The New York Times... actually the Texas Tribune... seemed to get interested in this story about Rick being a Democrat back in the 1980s at the exact moment TIME magazine got interested in it...
First the Texas Tribune version (link)...
Gov. Rick Perry, a no-apologies conservative known for slashing government spending and opposing all tax increases, is about as Republican as you can get.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Perry spent his first six years in politics as a Democrat, in a somewhat forgotten history that is sure to be revived and scrutinized by Republican opponents if he decides to run for president.
A raging liberal he was not. Elected to represent a slice of rural West Texas in the state House of Representatives in 1984, Perry, a young rancher and cotton farmer, gained an early reputation as a fiscal conservative. He was one of a handful of freshman “pit bulls,” so named because they sat in the lower pit of the House Appropriations Committee, where they fought to keep spending low.
The liberal Texas Observer called Perry the “Benedict Arnold of the Democratic Party” for siding too often with Clements, the Republican governor, and not enough with his Democratic colleagues.
This is obviously not news to readers of Rick vs. Kay... we covered this issue ad nauseum during the primary when both Kay and 9/11 Truther Debra Medina tried to use it against Rick. The problem there is that that attack was just so divorced from reality. Not only was Ronald Reagan once a Democrat, but the idea that Rick was insufficiently conservative because he was once a Democrat would get you laughed off the stage in Texas. Most Republican activists today remember just twenty years ago, when there was almost no such thing as a Republican, and the ones we did have in office were not always conservative enough for the grassroots... which is why conservative Democrats hung around for as long as they did. In fact, 2010 might have been the final gasp of air for conservative Democrats in Texas. They all either were defeated or switched parties to the Republican side. The only Democrats left now are liberals.
TIME magazine also did a profile on Rick's time as a Democrat, calling it his inconvenient truth because of his support for then-centrist Al Gore over liberals in the race (link). Excerpt follows...
The tale begins in 1984, four years before Perry took the helm of Gore's Texas campaign, when Gore, then 36 and a congressional wunderkind from Tennessee, followed in his father's footsteps by winning a U.S. Senate seat. That same year, Perry, who was 34 and from much humbler roots as the son of a Texas Rolling Plains cotton farmer, won a seat in the Texas house of representatives. Both young men were handsome sons of the South and proudly touted their philosophical bearings in the regionally dominant conservative wing of the Democratic Party.
In 1988, seizing on the opportunity afforded by a lineup of southern primaries on Super Tuesday, Gore announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for President. Ronald Reagan's second term was drawing to a close, and Republicans were set to nominate the next in line, then Vice President George H.W. Bush. The Democratic field was wide open, with a raft of candidates to the left of Gore, who was dubbed the "southern centrist" by the press. The young Senator, described by the New York Times as "solidly built, dark and indisputably handsome," lined up a list of conservative Democratic big-name supporters, including Senators Howard Heflin of Alabama, Terry Sanford of North Carolina, Bennett Johnson of Louisiana and Sam Nunn of Georgia and Governors Jim Hunt of North Carolina and Buddy Roemer of Louisiana. (In 1991 Roemer, like Perry, left the Democratic Party for the GOP; he is now also reportedly considering a Republican presidential run.)
Gore shared the views of his fellow southern centrists — he opposed the federal funding of abortion, supported a moment of silence in schools for prayer, approved funding of the Nicaraguan contras and was against the ban on interstate handgun sales. It was a platform a conservative West Texas Democrat like state representative Perry could stand on, and he signed up to chair the Senator's Texas campaign.
Several more-liberal state Democratic Party leaders cast their lots with two of the other candidates, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. But Gore worked the Texas legislative ranks for support, winning the backing of Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis and Lieut. Governor Bill Hobby. Lewis was especially important to appointing legislators to vital positions on fiscal committees. And so it was not surprising that 27 members of the Texas legislature, including Perry, a young two-term legislator, joined the duo in their support for Gore.
2. It’s not a big deal that Perry was once a Democrat. To suggest otherwise will make you look foolish. When Perry was elected to the statehouse, in 1985, conservative Democrats ran the Legislature. In 1989, realizing that a conservative had little future in the party, Perry switched to the GOP. He has been a rock-solid Republican ever since and has driven the state party further to the right.