Comptroller: Post for the ambitious

The three Texas comptrollers since 1975 have wanted to be governor. Carole Keeton Strayhorn is no exception.

The first two – the late Bob Bullock and John Sharp, both Democrats – eventually settled for a run at lieutenant governor. Bullock won, Sharp didn’t.

Strayhorn, one loud grandma, has yet to announce her plans. Though she’s a Republican like Gov. Rick Perry, Strayhorn has been slapping Perry every time he turns around. ##M:[more]#

She says he:

• is an ineffective leader,
• should put more money into the Children’s Health Insurance Program to reinstate kids who were dropped, and
• will put the state $10 billion in debt in five years if his school funding/property tax cut plan is followed.

Last year, she suggested a tax on cigarettes and legalizing video lottery terminals. Perry said no, but this year that’s his partial solution for school finance.

What’s happening here is a collision in the ambition tube.

Among Texas’ statewide elected offices, top prizes are Texas’ two seats in the United States Senate, the governorship and a few notches lower, the lieutenant governorship.

The other down-ballot offices – land commissioner, railroad commissioners, agriculture commissioner, attorney general, the now-defunct office of treasurer – are the on-deck circle for the bigger offices.

Senior U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was state treasurer before election to the Senate. Junior U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was on the Texas Supreme Court and attorney general before he joined her.

Perry was agriculture commissioner, and then lieutenant governor, before becoming governor. Strayhorn won a Railroad Commission seat on her second try, then moved up to comptroller. She’s still hungry.

Bullock, as comptroller, supported Gov. Dolph Briscoe’s re-election in 1978 because he had squabbled with Briscoe’s Democratic primary opponent, Attorney General John Hill. And, Bullock wanted to run for governor in 1982 when Briscoe left.

However, Hill beat Briscoe but then lost to Republican Bill Clements. Bullock and Clements got along OK. But Bullock had a running feud with Mark White, who had become attorney general.

When White upset Clements, Bullock announced he would run for governor in 1986, and continued banging on White. In 1983, he called the younger White an “old fool” who “didn’t do a damn thing as attorney general.”

By 1984, Bullock said he wouldn’t run for governor. By 1989, he settled for running for lieutenant governor in 1990, and shelved his gubernatorial ambitions.

Sharp, who succeeded Bullock, got along well with Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, and then Republican George W. Bush, who unseated Richards in 1994. Sharp considered opposing Bush in 1998, not because they’d fought, but because he wanted the job.

He finally decided Bush was unbeatable, and settled for a race for lieutenant governor.

Strayhorn obviously hasn’t made that decision yet. She wants to run for governor. But if Hutchison runs against Perry, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seeks Hutchison’s Senate seat, look for Strayhorn to run for lieutenant governor.