Carole's Top 10 Greatest Hits

In our hearts she's No. 1 with a bullet

Carole's Top 10 Greatest Hits

(She may not make the run-off, but in our hearts, she's No. 1 with a bullet.)

1) Barring a run-off that may force us to extend "Carole's Greatest Hits" for another month, this installment, our final before election day Saturday, hauls out mayoral candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn's biggest, most memorable chart-topper: the South Texas Nuclear Project. Back in '79, the career politician formerly known as Mayor McClellan served as head nuke booster for a volatile referendum that would determine the direction of Austin's energy future. Voters were asked two opposing questions – one, whether the city should sell its interest in a project already plagued by cost overruns and delays and, two, whether the city should spend $215.8 million and cement its marriage to the nuke. Key to this story is that less than two weeks before the election, a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and prompted government officials across the nation to rethink their positions on nuclear energy. But not Strayhorn, who at the time was running for a second term. With her re-election essentially guaranteed, Strayhorn threw herself into the pro-nuke effort, just as anti-nukers – many of whom had helped get the onetime liberal (by Texas standards) elected to her first term – turned up the amps to defeat the ballot issue. Strayhorn had the big money on her side. She took out full-page ads and went on TV to convince Austinites that nuclear energy was not only safe but would provide the city with unlimited cheap energy. One anti-nuke veteran, Paul Robbins, recalled one of Strayhorn's TV ads this way: "She looked into the camera and told the audience that she was a mother. And as a mother, she would not risk her kids in a nuclear accident. And since she thought the plant was safe, Austin­ites should vote for it." On the day before the election, Strayhorn took out an ad in the Austin American-Statesman that read, "The only way – the only way – to insure that your utility bills will be as low as possible is to vote to stay in the South Texas Nuclear Project." In the end, the pro-nuke forces won on both ballot questions, though by narrow margins (Stray­horn won by a landslide), and the project went on to cost the city well more than $1 billion.

2) Woodside Trails (see "Carole's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3," May 1).

3) Three-Time Party Switcher (see "Carole's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2," April 24).

4) Re-Redistricting Rylander (see "Carole's Greatest Hits," April 17).

5) Political Chameleon, Run, Resign, Run: Strayhorn had a year left on her first elected office (Austin Independent School District board) when she quit to run for mayor; she had four months left in her mayoral term when she quit to accept a job at the State Board of Insurance – which she left to run unsuccessfully for Congress. After winning her first statewide race, she waited just six months to announce her candidacy for comptroller. By her second term, she was angling for the governor's office.

6) One Hand Washes the Other: Strayhorn pledged in her 1994 campaign for Railroad Commission to refuse contributions from oil companies with contested cases before the commission – then did the opposite.

7) Springs Sewage: She supported the 1980 bond election sending water and sewer mains into the Barton Creek Watershed and Barton Creek itself. Voters soundly rejected that and most of the other bonds on the ballot.

8) Headliner: As comptroller, she showed up at Antone's with trailing TV cameras to seize the club's cash registers, seeking $22,000 in back liquor taxes.

9) Budget Bully: Determined to have the last word in a long-running feud with Capitol leaders during the 2003 session, the comptroller very publicly refused to certify the state budget because it wouldn't balance – budget writers had inadvertently axed $200 million from a highways fund.

10) Less of Me to Love: Mayor Carole McClellan published a weight-loss recipe book called The Mayor's Diet: How to Lose 80 Pounds in Seven Months.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Carole Strayhorn, election

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