Rick 'N' Rita

Gov. Perry weathers the storm ... of public opinion

Rick Perry
Rick Perry (Photo By Jana Birchum)

Save for the surreal images of 100-mile traffic jams and the charred remains of a bus that caught fire, killing 24 elderly evacuees, Gov. Rick Perry appears to have weathered Hurricane Rita with only a few nicks and scratches, politically speaking. And he has the lessons of Katrina to thank in large part.

But we'll see what the next round of poll numbers shows. Clearly, for most of the nearly 20,000 people who took shelter in Austin area schools and churches over the weekend, the experience was sheer hell. Whether their suffering will be reflected in the next poll remains to be seen. Just a few weeks before Rita struck the Gulf Coast, Perry's approval rating had dropped 12 points to a sorry 39%, according to the results of a Scripps-Howard Texas Poll released the first week of September. The poll surveyed 1,000 adults between Aug. 22 and Sept. 3, and carried a margin of error of 3%. Perry scored somewhat more favorably among Republican voters, with 46% saying they would vote for him if the GOP primary were held today, while 28% said they would vote for Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller and Perry's chief Republican rival for governor. Overall, though, poll participants gave Strayhorn a 47% approval rating.

Kelly Fero, a Democratic strategist and frequent Perry critic, summed up the GOP political standings this way: "Rick benefited from Katrina by learning what not to do [with Rita]. And it would have been hard to perform worse than the officials involved with the first storm, although [Louisiana Gov. Kathleen] Blanco appears to have given it a good try. Second," he added, "the fact that Strayhorn's campaign had already collapsed and Rick's major fall [2006] opponent was out of the race gave him the flexibility to be more statesmanlike and less political."

Fero was referring to his friend and former boss John Sharp, a Democrat who had considered jumping into the governor's race – until last week, when Perry put him in charge of a bipartisan effort to restructure the Texas tax system and find a new funding source for public schools (see "Perry Keeps His Friends Close and His Enemies Closer"). Sharp said his new role effectively takes him out of the running, without ever stepping in. Then again, if Perry and Sharp disagree on which direction to take on taxes, Sharp can always rethink his options since the filing deadline for candidates isn't until Jan. 2. In the same Scripps-Howard poll, 16% of Democratic voters said they would support Sharp for governor; 10% favored former U.S. Congressman Chris Bell of Houston, and 8% favored Felix Alvarado, an assistant Fort Worth school principal.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Texas politics
On the Lege
On the Lege
Combing Out Grandma

Amy Smith, Jan. 19, 2007

The Rise of the Invisible Man
The Rise of the Invisible Man
Can longshot Democrat Chris Bell ring up a miracle?

Amy Smith, Oct. 27, 2006

More by Amy Smith
Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story
Barbara Leaming's new biography makes the case that Jackie O suffered from PTSD

Nov. 28, 2014

Section 8 Reopens
Section 8 Reopens
Hurry up ... and wait!

Oct. 3, 2014


Texas politics, Scripps-Howard, Rick Perry, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Rita, Katrina, Kathleen Blanco, Kelly Fero, John Sharp, Chris Bell, Felix Alvarado

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle