Kinky for Governor
Tue November 7, 2006 1:08 pm

Yesterday I finally decided how I would cast my vote for governor: for Kinky Friedman. I have never before cast a vote primarily as a protest, for a candidate I thought had no chance to win. Voting is a great privilege, and I have always been inclined to exercise it on behalf of the candidate, however flawed, who I thought could do the better job and seemed more likely to address my concerns. This election is different. No such candidate exists. Consequently, my vote goes to the “none of the above” candidate.

Ever since the school finance crisis reached a successful resolution last spring, I had been inclined to vote for Rick Perry. He made the bold decision to recruit his erstwhile friend and rival John Sharp to overhaul the state’s business taxes and sell it to both lawmakers and business leaders. His move paid off; the school finance system is out of the Texas Supreme Court’s doghouse, and teachers got a pay raise. This was a huge accomplishment that has eluded previous governors. His transportation policy is essential to the future of the state; Texas must have toll roads to relieved clogged highways (but it doesn’t need an all-powerful highway bureaucracy). His open-door policy to Katrina refugees made Texas look good nationally. I have even come around to the view that his Texas Enterprise Fund has stimulated economic growth, especially since a number of the grants have gone for major projects involving universities such as UT-Dallas, UT’s M. D. Anderson cancer hospital, and Texas A&M. But I have also been troubled by the downside of his governorship. The link between campaign contributors and Perry-backed legislation is too obvious: a new state agency that makes it more difficult for new home buyers to sue their builder, for homebuilder Bob Perry; school vouchers, for longtime advocate James Leininger. So is the link between Perry croneys and plum appointments: to the state Supreme Court and, most recently, to the sole candidate for chancellor of Texas A&M, longtime Perry friend Mike McKinney. I admit to having been influenced by Perry’s venture into theology on Sunday, as reported by Christy Hoppe in the Dallas Morning News, when Perry said he agreed with an evangelical Christian minister’s view, vividly expressed in a sermon, that non-Christians are doomed to hell. I’m not terribly offended by his statement (which he later modified), because (a) I believe people are entitled to their religious beliefs, and (b) It isn’t Rick Perry’s decision to make. But it did serve to remind me that Perry is the kind of politician to tends to be excluding rather than including, choosing to govern from the far right of the political spectrum. And he’s not going to change. At that moment I realized that if I voted for Perry–even though I acknowledge that he deserves to be elected more than any of his opponents–I would find myself regretting it one day.

I could find only one reason to vote for Chris Bell, and that was the same argument made by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in its editorial endorsing Bell: “the need for balance in crafting public policy.” The analysis is spot on: “None of the elected branches includes a power strong enough to pause the steamrolling effect of the most extreme ideas from the GOP’s conservative wing. Even Republicans who might not fully agree with those extremes feel compelled to conform. The message has become clear that if they don’t, their own party’s big-money contributors stand ready to bankroll opponents in the next election who will play along.” Bell seems like a decent fellow, but he lost any chance of getting my vote when he decried high-stakes testing; the accountability system has done more to improve Texas schools than anything else that has been tried. His inability to raise money led him eventually to allow controversial plaintiffs attorney John O’Quinn to bankroll the closing weeks of the campaign, giving Perry an opening to run the “Sharks” ad that gave the governor the first momentum he had had in the race. Bell turned out to be a placeholder, a candidate named “Democrat,” but one who (if polls are to be believed) didn’t have much appeal to minority voters. We’ll know the answer to that tonight. Did he do well enough to lay the groundwork for a Democratic comeback in 2010? The spin will be that he came a lot closer to the Republican nominee than Garry Mauro or Tony Sanchez did–but only because the two independents were in the race. The Democratic party remains practically nonexistent in this state, and in danger of losing some state legislative races their candidates should have won, for the lack of direction, organization, fundraising ability, or consultant talent. If Bell does poorly among blacks and Hispanics, it is possible that he may actually set back the Democratic cause in Texas an election cycle or two.

In a posting yesterday, I wrote that the Strayhorn campaign had a “too-many-cooks” problem. I got a phone call saying I had it all wrong, that the campaign had a “no-cooks” problem. Well, I believe that too. I recall an early poll in which Perry had around 40% of the vote and Strayhorn had around 30%, and she seemed like a bona fide challenger. But an independent has to run an almost perfect race even to have a chance to win, and Strayhorn’s campaign was nowhere near perfect. It never had a message other than unrelenting criticism of Perry. So much of the campaign seemed contrived, from the effort to get on the ballot as “Grandma” to the “shake Austin up” slogan to the question to Perry in the debate about why he hadn’t passed “Jessica’s law.” She had more assets than Bell–money, name, high favorable ratings–but you could look at those ads and know she was going to lose. Of all the candidates’ ideas about state government, hers were probably closer to mine than any other candidate’s, and yet, while I like Carole Strayhorn the person, I just could not bring myself to feel good about voting for Carole Strayhorn the candidate.

That leaves Kinky. I don’t approve of his racially tinged remarks. I think he’d be a terrible governor. But it doesn’t matter. I detest what has happened to Texas politics. The leadership is unrepresentative of the state and unresponsive to its problems. The opposition is impotent and clueless. The only way I can register my disapproval–other than writing about it ad naseum–is to vote for the candidate who looks upon them all with equal contempt. Show me voting for Kinky Friedman.

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