Coverage of the Lt. Governor’s Debate

The Texas Observer

Closing thoughts: It’s always tempting to want to pick a clear loser and winner in these debates, but that’s not so easy tonight. In this political environment, perceptions are as divided as the electorate. If you wanted talk-radio Dan Patrick (sans the on-air vasectomy and all that), ferociously attacking immigrants for bringing “invisible diseases,” bragging about voting to cut $5 billion from public education in 2011, taking an absolutist stance on abortion and all but accusing Van de Putte of being a baby-killer, then you’d probably think Patrick was in fine fettle.

Patrick, perhaps knowing that only diehards were watching this debate, came out swinging. In recent appearances, he’s struck the pose of a friendly, warm grandfather figure. Grandpa went missing today. This was much closer to the Patrick who set David Dewhurst on fire than the Patrick who recently told Evan Smith, in so many words, that Dewhurst and Van de Putte were swell folks and fine fellows. Tonight he railed against the Common Core curriculum and seemed at points like he was talking to an Arlington tea party group.

Patrick made it through the primary by making extraordinary, outlandish promises about his commitment to “securing the border.” He started out not very far from his opponents, but in the course of his campaign, his loud oaths committed him to draconian policies that he’s now bound to pursue if he gets the gavel. He’s still talking about the border—tonight, he talked about migrants’ “invisible diseases,” said DPS estimated there were 100,000 gang members here illegally and claimed that ISIS was at the border.

In the same way, he hopes to win in November by promising tax reforms that he’ll be hard-pressed to deliver. He’ll decrease some unspecified number of people’s property taxes by spiking the sales tax—in other words, he’ll move the state from a tax that hurts the middle class to a tax that hurts the poor. We’re weeks away from the election, and Patrick’s already got several sessions of dubious policies he’s promised to get done next session. (Add overhauling public ed to the list.)

Van de Putte did a serviceable job representing a centrist position in Texas politics that is now known as Democratic. If you were looking for someone to basically say, “Hey, wait a second, that doesn’t sound like such a great idea,” then Van de Putte did well. She was a little canned, a little cheesy, but in the end she came across as a solid, informed alternative to the tea party. She’s in favor of a “Texas solution” to Medicaid expansion, sounding a line from some moderate Republicans in the Legislature. (“You just gotta like the citizens in your state more than you dislike the federal government.”) She said something had to be done about securing the border but that “pointing guns at children is not the solution.” She said the state needed to invest in public education instead of gouging it, referring to Republican-led cuts in 2011 that sliced $5.4 billion from schools in 2011.

She emphasized her bipartisan credentials: Once you get to the Capitol, she said, there’s not a “red team or a blue team” but a “red, white, and blue Texas team.”

Meanwhile, Patrick appeals to The Base… because he can. Many politicians show more restraint for reasons of governance, future ambitions, some latent Leadership qualities. Dan Patrick doesn’t want to. We’ll see if he doesn’t need to.

7:53 p.m.: Dan Patrick closes by hating on liberals. VDP says she wants “red, white and blue Texas team.”

7:49 p.m.: Dan Patrick gives brief answer on same-sex marriage: “Our state has spoken… Marriage should be between a man and a woman.” In contract, Van de Putte says she hopes the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage.

7:45 p.m.: VDP endorses Medicaid expansion, which Rick Perry rejected, leaving more than a million Texans uninsured. “You just gotta like the citizens in your state more than you dislike the federal government.”

7:41 p.m.: “I have lost confidence in our state testing system… Our high-stakes testing is not working,” says Van de Putte, who favors elimination of “high-stakes testing.”

7:39 p.m.: It can’t be stressed enough: Dan Patrick sounds about as radical as he ever has. By comparison, LVDP sounds like a moderate Republican, I think what Patrick would call a RINO.

7:34 p.m.: Paraphrasing Dan Patrick: Would you rather pay $50 more in sales tax and $1,000 less in property taxes. (The sales tax is, of course, notoriously regressive, falls most heavily on the poor. It’s safe to say those numbers cited by Patrick are arbitrary at best.)

7:29 p.m.: Dan Patrick would increase sales tax to pay for property tax reform. I think I heard that right. Wow.

7:28 p.m.: “We can decide to cut or we can decide to invest,” LVDP. “Dan, you need a math lesson.”

7:27 p.m.: “She’s right,” Patrick says referring directly to $5 billion in public education cuts. You don’t normally hear politicians brag about cutting public ed.

7:25 p.m.: Patrick’s vote for public education cuts lead to 11,000 teacher lay-offs.

7:24 p.m.: Dan Patrick taking absolutist stance on abortion, says no room for compromise. Against exceptions for rape and incest.

7:22 p.m.: “I want zero abortions but the way you do that is not by making the services and the access almost non-existent,” says LVDP responding generally to harsh Dan Patrick charge that she stands for “taking the life of innocents in the womb,” as he put in a tweet.

7:19 p.m.: Patrick says “I was sad to see my opponent cheering on the anarchists who took control of the Capitol that night” of the Wendy Davis filibuster.

7:16 p.m.: “Immigrants often carry invisible diseases,” says Patrick, not moving from hardcore border rhetoric. “ISIS threatens us today.” Is it worth even fact-checking this claim?

7:14 p.m.: Taking a similar line as Wendy Davis, Van de Putte says in response to a question about National Guard deployments to the border that she would ask local law enforcement what they need but that “vile rhetoric” hurts border economy.

7:13 p.m.: Patrick refers to “magnets,” a popular right-wing idea that people come here for bennies like in-state tuition. Talk-show Dan Patrick is in the house tonight.

7:10 p.m.: LVDP says she was “proud” to author legislation for state DREAM Act offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. “Other Republican candidates running statewide don’t agree with you, Sen. Patrick.”

7:09 p.m.: Dan Patrick is asked about eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants accepted into state schools. Doesn’t directly answer question.

7:08 p.m.: “He wants to raise your taxes but won’t release his,” LVDP says of Patrick.

7:06: Patrick proposes eliminating the business margins tax, a Rick Perry idea passed in 2006 to pay for public education and buy down property taxes. It created a structural deficit of about $5 billion/year.

7:04: “There’s never been such a clear difference” in lt. governor’s race, says Patrick. I am most conservative and she is most liberal in Senate. “She’s pro-amnesty,” he says. Will cut property taxes and “I will secure the border.” (Texas-Mexico border, one assumes.) Ends by saying Texas shouldn’t go in a liberal direction and become California.

7:02 p.m.: Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist, says “she has a prescription for Texas” that includes roads, water for farmers and ranchers and, turning to Dan Patrick, “not just soundbites.”

Original: Tonight features the first—and, more important, the only—lt. governor’s debate between state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), and state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston). For where to watch the debate, which kicks off at 7 p.m, here is a handy resource.

Chris Hooks and Forrest Wilder will be tweeting and blogging highlights of the debate. Follow them on Twitter: @cd_hooks and @forrest4trees. Check back on this space for live analysis.

Van de Putte requested five debates but Dan Patrick, who’s been running a stealth campaign far away from the media spotlight, agreed to only one. A few things to watch for:

Which Dan Patrick will show up?

Will it be fire-and-brimstone, revolutionary Dan Patrick wielding school-voucher plans and bogus facts about diseased immigrants? Or will it be the new subdued Dan Patrick, eager to prove that he’s got appeal beyond the tea party? I suspect Patrick will at least nod toward the middle: He has nothing to lose from doing so.

Can Van de Putte shake up the race?

I think it’s safe to say, simply by dint of being a Democrat, Van de Putte is a big-time underdog in the race. Still, she’s run a peppy campaign that many Democrats find appealing and her opponent has plenty of warts for her to call attention to. If Van de Putte can find an edge it could give her some momentum going into the home stretch. Look for Van de Putte to try to cast Patrick as an extremist, especially on border/immigration,  public education and women’s health. At this point, she almost has to rattle Patrick; he’s already reaching for that Senate gavel.

Will this actually be a debate or just another extended infomercial?

The Wendy Davis-Greg Abbott debate didn’t really feel like a debate at all, thanks in part to the extremely rigid format. The candidates barely engaged with each other and the journalists asked no follow-up questions. The format of tonight’s…let’s just call it an event until further notice…is described as “traditional, open, close, timed answers and responses” on Dan Patrick’s website. That doesn’t seem promising but we shall see.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

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Published at 5:30 pm CST