Tidbits from the trail
With a larger viewing audience than anticipated, Friday's gubernatorial debate helped nudge Chris Bell out of the shadows of his better-known rivals and shifted the race into a two-man battle between the Democrat and Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
Debate Finally Creates Some Name ID for Bell
"Bell rose in stature and was clearly the best informed," said Democratic strategist Kelly Fero, who had initially written off the governor's race as a lost cause. "He showed that, of the four, he deserves to be governor."
Nevertheless, even Perry's harshest critics agree that the governor won the debate, simply by not stumbling. How Perry and Bell both managed to outshine their more colorful competitors funnyman Kinky Friedman and tough-talkin' Carole Keeton Strayhorn is anyone's guess. But Friedman, dressed in his signature black hat and holding a cigar, landed only a zinger or two and later attributed his deer-in-the-headlights look to jangled nerves. And who could blame him? According to news reports, an estimated million people tuned in to watch what turned out to be a zippy, shallow game show of a debate studded with trivia questions.
Strayhorn, bedecked in a bright pink jacket, was surprisingly underwhelming, delivering the same sound bites and catchphrases she uses in her campaign speeches and TV ads. She also had the misfortune of drawing a tricky question who is Mexico's president-elect? and flubbing with a rambling nonresponse. The fellow's name is Felipe Calderón, who, as Strayhorn correctly pointed out, "won with a very narrow margin."
"Strayhorn was so obviously nervous, it was almost possible to forget that she has been doing this since Richard Nixon was in the White House," said Fero of the former Austin mayor, former Democrat, and ex-Republican. "And she failed to effectively land many punches on Perry, which is what she needs to do and what Bell needs her to do."
Perry did exactly what he needed to do: He held his own in the one-hour showdown. What the audience didn't see was his refusal to meet with reporters for the traditional post-debate spin. Instead, he dispatched spokesman Robert Black to the press room to distribute a press release proclaiming Perry the victor in the four-way Dallas meetup. (Libertarian James Werner was not invited, sparking a lawsuit by him against Belo Inc., the media giant that sponsored the debate and had exclusive television-broadcast rights.)
Bell had the most to gain from the debate, and he did. "This is going to be a late-breaking campaign with a lot of late-breaking money coming in," Bell spokesman Jason Stanford said the day before the broadcast. "There are a lot of people at a lot of different levels looking [at Bell]." He quickly added: "And this isn't spin." Indeed, Houston trial lawyer John O'Quinn rewarded Bell with a $1 million campaign contribution after the debate. And he's promised to either raise an additional $4 million or dig it out of his own pocket. Also, former President Bill Clinton has committed to sing Bell's praises in an upcoming Texas stump, according to the campaign.
The Democrat's best-of-show response of the night came when asked what the term limit is for governor. "There is no term limit for Texas governor," Bell said, "and that's why people should be horrified." He was referring to Perry's recent musings about running for yet another term if he wins in November. "That's the best reason I can give to you tonight to vote for me." Amy Smith
Travis Co. Democratic Party Chair Chris Elliott says statistics compiled by the Texas Office of Court Administration prove it's time for a change on Texas' 3rd Court of Appeals, based in Austin and serving 24 surrounding counties. The OCA numbers show that the 3rd Court is the state's slowest appellate court and ranks 12th out of 14 for the number of cases left pending on its docket for more than a year indeed, the 3rd Court's record has grown steadily worse over the last four years. In 2002, just 4.5% of its docket remained pending for more than 12 months (under the American Bar Association's standard 5% threshold); by 2006, however, the 3rd Court saw 25.8% of cases brought before it languish for more than a year. Meanwhile, however, 3rd Court justices are holding fewer oral-argument days in 2005 the court heard arguments on a total of 12 days; as of Sept. 7, the justices had only held seven oral-argument dates in 2006. To Elliott the statistics mean one thing: time to oust the Republican majority on the court and replace it with solid Democratics, who Elliott says will certainly work harder than the current court. "If an elected official is not doing his or her job, you replace that official," he said. "It is clear that the current Republican-dominated 3rd Court is not getting the job done."
Clearing the Court Will Clear the Docket, Says Dem Party Chair
Four Dems are vying for seats on the 3rd Court bench in November: Diane Henson will face Republican attorney Will Wilson for the Place 3 seat being vacated by retiring Dem Bea Ann Smith; Jim Coronado, who's served as Travis Co. Criminal District Court Magistrate since 1991, is taking on incumbent Alan Waldrop for the Place 2 seat; Mina Brees, who received a 57.3% vote of State Bar of Texas peers to be ranked "best qualified" for the job against incumbent opponent David Puryear; and Bree Buchanan, currently co-director of the UT School of Law Children's Rights Clinic, is taking on incumbent Bob Pemberton, whom Henson nearly knocked from his Place 6 seat in 2004. Jordan Smith
After weeks of taunting the incumbent to agree to a debate, Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky will finally get a chance to convince Texans that Kay Bailey Hutchison, despite her healthy approval ratings, is wrong for Texas in the U.S. Senate. And for that matter, Libertarian Scott Lanier Jameson gets to do the same. The trio have agreed to meet at the studios of San Antonio's KLRN-TV, the Alamo City PBS affiliate, on Thursday, Oct. 19. The debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters, will be taped about an hour and a half before its scheduled broadcast time of 9pm; it will be shown in Austin on KLRU (Air Channel 18, Cable Channel 9). Lee Nichols
Senate Showdown Set
The Literacy Coalition of Central Texas has come out with a reader-friendly, eight-page voters guide for the Nov. 7 election. "Voting Made Simple," of which 4,000 copies are being distributed in grocery stores, recreation centers, libraries, and other locations throughout Central Texas, was designed by "adult learners" (adults learning how to read) after participating in workshops on civic engagement and elections, according to a press release. "There is a hunger for these learners to exercise their right to be heard through the voting process," said Marquis Williams, a "capacity builder" with the coalition. The release says, "This is the first time a guide such as this has been distributed in Texas." For more info, call 223-7975. Cheryl Smith
Voters Guide for New Readers
Gov. Rick Perry's reelection campaign strategy is clear: Rally his hard-right conservative base and ignore everyone else. He has submitted to only one debate, which just so happened to fall on a Friday night and was not part of a high school football halftime show he even dodged the customary post-debate press conference. Moreover, he has declined to sit for interviews with many mainstream news outfits, including local NPR station KUT. So it was a bit of a surprise that he joined Texas Monthly Editor Evan Smith for a round of questions on local PBS station KLRU's Texas Monthly Talks on Oct. 4. (The segment airs Thursday, Oct. 12.)
Kinky Spooks the Guv! ... and KLRU
However, the shenanigans that surrounded the KLRU taping proved that Perry's drive to Control the Message has him jumping at shadows particularly a cigar-smoking shadow topped with a wide-brimmed cowboy hat that might be prone to call politicians "blood-sucking parasites" on television.
Here's what happened. Perry was scheduled to sit down with Smith at 11am in the KLRU studios on the UT campus, which happen to be in the same building (at 26th and Guadalupe) occupied by KUT. By pure coincidence, KUT Capitol reporter Ben Philpott had scheduled an interview with Kinky Friedman for 10:30. The guv arrived first, and was safely ensconced on the upper floors of the building, probably doing a last-minute hair check. Perry's handlers, understandably nervous that their candidate was actually doing an unscripted event, paced around outside you know, securing the perimeter. Suddenly, they felt a disturbance in the Force. The Kinkster was approaching. Code Red! The supreme leader must be protected from an impromptu confrontation with the dreaded indie candidate!
In the brief time it took Kinky to cross the outside patio and reach the entryway, Perry's handlers had the building on total lockdown. KLRU General Manager Bill Stotesbery stood at the doorway like a small-town sheriff and told Kinky that they didn't want any trouble. "There was some question about whether Perry would come over [to the studio] until we knew what was going on," said Stotesbery. "So I met Kinky and his folks at the door and said, 'Excuse me gentlemen, I would prefer you don't come into to the studio while we're taping.' They all looked at me like I was from Mars." KUT Assistant News Director Michael Olson and Philpott convinced a reluctant Stotesbery that the Invading Enemy was in fact heading downstairs and wouldn't disrupt the interview. "It appeared that Perry was initially going to refuse to do the show as long as Kinky was in the building," said Philpott. "I had to assure [Texas Monthly staffer] Cathy Casey that I would escort him out of the building."
Perry's interview finally went ahead, at 11:30 instead of at 11:00 (well after Kinky had left the building), so that the governor could deliver such finger-on-the-pulse bromides as, "I think most Texans will agree that one debate would be plenty." The kicker is that, even had Friedman indeed attempted to cross Perry's broadcast battlements, Texas Monthly Talks is prerecorded any unscripted moments would have quickly found the cutting-room floor. (Perry's campaign did not return a call requesting comment.)
Thank God we don't have to rely on Kinky to embarrass the governor. Perry's doing a fine job all on his own. Michael May