AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's (search) reputation as a watchdog for the health and education of children is summed up in a needlepoint decoration in her office: "One Ticked Off Grandma." Strayhorn may try to add another job to her resume — governor.
"People are very directly asking me to run for governor, and I'm listening," said the 64-year-old Strayhorn, who regularly takes aim at Gov. Rick Perry (search), a fellow Republican.
Strayhorn's attacks on Perry and his policies - including state cuts to health care and the failure to devise a new method for funding public schools — routinely make headlines. She has accused Perry of being behind the Texas Legislature's efforts to strip her state agency of some of its high-profile duties.
Said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry: "Her paranoia is amazing."
The governor typically avoids personally returning Strayhorn's political volleys and won't publicly discuss the 2006 election, saying it's too early. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (search) is another possible GOP primary challenger.
The one-time history teacher — mother of four grown sons, two of whom serve in the Bush administration — shrugs off suggestions that she would have a tough time defeating Perry.
"I'm never going to kamikaze," she said. "But I don't mind winnable risks."
Strayhorn's booming voice belies her 5-foot-1 stature. She can boast about her five granddaughters, reel off political jabs and crack jokes at a rapid-fire pace.
Her son Scott McClellan is White House spokesman, and another son, Dr. Mark McClellan, is administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Twins Dudley and Brad are lawyers.
Brad McClellan remembers how his then-divorced mother got him and his brothers ready for school in the morning before tending to her duties as Austin mayor.
"People always wonder why we walk fast and talk fast. I don't know if it's an acquired trait or genetics," he said. "She could give us a one-hour lecture in five minutes."
A former conservative Democrat, Strayhorn served in nonpartisan posts on the Austin school board and three terms as Austin mayor — winning her first term against nine men in 1977 — before switching parties and running unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 1986.
"I don't like labels. I guess if I had to label myself I'd call myself an 'activist, populist Republican.' I care about people. I care passionately about education. I care about health care. I care about paychecks and jobs, and they all interconnect," said Strayhorn.
Strayhorn often credits her strong will to her late father, Page Keeton, longtime dean of the University of Texas law school.
"Dad also told me something from a very early age. He said, 'Carole, if you don't have somebody mad at you, you probably haven't done anything,'" she said. "So I remember that often, lately."