Saturday, June 18, 2005

Strayhorn Guns for Perry

Ticked Off Grandma

Strayhorn enters race with attack on Perry
By John Moritz
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Copyright 2005

AUSTIN: Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn unleashed the first fusillade of the 2006 campaign Saturday, announcing that she'll challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary in March and denouncing him as a "do-nothing drugstore cowboy."

Strayhorn, a former Austin mayor and Texas railroad commissioner, delivered a rapid-fire denunciation of Perry's 4 ½ years in the Governor's Mansion as abdication of leadership that put politics ahead of the people.

"You know that Texans cannot afford another four years of a governor who promises tax relief and delivers nothing, who promises to fix our failing schools and fails himself," Strayhorn told an outdoor crowd of about 200 just north of the state Capitol.

"Now it's time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma," added Strayhorn, 65, tossing in what has become her signature line since her first campaign for comptroller in 1998.

Strayhorn's announcement came one hour after Perry delivered a dramatic announcement of his own: that he was vetoing the $33 billion spending plan for Texas' public schools and summoning lawmakers back to Austin for their fifth special legislative session in five years.

At his news conference, Perry brushed aside Strayhorn's long-anticipated challenge as "just white noise in the background."

The governor left it to his campaign staff to dust up Strayhorn, who has been Perry's most vocal and persistent critic from inside the Republican Party for 2 ½ years.

"It should come as no surprise that Ms. Strayhorn is running for governor because she has been doing that for the last two years as she neglected her duties as comptroller," said Luis Saenz, Perry's campaign manager.

"This primary will offer clear differences between the strong, principled conservative leadership we have today and the big-spending, Democrat agenda the comptroller has pushed on behalf of her special-interest backers," Saenz added.

Strayhorn, who like Perry is a former Democrat, did spend much of her speech firing at the incumbent from the left. She denounced the cuts in social-service programs Perry backed in 2003 and in an across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers.

She also reminded her supporters that two years ago she was the first statewide official to push for legalizing video slot machines at Texas racetracks.

But Strayhorn spent the lion's share of her time blasting away at Perry in the mile- a-minute speaking style that has become her trademark.

Perry's ambitious transportation plan to build a network of toll roads to ease urban congestion was branded a "$184 billion boondoggle." His Enterprise Fund to lure new businesses to Texas was labeled a "slush fund."

And his ill-fated proposal to place a levy on the patrons of topless clubs to help pay for public schools was proclaimed a "sleaze tax."

Strayhorn's harshest words were reserved for Perry's decision to veto the portion of the state budget earmarked for public education.

"The most irresponsible act this governor has taken, and perhaps any governor [has taken], is to veto all the dollars for public schools, for kids' education, and holding our children hostage," she said.

If Strayhorn had any qualms about fighting Perry with bare knuckles, she did not show them.

"Bring it on," she said.

Strayhorn issued her challenge soon after what many observers called a far more serious one failed to materialize. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who had hinted that she might enter the GOP gubernatorial primary, put the word out Friday evening that she'll seek a third term in the Senate.

On the Democratic side, former Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has formed an exploratory campaign for governor, and former Comptroller John Sharp is also considering entering the race.

Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political-science professor, said Strayhorn's candidacy and the near challenge by Hutchison expose some weaknesses for Perry among moderate Republican voters. They also point to a maturation of the Texas Republican Party, which has been the dominant force in state politics for less than a decade, he said.

"The party is most united when it's hungry," Buchanan said. "Now that it is clearly the party in power, it is quite a natural progression for there to be challenges of this nature from within."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Strayhorn announces her challenge to Gov. Rick Perry
by Peggy Fikac, Chief
San Antonio Express-News, Copyright 2005

AUSTIN – State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn fired the first shots of her official campaign to unseat Gov. Rick Perry at not quite an hour past high noon Saturday with a barrage of name-calling and a promise to do better by Texans than he has.

"Now is the time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma," she said to applause and cheers from several hundred supporters north of the Capitol. "I stand before you today as a Republican candidate for governor in 2006."

Then she embarked on one of her trademark rapid-fire rants, part of a quick-paced speaking style that she likes to joke was developed when, as a child, her mother allowed her to lick the beaters on the electric mixer as a treat – without turning off the appliance.

"I am a fiscal conservative. I am a common-sense conservative," she said, winding up for the pitch. "I am not a weak leadin’, ethics ignorin’, pointin’ the finger at everyone blamin’, special session callin’, public school slashin’, slush fund spendin’, toll road buildin’, special interest panderin’, rainy day fund raidin’, fee increasin’, no property tax cuttin’, promise breakin’, do nothin’ Rick Perry phony conservative."

Strayhorn has long signaled her intent to run for governor and routinely has slammed Perry's record, saying he lacks leadership.

Perry chose to announce a special session of the Legislature to fix the state's school finance system 75 minutes before Strayhorn's scheduled announcement.

Burning a bridge behind lawmakers, who were unable to agree during this year's regular session how to raise state taxes to lower school property taxes while adding dollars to education, Perry vetoed the $33.6 billion state education budget they had allocated for the next two years.

“A leader does not allow three regular sessions and four special sessions to go by without fixing our public schools and a leader does not call a fifth special session costing taxpayers $1.5 million when he does not have a plan,” Strayhorn said, referring to the sessions that have occurred since Perry first became governor in 2000.

“A leader does not hold our children's education hostage and certainly would never even allow a discussion about schools not opening on time because he cannot fix what is broken.”

Strayhorn's reference to “one tough grandma” harked back to her campaign persona of 2002, a nickname she has never really dropped.

Her GOP primary journey got a bit easier even before she officially embarked on it, when U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's campaign said Friday the senator won't join the fray despite long-held speculation that she would also run for governor. Hutchison is instead seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.

Earlier, Perry, when asked about Strayhorn, said school issues are what's important.

“This is about one of the most, if not the most, important public policy issues that we have in this state, and politics is just white noise in the background — and that's where it should stay.”

The only other announced candidate is author -entertainer Kinky Friedman, who is making an independent run. On the Democratic side, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has an exploratory campaign.

Strayhorn's politics originally leaned Democratic, not unusual for a state once dominated by the party. Perry also is a former Democrat.

Strayhorn served on the Austin School District board and was the first woman to be Austin mayor. In 1984, she was active in Walter Mondale's presidential campaign.

She soon after became a Republican and ran unsuccessfully in 1986 against Democratic U.S. Rep. J.J. " Jake'' Pickle.

In 1994, she became the first woman elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, then became the first woman elected state comptroller.

San Antonio Express-News: