Sunday, June 06, 2004

Republicans add plank opposing Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor

Possible 2006 foes speak at GOP event

Perry, Hutchison, Strayhorn talk issues but not gubernatorial race

June 6 , 2004

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

SAN ANTONIO -- The concept never crossed the speakers' lips, but it was on the minds of everyone in the room.

On Saturday, for the first time since they began looking like a potential three-candidate GOP gubernatorial field in 2006, incumbent Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn spoke at the same political event.

The audience was the Texas Federation of Republican Women, among the most active and important of the party's organizations. The federation luncheon came on the final day of the Texas Republican Convention.

None of the officeholders made anything close to a reference to the 2006 gubernatorial race. But each offered what could become key components of a primary campaign speech.

Perry talked about jobs he has helped bring to Texas , the approval of a state budget without a tax increase and the 2003 redistricting that will give Republicans a majority in the state's U.S. House delegation next year.

He made no mention of Strayhorn but praised Hutchison in a comment that could be interpreted as meaning she should stay in the Senate rather than run for governor.

Hutchison, Perry said, is "a senior senator who has an extraordinary amount of influence in the United States Congress."

Hutchison made no reference to Perry or Strayhorn but did talk about something that distinguishes her from the incumbent.

"Yes, it does make a difference," she said, answering her own rhetorical question about whether having women in office has an impact. "We have been able to do things because we have brought our experiences to the table that have made a difference."

Strayhorn, who was given less time than Perry or Hutchison, showed off the machine-gun speaking style that has made her a formidable campaigner in past races.

For all three, much will happen between now and next year, when they have to decide on the 2006 contests. Perry is definitely in. Hutchison is rated a probable, though external factors could affect her decision. Those close to Strayhorn say there's little chance she won't run for governor.

For Perry, it will be a shot at history. Another four-year term would give him 10 years as governor, the longest stint in Texas history.

Hutchison's choice is among seeking re-election to the Senate, running for governor and retiring from elected office.

"I'll probably be on the ballot in 2006" was all she would say about it Saturday.

There is an intriguing fourth option, one entwined with what happens in other elections. If U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, Republicans would almost certainly search for a female for their ticket.

Hutchison would be at or near the top of any list of potential female running mates.

For Strayhorn, the Governor's Mansion would be the ultimate destination in a political career she began as a Democrat serving as an Austin school board member and mayor and advanced as a Republican railroad commissioner and state comptroller.

The potential three-way intramural battle has caught the eye of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who said Saturday, "Everybody seems to be getting along very well, for which I'm glad."

Cornyn has staked out the safest political ground for himself.

"I will do my darnedest to stay out of the crossfire in the Republican primary, if there is a primary," he said. "In the general election, I'll support the nominee of the Republican Party."

All three got warm receptions during their convention floor speeches despite the fact that each differs from the party platform on hot-button issues.

Strayhorn, in what her team viewed as an intentional slight resulting from her constant criticism of Perry in recent months, was relegated to a late Friday afternoon slot, after many delegates had left the hall, for her speech to the full convention.

The three officeholders' differences with the platform come on major issues. Hutchison supports abortion rights with some exceptions, including parental notification.

"I think there can be an ability for a woman, until viability, to make a choice," Hutchison said Saturday after her convention speech. "I think the states should have the right, as they have done, to have restrictions such as parental consent or notification."

It's a position that, according to the state party platform, should make her ineligible for party campaign money.

"We urge the Republican Party of Texas to support, financially or with in-kind contributions, only those candidates or nominees of this party who support the entire platform on protecting innocent human life," the platform says in a statement of intent that never becomes action.

Perry and Strayhorn also are out of step with their party's call for a no-exceptions ban on abortion. Each believes abortion should be legal in cases involving rape, incest or danger to the woman's life.

Perry and Strayhorn also disagree with the platform on gambling. Both support the addition of slot machines at pari-mutuel tracks and on Indian land to raise money for public schools.

Convention delegates strengthened the platform's anti-gambling language, which calls for repeal of the state lottery, and added a section specifically opposing the use of gambling to raise education dollars.

Hutchison pointedly differed with Strayhorn and Perry on gambling.

"Moral standards should be uplifted. Governor Bush fought gambling in this state, and I will, too," she said, drawing applause.

Perry also differs from the platform on hate-crime legislation, which he signed into law in 2001. The platform, in its Equality of All Citizens section, says the law "unconstitutionally creates a special class of victims."

"We urge that it be repealed immediately," the platform says.

The platform also differs with Perry and Strayhorn on a pet issue supported by each.

In a direct jab at Perry, delegates OK'd a plank opposing his Trans -Texas Corridor effort, a massive transportation plan approved last year by lawmakers. The platform says the idea should be killed "because there are issues of confiscation of private land, state and national sovereignty and other similar concerns."

Strayhorn, in her Friday afternoon speech, announced her support for initiative and referendum, the process by which citizens can petition to put proposed laws on a statewide ballot.

"You hardworking Texans, practical people, not professional politicians, have the right to shape your own future and determine your own destiny at the ballot box," she said. "Now is the time for a constitutional amendment granting Texans statewide initiative and referendum."

The delegates don't think it's time. Their platform opposes initiative and referendum as "bypassing the legislative process and the checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government."

Copyright (c) 2004 Austin American-Statesman: