The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Carole Keeton Strayhorn is still running for governor, and says she's still a Republican. But she'll skip a GOP primary against Gov. Rick Perry to run as an independent.That allows Strayhorn to dodge a March primary that all but belongs to the incumbent governor, and to stay in the game to wait for two possible opportunities: One, that voters will sour on Perry as time passes, and two, that she's more popular with the people who vote in November than with the Republicans who vote in March. Texans might have four choices for governor when they go to the polls next November, a turn of events that could mean the state's next chief exec will get into office with the support of less than half the voters. Strayhorn didn't answer tactical questions about her decision and wouldn't say exactly when she reached it. The Republican primary appears to be Perry's to lose (with the usual caveat about how fast things can change in politics); recent polls have shown he has a commanding lead over Strayhorn with GOP primary voters. That primary is in nine weeks, and Strayhorn probably stays alive longer by running as an independent. • Perry loyals say Strayhorn will further fragment any opposition to perry, cutting votes away from Kinky Friedman and whoever the Democrats nominate for the job. • The Friedman camp welcomed her into the race, saying she'll give voters another choice if they're unhappy with the two major parties. Her announcement ignites a couple of tactical issues. She'll be competing with Friedman in the middle-finger primary -- begging votes from Texans fed up with the two major parties. You can't sign petitions for both of them, and can't sign for either of them if you vote in either party's primary. On the other hand, Strayhorn ducking the primary lowers the odds for a runoff election on the GOP side. Independent candidates can't start collecting signatures until the gubernatorial primaries are over, and they have only 60 days to finish the job. If there's an April runoff in either party's primary, the deadline will remain in May but the starting date would be delayed, effectively halving the time available for independents to solicit support. • The Democrats will have a primary and the two major candidates, Chris Bell and Bob Gammage, both see some hope in Strayhorn's ploy. She says she's still a Republican, and that puts her in place to peel votes off of Perry (assuming some Republicans don't want to vote for their party's nominee). If you're playing with numbers, and if you don't think the winner of a four-way general election will get more than 50 percent of the vote, then anything that hurts the frontrunner potentially helps you. One downside: Strayhorn has been vacuuming up money from donors who normally give to Democrats, and the Democrats in the race were hoping that action would stop in March. They'll have to look elsewhere for dough.

Strayhorn's January announcement is only a little different than the one she made in June.Last June: "I am Carole Keeton Strayhorn and I stand before you today as a Republican candidate for Governor in 2006." Today: "I am a Republican. But I know we must set partisan politics aside and do what's right for Texas. That is why I am running for governor as an independent."

Both parties will field full ballots in November; nobody -- incumbent or not -- is getting a cakewalk.U.S. Senator Republicans
Kay Bailey Hutchison Democrats
Darrel Reece Hunter, Gene Kelly, Barbara Ann Radnofsky Governor Republicans
Larry Kilgore, Star Locke, Rick Perry, Rhett Smith Democrats
Felix Alvarado, Chris Bell, Bob Gammage, Rashad Jafer Independents
Richard "Kinky" Friedman, Carole Keeton Strayhorn Lieutenant Governor Republicans
David Dewhurst, Tom Kelly Democrats
Maria Luisa Alvarado, Adrian De Leon, Benjamin Grant Attorney General Republicans
Greg Abbott Democrats
David Van Os Comptroller of Public Accounts Republicans
Susan Combs Democrats
Fred Head Land Commissioner Republicans
Jerry Patterson Democrats
VaLinda Hathcox Commissioner of Agriculture Republicans
Todd Staples Democrats
Hank Gilbert, Koecadee Melton Jr. Railroad Commission Republicans
Elizabeth Ames Jones, Major Buck Werner Democrats
Dale Henry

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 get 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 McClelland 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.

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 saying much about other candidates.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.

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. A combination of 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.

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 chose 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.

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. The three 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, will have three opponents in the primary after declaring for Congress and then -- after campaigning and fundraising for several months -- deciding to seek reelection instead. The group includes 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.