Texas Candidate Wrote Racy Romance Novel

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 24, 2006; 7:36 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- The willowy brunette laughed heartily, lustily, as she dismissed the notion that her romance novel full of steamy sex scenes crossed the line into pornography.

"Everybody thinks it's fun," said Susan Combs, who happens to be Texas agriculture commissioner and is now running for state comptroller, the top financial post. "It's lighthearted and entertaining."

Combs, a 61-year-old Republican who champions abstinence education and is a darling of Texas conservatives, is being portrayed by her Democratic opponent as a smutmonger and a hypocrite for writing a 1990 bodice-ripper titled "A Perfect Match."

The dispute has spiced up an otherwise little-noticed contest, and led other romance writers of various political stripes to rush to Combs' defense. (And to think, this is NOT the race that includes a guy named "Kinky," as in Kinky Friedman, independent candidate for governor.)

The now-out-of-print novel pairs government code-breaker Emily Brown with Ross Harding, a spy assigned to protect her after she intercepts a message that endangers her life. Our heroine is "a freckle-faced brunette" who is drawn to "the gray-eyed bodyguard" and his "powerful, strong arms," and desires him to "fill the aching void at her center," where a "deep heaviness throbbed in her belly." Much moaning, panting and stroking ensues.

Combs' underdog Democratic opponent Fred Head _ who cuts a dashing a figure himself with his shock of white hair and tuxedo in his Web site photo _ says the book is pornography, and from someone seeking support from Christian conservatives.

"We call it two-faced up here where I live," said Head, a former state representative from East Texas. "She's not who she says she is."

Combs, a former state lawmaker elected agriculture commissioner in 1998, said she has heard this on the campaign trail before, in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002 to be precise. In 1995, a Democrat read from the book on the state Senate floor during a filibuster.

Combs, who has three sons and has been married to the same man for 31 years, said her book's characters are consenting adults in their 20s and 30s, and their activities have nothing to do with her promotion of abstinence education in schools.

She is hardly the first conservative to reveal a bawdier side in print. Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, published a novel in the early 1980s called "Sisters," featuring a lesbian love affair. "The Apprentice," a novel by former vice presidential aide I. Lewis Libby that came out in 1996, includes references to bestiality, pedophilia and rape.

It has been 12 years since a Democrat was elected to a statewide post in Texas, and Head has no cash on hand, so he is given little chance of victory.

The comptroller oversees tax collections, monitors spending and tells lawmakers how much money is available. The job has nothing to do with sex education. But Republican candidates in Texas are expected to adhere to the state GOP's family-values platform.

Romance writers in Texas and across the country have bristled at any suggestion their work is pornography.

Houston writer Shana Galen pointed out that the heroes and heroines in her three romance novels end up getting married. In her latest book, "No Man's Bride," they tie the knot before the fifth chapter.

"My books promote family values like love, fidelity and marriage," said Galen, 33, who also writes "chick lit" books under the name Shane Bolks. "For him to call what I do pornography is deeply offensive."

© 2006 The Associated Press