Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"The governor might be more vulnerable to attack than Strayhorn."


The golden touch

Gov. Perry's high-powered patronage pays off for political supporters.

Aug. 21, 2006

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

The power of appointment is perhaps the strongest political tool available to Texas governors, who hold a position endowed with limited legislative clout. Incumbent Gov. Rick Perry has made the most of his appointment power by rewarding many of those who filled his campaign war chest for the upcoming election. Through a group of nearly 100 $25,000-plus contributors called the Century Council, the governor has raised more than $10 million for his re-election campaign.

Many of those who gave so generously have also prospered under Perry's tenure. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, three Century Council members have received lucrative contracts to build the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor. Many others received appointments to boards and commissions.

The governor's largest contributor, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, no relation, has anted up more than $700,000 since the incumbent replaced predecessor George W. Bush. When the state created an agency to arbitrate disputes between homebuilders and consumers, Perry named the corporate counsel for the homebuilder to the board.

A spokesman for the governor denies there is any connection between those who contribute to him and the contracts and appointments they receive. Nevertheless, Perry is setting the gold standard in Texas campaign finance this year. Perry has pulled in twice as much money from big spenders as George W. Bush did in his two gubernatorial campaigns and more than five times the campaign totals for the last Democratic governor, Ann Richards.

Thus there was more than a little of the pot calling the kettle black when the Perry campaign attacked Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, an independent candidate for governor, for awarding a $47,000 contract to a Houston law firm where her brother worked in 1999. A Strayhorn spokesman denied she had anything to do with the selection of the law firm, no longer in existence, and called Perry "a hypocrite whose political attacks know no bounds."

If a politician feels an opponent is guilty of using public office to reward friends and supporters, or otherwise acting against the public interest, that is properly the stuff of election campaigns. However, given the web of connections between Perry's campaign account and his appointments and state contracts, the governor might be more vulnerable to attack than Strayhorn.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com