The Austin Chronicle

Strayhorn Leaves GOP Primary and Goes Indie

By Amy Smith, January 6, 2006, News

With her political campaign on the ropes, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn launched a Hail Mary pass Monday, declaring herself an independent candidate for the governor's seat.

While not altogether surprising – rumors of an identity switch had circulated for a couple of weeks – Strayhorn's decision to sit out the GOP race against bitter rival Gov. Rick Perry drew a mixture of scorn and praise – and no shortage of jokes. But the former Democrat-turned-Republican insists she's still a party faithful, even as she travels a different path in pursuit of the state's top job. "I am a Republican," she said in prepared remarks Monday. "But I know we must set partisan politics aside and do what's right for Texas. It's time to shake Austin up."

Strayhorn has her work cut out for her. Like indie candidate Kinky Friedman, the comptroller will have just 60 days after the March 7 primary to collect 45,450 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the November ballot. The trick is that the signatures must belong to people who didn't vote in either Republican or Democratic primary elections.

One thing that Strayhorn likely won't stray from is her verbal assaults on Perry. The former Austin mayor blamed Perry for perpetuating a climate of divisiveness that inhibits lawmakers' ability to pass a school-finance bill. "Under Rick Perry, it is us against them," she said. "Republicans against Democrats. Democrats against Republicans. Even Republican against Republican."

Strayhorn's announcement was preceded by the crackle of talk-show chatter, not all of it flattering. Last Friday, KVET's Sammy Allred and Bob Cole laid out in advance the comptroller's plans to go indie, all the while lamenting the downward spiral her campaign took shortly after its kickoff last summer. "She was such our favorite … until she went nuts like this," Cole said with a sigh. "She's a mean old grandma!" Allred offered, playing off the comptroller's "One Tough Grandma" moniker to carp on Strayhorn's anti-Perry rhetoric. "She really alienated a lot of people."

Likewise, Perry's campaign has missed no opportunity to lambaste Strayhorn. Responding to her announcement Monday, campaign spokesman Robert Black said: "Today's action is the type of transparent political opportunism that insults the intelligence of Texas voters and is destined for rejection and failure, just as it was the first time she tried it."

Nevertheless, Strayhorn, a former school teacher, won applause Monday from the Texas Federation of Teachers, a 51,000-member group critical of the Lege's ineptness on school finance. Strayhorn's new independent status, said TFT head Linda Bridges, "improves the prospects for a productive debate on real solutions to the state's failure to fund public education so that all children have a fair chance to succeed."

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