Naked City

Chris Bell rings in

Naked City

A couple hundred supporters, including two buses full of Houstonians on hand for the occasion, sweltered enthusiastically Sunday afternoon on UT's East Mall as former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, formally declared his candidacy for governor. "My patience with Rick Perry has run out," declared Bell, adding that Perry's administration has made him "sick and tired of Texas being the headquarters of the Thank God for Mississippi Committee." Beneath the entreating statue of Martin Luther King Jr., Bell said his campaign would initiate a new "Pact With Parents" – on public schools, video-game pornography, insurance reform, and sex education. Outlining the "pact," Bell set forth a program of moderate reforms designed to reach out to Texans he called "the new mainstream" – surrounded by an honor guard of UT Young Democrats in T-shirts declaring, "I Am the New Mainstream." The choice of venue for Bell's declaration was symbolically understandable, and was introduced by Houston attorney and former UT student government president Marlen Whitley, who in the Nineties had been instrumental in erecting the MLK statue. But the oratorical shadow of the civil rights giant was perhaps a little overwhelming; one-time TV reporter Bell – best known recently for his lame-duck but effective congressional ethics complaint against Tom DeLay – gives a decent speech, but firebrand he is not. He promised parents that if they "do their part," his administration will rein in overcharging insurance companies, provide universal children's health insurance, ban violent video games, and find "common ground" on abortion rights and stem cell research. He also blasted tuition deregulation – getting a big response from the college students – and over-reliance on standardized testing in the public schools. In an indirect reference to the legislative stalemate at the Capitol, "If you do your part," Bell promised, "then I'll do everything I can to make Texas public schools the best in the country. I'm calling for nothing less than a moon shot for public schools in Texas, with a specific goal of having the best public schools in the country in 10 years."

Responding briefly to questions afterward, Bell told reporters that he hadn't yet worked up a revenue plan to fund his proposals, but expected to do so in the coming months. He said he opposes a personal income tax, but is otherwise open to all ideas, including gambling. "We already have legalized gambling in Texas – lottery, horses, and dogs – so I'm willing to look at everything." Asked about the proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment on the November ballot, he called it "nonsensical" since same-sex marriages are already illegal in Texas. "I don't think you play games with the state's constitution."

He declined to comment on any potential Democratic primary opponents, saying, "Right now I'm running against Rick Perry." Bell said he is confident of raising enough money for a serious statewide run, and that his formal announcement will make that process easier. "Let's face it, you need a lot of money to run a statewide political race in Texas."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Chris BellTexas Politics, Chris Bell, Rick Perry, Marlen Whitley, Tom DeLay

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