Since his first race for office more than a quarter-century ago, Gov. Rick Perry has emphasized his roots as a rural farmer.
Yet Perry's bank account no longer reflects those humble beginnings as his bottom line has soared in recent years, records show, thanks largely to a handful of real estate deals that critics allege were achieved through the presidential candidates' political connections.
In just about every campaign Perry has run since 1989, allegations of his using his position for financial gain have come up. It's an issue that Perry long ago accepted would linger as long as he remains in the public eye.
"I've been in politics long enough to know that this is just a part of doing business," Perry told the Star-Telegram in 1998. "I know full well, as my wife knows, that our private lives, particularly on the financial side, becomes fair game."
While much of the scrutiny has focused on land deals Perry made while a statewide official, "real estate investor" doesn't properly capture all of his recent financial activity, just as "farmer" is too simple a description of Perry's earlier years.
Perry's financial records were obtained via online databases from the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune and through the Texas Ethics Commission.
When he became the state representative from Haskell in 1985, the married father of two was far from living high on the hog. The earliest federal tax return Perry has released dates to 1987, when the couple reported total income of $45,224.
Perry drew a $7,200 annual salary from his public job. In Austin, he roomed with two other lawmakers to save money. Anita Perry worked as a nurse and took in less than $8,000 a year between 1987 and 1990.
Like many other Texas farmers, Perry benefited from federal agriculture subsidies. Between 1987 and 1998, he received over $80,000 from such programs. Along with their own farm, Perry and his father, Ray Perry, also worked several hundred leased acres. Even then, Perry was moving beyond his agrarian upbringing. With his father or on his own, Perry had financial stakes in gas wells as well as real estate. Through his wife, the couple had a small investment in a local bakery. During that period, Perry also worked as a pilot.
In 1983, Perry was named to the Haskell National Bank board of directors and maintained an advisory role there until 1996. Over most of that period, the bank paid him $700 to $3,500 a year, according to available tax returns. Bank President Andrew Gannaway recalled Perry attending the board's meetings.
"I think I would say the board felt like his contributions were valuable to the bank, as were the other members'," Gannaway said.
Although his real estate successes were years off, Perry's interest in the field started earlier. Then-Gov. Bill Clements appointed him to the advisory committee of Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center in 1981. Perry also became, but never worked as, a licensed Realtor.
When he ran for agriculture commissioner in 1989, Perry got an early taste of how his finances would be put under a microscope. Incumbent Jim Hightower's campaign accused Perry of greedily billing the state tens of thousands of dollars for the cost of flying himself on state business. In 1989, Perry's reimbursements made up over half of the private aircraft mileage reimbursed in the Texas House.
Defeating Hightower changed Perry's life dramatically. His public salary as agriculture commissioner was over $70,000. His wife stopped working as a nurse. The family sold their home in Haskell and moved to Austin.