geographically, ethnically, characteristically ... Trying to make one size fits all for health care, or education or transportation policies -- I just don't think Americans are wired that way."
The new framing comes with a new look and lifestyle, too.
After being plagued by back problems that he says helped hobble his 2012 presidential run, he's traded his famed head-clearing runs for spins on a stationary bike five days a week.
He wears sleek Oliver Peoples glasses -- his wife Anita's choice, he says -- giving him a tinge of a professorial air even as he boasts about job growth in his home state or cooingly taps his way through screen after screen of iPhone photos of his eight-month-old granddaughter. (The glasses are the result of a flare-up of a childhood injury, a rock thrown at his left eye that didn't blind him -- miraculously, he says -- but left him with scar tissue affecting his retina.)
And -- perhaps most surprising to those who've paired his take-no-prisoners governing style with the image of a Western roughrider -- he's ditched his trademark cowboy boots for comfortable plain black shoes, once and for all.
"My feet are really happy now," he said, waving a foot energetically in the air to illustrate. "And very rarely does my back bother me. It's good."
On immigration, an issue that knocked the relatively pragmatic governor out of his early frontrunner status against more hawkish GOP rivals, Perry slammed some of his fellow Republicans for rhetoric that he says has hurt the party.
Win McNamee / Getty Images, file
Texas Gov. Rick Perry applauds during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Aug. 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.
"The term 'self-deportation' turned off a lot of people, not just Hispanics," he said, alluding to the 2012 comment by eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney. "That was an offensive statement. It just was."
Perry wouldn't criticize House Republicans for slamming the brakes on federal comprehensive immigration reform, saying that any proposals to offer legalization or citizenship to undocumented immigrants is merely an "academic debate" until the nation's southern border is completely secured.
And he says that Mexico's recent moves towards privatizing oil production could take much of the pressure off of the United States to address the problem of undocumented immigrants.
"You will have rather substantive migration back to Mexico from the United States," he predicted, saying that the move would create attractive jobs in the energy sector for Mexican immigrants who will return home. "The whole immigration issue may really change over the next 12 to 24 months."
While Perry won't say whether he plans to run in 2016, he is quick to list the lessons of his 2012 effort: his late entry to the race, the back surgery and resulting sleeplessness that his team says contributed to the famous "oops" debate moment.
"Some of them are very obvious," he says of his mistakes, chuckling darkly. "Some are even humorous."
As for the cowboy boots, he says they're gone for good, although he might make one exception.
"If my daughter gets married," he promises, "I told her I would wear a pair for her wedding."
First published February 24 2014, 6:31 AM