Texas: A crazy governor’s race.

October 13th, 2006

The bloviation about this race has gone on and on, so I’ll try to make this short(ish). Texas has four candidates running in this race:

  1. The thoroughly mediocre Republican incumbent, Rick Perry.
  2. The seemingly highly competent, yet crusty, Democrat-cum-Republican-cum-Independent state comptroller, Carole Keeton Strayhorn.
  3. The seemingly very smart Democrat challenger, Chris Bell.
  4. The selfconsciously wacky Independent novelist and musician, Kinky Friedman.

Okay, I’ve stayed mum on this for months, so why do I bring this up now?

Passing through my part of town today, I saw someone with a yard sign for Friedman. This was in a well-heeled, not-selfconsciously-funky neighborhood. Presumably the person who put up the yard sign is serious about voting for the Kinkster.

Please, if you’re reading this, don’t vote for Friedman.

Why not? Because it’s crystal-clear that (1) he couldn’t run the state well, and (2) he doesn’t even want to. His campaign slogans, “How hard can it be?” and “Why the hell not?”, show a level of contempt for governance in this state. Now, sometimes I share that contempt, but should we really vote for someone who uses it as key attribute in his campaign?

But let’s get to the most pragmatic reason, (3) he is drawing support away from the two competent public servants running against Perry who actually do care about the way the government works and who actually do want to do the hard work of governance.

Perry has been governor ever since his predecessor went to the White House. If he wins this race, he will be on course to serve in the post for ten years — the longest tenure of any Texas governor. His weak performance on many issues demonstrate that he’s not worth it. Heck, plenty of Republicans agree with me on this. Still, he’s polling at around 35 – 38% among likely voters.

Strayhorn is probably the most competent public servant of the bunch, but there’s plenty of debate about whether she can win. Current poll numbers show her support at about 15 – 20%. Depending on which poll you read, Bell’s numbers are similar, with a low of 14% and a high of 23%. Friedman comes in likewise at 14 – 23%.

I should have taken Friedman at his word that he would run a serious campaign. Maybe I would have mobilized against him sooner. Here’s why: For progressives who would hope that someone, anyone, would beat Perry in this race, Strayhorn could either be that someone — a competent public servant we could live with who doesn’t breathe fire on partisan issues — or the third candidate who could hand the election to Bell, as Perot did for Clinton in 1992. Strayhorn must be taking some votes from Bell, but she’s an incumbent Republican in an important statewide office who has clashed publicly with the not-terribly-popular-among-Republicans governor.

Friedman, by contrast, must be taking many more votes from Bell than he ever could from Perry (or Strayhorn). Texas politics is weird, but it’s not so weird that Friedman could beat out Strayhorn (or Bell) for the votes of disaffected but card-carrying Republicans. So he’s set to play the role Ralph Nader did in 2000, taking votes that the Democrat needs to beat the Republican.

Now, maybe all of this is academic. Maybe if Friedman weren’t in the race, Perry would be at 39%, Strayhorn would be at 30%, Bell would be at 31% — and Perry would win anyway. (Texas has no majority requirement, so whoever draws the most votes in the general election wins without a runoff.) But it’s not unlikely that Perry could be around 36%, with Strayhorn around 27%, and Bell squeaking past at 37%. Any sort of scenario like that — flip-flop Strayhorn and Bell, if you like — looks much less likely with Friedman polling well.

Friedman has as much right to run as anybody. But that doesn’t mean you have to vote for him — not if you’d rather have either a competent, non-fire-breathing public servant (Strayhorn) or a centrist progressive (Bell) at the top of the state government.

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TPMCafe’s poll summary for the Texas governor’s race.

Chris Bell for Governor

One Response to “Texas: A crazy governor’s race.”

  1. Common Sense » Blog Archive » Don’t vote for Kinky, redux. Says:

    […] The other day I appealed for folks to drop Kinky Friedman’s schtick in favor of an actual public servant — my pick being Chris Bell. […]

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