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Texans pick Perry

Nov. 8, 2006

Associated Press
Republican Gov. Rick Perry kisses his wife Tuesday during his victory speech in Austin after defeating Democrat Chris Bell and Independent candidates Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton-Strayhorn. With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Perry led his closest competitor by 10 percent.

City Editor, Staff writer and Reporter

AUSTIN -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry was leading his re-election race Tuesday evening with 39.5 percent of the vote with 77 percent of precincts reporting.

With two of the three challengers conceding, he will be the first governor in Texas history to serve 10 years in office. Democratic nominee Chris Bell garnered 29.5 percent, Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn collected 18 percent, and Kinky Friedman, also an Independent, received 12 percent of the vote.

As hundreds of supporters clamored together in celebration of another four years for Perry, a loud "Woo" signaled the start of Perry's acceptance speech followed by a kiss with the first lady.

"It's a blessing and an honor to be governor of the greatest state in the union," Perry said, as supporters waved signs and rambunctiously cheered him on.

After thanking friends, family and fellows Texans, Perry assured the people that the issues are about them.

Perry promised to continue his work in education, border security and creating new jobs.

"I will serve with humility, recognizing that Texas is better when we all work together," Perry said.

A native of West Texas, Perry began his career by serving in the U.S. Air Force for five years. He first was elected commissioner of agriculture, followed by a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, lieutenant governor, and finally reaching the top as Texas Governor in 2000 when former Gov. George W. Bush resigned to run for president.

Before Perry made his advancements in the U.S. Air Force and government, he made his family proud by graduating from Texas A&M University as one of the first members of his family to go to college.

During the campaign, Perry highlighted three issues: education, border security and job creation in Texas. Perry spokesman Robert Black said all these are ongoing issues in Texas.

Perry offered console to his fellow candidates and noted that while they all had differences, they shared a mutual love: Texas.

"Today's victory must be about preparing for tomorrow's Texas," Perry said. "This campaign is over and our work has just begun."

Perry heightened security along the border by providing security cameras to monitor illegal immigration. He also has made efforts to increase education funding as well as teacher salaries. Throughout his term as governor, Perry has created more than 600,000 jobs in Texas.

At his election night party in Houston, where a band played country music, Bell called Perry to congratulate him.

"It has been a long, hard battle and one I will always believe was worth fighting," Bell told supporters. "I hope you think so, too."

Alex Neville, a San Antonio junior and president of Baylor Democrats, said Bell did well considering he was running in such a Republican state.

"I'm sorry that (Bell) lost, but I'm pretty proud of what we did this election night," Neville said. "Perry already had a following, and already being in office gave him the edge he needed to win."

Neville said she's unsure what the political future of Texas will look like if the state keeps moving in the same direction.

"I definitely don't think very many changes are going to be happening," Neville said. She said she is placing hope for change in the hands of local politicians and Democrats in the Senate.

Bell's campaign focused on the many issues on the Democratic platform and countering attacks from Perry. It focused on the environment, mainly the adverse affects of proposed coal plants such as pollution and economic problems, and ethical reform, saying that Perry has no moral ground to stand on. Bell said throughout the race that budgets are moral documents with human consequences and it's time for Texas to put an end to Perry's corruption.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman ran with hopes of following in the footsteps of Sam Houston. Texas hasn't elected an Independent governor since 1859.

Strayhorn addressed a crowd of 150 at the Driskill Hotel in Austin Tuesday night after calling Governor Perry to congratulate him on his victory.

"I will continue being one tough grandma, watching out for our precious resource: all of our children," she said.

A Texan by birth, Strayhorn's campaign focused on improving Texas schools, providing real security and a responsible government. As a former public school teacher and a grandmother of six, she maintained that education was her first priority.

Her Texas NextStep program would make it possible for high school graduates to attend a two-year public community college or technical college without having to worry about tuition, fees and books. She also wanted to impose tuition locks for college students and eliminate taxes on textbooks.

Strayhorn also wanted to give all public school teachers a $4,000 pay raise and to continue increasing their pay every two years. Another important part of her education plan was to give high school students the TAKS test at the beginning of the school year, allowing teachers to focus on teaching instead of just teaching a test.

"Now is the time for all of Texas to come together to work for what is best for Texas and for our children -- for our future," she said.

Independent candidate Kinky Friedman walked through an enthusiastic crowd at the Scholz Garten in Austin Tuesday one final time as a hopeful governor. Chief of Staff Little Jewford prepped the crowd before Friedman took the stage, saying "Ladies and gentlemen, the most popular citizen in Texas, Kinky Friedman.

Friedman addressed his candidates' use of smear ads in the campaign.

"I think that hurt us," he said.

When asked if he felt it had tarnished his reputation, Friedman said, "What reputation?"

Friedman spoke of his disdain for the two-party system.

"One of the problems with the two-party system is that it doesn't give us

the two best choices."

Campaign finances limited the exposure of Friedman's campaign, unlike Perry's or Bell's which were backed by large donations in the public and private sector.

"We were up against three very powerful machines," Friedman said. "Two of them have limitless funds. That made us gypsies on a pirate ship."

He recalled a conversation with Democrats when he was deciding in which party to run. They said it would take $10 to 20 million to win the campaign.

"They might have been right," Friedman said.

And he reminded the crowd that had he won the race, he would have run Texas in the same thrifty manner.

When asked what he planned to do next, Friedman said he was ready to form a shadow government. He also expressed to the crowd how much he enjoyed campaigning.

"I personally had a very good time," he said. "A lot of young people voted in this election."

Friedman said if Bell had won the campaign he "would have had to go to France with Barbara Streisand."

Friedman ended his address with his standard sendoff and catchphrase.

"May the God of your choice bless you, and may that same God bless Texas," he said. "Aloha. Thank you very much."

Friedman, an author, musician and humorist, announced his candidacy for governor on Feb. 3, 2005 to a crowd of 200 in front of San Antonio's Alamo. During the course of campaigning, Friedman collected 170,258 signatures, four times the amount needed to secure a place on the ballot. His campaign focused on improving conditions in schools, including better pay for teachers, energy and fuel efficiency and increasing border security. He came to fame as frontman for Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys in the 1970s and as an author of mystery novels a decade later. He was a regular columnist for Texas Monthly before running for governor.

Melinda Henderson, Amanda Bray, Grace Maalouf and The Associated Press contributed to this story.