Farouk Shami, a hair stylist turned hair and skin products entrepreneur, will announce his bid for governor this week at his company headquarters in Houston.
Shami, running as a Democrat, has lined up an experienced gang to run his campaign: campaign manager Joel Coon, general consultants Robert Jara and Dan McClung, pollster Ben Tulchin, and media specialist Tad Devine.
Coon has worked on several campaigns, helping Democrat Travis Childers win a Republican congressional seat in Mississippi in 2008. Jara and McClung are old hands at Texas and especially Houston races. Tulchin is a California-based pollster who works on races around the country. Devine was an advisor to John Kerry and to Al Gore and has managed several campaigns in other countries.
The field for the Democratic primary is crowded, but more than half the voters are undecided. The names at this point include Felix Alvarado, Kinky Friedman, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and maybe Ronnie Earle and Eliot Shapleigh, who haven't declared but have been making gubernatorial noises. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, Friedman had 19 percent and Schieffer had 10 percent with everyone else in the single digits. Undecided had 55 percent, leaving plenty of room for new candidates.
Shami will tout a rags-to-riches (roots-to-rinses?) story that took him from his birthplace in Palestine through Arkansas and Louisiana, where he started a salon, to Houston, where he founded Farouk Systems, a giant hair and spa treatment company that claims more than 1,200 employees in Texas.
He'll concentrate on education and the environment and will tout his decision to bring his company's production back to the U.S. from China — a move that won him a round of national publicity last summer. From his website:
"Things in Texas are heading in the wrong direction. The cost of health care and health insurance is out of control, too many jobs are being shipped abroad, the quality of basic public education is falling, and our air, land and water are under constant threat from polluters. We simply can’t settle for more business as usual.
"Farouk Shami is a self-made businessman from Houston. He came to America 44 years ago with $71 in his pocket and achieved the American dream. He’s built a company based in Houston that has created thousands of jobs in Texas, including 1,200 new manufacturing jobs from a plant he closed in China so he could bring those jobs to America.
"Farouk is a proud Texan who is running for Governor to help jumpstart the economy, create good paying jobs, improve our schools and provide affordable health care for all. He refuses to accept a penny from special interest money, so he can always put the peoples’ interest first and can shake up the old politics in Austin.
"Farouk Shami... The day he becomes Governor is the day business as usual ends in Texas."
Can he raise the money? The headline on the press release about his announcement gives a clue: "Houston's Billion Dollar Businessman, Farouk Shami, Announces He is Running for Governor."
Shami's business, founded in 1986, took off when he signed a distribution deal with Austin-based Armstrong McCall. John McCall is a part owner of Farouk Systems now, and the two men — particularly McCall — were the biggest contributors four years ago to Kinky Friedman's campaign for governor. Shami gave Friedman $24,400 for that run; McCall was in for $1.3 million and was listed, until last February, as Friedman's campaign treasurer.
Shami also contributed to former Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, who lost a 2006 race to Democrat Ellen Cohen. And in May of this year, he gave $5,000 to Republican Ted Cruz, who had his sights set on a run for attorney general. In federal races, he's contributed to candidates of all political stripes this decade, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, Houston Mayor Bill White (for the U.S. Senate race), Ralph Nader (in 2004 and 2008), Tennessee Democrat Graham Leonard, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the same month he gave to Cruz), and the Republican National Committee (most recently in 2007).