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June 18th, 2005:

My take on the Perry-Strayhorn matchup

Now that Carole Keeton Strayhorn has confirmed what we thought we knew when we first heard about today’s hotdog social, it’s time to think about the dynamics of a GOP primary matchup between Strayhorn and Rick Perry, instead of a KBH-Perry or three-way battle.

My first thought is that this development is good for the Democrats, at least in this race. I say that because I believe a Strayhorn-Perry primary will be different than a KBH-Perry primary. If the race were between Hutchison and Perry, it would be about who’s the bigger, badder Republican, since there’s so little to distinguish them from a policy perspective. We’ve already seen a preview of what it would have been like with the who loves Hillary more? silliness. Democrats certainly had hopes that Hutchison would land some blows on Perry in this fashion, and that the nine-month panderfest to the far right wing of the Republican Party would turn people off. Some of that would surely have happened, but I think a lot of people would have tuned it out. By the time the general rolled around, I think for many it would have been just another distant memory of another forgettable negative campaign.

Strayhorn won’t run that kind of campaign. She has specific points of disagreement with Perry, on items ranging from cigarette taxes to the Trans Texas Corridor to slot machines to CHIP funding. Where I believe KBH would have tried to draw distinctions in personality and style between herself and Perry, Strayhorn is going to argue for doing things differently. She’s doing it already.

“You know that Texans cannot afford another four years of a governor who promises tax relief and delivers nothing,” she said.

“Now is time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma,” Strayhorn told a cheering crowd.

Strayhorn specifically criticized Perry for his decision today to veto the state’s $35 billion education budget and call a new special session without having a plan on how to overhaul public school finance.

“A leader does not call a fifth special session — costing taxpayers another $1.5 million dollars — when he does not have a plan,” she said. “A leader does not hold our children’s education hostage and certainly would never even allow a discussion about schools not opening on time.”

Strayhorn offered two specific suggestions on what she would do as governor. One is to pass her proposed program to pay for two years of college for every high school graduate. And the other is to legalize video lottery terminals with the revenue going to pay for a teacher pay raise.

Now, I don’t think much of what she’s proposing actually resonates with GOP primary voters. Gambling in particular is a no-no in the GOP platform, which is why Perry eventually flipflopped on the issue after championing it in 2004. Just about everything else mentioned here and elsewhere involves higher taxes (okay, on cigarettes) and more spending. How do you think that’s going to go over with the masses?

What this just might be, however, is a decent strategy for winning a general election for Governor. More to the point, there’s a lot of overlap (CHIP funding and TTC issues especially) between what CKS will be advocating and what Chris Bell already is talking about. Strayhorn’s criticisms will amplify what Bell (or perhaps John Sharp) is saying. Since this race will get a lot more attention over the next nine months than anything else, that will be a boon to the Democrats when the focus shifts to include them, because what they’ll be saying is stuff people have already heard. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll sound as good coming from a Democratic mouth to those who voted for Strayhorn as it does now coming from hers.

It certainly doesn’t have to play out this way. Perry will want to run the same kind of Republican-credentials campaign against CKS as he would have against KBH, and he may very well set the tone of the race, forcing her to respond more than attack. Similarly, there may be a divisive Democratic primary in which attention is not focused on the shortcomings of Rick Perry. There are probably other scenarios which don’t go according to plan as well. But this could happen, and if it does, I at least will feel good about Democrats’ chances from there.

Two opponents for Edwards

Save Texas Reps says that Al Edwards may get a double-barreled primary challenge, from businessman Borris Miles (whom I’ve mentioned here before) and from attorney Marlen Whitley. Greg thinks a multi-candidate field serves the Edwards opposition well, and I tend to think he’s right. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Borris Miles and hope to have the same opportunity with Marlen Whitley soon. Best of luck to you both in your shared quest, gentlemen.

Checking in on DemFest

I’m not there, but you can pretend you are by reading about what other folks are up to at DemocracyFest in Austin. Here are some accounts by Karl-T, Hope, and PDiddie. The Radnofsky for Senate blog has several posts full of pictures from various caucuses at the event. And of course there’s the official Kos at DemFest blog, which features some BlackBerry blogging (near and dear to my professional heart). So check ’em out and console yourself with the thought that at least you’re inside where it’s air conditioned.

The best and worst

It’s been linked around elsewhere, but here for a limited time is the Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators of 2005 list. One thing to keep in mind as you read this: in general, they’re measuring effectiveness, not ideology. Look at the Republican failures – Bohac, Grusendorf, Keel, King, and to a lesser extent Harris and Denny, all got dinged due to inability to do what they were supposed to do. The same is true for Gallegos and Barrientos on the Dem side. The one exception for each party, Talton and Edwards, are there to prove that stone craziness is always a qualification. Maybe it’s a good thing that there was more incompetence than insanity this time around, though to be honest for some of these guys there were days where it was hard to tell the difference.

Anyway. The blurbs are served with the usual wit and occasional nastiness that we’ve all come to expect from this feature. Read and enjoy.

School funding vetoed, special session called

It’s official.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry today vetoed the state’s $35.3 billion public education budget and called lawmakers back to the Capitol to finally find a solution to the school finance dilemma.

“I recognize this is a bold step, and frankly one I wrestled with,” Perry said.

“Ultimately, I determined this action was necessary to ensure we fully fund our schools, provide needed reforms in the classroom, and pass real and substantial property tax relief,” he said.

Without state funds, K-12 schools will struggle to educate Texas’ 4.3 million students when the new school year starts in August.

Such a scenario could give lawmakers who have been uninspired to find a school finance solution the impetus they need to get the job done.

The special session, set to begin Tuesday, will mark the Legislature’s fourth attempt to take up school finance in the last three years, including the last two regular sessions. Perry called a special session last spring, but it ended in failure.

Perry had said he would only call lawmakers back if House and Senate leaders were ready to agree on a plan.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said in an interview Friday with a Midland television station that leaders “have no agreement or no plan that we’ve agreed upon at all at this point.”

This feels more like brinksmanship than boldness to me. We’ve talked about the concept of “as Craddick goes, so goes school finance reform” before, and we see here that Craddick hasn’t changed his tune. Maybe Perry is determined to outmuscle him, or maybe he thinks he can get some of the same “for the good of the Party” help he must have gotten to get KBH to change her mind. Maybe Craddick is saying different things to Perry than he is to the newspapers. I don’t know. I do know that Chris is right when he says “Perry better have consensus, or he’s toast.” I just don’t see how he survives another failure. And just to make things more interesting, merely solving school finance reform probably isn’t enough to satisfy some folks.

It’s gonna be a fun 30 days, that’s all I know. Oh, and just out of curiosity, what’s the record for most special sessions called by a Texas governor? This one’s #5 by my count.