‘White’ Christmas for state Democrats
“It’s a great night to be a Texas Democrat!” Leffingwell shouted to a raucous, upbeat crowd in Austin’s Scholz Garten Sunday evening, Dec. 6.
Leffingwell lamented that a person born the last day a Democrat was Texas governor will be 15 years old next month.
The festive occasion was White’s first Austin rally since he announced Friday, Dec. 4, in Houston that he was switching from a who-knows-when U.S. Senate election to the March 2 Democratic primary race for governor.
Two weeks earlier, White said he was still running for the Senate. But several days after former ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth told the capitol press corps he had quit his race for governor and met with White to urge him to run, White made the switch.
His enthusiastic reception by several hundred Democrats packed into Austin’s famous political watering hole showed they consider White’s change of direction an early Christmas present.
They figure it likely gives Democrats a seasoned civic leader who knows how to raise money to head their ticket next November, and possibly recapture the governor’s office.
It also avoids a battle for the senate seat between White and former state comptroller John Sharp. Many Democrats considered it a waste of political firepower for White and Sharp to seek the same job.
\Republican Gov. Rick Perry hopes to extend his nine years in office to 14 by winning re-election next year. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is challenging Perry in the March 2 Republican primary.
\State Sen. Kirk Watson said Texas doesn’t need a governor’s race based on attacks and counterattacks, but rather on choosing “a person who can really lead Texas into the future.”
\The Republican race is between “one candidate who thinks we’ll be lucky to have her, (and) another one who just doesn’t have anything to do,” Watson said.
“They want us to believe this is as good as it gets, that if you want to improve things, then you’re just not proud of Texas,” Watson said. “We have a word for that, and it’s ‘Bull.’”
Without mentioning Perry or Hutchison by name, Watson charged they will try to convince voters that balancing a budget on the backs of small businesses, college students and small children is a good idea.
Watson co-hosted the rally with several Central Texas Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives, who all stood on the bandstand to support White.
Clad in a work shirt, blue jeans and boots, White called on the crowd to spread the word that Texas needs new leadership.
“We need a governor that we can be proud of, and don’t have to apologize for . . . who will lead the nation, not leave the nation,” White said. “We need inclusive leadership that will move us forward.”
The balding White, who acknowledges he is short on both hair and charisma, said he is “not as polished as the politicians who’ve been running for 30 years” – a jab at Perry and Hutchison, who each have spent more than two decades in office.
“I know how to bring people together to get things done,” White said, “and we need that in Texas right now.”
Watson, Austin’s former mayor, said White’s six years as mayor “made Houston a model for a wellrun big city,” by cutting property taxes and crime rates, and coordinating massive efforts to help thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
\“He worked well with Republicans, Democrats and independents,” Watson said, “not by compromising his values, but by welcoming everyone to the table and creating a vision that everyone could believe in.”
One state representative credited White with careful planning. His campaign Web site from the start has been BillWhiteforTexas.com, not Bill- WhiteForSenate.com – allowing a smooth transition without extensive re-tooling.
White’s switch had prompted Hank Gilbert to shift from running for governor to try again for agriculture commissioner, a post he sought in 2006. Gilbert also endorsed Houston hair-care billionaire Farouk Shami, who says he’ll spend $10 million or more on the race.
Author/entertainer Kinky Friedman said through a spokeswoman that he’s still in the race – for now -- but wants to talk to supporters and friends, and White and Shami, “before making a final decision.” Also running is Fort Worth teacher Felix Alvarado.
On the GOP side, businesswoman Debra Medina -- a devotee of anti-government Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul -- is also running for governor.