Switch Now, Fight Later

Hardly anyone who's not employed by Carole Keeton Strayhorn thinks she would win a Republican primary in nine weeks against Gov. Rick Perry. It's more his audience than hers. He can match her dollar for dollar and then some, and she's based her campaign all along on the idea that she needs swing voters in addition to moderate Republicans to wrest the Mansion away from the current occupant.

Hardly anyone who's not employed by Carole Keeton Strayhorn thinks she would win a Republican primary in nine weeks against Gov. Rick Perry. It's more his audience than hers. He can match her dollar for dollar and then some, and she's based her campaign all along on the idea that she needs swing voters in addition to moderate Republicans to wrest the Mansion away from the current occupant.

She contends she'd have won a primary, albeit a bloody one. But the truth is that Strayhorn has a better chance running as an independent in November, with a broad array of Texas voters, than as a Republican fighting Perry in March for the support of the undiluted conservatives who dominate the GOP primary.

Still, some folks were quietly surprised that she would actually pull the trigger, running as an independent instead of seeking the GOP nomination for the state's top elective office. Another surprise that shouldn't be surprising: Most of her supporters are sticking with her. They'd already stated their opposition to Perry

With Strayhorn's jump, the race for governor includes a Republican who used to be a Democratic legislator but switched parties to seek statewide office (Perry), an independent who ran as a Republican candidate for county office several years ago (Friedman), an independent who switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party and then decided to skip the GOP primary on the way to the general election, and four Democrats.

Strayhorn never ran for office as a Democrat, though she was identified that way for years, helping Walter Mondale's presidential campaign and accepting an appointment to the old state insurance board from then-Gov. Mark White, a Democrat. She declared herself a Republican in the mid-1980s to run against popular U.S. Rep. J.J. "Jake" Pickle, D-Austin. She lost, but later won a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission and then the comptroller job.

Strayhorn has never been on the ballot using the name Strayhorn. She was elected to the Austin school board and as mayor of Austin and to the Texas Railroad Commission (she lost a congressional race) and to the comptroller's office under the names McClellan and Rylander. Her maiden name, Keeton, is locally famous; her dad was dean of the UT law school. And her One Tough Grandma tagline is well known to voters. But she still has to build name ID with voters as Strayhorn. That's one justification for the early television campaign that's now underway, to tie all of those things together and to tell voters she's running as an independent.

Loose End #1: If she gets on the ballot, she'll be the only woman among as many as five candidates when you go to the polls in November.

Loose End #2: The Legislature will probably be in session this spring — after the Democratic and Republican primaries and runoffs — working on school finance. At the same time, Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman will be gathering signatures to get on the ballot. That means Strayhorn, as state comptroller, will be issuing financial estimates and pronouncements at the same time that Strayhorn, as a candidate, is politicking for support.

Spin Cycle: How the Numbers Work, Maybe

Call some pollsters and they'll talk to you about the votes due to a candidate just for the party label attached to that candidate's name. You can argue about the numbers, so we'll just be arbitrary about it: In the 2002 elections, David Dewhurst won with the smallest share of votes collected by any statewide Republican in a race with a Democrat: 52 percent. Marty Akins was on the Democratic end of that scale, getting the smallest share of the vote for a Democrat running against a Republican in a statewide race: 33 percent.

Some pollsters — reputable people, from good families, even — will tell you that Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn will be fighting over what's left, plus whatever they can whittle away from those two party base votes. The conventional wisdom is that a five-way race with a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian and two independents would produce a Republican governor who gets into office with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Rick Perry's camp subscribes to that idea and so do many consultants we've jabbered with who aren't directly involved in anyone's campaign for governor. But there are some interesting possibilities out there that Friedman and Strayhorn hope to see to fruition.

Perry could stumble or oversee a fumble by the Legislature or a natural disaster or whatever that would make anyone who's not him more attractive.

Carole's money — substantial for a candidate, whether independent or not — or Kinky's celebrity could change the dynamics of the race. Dissatisfaction with Perry in particular or Republicans in general could lower his vote, giving them an opportunity to win some votes.

Democratic consultants of the optimistic breed see another scenario, where the two independents (and the Libertarian, usually good for two or three percentage points that would otherwise land in the GOP column) split swing voters and leech votes away from Perry. (Like the independents, they're depending on his unpopularity rising by Election Day.) A Democrat who can hold onto his own base vote could win residency in the Governor's Mansion with well under 50 percent support, if the four other candidates split the rest of the vote into small enough pieces.

First Flights

The two best-funded gubernatorial candidates started the year with their first run of television commercials, and both aim to introduce themselves to voters without too much bickering.

Perry was up first, starting during bowl games with a "proud of Texas" campaign in which he touts the state's economic development, education and lawsuit reform efforts. It's reminiscent of the "morning in America" campaign that marked Ronald Reagan's reelection effort in 1984. Perry's spot ends with him saying, "Our people are compassionate. Our visions, bold. Our values, strong. The best is yet to come. I'm proud of Texas. How 'bout you?"

It's also a contrast with Strayhorn's line, which aims at people who want a change. Like Perry, she's on camera in her spot doing all the talking. She says things are messed up, citing partisanship, "nine legislative sessions full of name-calling," a crisis in school funding, high property taxes, "and judges are having to do our governor's job." Her tag: "I'm a Republican, but I've decided to put partisan politics aside to run for governor as an independent. One tough time might need one tough grandma to shake Austin up."

Neither campaign would detail its advertising schedules or spending, but both say their ads are running statewide and that the buys are serious.

The Ballot

This is unofficial, since some candidates file locally and some with the state; the official versions haven't been assembled by the state parties. With that caveat, here's a first look at what voters will see in the first round of the 2006 elections. This list includes candidates for statewide offices, Congress, and the Texas Legislature. As they say on TV, check local listings. And if we missed something in the mix of local and state filings, let us know and we'll patch it immediately. (Get our list at www.texasweekly.com/documents/2006candidates.pdf.) Here's the short form, in three sections:

The Texas Delegation

Not one member of the Texas delegation to Congress will leave office voluntarily after this term. But only two — Republican Michael Conaway of Midland and Democrat Al Green of Houston — will get through the year without an opponent. Everybody else in that 32-member political class will face major or minor party competition.

Five will face opposition in their own party primary. Most of the attention at the moment is on three races that we've written about before. In CD-17, Chet Edwards of Waco, is defending the most conservative district held by a Democrat. He doesn't face a primary opponent, but will see the winner of a Tucker Anderson vs. Van Taylor GOP primary in November.

In CD-22, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, attracted three primary opponents, a Democrat who used to be in Congress and two Libertarians who each want his job. That'll hinge largely on his legal and related public relations troubles; he's been indicted by a Texas grand jury and has been linked — but not charged — to an ongoing investigation of congressional and lobby corruption involving Jack Abramoff and others.

And U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar has a three-way primary against former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, displaced by Cuellar two years ago, and Victor Morales, the school teacher who gave then-U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm a scare in 1996.

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, has a primary opponent named Bob Johnson, which could prove confusing to voters. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, will be running against Cynthia Sinatra, who got that name by marrying Frank Sinatra Jr., in the GOP primary in CD-14. Sylvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, will face two opponents in the Democratic primary: Jorge Artalejo and Ben Mendoza. One more race to note, though it's in November: Will Pryor, a Dallas lawyer and former judge who was first assistant attorney general to Dan Morales during Morales' first term, is challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.

The Upper Chamber

The state will have at least four new senators next year, but don't expect the partisan balance to change in any important way. Fifteen of the state's 31 senators are not on the ballot this cycle. Five incumbents drew no major party opposition: Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Kyle Janek, R-Houston, and Kip Averitt, R-Waco. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat seeking to replace Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, is alone in his primary and the Republicans ducked.

Three open seats in the Senate will be busy. In SD-3, where Todd Staples, R-Palestine, is giving up the seat to run for commissioner of agriculture, four Republicans have signed up, including Frank Denton, Dave Kleimann, Robert Nichols, and Bob Reeves. However it goes, it'll go to a Republican; no Democrats showed up for the race. In Houston's SD-7, where Republican Jon Lindsay is leaving, a spirited four-way race has opened up between city councilman Mark Ellis, talk radio host Dan Patrick and Republican Reps. Peggy Hamric and Joe Nixon.

In SD-18, where Ken Armbrister, D-Victoria, is retiring, Bret Baldwin and Henry Boehm Jr. are after the Democratic nomination; Gary Gates, Rep. Glenn Hegar, and David Stall are after the GOP slot. That could flip party preferences; though Armbrister has successfully held on, the numbers in that district favor elephants over donkeys.

Five incumbents will skate in March but face opponents from the other party in November: Sens. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; John Whitmire, D-Houston; and Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. Each serves a district that favors the incumbent party, but they'll have to prove it against, in the same order, Dwight Fullingim, Stephen Wyman, Kathleen "Kathi" Thomas, Angel DeLaRosa, and Donald "Dee" Margo.

The last two senators on the ballot — Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Frank Madla Jr., D-San Antonio — have intraparty feuds in March. Deuell will face Tim McCallum; Madla is being challenged by Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. The winner of that second contest will have a fight ahead in June against the winner of a GOP primary between Dick Bowen and Darrel Brown.

The Lower Chamber

Thirteen House members won't be back after this term, either because they're seeking higher office or because they've decided to get their lives back. And 64 members don't have significant opposition this year.

The first group includes four who are running for state Senate: Peggy Hamric, R-Houston; Glenn Hegar Jr., R-Katy; Joe Nixon, R-Houston; and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio. The other two are Terry Keel, R-Austin, who's running for a spot on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Ruben Hope Jr., R-Conroe, who's running for a district judgeship.

Others are getting out with no stated political plans: Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie; Mary Denny, R-Aubrey; Bob Griggs, R-North Richland Hills; Bob Hunter, R-Abilene; Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas; J.E. "Pete" Laney, D-Hale Center; and Jim Solis, D-Harlingen. Within a couple of weeks, Austin voters will fill Republican Todd Baxter's empty spot — he quit in November. Whoever wins that one will have opposition in the general election; the Democrats in that district will also have a primary election fight.

All the other changes this year will be involuntary.

Sixty-four members of the Texas House don't face major party opponents in this year's elections, a group that includes 34 Democrats and 30 Republicans. Eleven Democrats and 19 Republicans — 30 in all — have primary challengers. And a total of 73 House members face opposition in either or both the primary and general elections.

Flotsam & Jetsam

Former state Rep. Ben Z. Grant — a member of the Dirty 30 who went on to be a state district and then an appellate judge — is running for lieutenant governor as a Democrat. He was one of a group of House members — including current House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Gammage — whose rebellion led to the ouster of then-House Speaker Gus Mutscher. Three of them Ñ Gammage, Grant, and Fred Head, who's running for comptroller as a DemocratÑ are going on a statewide tour together next week, starting in Sugar Land on Monday.

Wayne Christian, a Center Republican who left the Texas House to run for Congress in 2004, wants the state seat back. Rep. Roy Blake Jr., R-Lufkin, replaced Christian and is seeking another term. Christian finished third in a six-person race for CD-1 two years ago.

• Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson agreed to head Chris Bell's gubernatorial campaign in San Antonio, and Bell picked up an endorsement from former U.S. Rep. Max Sandlin, D-Marshall.

• Alex Castano, one of a pack of Republicans running for Terry Keel's job in the Lege, paused to endorse Ben Bentzin, who's running in a special election in an adjacent district opened by the resignation of Todd Baxter. It's not unheard of, but it's unusual. There are four candidates: Bentzin, a Republican, Libertarian Ben Easton, and Democrats Donna Howard and Kathy Rider. Early voting is already underway; Election Day is January 17.

• Revenge three ways: Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, elected in 1994 as a Republican and cast out by voters two years later, told the Houston Chronicle he'll try to get on the ballot against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay in CD-22 as an independent. The Democrat in that race, Nick Lampson is the guy who knocked Stockman out of Congress. DeLay helped draw the new congressional maps that resulted in Lampson's ouster last year.

• Carole Keeton Strayhorn's newest contributor is more often found supporting Democrats: Joseph Jamail, the Houston trial lawyer, wrote her a check for $100,000 the day after she said she would run as an independent.

• Walking in his son's footsteps, former Jacksonville Mayor Larry Durrett is after the Republican nomination in HD-11, where the incumbent is Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville. Kenneth Durrett narrowly lost a Republican primary in that district in 2000, the year Hopson first won his spot in the House.

• Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco, got a last-minute primary opponent: His estranged wife, Jessica Reyes-Martinez. In addition to being political opponents, they're in the middle of a divorce and a child custody battle.

• Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, got three opponents in the primary after declaring for Congress and then — after campaigning and fundraising for several months — deciding to seek reelection instead. His foes: Mercurio Martinez Jr., Sergio Mora, and Jose "Rudy" Ochoa.

• An open Austin seat, HD-47, attracted the biggest cluster of wannabes: Four Democrats, five Republicans and two Libertarians want the House seat now held by Terry Keel, who's giving that up to run for a judicial post.

• Charles George and Dorothy Olmos, who ran as Democrats in the special election to replace the late Joe Moreno, D-Houston, are running again for a full term in that job. But the two, who finished fifth and sixth in that six-person contest, are running in the Republican primary this time, along with Gilbert Peña, who didn't run in the special election. Ana Hernandez, the Democrat who won the House seat, will face the winner of that primary.

Search Parties

Gov. Rick Perry's task force on taxes hits the road next week in its attempt to come up with a way to lower pressure on local property taxes and to raise more money at the state level without making anybody too angry. One idea floating around would create a business activity tax that lets businesses choose from different sets of deductions, but they haven't made any decisions.

Two new flies are floating in that bowl of soup.

First, the comptroller's office isn't answering requests from former Comptroller John Sharp for help with numbers — a letter sent to the Carole Keeton Strayhorn's office right after Thanksgiving hasn't produced any results.

And second, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst used the holiday break to name his own panel to find an answer to the Texas Supreme Court's ruling that the current school finance system is unconstitutional. The Senate Select Committee on Education Reform and Public School Finance will be chaired by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who also heads the Senate's education panel. She'll be joined by Sens. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Royce West, D-Dallas, and Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

They'll start their explorations on January 24.

Political People and Their Moves

Bob Richter has returned from the dark side. The former reporter and editorial writer left the San Antonio Express-News to work for House Speaker Tom Craddick, then for the state's Health and Human Services Commission. He's now back at the paper as its ombudsman.

Rebecca Rentz will be the new director of air programs for the Houston office of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, putting her in the middle of efforts to clean up the air there. She's an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani, and also worked on environmental policy for Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.

Jennifer Harris is going private, leaving the state's Health and Human Services Commission to work with Ross Communications, an Austin-based public affairs consulting firm. Before her HHSC gig, she was the spokesperson for two Texas Secretaries of State.

Ray Martinez III, a Texas lawyer, was elected vice chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which oversees funding for states under the Help America Vote Act.

Deaths: Hazel Falke-Obey of Austin, a Democratic activist and community leader who worked on innumerable campaigns and for both the state and national Democratic Parties. She was 62... Walter Mischer Sr., a Houston developer, banker, and political financier. He was 83... Darrell Hester of Harlingen, presiding judge of the 5th Judicial District and a jurist for 35 years. He was 80.

Quotes of the Week

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, on Jack Abramoff's plea deal, in the Washington Post: "I'm going to talk at length about the need for us to rethink not just lobbying but the whole process of elections, incumbency protection and the way in which the system has evolved. Which is very different from the way the American system is supposed to be like. I think Abramoff is just part of a large pattern that has got to be rethought."

Carol Ezzell of Ringgold, telling the Associated Press about the prairie fire that swept through that town, taking out all but a half dozen buildings: "It didn't take 30 minutes."

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, telling the El Paso Times that feuding between House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has made it harder to find a solution for school finance: "If we let the two bosses take the day off, we could get this done."

Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan, son of Texas Comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, in the Houston Chronicle: "The president will support the Republican nominee, and it's pretty clear the Republican nominee will be his friend, Rick Perry... "My mother cares deeply about Texas, and she has my full support."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, quoted in the McAllen Monitor on the prospect of a general election with both Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman on the ballot as independents: "At the end of the day, you'll have three Republicans and one Democrat. I'm happy with those numbers."

Austin lawyer Roy Minton, telling the Houston Chronicle why he's giving money to Carole Keeton Strayhorn: "I've known Carole since I don't know how long. She's an old family friend. I've represented her through a divorce or two."

Hidalgo County District Clerk Omar Guerrero, quoted in the McAllen Monitor after he pulled over at a crime scene to help a friend and was arrested for intoxication and possession of pot: "If I felt I had been smoking marijuana, I would not have stopped."


Texas Weekly: Volume 22, Issue 27, 9 January 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2006 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email info@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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