By Mike Morris and Lindsay Ellis
Rick Perry is a leading finalist to become secretary of energy in President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet, sources close to the former Texas governor said Sunday.
Perry and a fellow Texan also seen as a top contender -- Dallas investor and former Republican National Committee chairman Ray Washburne -- met with Trump at Saturday's Army-Navy football game in Baltimore, BloombergPolitics reported Sunday.
Two Democratic senators from energy-rich states, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also were named as finalists in the Bloomberg report.
Perry's most memorable prior link with the Department of Energy came courtesy of a gaffe in a 2012 presidential primary debate. Listing the three federal agencies he would shutter, Perry ticked off Commerce and Education, then famously forgot the third one: Energy.
"That's a laugh line. He understands that. I think the Trump transition team understands that," said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based GOP consultant. "I think their hope and expectation is that's a one-day story, and not a two-month headache."
Chuckles aside, Perry supporters say he would be a natural choice for the post, as the long-serving former governor of an energy-producing state.
"He's obviously talked to Trump, and Energy would make sense," said Deirdre Delisi, who was chief of staff for Perry while he was governor and a top hand in his first run for president. But she added, "I don't know if it's likely or not."
Mackowiak said the policy documents the former governor released on energy during his 2012 presidential bid were particularly detailed.
"Obviously, when you're governor of Texas, you're an expert on energy," he said. "It'd be impossible not to be, given not just the history of the energy industry in Texas but the present."
Interest no secret
The secretary of energy largely focuses on the nuclear stockpile and energy research and development, said Michael Webber, the deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of UT's Clean Energy Incubator. Even so, Webber said Perry's voice could be useful in the Trump Cabinet, perhaps adding more nuance to the president-elect's intense focus on protecting coal. The Texan's presence, Webber said, "might end up being pretty good for natural gas and renewable energy."
Webber noted Perry's role in a $7 billion statewide investment in wind power infrastructure, a project that built 3,500 miles of lines linking the state's windy plains to its population centers. The former governor's history with that effort, Webber said, suggests a "good alignment with Trump's statements on building infrastructure."
Perry had called Trump a "cancer on conservatism" when he dropped his 2016 presidential bid more than a year ago, but soon warmed to the nominee and campaigned for Trump in several states.
He has made little secret of his interest in serving in the Trump administration. The Air Force veteran told reporters at the Republican National Convention that "the place that I'm passionate about is our veterans and our military," seen as a nod to the secretary of veterans affairs post. His name has also been mentioned for secretary of agriculture.
In early November, Perry posted on social media that he "just got a call to #makeamericagreatagain." That was followed by his 90-minute visit to Trump Tower to meet withn the president-elect on Nov. 21.
Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that Perry was in the running to head the departments of energy or defense; Trump has since announced retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for the latter post.
As Trump fills more Cabinet posts with non-Texans, Mackowiak said, Perry's chances improve.
U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, was mentioned but not chosen for Treasury, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, was mentioned but not chosen to head Homeland Security, and Washburne had been mentioned but not chosen for Commerce.
No Texan yet
The Lone Star State is too relevant -- as the nation's largest Republican state and a key source of GOP fundraising -- to go unrepresented, Mackowiak said.
"(Trump) has been surrounded by and aided by a lot of Texans in his campaign," he said. "I can assure you he's been getting lobbied very, very hard to utilize the talent Texas has in his Cabinet."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who headed Trump's Texas campaign, also has made the case for Perry as a member of the administration, Patrick consultant Allen Blakemore previously has said. He said Sunday that Perry's executive and administrative experience would have prepared him well to run a big agency.
"It would be good for Texas," Blakemore said.
Environmental advocacy groups, meanwhile, say Perry's position on the board of Energy Transfer Partners -- the company behind the controversial, $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline recently stalled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- is a potential conflict of interest. The new administration, environmentalists say, may be confronted with decisions affecting the future of the pipeline even as Trump and, perhaps, members of his Cabinet have a financial stake in the pipeline project.
Peggy Fikac and Mike Ward contributed reporting from Austin.
(c)2016 the Houston Chronicle