HELENA - Gary Perry told fellow lawmakers Thursday he has no failures to look back on during his eight years as a state senator.

Sure, many of his bills have been killed, but "it's not a failure because the system has worked."

"It's the system that is far beyond us and it will continue on without us," Perry, R-Manhattan, said.

The speech came as Perry's final days in the Capitol drew near. He will serve as senator for western Gallatin County until November 2010, and may well come back for a special legislative session before then. But it is a Senate tradition to give outgoing members a few moments to reflect on their service during the final days of their last regular session.

Perry, 59, was first elected to the Montana Senate in 2002. Term limits restrict legislators to eight years, or two four-year terms.

Perry said he was nervous when he first entered the Senate. The body was losing expertise to term limits, which had first begun to take affect in 2000. But the outgoing legislators assured him and other newcomers that they were leaving the Senate in good hands.

"I hope in four sessions they were right. I hope we served our public well," he said.

Perry is a civil engineer and owns his own company, Perry Industries.

In previous sessions, Perry has successfully sponsored several high-profile bills. In his first session, in 2003, he sponsored the bill that gave the OK for bison to be hunted again in Montana. In 2005, his bill to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles passed, ending a long feud in Montana that set personal freedoms against public safety and federal highway dollars.

This session, Perry chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and introduced 25 bills. He sponsored several bills that aimed to cut down on undocumented workers in Montana, and two more to reform how gravel is mined in Montana.

He was one of the vocal Republican proponents of a ban on the death penalty, which helped get that bill out of the Senate. He also pursued legislation to require minors to notify their parents if they were getting an abortion.

Sen. Gregory Barkus, R-Kalispell, who also gave a floor speech on Thursday, called Perry a "lifetime friend."

After the speech, Barkus used a non-Helena story to explain why he respects his friend. The two were boating on Flathead Lake and discovered that a seat on Barkus' boat was loose.

"He took the rest of the weekend taking the seat apart and trying to fix it," Barkus said of Perry. "When he went home, he kept trying to figure it out, until he sent me up the parts.

"That somehow relates what kind of a guy he is. When he approaches a problem, he thinks it entirely through," he said.

In his emotional closing comments, Perry said, "It has been a beautiful ride, and it's going to continue to be a beautiful ride. I'm going to oil up my saddle, get the squeaks out of it, and I'm going to get on a horse and wear down some of that grass that has been growing in the trails since I've been gone."

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com.

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