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Four Texas Gubernatorial Hopefuls Face Off In Their Only Debate

By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: The latest poll shows Governor Perry 20 points ahead in this winner-take-all race. Perry confidently cited the legislature's property tax reduction and school finance reform as just a few examples of his success. He's campaigning as a fiscal conservative who knows how to move the state forward

Texas Governor Rick Perry: Lowering property taxes in a record amount, lowering taxes by a record amount and reforming the school finance system plus giving them a 2 thousand dollar pay raise. That's what leadership is about.

Zeeble: Perry's challengers, if they hope to win, need to question that leadership. State Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn has said in ads, and said last night, that Texans are not going to see the promised tax reductions.

Comptroller Carol Keeton Strayhorn: How the governor can continue to say that's a 2 thousand dollar property tax cut, have you been to the mailbox lately? It's not a 2 thousand dollar property tax cut, this year, or next or the year after. At best it's a 52 dollar issue. We need to tell Texans the truth. It's a paltry property tax cut that goes poof.

Zeeble: Strayhorn positioned herself as the truth-telling grandma looking out for Texans and especially the young - like her grandchildren - who will help shape the state's future. But Strayhorn's veracity was challenged by Democratic candidate Chris Bell.

Chris Bell, Democrat, candidate for governor: You have given almost half a billion dollars in tax breaks to clients of some of your biggest contributors. How can the people of Texas trust you now?

Zeeble: Strayhorn denied that allegation, saying she has a comprehensive ethics reform plan to crack down on lobbyists and special, moneyed interests. Chris Bell was challenged about his personality. One reporter described him as an amiably boring candidate, incapable - so far - of firing up the voters. He dodged the question, but in his closing statement, said this.

Bell: I am a serious man, with a serious plan.

Zeeble: Bell's passion is education, including better teacher pay and benefits, and less emphasis on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test, which Governor Perry praises. Candidate Kinky Friedman just lumped the other three into one broad category - politicians.

Kinky Friedman, Governor candidate: Poli - more than one. Ticks - blood sucking parasites. This is the problem. They're all good people here, but they've been in politics way too long. 89 years, just the three of them.

Zeeble: The entertainer declared his love for Texas, & attacked the others as self-interested or too near-sighted to solve the state's problems. But Friedman was chastised by the other three for past references to Negroes, and comments about, quote, crackheads and thugs, unquote, now in Houston from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

Friedman: I was raised by a Black lady in Houston, Lottie Cotton, she lived to be a hundred years old. She taught me Jesus Christ was color blind. I'm proud to say I'm color blind myself. I'm no racist. I'm a realist. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a racist. What this does though is it diverts attention away from things that are troubling real Texans.

Zeeble: Things like crime or the state's high drop-out rate. Or, as two emailing voters mentioned, the governor's support for a Trans-Texas Corridor tollway system, developed by a Spanish company. Friedman attacked it, and so did Strayhorn & Bell.

Bell: In 2001 Carol Strayhorn recommended that TxDot build more toll roads. And boy did Rick Perry take that advice. Now we're faced with the Trans Texas Corridor. It's the biggest land grab in our state's history.

Strayhorn: I'm going to blast the Trans Texas Catastrophe right off the bureaucratic books. It's a hundred-84 billion dollar boondoggle, a secret contract with a foreign company.

Zeeble: Perry defended the Corridor plan.

Perry: 50 percent of our population's in the 1-35 corridor. Our population is going to double by the year 2040. There is nobody standing before you but me that's laid out a plan that's doable in any sense of the imagination except for the Trans Texas Corridor.

Zeeble: Perry was ready with answers. Not all were however. In the debate's rapid question and answer segment, Friedman didn't know the annual tuition at UT Austin - 81 hundred dollars. Strayhorn didn't know the length of unemployment benefits, 26 weeks, nor could she name the newly elected Mexican president, Felipe Calderon. SMU political science professor Matt Wilson thinks that could've hurt her.

Matt Wilson, SMU Political Science Professor: When you look at someone seeking office having a lot of dealing with Mexico over immigration, trade, other border questions - you certainly would like to think that someone seeking office in this state would be familiar with Mexican policy and politics.

Zeeble: Overall, Wilson's not certain this debate changed much in the campaign.

Wilson: :The 2 major party candidates - that is Rick Perry and Chris Bell -- put a little distance between themselves and the 2 independent candidates, and I think they both helped themselves.

Zeeble: Election day is Tuesday November 7th. Early voting begins October 23rd. For KERA 90.1 I'm Bill Zeeble
For more election information, go to our Voters Voice page at