Point Austin: Angels Wanna Wear Our Red Shoes

When elephants fight, the ants should look for allies

Point Austin
It's inevitable but still disappointing to see the two major Republican candidates for governor already campaigning for the GOP Award for – as the old "Limbo Rock" song had it – "How Low Can You Go?" Incumbent-for-Life Rick Perry's been volubly courting the Tea Party voters for months, just this side of secession, and is now bragging about a supposed "balanced state budget" – neglecting to mention the federal stimulus funds that made the sleight of finance possible. This week Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison began her TV ads by proclaiming she's staying in Washington to stop "the government takeover of health care" – knowing full well that the only "reform" plan under serious consideration is to hand 30 million more customers over to the insurance companies and pray in return they'll stop raising rates. Hutchison's brave inertia also raises the absurd question of just who she imagines Perry would replace her with should she finally resign – is there a GOP quisling in the wings just begging to go to D.C. to vote for "Obamacare"?

Indeed, Hutchison's spectacularly bad campaign thus far has mostly caused wonder whether KBH really wants to be governor at all. She's made no secret of her understandable desire to come back home, but it's become a puzzle why she doesn't just buy a plane ticket and be done with it. The on-again, off-again resignation cannot have helped her with the hardest-core Texas Republicans – yet those are the very people that she's been targeting most with her still-sputtering campaign. Going in, it seemed that her best chance would be to appeal to Republican moderates (yes, they do exist) and those swinging independents. Yet she and her consultants apparently believe she can run effectively to the right of Perry – who couldn't muster sufficient magnanimity to commute the death sentence of an inmate even his own Board of Pardons and Paroles thought unworthy of execution. At primary time, real men need body counts.

Considering the tested hard-right tastes of GOP primary voters, Hutchison probably presumes she has no choice – which in the current polarized atmosphere, likely also translates to no chance.

The Line Forms Here

This week, Hutchison's hesitations became the Democrats' window of opportunity, as Tom "Do You Know Me?" Schieffer announced that he's leaving the race expressly to open the door for Houston Mayor Bill White. White, currently in the Dem Senate primary against John Sharp, said he would wait a requisite 10 days to "hear from Texans," but state Sens. Kirk Watson and Eliot Shapleigh are already on the bandwagon, the December Texas Monthly features a glowing profile of "The Great White Hope," and the fact is that party insiders have been begging for such a shift for months. (Poor Schieffer's arms simply couldn't take any more twisting.)

So while the Republicans-in-waiting are whining that Hutchison's repeated punting has made impossible their orderly statewide succession, once White makes his announcement, it's likely to be followed by a chorus of Dems lining up for other statewide offices. Shapleigh, having already said he won't run for re-election, had been rumored to be considering the Mansion himself before endorsing White. He'd also make a terrific U.S. senator – but he doesn't have White's deep Houston base nor Sharp's statewide machine and will likely consider something less quixotic. Watson is also in the mix, perhaps for another run at attorney general – not necessarily favored in this still-Republican state, but certainly with a better shot than in 2002.

Nothing Secedes Like Excess

Can any of them actually win? Until Texas Democrats begin registering and voting in their demographic numbers, the odds still favor the Republicans. But Mr. "39%" Perry's primary-pandering to the GlennBeckians will burden him in November, and a good many independents who might otherwise have gone with Hutchison are likely to find the pragmatic, ingratiating White a reasonable alternative. That will in turn help downballot Dems, who should at least place well enough to make voters (and funders) believe they once again belong to a viable statewide party.

Will that make a sufficient difference in actual government policy? Considering the spectacle of the U.S. House Democrats explicitly undermining women's hard-won abortion rights in order to pass "health care reform" – what do these superstition-bound idiots not understand about gynecology? – the short-term prospects are hardly encouraging. Abetted by a media that now treats 60 Senate votes as some kind of divine right of passage over the health care needs (and even oft-polled opinions) of a large majority of the population, the Majority Party appears determined to cede veto power over national public policy to the most extreme right elements of the body politic. That would be those same tea-partiers and birthers marching around with "Obamacare = Holocaust" signs and demanding that Perry actually gather 'round the wagons and declare Texas Independence (might be worth it, if only to see what the poor spoiled buggers would do without their grandiose military bases and bottomless defense contracts).

So while I wouldn't mind at all the chance to return to excoriating Texas Democrats for behaving like Republicans, I'm not yet counting my wannabe chickens. This week, Salon's Mike Madden, reporting from some place called "Cedar Creek, Texas" – that is, the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort out off Highway 71, site of the GOP governors conference – described the race between the competing futures of the Republicans, concluding, "It could be a bumpy ride for them – but it should be fun to watch for the rest of us."

I suspect Madden wouldn't be nearly as sanguine about the entertainment value of Republican politics if he had to live under that menacing cloud 24/7/365, but he's right at least in suggesting that, like Elvis Costello, when we're tired of being disgusted we can at least try to be amused.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas politics, Tom Schieffer, Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Board of Pardons and Paroles, Bill White, John Sharp, Kirk Watson, Eliot Shapleigh

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