As mayor of Houston, White enjoyed considerable support – political and financial – from Republicans. But he occupied a nonpartisan office. Can he repeat that success in a partisan race against an incumbent Republican governor, and can he do it outside of Houston as well as inside?
The answer depends upon factors that are hard to measure at the moment: the degree of Perry fatigue among moderate Republicans and White’s ability to exploit fissures among Republicans in the business community. One such fissure involves the fuel used to generate electricity. Perry has gone out of his way to favor coal-fired power plants. In 2006 he issued an executive order for state regulators to fast-track the approval of new coal plants. (Fast-tracking essentially cut off the ability of opponents to challenge the permitting of new plants.)
A year later, 18 new coal plants were on the drawing boards. The biggest proponent of coal has been the utility giant TXU, which became Luminant following a $45 billion leveraged buyout.
White and Laura Miller, then mayor of Dallas, formed a coalition of cities and mayors opposed to the new power plants. Perry, in an op-ed piece in the Dallas Morning News, wrote that delays in building the plants would hurt the Texas economy and said that opponents wanted to return Texas to the era of the horse and buggy.
How does this battle (which ended with a reduction in the proposed number of new plants) potentially affect the governor’s race? For one thing, White has positioned himself to be the champion of clear air – a quality of life issue in the Republican suburbs – against Perry. But here’s the real opportunity: The economic opposition to Texas’s reliance on coal comes from the natural gas industry. Natural gas is a much cleaner fuel than coal. It is abundant in Texas. White has the opportunity to win the support of a major Texas industry with a lot of money and a lot of potential votes by arguing that Texas should shift its electricity production from coal to gas.