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A fifth-generation Texan, he was born on March 4, 1950, in Haskell, Texas, and raised in Paint Creek, Texas, the son of dryland cotton farmers Joseph Ray Perry and Amelia June Holt Perry. Perry's ancestry is almost entirely English, dating as far back as the original Thirteen Colonies.

His family has been in Texas since before the Texas Revolution.

In 1994, Perry was reelected Agriculture Commissioner by a large margin, getting 2,546,287 votes (62 percent) to Democrat Marvin Gregory's 1,479,692 (36 percent). Garland received the remaining 85,836 votes (2 percent).

Gregory, a chicken farmer from Sulphur Springs, Texas, was on the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority with Perry in the early nineties as a Republican, but became a Democrat before running against Perry in 1994.

As Agriculture Commissioner, Perry was responsible for promoting the sale of Texas farm produce to other states and foreign nations, and for supervising the calibration of weights and measures, such as gasoline pumps and grocery store scales.