"The results are in: A majority Texan's don't want Rick Perry as their governor."
Nov. 8, 2006
By Rick Casey
Many years ago a columnist — I think it was Russell Baker of the New York Times — came up with an exquisite election reform.
He proposed that by each candidate's name we would have two levers.
This was in ancient times when we voted by pulling, not by touching.
One lever would be for that candidate. The other lever would be against.
You were permitted to pull only one lever in each contest, but you would get to pull it with more conviction.
A candidate might win by a total of minus 3.2 million to minus 3.5 million.
The winners would be the same. We would just have a better measure of their support.
No officeholders ever attempted to enact the suggestion into law (are you surprised?) but the governor's race this year gave us the closest approximation I've seen.
Rick Perry is still the governor, and he likes to say he is the governor of all the people.
But the results are in: A majority don't want him as their governor.
Not just a majority, but a percentage that would be described as a landslide if as many people had voted for him as voted against him.
Some Democrats are under the illusion that if Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn had not run, Chris Bell might have won the election.
He wouldn't have, even if some wealthy trial lawyers had poured in a few million more bucks.
All those Kinky and Carole voters would not have voted for Bell.
Some would have voted against him by touching Perry on the screen.
Some would have voted against Perry by touching Bell on the screen.
And some would have stayed home.
And it would have looked like Perry won by a landslide, just like it did four years ago when he won with 58 percent of the vote.
The illusion might have put Perry on the short list of Republican vice presidential candidates in 2008.
But a red state governor who can't crack 40 percent? Not a chance.
If Gov. Perry was the winner who lost, Mayor Bill White was the non-candidate who won.
His Proposition G, opposed by conservative Republicans, passed easily.
As a measure of his popularity, it kept him on course for his own run for governor in four years.
Some of his supporters had urged him to run this time. They argued that Perry was weak and that White might never get as good an opportunity.
This was late last year, when Perry appeared even weaker than he does now, before he engineered school finance reform.
It was also when White was basking in the favorable publicity of his response to Katrina, before rising crime pointed up some of the costs.
But assuming he is able to keep a lid on crime, White will present something Democrats haven't had in a long while — a formidable candidate for governor with a story to tell and the money to tell it.
Longshot, but possible
The story will be of competence, social progressiveness and fiscal conservatism.
He will be a Democrat who passed his own revenue cap and, if very modestly, cut the city's tax rate.
He will be a mayor who ended pay-for-play at city hall.
He will tell of having worked with Republicans in Congress (even Tom DeLay) and on the nominally nonpartisan city council.
He may have a tougher opponent than Perry. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison made a point of not promising to serve out her new six-year term.
But she may have to move to the right or face a tough challenge in the Republican primary.
No Texas mayor has won the governor's chair, but it has been happening in other states — from Maryland to Indiana to California — and there's no reason it can't happen here.
It's still a long shot, but 3 1/2 years ago it was hard to find a Houston political expert who thought White could win the mayor's race.
You can write to Rick Casey at P.O. Box 4260, Houston, TX 77210, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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