I had no Republican opponent when I first ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and was re-elected in 1974 and 1978 without much opposition, but in 1982 the Repubs decided my free ride was over. My opponent was George Strake, a Houston oilman who had been appointed Secretary of State by Governor Bill Clements.
Little did I know what dark forces confronted me! Karl Rove was Strake’s campaign manger!
Strake came after me with the usual Rove stuff—I spent too much state money and I was soft on illegal aliens. Worse than that, the state budget had grown! It certainly had, but not by nearly enough. Texas, then as now, was one of the fastest growing states and trails the nation in public education and public services.
Strake didn’t want undocumented workers to go to public schools. I guess he wanted them to go on welfare or to prison.
In the fall of 1982, I had a fifteen-minute debate with Strake on KERA, the public television station in Dallas. George Christian and Don Adams and my campaign staff had prepared a briefing book with answers to every conceivable question and accusation. I left the briefing book on the plane.
Strake went first. “What a shame,” he said, “that we have only fifteen minutes to this debate. It would be impossible to fully air all the great issues of state in that brief time!” He offered to pay for a longer debate.
“George,” I said, “keep your money. Fifteen minutes is more than enough time for you tell us all you know about state government. I will use my time to ask for support for the constitutional amendment to raise the ceiling on welfare expenditures, which is also on the ballot this year.”
A reporter compared the non-debate to a scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones is confronted by a Turkish bad guy wielding a scimitar. He whirls and twirls and tosses his scimitar around for the crowd and while he is showing off, Indiana Jones shoots him.
Strake is a Roman Catholic. He made a television spot emphasizing his ties to the Pope. The spot was intended to run in South Texas. His campaign probably wasn’t helped when it somehow ran in East Texas.
It was Karl Rove’s finest campaign. It took a genius to get forty-two percent for Strake! And it gave Karl experience that would later serve him well campaigning for other problem candidates.
When I was ran in 1986, Strake was Chair of the Texas Republican Party. He said that I would not be a target for the Republican Party. “We will focus our resources on other races”, he said.
Bill Hobby was Lieutenant Governor of Texas 1973-91. He can be reached at [email protected]
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