IRVING, Texas — The Texas AFL-CIO held its 46th Political Education (COPE) convention here, May 8-9. Democrats, independents, and even one Republican made persuasive appeals for labor’s endorsement.

The Texas labor movement has been strengthened by solidarity affiliations from some of the unions that split from the AFL-CIO and joined the Change to Win coalition last year. It was announced, for example, that all the unions are still participating in the Alliance for Retired Americans, a 3-million-member grassroots advocacy group, which announced its Texas founding convention for May 20 in Austin.

At the top of labor’s suggested voting list this November will be Democrat Barbara Radnofsky, who made a well-received speech in Spanish and English to the delegates. She will be going after Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who has almost a zero percent voting record on labor’s issues.

Heading the state candidates will be Chris Bell for governor. Bell is a former Democratic congressman. One notable part of Bell’s distinguished career is that he “lit the match” that started Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R) barbecuing when he filed the first ethics charges against “The Hammer” in 2004.

The governor’s race in Texas is an unusual one. Bell is facing incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry. However, Bell has received less money and far less publicity than the two candidates running as independents.

The Texas State Employees’ Union (TSEU/CWA) favors longtime Republican Carole Strayhorn for governor, largely on the basis that she has raised almost as much money as Perry.

Independent candidate, mystery writer and bandleader Kinky Friedman is probably the emotional favorite for the state’s highest office. He regaled the union convention with his campaign slogans, “How hard can it be?” and “Why the hell not?”

Friedman’s short presentation was mostly jokes, such as, “Asking Bush to investigate oil company prices is like putting Cheney in charge of gun safety.” He delivered a series of supposedly self-deprecating, nearly anti-Semitic jokes about being a Jewish cowboy. Oddly, Friedman may have been the most on-target of all the political hopefuls in that he actually talked about two of the biggest issues: the environment and immigration.

Friedman has teamed with singer Willie Nelson to offer biodiesel at a fuel station in Hilltop, Texas, so his environmentalist credentials are established. His views on immigration emerged as a result of his misunderstanding a question about voting credentials. While Friedman’s position wasn’t especially good, he was the only candidate to speak to the issue — a remarkable fact, given how large this issue looms in state and national politics.

VaLinda Hathcox, who won the Democratic primary for Texas land commissioner, also bumbled a question. Hers related to the Texas “right to work (scab) law.” The unionists, who have suffered under this rotten anti-worker legislation every day since 1948, punished her by endorsing her Republican opponent, Jerry Patterson. Although they were invited, no Republicans other than Patterson attended the convention.

One candidate that clearly spoke to the frustrated hearts of Texas workers was Texas attorney general candidate David Van Os. Van Os said that the United States was being run by “gangsters from Texas,” and that the people running state government were “the gangsters’ junior partners.”

He brought the crowd to their feet when he ended, “Fight, fight, fight! Fight until hell freezes over, and then fight them on the ice!”