2006.10.08: October 8, 2006: Headlines: Figures: COS - Malaysia: Writing - Malaysia: Humor: Election2006 - Friedman: New York Times: Debate in Texas Race Focuses on Border, Crime and Cigars

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Debate in Texas Race Focuses on Border, Crime and Cigars

Debate in Texas Race Focuses on Border, Crime and Cigars

Answering questions from reporters, viewers and each other with no studio audience, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Bell accused Mr. Perry of picking a date for the event to minimize attention and of ducking additional debates. Mr. Friedman laid it to politics: "'Poly' means ‘more than one,’ and 'ticks' are blood-sucking parasites," he said. Author, Musician, and candidate for Governor of Texas, Kinky Friedman served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia in the 1960's.

Debate in Texas Race Focuses on Border, Crime and Cigars

Debate in Texas Race Focuses on Border, Crime and Cigars

New York Times
Published: October 8, 2006

Caption: Chris Bell, left, Kinky Friedman, Governor Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the major candidates in the race for governor of Texas, shook hands after the debate Friday night at a television studio in Dallas. Pool Photo by Smiley N. Pool

HOUSTON, Oct. 7 — Competing with the Friday night lights of a big Texas football weekend, Gov. Rick Perry and three challengers faced off in a Dallas television studio for their only debate in the free-for-all that is the governor’s race.

But if the long-awaited one-hour showdown had its moments — Kinky Friedman, the comic songster and independent, pledged allegiance to his cigar; former Representative Chris Bell, the Democrat, remembered the Alamo; and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Republican running as an independent, forgot the name of the president-elect of Mexico — it hardly resolved the uncertainties, some political experts said.

With Mr. Perry, a Republican, leading in the polls a month before Election Day and positioned to become the longest-serving governor of Texas despite being opposed by about two out of three voters, the high-profile race in President Bush’s home state is still fluid.

“There was no standout winner,” said Harvey Kronberg, who publishes The Quorum Report, an online Texas political journal. In the night’s version of “Survivor,” he said, “we still have to see who gets thrown off the island.”

Yet it was Mr. Perry’s debate to lose, and he did not, said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University who monitored the debate for its sponsor, the Belo Corporation, which owns WFAA-TV and The Dallas Morning News. “If he had fallen off the stage or fainted dead away, or fumbled badly, but he didn’t do that,” Dr. Jillson said.

Answering questions from reporters, viewers and each other with no studio audience, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Bell accused Mr. Perry of picking a date for the event to minimize attention and of ducking additional debates. Mr. Friedman laid it to politics: “ ‘Poly’ means ‘more than one,’ and ‘ticks’ are blood-sucking parasites,” he said.

Mr. Perry did not respond directly but recently told Texas Monthly that a crowded debate would not yield much substance.

The four candidates — a fifth, James Werner, a Libertarian, was excluded by Belo — squabbled over immigration and crime. Mr. Perry defended his dispatch of National Guard troops to secure the border against illegal crossers but faulted the federal government’s actions as inadequate and said he would seek $100 million from the legislature for more enforcement.

Ms. Strayhorn, who goes by the moniker of Grandma, said, “I want the Texas Rangers in charge.”

Mr. Friedman, in his black cowboy garb and waving his ever-present unlit cigar, called for taxpayer ID cards for immigrant workers and $25,000 fines for employing illegal immigrants.

Mr. Bell said he would also crack down on employers but asked, “Does anyone believe we could deport 12 million people if we couldn’t even evacuate New Orleans?”

Mr. Perry said he would support the death penalty for repeat sexual predators. Ms. Strayhorn said she favored mandatory life terms.

Mr. Friedman, laying a 20 percent upsurge in crime in Houston to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, called for spending $100 million on more police officers. But he was condemned by the others for remarks that some called racially offensive and that he defended as parody.

“Words matter,” Mr. Perry chided.

Mr. Friedman was unrepentant. “Sure, everyone’s ganging up on me,” he said. “Tackle the guy carrying the ball.”

He was also asked if, as governor, “will you have a cigar in your mouth so children will see you?”

Mr. Friedman said, “Yeah, I’ll definitely smoke cigars.”

Mr. Perry was assailed over a new business tax to remedy a school-financing crisis and lower property levies, and for a planned toll road complex that Ms. Strayhorn called “the Trans-Texas Catastrophe.”

Mr. Bell accused Ms. Strayhorn as comptroller of giving half a billion dollars in tax breaks to clients of contributors. She denied it, vowing to install a “government in sunshine.”

In a barrage of tricky questions, Mr. Perry was asked if he knew the going rate for a 30-year mortgage. He said 5.9 percent — it was actually 6.3 percent.

Ms. Strayhorn blanked on the name of the new president of Mexico (Felipe Calderón). “He won by a narrow margin,” she ventured.

But Mr. Bell scored on a perilous question: when was the battle of the Alamo? (1836)

In his summation, Mr. Perry turned on Mr. Bell, saying Democrats were weak on national security, suggesting that the governor may now see the former congressman as his prime threat.

Spinmeisters from various camps immediately unleashed a flurry of e-mail messages dissecting the rivals’ answers. As to who won, Ms. Strayhorn’s campaign said, “Texans won this debate,” but could not resist adding “and learned the truth about Gov. Perry’s false tax cut.” The Perry campaign countered with, “Strayhorn can’t be trusted to keep her ethics pledges.”

Beyond who won was another question: who watched? Fall Friday nights in Texas are famously devoted to the high school gridiron, and football fans are in a special froth over Saturday’s annual Red River Rivalry between the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Still, Amy Powell, 41, a nutritionist, joined Perry supporters to see the debate at County Line Bar-B-Q in north Houston. She left less than enlightened. “I saw a lot of talking,” she said, “typical political stuff.”

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