Naked City

Strayhorn makes a scene

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says Gov. Rick Perry is waging a vindictive political witch hunt.
State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn says Gov. Rick Perry is waging a "vindictive political witch hunt." (Photo By John Anderson)

"What is fair for the goose is fair for the gander," said Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn last week, denouncing what she described as a "witch hunt" against her agency motivated by a "vendetta" originating in Gov. Rick Perry's office. The comptroller was speaking to a "Campaign Finance Reform Summit" sponsored by the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons and a half-dozen other progressive organizations, and in passing she congratulated the "reform-minded men and women" who were coming together to work for "government in the sunshine."

But Strayhorn's subject of the day was the governor – and more specifically the legislative audit of her agency, which began in the spring of 2003 and (she charges) has continued beyond all reason, most recently with an attempt to determine whether any of her agency's tax case decisions may have been influenced by contributions to her campaign. She said more than a year's review has turned up nothing unethical, improper, or out of the ordinary, and issued a challenge. "Let's match bills supported, decisions made, legislation signed by the governor, legislation vetoed by the governor," she said, "and put them to the same litmus test."

The governor was in Mexico last week, and his spokesman Robert Black initially punted Strayhorn's charges over to the Lege, because officially the state auditor's office is under the authority of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick. But Strayhorn insisted she is "certain" that the unusually extended review has been motivated by a "vindictive political witch hunt" centered in the governor's office, and that the audit was twice extended after auditors were ready to deliver a clean review. Responded Black, "We don't necessarily understand what the fuss is about. If the comptroller hasn't traded tax decisions for campaign contributions, then she has nothing to worry about."

Strayhorn sounds more like a gubernatorial candidate every week, but she continues to dismiss that question as "not the topic for today" while she blasts the Perry administration for being "mean-spirited" and "vindictive" – not only to her, but to the public schools, to children's health care, to would-be college students, and so on. She charged further that every time she speaks out on any of these issues, she is subject to being "threatened or bullied" by Perry or his loyalists. The governor's campaign people, she charged, even "called and intimidated these fine people [at AARP] for having me speak." (A Strayhorn aide afterward identified the caller as Perry deputy chief of staff Deirdre Delisi – an AARP representative said that Delisi had indeed called the conference organizers, but only to inquire about the program.)

Amid all the dust raised by Cantankerous Carole, precious little attention was paid to the campaign finance summit. The event was largely a coalition strategy session, as the assembled representatives – AARP, Public Citizen, Texans for Public Justice, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Campaigns for People, Gray Panthers, and a few others – reviewed the status of current campaign and ethics laws and discussed an agenda of further reforms. The participants are hoping to tighten the laws governing campaign contributions, to require a public record of all votes at the Lege, and to stiffen the spine (and enforcement power) of the largely supine Texas Ethics Commission. Summing up the state of ethics legislation in Texas, Fred Lewis of Campaigns for People commented, "I can't speak for everybody here, but I'd say a law without enforcement is not a law."

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