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FEATURE From the Planet of the GOP Women BY ROBERT BRYCE o look at them, youtl never guess the similarities between Susan Combs and Carole rir Keeton Rylander. Combs is six-feet-two and thin as a rag thoughtful in conversation, and even elegan6 in a Country Living sort of way. Rylander is short pudgy, loud and gar rulous, and often as not pretty coarse. Yet these fifty-something Republican women from Travis County are both running for statewide office; both have aligned themselves with a U.S. Senator from Texas \(Combs with Kay Bailey Hutchicontributed to, truly awful books. And both, as it happens, stand a good chance of winning on November 3. And though both women have deep roots in Austin, neither is likely to carry many Travis County precincts. The reasons derive from another similarity between Combs, who is running for agriculture commissioner, and Rylander, who is running for comptroller. Both women have made decisions in their public careers that have really burned their hometown taxpayers. As a legislator, Combs sponsored a bill that could have severely limited Austin’s ability to annex adjacent territory. As mayor of Austin, Rylander all but assured Austin’s participation in the South Texas Project the cooperatively owned power plant at Bay City that has become a nuclear boondoggle. Yet Combs and Rylander are just too much fun to ignore. How often does the ballot include a candidate like Combs, the author of a bodice-ripping novel with passages such as this: “Her pajama bottoms slid away with a quiet rustle. Suddenly she was bare. He thrust his leg between hers and a deep heaviness throbbed in her belly…. She needed him to fill the aching void at her center.” Add name and you have a made-for-media candidate. As for Rylander, where to begin? She helped write a diet book that is bad even by the standards of that undistinguished literary genre, in which she admits that her son calls her “Tubby.” She’s a fast-talking, party-switching demagogue, who quit every political job she ever had \(prior to her current stint on the Railroad Com”cut needless government spending.” It’s an interesting pledge, given that nineteen ago, as mayor of Austin, Rylander was singularly responsible for persuading city voters to buy into the South ex-mayor, thirty-seven cents of every dollar Austinites spend on electricity goes to pay for the Nuke, although according to officials at Austin Energy, residents get only 30 percent of their power from the Nuke. Call that seven cents the Rylander surcharge. And there’s yet another similarity between Combs and Rylander: both candidates refused repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. Of the two candidates, Combs is always more appealing than Ry OCTOBER 23, 1998 Susan. Combs, during the 1995 Legislative session Alan Pogue Democrat Pete Patterson, the fifty-two-year-old Combs will be the state’s next Agriculture Commissioner. That’s not all bad. Combs is personable, straightforward, and apparently honest. She’s about four times smarter than current Ag Commish Rick Perry \(again, not has owned a ranch in Brewster County for four generations, and she currently runs 1,100 cattle on 50,000 acres. She’s a Vassarand U.T.-educated lawyer who carried several important bills while representing western Travis County in the Texas House. But there are several big ag issues on which she doesn’t appear to be helping small farmers. Her property rights bill of 1995 hasn’t helped small landowners fight regulations created by the state or federal government as was promised. Nor has it helped them fight large landowners and corporations over land-use issues. For instance, small farmers in the Panhandle were denied the opportunity to oppose feedlot permits the state gave to Nippon Meat Packers. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11