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October 19th, 2003:

Carole and Kay and Rick

Both Clay Robison and Cragg Hines speculate about the next governor’s race in 2006 and which of Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kay Bailey Hutchison will be more likely to challenge Rick Perry at that time. Robison does a good job of summarizing the contradiction that is Strayhorn. On the one hand, it’s fun to watch her slap around the feckless Perry for his lack of budget leadership, his disingenuousness about “no new taxes”, and his misplaced priorities. On the other hand, Strayhorn is a shameless opportunist who sandbagged us all on the budget last year, stupidly tried to pin the blame for the deficit on a “spending party” by the Legislature (when you tot up reasons for the recently-passed bill that clips her wings, you can start right there), and didn’t really bring anything to the table herself when it counted.

I just don’t know what to make of Strayhorn. I was as vocal as anyone in criticizing her ever-changing budget projections lasy year, and I stand by that. Yet if she really does want to take on Perry in 2006, she may find that it makes more sense for her to do so as a Democrat rather than a Republican, a scenario Greg has been rooting for. If she does make the switch, I’ll certainly support her, but I’ll feel more than a little unclean for doing so. Yeah, I know, a party that doesn’t welcome new members, especially converts, is a party doomed to eternal irrelevance. I’m just saying it’ll take some time before she gets on my Christmas card list, you know?

Is Perry really worried about Strayhorn? Rob does the math and thinks he ought to be. I’m not fully convinced by this, though. Perry had a well-financed opponent who flung a lot of mud at him and his record, and as such I’d expect he managed to convince a few people to not vote for him. Strayhorn ran against a nobody (quick, do you remember his name?) and surely got all but the true yellow-dog vote. The question is really “How many of those Republicans who voted for both Strayhorn and Perry will choose her instead of him?”, and it’s a question I can’t answer.

Well, Cragg Hines suggests some of them would, but the person Perry really ought to worry about is KB Hutchison. For sure, Kay Bailey has led a charmed political life since moving to Washington, having not had a credible opponent since 1994 and being generally well-liked. She’d have no baggage to carry along with her aura of goodness, and that’s got to be scary to Rick Perry.

A lot can happen between now and 2006. Perry still has to deliver on school finance reform, and I think that will be a bigger determinant of his ultimate fate than redistricting or the 2003 budget will be. If the economy continues to stumble, the 2005 budget process may make us all nostalgic for this summer, and if so Perry will really be in the soup, but if things turn around Perry can use the fatter receipts to give something to everyone and claim credit for all of it. It’s fun to speculate about the season, but we’re not even in spring training yet.

(Greg has a take on this as well.)

Missed opportunities

Such a shame we didn’t have time to visit Austria while we were overseas, or we could have stopped in on the Schwarzeneggar Museum.

In Graz, travelers can visit the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in the Fitnessparadies gym, with photo displays of Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding victories alongside his old metal barbells. Or they can take in an event at the 15,350-seat Arnold Schwarzenegger Soccer Stadium, dedicated on his 50th birthday in 1997.

According to a report in the Orange County (California) Register, recent plans for a massive 82-foot-tall steel statue of Schwarzenegger were “terminated,” as the local media liked to say, by the movie star’s assertion that the estimated $5 million cost would have been better spent on local charities and services.

Alas. Maybe next time.

Endorsement season

The Chron has started endorsing candidates in the last week or so. I’m not at all surprised to see today’s endorsement of Bill White for Mayor, since White is exactly the kind of candidate the Chron generally endorses. I’m moderately but pleasantly surprised to see yesterday’s endorsement of Annise Parker for City Comptroller, mostly because Bruce Tatro and Gabriel Vasquez good candidates who also fit the Chron’s endorsement profile. And I’m disappointed but not too surprised that they endorsed Boy Wonder Berry for City Council At Large Position 5.

Two items of interest in the Chron’s endorsement of White. First is how they handled the Other Bill White mini-scandal.

White, in a much publicized incident, paid political activist Brenda Flores $5,000 for “information on effort to confuse voters,” when he learned of a scheme to get a second man named William “Bill” White to enter the mayoral race. Flores said she took money from a consultant for another mayoral candidate but backed out of the trick and needed to pay the money back.

Candidate White demonstrated at best a remarkable political naivete and appalling lack of judgment, and worse, a troubling tin ear on how engaging in murky dealings with campaign cash might be interpreted.

We believe, however, that White will learn from the mistake.

All things considered, White couldn’t have asked for a better treatment on that. Item Two concerns an aspect of White’s experience, which was the major factor in his getting the Chron’s pick.

White has risen to challenges and shown innovation, as when in 2001 he headed a civic task force that formulated a plan to restructure city debt and raise millions of dollars for parks and libraries without increasing taxes or damaging the city’s bond ratings.

That provided some fodder in yesterday’s debate.

Mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Orlando Sanchez used a televised debate Saturday to double-team opponent Bill White, criticizing him for helping Mayor Lee Brown with city finances in 2001.

Turner said White’s assistance in refinancing bond debt, which helped the city find an additional $120 million for parks and libraries, also created $51 million in additional debt payments.


[In 2001], White responded to a request by Brown, the Greater Houston Partnership and the City Council to restructure the city’s debt. His plan also included suggestions on how the city could finance its capital improvements program over the next decade, replenish its “rainy day” coffers, and still allow future councils and administrations the financial flexibility to handle contingencies.

The bond package White helped devise allowed the city to issue $776 million in bonds for streets, drainage, police and fire facilities, parks, libraries, housing, and general improvements without a tax increase.

During the debate, Turner said a better plan would have been a debt restructuring that did not cause any additional debt payments.

“Let’s not restructure it like we restructure a debt on a credit card, because I think homeowners try to avoid that,” Turner said.

White responded that while the average maturity of the debt lengthened from just over six years to eight years, the annual debt payments were lower.

“This is why this plan was endorsed by the major employers in town, the Greater Houston Partnership, was passed through council, was endorsed by the city controller and had no organized opposition,” said White, a member of the partnership’s executive committee. “The voters of this community voted 80 percent in favor of the bond issue.”

I’m not exactly sure what Turner had in mind for a different restructuring here. I doubt that getting a significantly lower interest rate was a viable option, so extending the terms in return for lower individual payments is pretty much all that’s left. For sure, you can argue against it, but what would have been Plan B? Orlando Sanchez voted to put the debt plan up for approval via referendum, so he had no grounds for griping there.

Anyway, with the election two weeks off, expect to see an endorsement a day from here on out. I can’t wait to see who they select for District H.