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Purple Fingers

Old School: Politicians complain about the "filter" of the news media, a gripe usually leveled when they had something good about themselves or nasty about the opposition that they couldn't convince anyone to run.

Old School: Politicians complain about the "filter" of the news media, a gripe usually leveled when they had something good about themselves or nasty about the opposition that they couldn't convince anyone to run.

New School: Politicians complain about the "silly polls" and "petty little stuff" that gets on the Internet through blogs, the changing mainstream media, and other Internet sites. Now the complaint is that the media — that's the old guys and the new guys — aren't responsible and don't separate verifiable information from gossip from disinformation.

There's plenty to commend both arguments. For better and worse, though, this is the See For Yourself age of news and information and most of the polls are getting ink.

Actual mileage varies, but recent polls all illustrate the same story.

• Gov. Rick Perry is trying to see whether it's possible to win reelection with most of the voters against you.

• Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who left the Democratic Party to become a Republican and the Republican Party to run as an independent, will see whether you can defy the base votes in both parties and win with a well-financed media campaign

• Libertarian James Werner will be the winner of the None of the Above vote, along with the small percentage that usually goes to candidates in his party.

• Democrat Chris Bell is running, so far, as a sort of anonymous Democrat: There's a base vote, but not much money to make his name and positions known to the electorate. Various pollsters have found that a third or more of voters have never heard of him.

• And there's Kinky Friedman. Remember the photos of Iraqi voters who dipped a finger in purple ink to show they'd voted? Friedman's trying to find out how many Texans will dip their middle fingers into the ink jar to send Austin a message.

It's a Texas Standoff. To this point, none of the three major challengers — Bell, Friedman, and Strayhorn — has broken out of the second-place race with enough velocity to overtake Perry. A suppressed Republican vote — if scandals and bad news has that effect here — would weigh against Perry. A big turnout of new voters might be good news for Friedman. Bell's hope is that Democrats vote, and come home to him. Strayhorn's is that a constant and heavy TV presence will make her the "top of mind" alternative to Perry come Election Day.

With about four weeks left (early voting starts on October 23), nobody's making fast moves to the front of the second place pack. That's good for the incumbent. We've mentioned this before, but it's a key number: To beat Perry, a contestant will have to smoke the other challengers, winning 70 percent of the anti-incumbent vote to push their overall numbers up to around 40 percent overall. Recent polls show nobody's more than halfway there.

• The latest of those polls was done by New York-based Blum & Weprin Associates for The Dallas Morning News. They've got Perry at 38 percent, Strayhorn at 18 percent, Bell at 15 percent, Friedman at 14 percent, and undecided at 14 percent. (They surveyed voters from September 26-October 3; the margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.)

• Just before that one was published, an Opinion Analysts survey done for the Texans for Insurance Reform PAC had Perry at 33 percent, Strayhorn at 20 percent, Bell and Friedman at 14 percent each, and undecided at 19 percent. That PAC is affiliated with the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. Some of TTLA's members are backing Strayhorn, some are backing Bell, and a lot — including the trade group itself — are staying out.

Their poll had some other interesting tidbits. More than a third — 36 percent — say they haven't heard of Bell. About the same number of people see Perry and Strayhorn favorably (or very favorably), but Perry has higher unfavorable ratings. Friedman was the only candidate in the bunch who was underwater in that section of the poll: He's viewed favorably by 24 percent of those polled, and unfavorably by 40 percent. (The poll was done between September 28 and October 2 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. The results are available online, complete with questions, cross-tabs and previous poll results.)

• The Wall Street Journal/Zogby Battleground Poll has Perry at 33 percent, Bell at 22 percent, Friedman at 19 percent, Strayhorn at 16 percent, and Libertarian James Werner at 1.5 percent. That leaves a big bunch of votes unaccounted for; Undecided would come in second in this field. The polling was done September 19-25. The margin of error is +/- 2.6 percentage points. Zogby's methodology has come under some attack; you can read their explanation (and defense) and decide for yourself.

Attacking the Tax Cut

Carole Keeton Strayhorn's newest TV ad suggests Gov. Rick Perry was stretching the truth when he said average Texans would get $2,000 property tax cuts because of the new business tax.

Strayhorn's ad starts with a shot of a TV set playing an ad run by Perry earlier this year. When she starts talking, the camera moves to Strayhorn, wearing a business suit in front of a white background.

Perry: "We kept our promises to you. The average homeowner will receive a $2,000 tax cut."

Strayhorn: "Have you gotten your $2,000 property tax cut yet? Don't go running to your mailbox. Turns out most seniors get nothing. And the rest of us? Just about $52 — about enough each week to buy a can of soda. We need a government that talks straight with Texans, and gives us real property tax relief. And real honesty. This grandma wants to shake Austin up."

Perry's campaign was apparently waiting for this one — our inbox had eight press releases from the incumbent's campaign within three hours of the ad's release to the media. They forwarded supportive words from several groups that endorsed the tax swap last spring: the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Association of Realtors, the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Apartment Association, the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the Texas Motor Transport Association, Texans for Taxpayer Relief, and the Texas Association of Builders.

Each group praised the tax bill in some form or another, but not one of them defended or even mentioned the $2,000 figure Strayhorn is attacking.

The numbers in the ad come from Perry's estimate of what you'd save over three years if you bought a house at current average sales prices, a number his gang got from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. The argument is over the starting point; the average home sold last year is worth more than the average home owned last year; not everybody bought at the top of the market. Perry's ad originally ran in late May and early June. We reverse-engineered the facts in Torturing the Numbers. And his ad is available in our Files section.

Powder Puff

Carole Keeton Strayhorn added a warm and fuzzy spot to her TV mix — a quick family album that barely mentions politics. Wanna speculate?

It's the sort of spot designed to humanize a candidate and make an attacking political opponent look like a heel. Nobody's attacking and it might be that nobody does, but this lays the groundwork for a defense. And it softens Strayhorn, who's attacking Perry in the ad that started earlier in the week.

The new spot is voiced by Strayhorn joined toward the end by her husband, Ed Strayhorn. A spokesman for the campaign says her attack on Gov. Rick Perry's school tax cuts is still running and that the new spots are an addition to the mix rather than a substitution. The script:

Strayhorn: "My greatest accomplishment: My four grown sons. My greatest joy: Six, smart, beautiful granddaughters. A few years ago, I was blessed to marry my high-school sweetheart. Eddie Joe Strayhorn first asked me to marry him when I was eighteen. My parents said we weren’t old enough. Well, now we are. Ed still had the ring. He saved it 45 years."

Words on the screen: "One Tough Grandma. One Happy Newlywed For Texas."

Ed Strayhorn: "Ah, she was worth the wait." (laughter from a group of people off camera.)

Headline? Or Footnote?

The one-hour gubernatorial debate scheduled for Friday night in Dallas (live in some markets; tape-delayed version on CSPAN) comes almost pre-buried.

It's on a Friday night in football season. It's in Dallas on the eve of the Texas-Oklahoma game. It's a one-company deal, with the Belo Corporation in charge of what has in the past been a cooperative effort between non-profit and for-profit media. It's only one-hour long, which means that, with four candidates, the contestants only have to have full control of themselves for 12 to 15 minutes each, while they're actually talking.

Still, it's got two potentially promising features. Three of the four candidates — Chris Bell, Kinky Friedman, and Carole Keeton Strayhorn — want to make news, and there's a section of this thing where the contestants are asking questions instead of relying on reporters to do it for them. Unless they found new wealth (campaign finance reports come out next week) Bell and Friedman don't have the money for big TV campaigns. Debate time, if they can leverage it into free media coverage, is valuable. Gov. Rick Perry, on the other hand, would like a fast hour with no runs, no hits, no errors and nobody left on base.

Debates don't move voters unless there's something in them that makes news and, in the repeating news cycles, embeds itself in the minds of voters. Think of past debates. Unless you were personally involved in some way, all you'll probably recall are the parts that made the highlight reel that played on the nightly news and/or made the front page. Blogs could amplify high and low points, but if this is a one-hour civics exercise, most voters will never know about it.

Minority Rule

This is the sort of thing that, if you aren't cynical, might help you understand your cynical friends better. If you'd rather look at this as a business analysis, you'll have to conclude that the industry producing these numbers is a niche business — a relatively big one, but a niche business. 

The body politic isn't as big as you think.

About 78 percent of all voting age Texans are registered to vote. Voter turnout, as a percentage of the voting age population of the state, has averaged less than 30 percent (in gubernatorial election years) from 1982 to now. In 2002, 29.3 percent of the voting age population showed up to choose Rick Perry over Tony Sanchez Jr. Four years before that, 26.5 percent of the state's adults turned out to pick George W. Bush over Garry Mauro in the top state race on the ballot. (The 1998 race was a low point; the 2002 race was in line with turnout in 1982 and 1986. The high was in 1994 — 33.6 percent of the state's adults voted. Presidential election turnouts over the last 20 years have ranged from 41 percent of all adults, in 1996, to 47.6 percent, in 1984 and 1992.)

If you were to make a wild guess about turnout next month, something in the 30 percent ballpark would make sense, based on the results from the last quarter-century.

Most of the smart people who run campaigns or watch this stuff have been saying for months that a gubernatorial candidate with 40 percent of the vote in November will be the next governor.

So, and this is where we get to the fodder for cynics, it's entirely possible the next governor of Texas will be chosen by 40 percent of the 30 percent of eligible adults in the state — elected, if you multiply that out, by 12 percent of the state's voting age adults.

That's just under one in eight adults.

Think about that when you're analyzing advertising, or the interest of regular people, or looking at the issues the candidates choose to talk about. A candidate can win an election by turning the head of just one in eight voters. On the other hand, 18 percent of the adults in the state will be voting for one of the losers. Add them to the 70 percent who don't vote, and seven of every eight people candidates see on the streets won't be deciding who's in charge next year.

Things People Worry About

If you vote a straight ticket, and you're in one of the congressional districts that's having a special election, your straight-ticket vote won't count in the special election.

That could, theoretically, be a big deal.

Five congressional districts were redrawn because the U.S. Supreme Court found legal problems with the way the Legislature drew them. The tightest race in that bunch is probably for the spot held by U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio. He's got a number of serious opponents, and a couple of hot races overlap that one. It's possible that someone would vote for a U.S. senator, a governor, some state lawmakers and judges, and miss the congressional race altogether. It's hard to say who'd benefit, but enough dropped votes could move a close contest from one column to the other. 

There's a special election going for the rest of state Rep. Vilma Luna's term (she retired to take a lobby job), another where state Sen. Frank Madla retired, and one more to fill final weeks of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's term. Those matter less, since they're only "stub terms," but it's something for fretful people to fret over.

• A related issue arises in races where there are write-in candidates and no candidates in the party favored by a straight-ticket voter. The big guacamole here is in CD-22, where a voter pulling the Republican lever won't be casting a vote in the congressional race. They'll push the Vote button on their electronic voting machines and it'll send them to a screen that notes, among other things, that they didn't have a candidate in the congressional contest. They'll then choose to go back and do a write-in or vote for another party's candidate, or they can just cast a ballot without that voting in that race.

Outside Help

Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, is getting help from colleagues in both parties in his reelect race against former Jacksonville Mayor Larry Durrett. Republicans Warren Chisum of Pampa, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and Bob Griggs of North Richland Hills all came to the district to knock on doors for Hopson. The incumbent is one of a handful of so-called WD-40s (White Democrats over 40 years of age) in East Texas. Geren, who survived a heavily financed attack in the GOP primary earlier this year, says he walked the district for Hopson two years ago, and says Hopson "walked for me in a sleet storm" before this year's primary. Chisum says Hopson called and asked for help and that's all there was to it: "Shoot me for having friends that are in the other party, I guess."

• Hold your surprise: AGFUND, the political arm of the Texas Farm Bureau, endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for reelection. That group has endorsed her every time she's run statewide, since her bid for state treasurer in 1990. She was introduced to the group by that year's GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner — a state legislator named Rick Perry. You can see all of the group's endorsements on their political action committee's website. It's at http://www.txfbagfund.org/.

That Wall Street Journal/Zogby Battleground Poll mentioned higher up in this issue has U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison leading Democratic challenger Barbara Ann Radnofsky 53.5 percent to 30 percent. That survey's early mid-September numbers had the race narrowing, but this time, Hutchison rose while Radnofsky fell. That leaves almost one voter in six unaccounted for; 16.5 percent are in the undecided/no answer column.

• The Rev. Jesse Jackson hit the trail on Democrat Chris Bell's behalf, taking the candidate and a gaggle of political reporters through a high school and a community center in Houston.

• Ignore that rumor that former Comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat, will be helping the Rick Perry team at the gubernatorial debates in Dallas. Sharp, who hasn't endorsed anyone in the five-way race, will be hunting.

Harlan Crow of Dallas let Gov. Rick Perry's campaign issue a statement saying why he's supporting the incumbent over his former favorite, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. He's given more than $60,000 to Strayhorn over the last year-and-a-half. But he sent her a letter early this year telling her he wouldn't support her as an independent, or against Perry. It wouldn't have been his first shot at Perry: Crow contributed to Tony Sanchez Jr. four years ago. But he's also a generous backer of Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Republican Party of Texas, both of which are and have been solidly behind Perry.

• Another Strayhorn backer — Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Democrat — told The Dallas Morning News he's considering a switch to Chris Bell, the Democrat in the race.

• Democrat Sherrie Matula, who's running against Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC. That group pointed to Davis' support of a voucher program for low-income and Spanish-speaking residents of Houston. Matula, a former teacher and school board member, is opposed to vouchers.

• The National Rifle Association has opposed U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, the last three times he's run. This time, the gun lobby is staying out, backing neither Edwards nor Iraq war veteran Van Taylor, the Republican who's challenging him.

• The Texas State Teachers Association's PAC endorsed Ellen Cohen, the Democrat challenging Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, in HD-134.

Mainstream Multimedia

Remember when Roland Hedley, the fictional TV reporter in Doonesbury, was sent on assignment with paper, pencil, camera, tape deck, and a radar dish on his head? We're not there... yet. But multimedia is seeping into newspaper newsrooms.

The Austin American-Statesman posted video debates — taped at the paper — in two House races. Reporter Jason Embry sat town with Democrat Valinda Bolton, Libertarian Yvonne Schick, and Republican Bill Welch for a debate you can watch on the Statesman's website. And reporter Gardner Selby interviewed the candidates running in HD-50, where Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is the incumbent. He's facing Republican Jeff Fleece in November (along with Libertarian Jerry Chandler, who didn't make it to the debate).

At the Houston Chronicle, Austin political reporter R.G. Ratcliffe has been lugging around a recorder, and you can hear podcast interviews with Republican Ed Gillespie, and with candidates like Democrat Chris Bell and Libertarian James Werner, on the paper's Texas Politics blog.

Political People and Their Moves

John Stobo plans to quit his job at the top of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Stobo, who's been at the center of a controversial series of layoffs there, says he'll leave before the 2007 school year starts. He's been in that post for a little more than nine years. They'll replace him after a search by the regents.

Michael Donley is the new inspector general at the Texas Education Agency. They're assigning him to work on irregular scores on tests given public school students in Texas. TEA did a computer run on the scores at schools around the state and found 700 schools with "unusual data patterns" in the 2005 school year. Donley, a lawyer and former U.S. Air Force police officer, is supposed to find out if there's anything to that.

There's a new public affairs outfit in Austin. The principals in The Patriot Group include Denis Calabrese, Kevin Brannon, Ryan Gravatt, Anthony Holm, Jill Warren, and Matt Welch. Marc Levin signed on as general counsel, and Haley Cornyn — daughter of the U.S. senator — is the operations manager.

Keith Strama (brother of state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin) is leaving McGinnis, Lochridge, and Kilgore, to start his own law firm with a couple of other lawyers. He's the lobbyist and administrative lawyer — Matt Beatty and Shannon Bangle are litigators. The new firm is called Beatty, Bangle, Strama.

State Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, is back in Texas after a tour of duty on the Kuwait/Iraq border. He's a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His wife Cheri Isett took his place in the Legislature while he was gone, a period that included the special session on school and business taxes last spring.

Smiley Garcia, a lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, has been named the legislative liaison officer for the Texas Military Forces. He previously worked for Gov. Rick Perry and for House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Quotes of the Week

Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, telling KTRK-TV why the work "Republican" is covered with red tape on some of her campaign signs: "We use one campaign sign when we're running in the primary, and we use another sign when we're running in the general. It's that simple."

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, talking to The New York Times about raising campaign money: "I never felt so much like a hooker down by the bus station in any race I've ever been in as I did in a judicial race. Everyone interested in contributing has some very specific interests. They mean to be buying a vote. Whether they succeed or not, it's hard to say."

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, quoted by The Dallas Morning News giving a warning to a room full of utility executives and others: "I can't walk into the grocery store that somebody doesn't yell at me about their electricity bills. Next session I think we'll see a lot of bills filed early and often that deal with the price of electricity. I think you all can kind of imagine what some of them will be."

Texas Association of Business chief Bill Hammond, talking to the San Antonio Express-News about Inc. magazine's two-star rating of Gov. Rick Perry: "I would give him five stars out of four stars. Or 20. Can you quote me as saying 20?"

WFAA-TV station manager Mike Devlin, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about complaints of letting news anchors replace political reporters as the questioners at a political debate: "If you're going to say that TV anchors are shallow, then put in there that newspaper reporters are poor dressers."

Harris County Tax Collector-Assessor Paul Bettencourt, quoted in the Houston Chronicle on claims of cuts in school taxes: "Anyone who is running on a big tax cut is making a mistake because the numbers don't support it. Call it what it is, it's property tax relief. It's not a tax cut."

Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd, quoted in the Orlando Sentinel after officers fired 110 shots at accused cop-killer Angilo Freeland: "That's all the bullets we had, or we would have shot him more."


Texas Weekly: Volume 23, Issue 16, 9 October 2006. Ross Ramsey, Editor. 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 (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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