The Not-So-Great Texas Gubernatorial Debate



AUSTIN, Texas -- I sacrificed an hour Friday evening to watch the Texas gubernatorial debate on your behalf, since I knew none of you would do it. Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state -- he was intelligent, well-informed and even funny. But the question remains: Can Texas afford to lose that hair?

The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry simply disagreed, standing there proudly behind that 35 percent voter support he has so richly earned. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response.

At one point, the debate actually became more interesting, as a panel of reporters with Belo Corp. changed formats. Doing a quick pop quiz, they asked independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn who had won the election in Mexico. She informed us the winner had won by a narrow margin, and she is ready to work with him. They asked Goodhair the interest rate on a home mortgage. He said 5.9 percent, and it is 6.4 percent (I don't think I would have known that, either). Independent candidate Kinky Friedman didn't even try to guess the average cost of a year's tuition at the University of Texas ($7,630). They asked Bell when the battle of the Alamo was fought. He correctly answered 1836.

One overall impression: It seems to me both Strayhorn and Friedman damaged themselves. Lots of people are voting for Kinky for the fun of it, but the thin-skinned Texas Jew reacted badly to questions about his recent racist remarks. He first became defensive and then petulant -- sort of, if you can't take a joke, to hell with you. The politically incorrect humor didn't work because it wasn't funny ... in fact, it was painfully bad. Strayhorn seemed over-prepped and over-amped. As Texas political guru Bob Armstrong said, she talked 40 mph, with gusts up to 70.

So that leaves us with two Protestant white guys again. Just FYI, the percentage of minority citizens working for the state government has gone down steadily since Ann Richards.

Rick Perry and Chris Bell: Compare and contrast.

Rick Perry has really good hair.

Chris Bell has everything else.

Obviously, you think my prejudices are showing here, but others who reported on the debate, while often taking shelter behind the "no major blows landed" dodge, rather clearly thought Bell had done best, even if Perry won on the politics of it by not actually saying anything totally idiotic.

According to the post-debate "fact check" article in the Dallas Morning News, Perry claimed he had pushed a tax bill through the Legislature "lowering property taxes by a record amount." He didn't mention that the bill is not a tax cut, it's a tax-swap -- it didn't lower taxes, it just moved them over to business and smokers.

He also claimed teachers could get a $12,000 raise under his school plan. Actually, the pay raise for teachers is $2,000 across the board, with the stated recommendation to the school districts that they add merit pay raises between $3,000 and $10,000. That's some mighty fancy slicing and dicing there.

Bell picked up a $1 million pledge that night from John O'Quinn, the Houston trial lawyer. The trial lawyers have almost blown a good shot here -- all it takes is one more vote than 36 percent, there is no run-off, this is winner-take-all, sudden death. Polls show two out of three Texas voters ready to vote against Perry. The Democrats have a base vote around 40 percent. I think it would be a real tragedy to throw this one away, and you know what is tripping us up? We think we can't win.

We're in a real "why try, why work, why contribute?" spiral, believing our guy doesn't have a chance. Nonsense. You couldn't ask for an easier win.

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