Balance beams

Wayne Slater in the Dallas Morning News:

As exhibit No. 1 in her bid to unseat Gov. Rick Perry, Carole Keeton Strayhorn has blasted the governor's "failed leadership" in fixing the state's school finance system.

Mrs. Strayhorn says she would do a better job details to come.

The comptroller has also been vocal in criticizing the Republican governor on homeowners insurance rates and protecting the border but has not yet offered plans on what she would do differently.

There will be plenty of time to get specific, Mrs. Strayhorn says.

"By next November, the people of Texas are going to know precisely where I am on everything that's of major concern to them," Mrs. Strayhorn said in an interview.


"If you can make the campaign about your opponent's positions without in effect having to explain or defend your own, that's a plus," said political scientist Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas-Pan American. "But in point of fact, I don't think there's any way a challenger in her position can escape very long without having to identify what she would do in place of what's currently being done."

In announcing she would challenge the Republican governor as an independent on the November ballot, Mrs. Strayhorn said she hoped to attract both Republicans and Democrats.

Analysts said Mr. Perry's strongest appeal is to GOP loyalists and social conservatives who dominate the party. To win, Mrs. Strayhorn must win moderate voters from both parties, analysts say.


Mrs. Strayhorn also appears to have modified her public position on abortion. In 1996 and 1998, she supported overturning the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, and she opposed using public money to pay for abortions, according to questionnaires she answered for Greater Austin Right to Life.

Asked whether that was still her view, she declined to respond directly.

"I believe in the sanctity of life, but I recognize and understand that there are those tough situations where heartbreaking decisions have to be made," she said. "That is my position."

More than any specific policy issue, Mrs. Strayhorn argues that the central question in the campaign is Mr. Perry's performance over the last five years. She has accused the governor of "misplaced priorities and failed leadership" and of being too cozy with special interests.

The governor and Legislature have been unable to reach agreement on a plan to lower property taxes and finance public education. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled the current system is unconstitutional and has given lawmakers until June 1 to correct the problem.

In the past, Mr. Perry has offered specific plans for a school finance overhaul and property tax relief, though his ideas, too, have changed over several legislative sessions. His ideas have included specific formulas to reduce property taxes and make up the difference by increasing the state sales tax, expanding the franchise tax to more businesses, legalizing video slot machines at racetracks and taxing adult-oriented businesses. His proposals have been rejected by the Legislature, sometimes on embarrassingly lopsided votes.

Mrs. Strayhorn has declined to offer a specific plan, although she does say she supports a $3,000 pay raise for teachers.

She has said any broader solution should start with two programs cut from her agency by the GOP leadership that identified a laundry list of cost-saving ideas to fund education and other programs.

"And right along with that, teachers and educators will be the first ones at the table. They're going to be plugged in first in a Strayhorn education plan," she said. "As this spring goes on, I will be adding to that."

Mrs. Strayhorn has been particularly critical of Mr. Perry on the issues of insurance and utility costs. A recent study found that Texas homeowners pay the highest insurance premiums in the nation.

Asked what she would do to curb rising insurance rates, Mrs. Strayhorn said it was too early to outline her plan.

On another issue where she has criticized the governor illegal immigration she also said she would offer specific ideas later in the campaign.


As for setting out specific programs on key issues, Mrs. Strayhorn said she would present details on her timetable.

"In each of these areas, you don't just lay it out today," she said. "I will be very deliberately speaking to those issues, and I can assure you the people of Texas are going to know precisely where I stand."

It will be interesting to see how Strayhorn balances this.

Posted by Evan @ 02/16/06 11:11 AM


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