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owner of the Dallas Morning News and numerous television stationsdecided to treat the broadcast rights like Coke handles its secret recipe. As debate sponsor, Belo could set the broadcast rules, and company executives refused to allow any but their own stations to show the debate live in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. They did permit PBS and Spanish-language stations in those markets to air the debate, but only on tape delay, and only for four days afterward. “We’re not going to go through all this time and expense to hand over our work and investment to competitors in the marketplace,” WFAA station manager Mike Devlin told the Austin American -Statesman. So much for the idea that the right to access the public airwaves brings with it responsibilities to the public. Despite the odds, the debate drew surprisingly good ratings. It was the most-watched show in its time slot on Friday night in every major market except Dallas-Fort Worth, where it finished third. Those who did tune in saw a motley crew of candidates: the governor, hair resplendent as ever, laboring to defend a lackluster record in office; Friedman, dressed in his black [\(preaching coat” and cowboy hat, waving an unlit cigar but landing few of his famous one-liners in this unfamiliar format; Strayhorn, the fast-talking Democrat-cum-Republican-cum-independent state comptroller, standing out in an electric pink jacket; and Bell, the earnest Democrat, who looked like an eager-to-please tax lawyer. Yet it was Bell who fired off the night’s first zinger. Following bland opening answers from his three opponents to a bizarre immigration question \(it’s a federal, not a state matopportunity tonight to stand here as the Democratic nominee with my three Republican opponents!’ He then called for more sensible immigration policies, asking, “Does anyone seriously believe that we can deport 12 million people?” A few minutes later, the candidates got to ask each other one question. Bell was assigned Strayhorn, and the Democrat hammered her for accepting campaign contributions from tax firms that do business with the comptroller’s office. Strayhorn denied the charges, but Bell wouldn’t let her off the hook in his rebuttal. “The facts are the facts,” he said. “It’s part of the pay-to-play culture that currently exists in Austin!’ Strayhorn had the good fortune of winning the right to ask Perry a question. There’s no shortage of fodder, and political geeks had speculated for weeks how vicious Strayhorn might be. But when the moment arrived, Strayhorn ventured way out into right field, asking why Perry hadn’t passed a “Jessica’s Law” to increase punishment for pedophiles. It was an odd choice. Jessica’s Law hasn’t been a major issue in the Legislature, nor on the campaign trail, and Strayhorn herself has rarely mentioned it. The question seemed a transparent and clumsy stab at taking advantage of the recent scandal surrounding former Congressman Mark Foley’s advances toward underage congressional pages. Perry, looking relieved, easily brushed aside the query: “I’ll tell you what, one thing people don’t get confused about is that Texas is a tough on crime state:’ He noted that first-time sex offenders receive an average of 20 years in prison, and then floated the idea that repeat offenders should get the death penalty. Strayhorn had a tough night all around. She talked at a sprinter’s pace, racing through stump speech lines such as, “In a Strayhorn administration, we’re going to shake Austin up and tell people the truth. We’ll put the people first, not the special interests:’ Despite the breakneck speed of her patter, she was cut off midsentence at least four times when her responses ran too long. Several times, she mentioned something called the Texas First Plan and something else called her Texas Next Step Program, but she never quite had time to describe what they are. And, of course, Strayhorn provided the night’s headline moment when, during the highly entertaining lighting round of political Jeopardy in which candidates had 15 seconds to answer rapid-fire questions, she couldn’t name the president-elect of continued on page 27 Contrasting styles: Democrat Chris Bell and Carole Keeton Strayhorn talk with reporters after the gubernatorial debate. OCTOBER 20, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7