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Commentary: Strayhorn's Run Could Mean Hard Work Ahead For Perry

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 commentator

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-476811.mp3

Commentary: Strayhorn's Run Could Mean Hard Work Ahead For Perry

Dallas, TX –

Carol Keeton Strayhorn, Texas comptroller, is a long shot to win the Republican nomination for governor away from incumbent Rick Perry, but it would be a mistake to count her out. Styling herself as "one tough grandma" standing tall against a "drugstore cowboy," she has a style of John McCain straight talk that can be appealing.

Only a few days ago she pronounced Governor Perry's school-finance program "a mess." It would impose "the largest tax hike in Texas history," but still would be "$200 million short" of his "promised property tax relief." This would "force the next legislature to raise taxes by at least $2.6 billion." "And not one penny," she added, "is included for education."

Education should be a good issue for Ms. Strayhorn, who once chaired the Austin school board before moving up to mayor of the city, then the Railroad Commission. For five years she has called for schools to start after Labor Day, saving the state millions in utility bills. "The school year," she pointed out, "is more than two weeks longer now than it was 50 years ago, but the number of instructional days (180) is the same, or even fewer in some cases." She also has proposed that Texas offer all high-school graduates the chance "to attend two years of college at any public community college, technical college or two-year institution designated by the Legislature with the state picking up the tab for tuition, fees and books."

Certainly by calling a special session Mr. Perry has deflected criticism of the failure to deliver on school finance last spring. He has looked like a do-something governor. But if it doesn't work, the opportunity for Ms. Strayhorn will be unmistakable. The question is: how can she parlay it into a primary victory in 2006?

One approach that I hear she considered was to skip the primary altogether and gather signatures afterward to run as an independent in the fall. This would have necessitated alerting her supporters to stay away from the primaries too because if they didn't they wouldn't qualify to sign the petitions. This plan would have the advantage of pitting Ms. Strayhorn against Perry supporters on the right with far more potential voters in her camp, especially Democratic women.

But she seems to be heading for the GOP primary, which means a way must be found to lure those female Democrats into GOP territory just as Republican women deserted their own Claytie Williams to elect Democrat Ann Richards governor in the fall of 1990. This would not be impossible as one observer noted: "If there's nothing at all going on in the Democratic primary," it might work, and that "may be the case." So far, no strong Democrats have turned up for either senator or governor.

But Ms. Strayhorn must accomplish this without waving red flags in the faces of rightists who then would accuse her of not being a true conservative, just as Governor Perry was threatening to do to Kay Bailey Hutchison if she had decided to challenge him instead of running for reelection to the Senate. Actually, Senator Hutchison's dalliance with a race for governor has been a help to Carol Keeton Strayhorn. It has drawn attention to the weaknesses of Rick Perry and planted the suggestion that the state might be better off without him. Ms. Hutchison has made the way for Ms. Strayhorn. Let's see what this tough grandma can do with the opening.

Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.

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