The Democratic debate
Mon February 8, 2010 8:04 pm

First question was on vouchers…technical difficulties (mine)

Next question: Legislature may reconsider Patrick bill requiring sonograms. Do you support reconsidering it? White says, not going to make advance judgments but would not allow Legislative sessions to get hijacked by wedge issues. Shami would not take away freedom of any Texan, let woman consult with her doctor. No abortions after 90 days.

Question to Shami – Would you support overturning bill on same-sex marriages. Answer: Human beings should have the right to do what they want to do. I would not take away freedom.

Photo ID question to White – How do you prevent the session from being hijacked. White: Perry has brought the politics of Washington to the state house. If any noncitizen is voting they should be prosecuted and serve time. In this country, not everybody is required to have a photo ID. Follow-up, how to prevent shutting down business. White: Been over 14,900 votes since I was elected mayor, and those votes didn’t break down along party lines. I bring people together, treat every view with respect.

Shami: Voting is a privilege and a duty. People have lost their trust in career politicians. They ask now for a driver’s license. We don’t need a voter ID. Don’t waste our time on nonsense.
 ??? from voter trying to find a job in audience: To White, when I got back in job market, I’m viewed as overqualified and also my age. How do you keep older Texans from being disqualified?

White–we ought to make sure that each person has access to job training where there is a job waiting in the end. People came to my city after Katrina. We worked backwards with employment place to match people to jobs.
 ??? Companies are slashing jobs. What would you do?

White: as mayor, I brought companies to Houston. Texas has outperformed rest of America for decades.

Shami – creating jobs and growing businesses is my specialty. When I go to be governor, everybody is going to go to work. Green jobs that pay very well. As governor, everybody would have a job. Unlike my opponent, we lost 43,000 jobs in Houston since he took over, I guarantee 100,000 jobs in Houston when I take over or I pay ten million dollars. I will declare war on poverty and everybody will live the American dream.

Follow-up to Shami. What tools would you use to create jobs? Answer: I know how to serve the public, I know how to negotiate, I have formed 114 companies. I’m ready to serve every citizen.
 ??? How would each of you deal with the looming budget shortfall? What would you cut? Would you raise taxes and fees. Shami – CEO is my experience. I will balance the budget in my first year, I would cut costs or waste, I would increase revenue. I know how to balance the budget. Follow-up: how would you raise revenue? Answer: jobs, jobs, jobs, I brought 1277 jobs last year. White: First, I will fund the top priorities of state government–pub ed, higher ed, job training. Second, scrub the budget. When I was elected mayor, we had a deficit. I cut property tax rate 5 straight years. We can do this. I left the city with twice the balances as when I came in.

Question, White to Shami – (White’s prelude to the question is bragging on himself, not asking a question. In fact, I can’t really tell you what the question was.) White is talking about putting solar panels on public and private buildings. Shami – I have been working with scientists from NASA who are experts. I am ready right now. You talk about it, I am ready to do something right now. I am ready right now, first factory will be in El Paso. Working with community colleges so we can install those panels. One day we will be the leader in green energy.

Shami to White – You are concerned with environment, Houston is the third most polluted city. We’re in Fort Worth, Barnett Shale nearby, people are getting sick, will you support stopping digging for gas here. White: I will see that the rules are enforced. Throughout my time as mayor, we did better than other big cities in job growth. We identified benzene and other pollutants. Brought them down by more than 50%. If there is pollution anywhere, we should go after the polluter. We will not shut down a clean source of energy, natural gas.

Question from social media:

What steps will you take to secure the border with Mexico that are within the power of the governor? Shami: Should build bridges with Mexico, not have a war. Must not split families. Immigration is a federal issue. First thing I would do is work with officials on both sides. We need legal immigration. We should populate the border, create jobs on the border. White: Under the constitution, the federal government has the responsibility, and they are failing us. I would meet with local law enforcement and federal officials. We must distinguish between thousand of legal visitors and those who are up to no good. We have to do a better job. This can’t be a wedge issue. We have to have safe neighborhoods in our border communities.
 ??? to Shami – Would you use e-verify system? Answer – We check that in our business. But let’s think of the human side it. Without Mexicans, it is like a day without sunshine. I would give people who are without violence legal protection. To White: (explains e-verify). It is a useful tool for businesses who want to employ it. I don’t think a state should be putting mandates on employers.
 ??? to White: Texas has largest % of individuals without health care. 21% have not seen a doctor within the year. Should our state participate in a national system. White – bills pending do not give the states a choice. We do need to increase the number of people with access to group health insurance. Three share program is affordable for small business. It has a public stipend. Covers principal primary care needs. Shami – Would you guarantee that Texas would participate even if the state had to pick up part of the cost. We can work with it. We can’t just talk and leave our children without health care. Will grow 166% in next ten years. We cannot have that. If we create jobs, there are six different sets of companies that would give health insurance.

Audience question for Shami: due to recent exonerations and Dallas DA’s innocence project, do you think there should be a moratorium on capital punishment. “Yes, we need to be 100% sure. I would support a moratorium. We cannot be bragging how many people we executed. White – Not in all cases, that would disrespect those cases where there is no question about the evidence to convict. In Houston, we spent millions of dollars going through cases where there might be a question of innocence. I would never introduce politics into questions of life or death. When I appoint a forensic science commission, it would be concerned with science.

Audience question: Dallas has poor areas. How do you pay for better education. Education cannot be a circumstance of where a child is born. We should not place a limit on what parents can pay. Shami: need to raise teachers salaries, need to fund the schools by the state. The future of our children has to be secure. Without education we cannot compete in a global world. Decisions should be made by experts in education.

Could we nail down death penalty? Do you favor capital punishment. White: Yes. Shami: If we are 110% sure that person is guilty.

Candidate-specific questions: To Shami: You did not know the names of the attorney general and the comptroller. What tools do you have to influence the budget. The governor is the CEO. The CEO is the leader, the CEO is the builder. Follow-up: How do you get what you want? Shami: What I want is every citizen is treated justly and honestly. I would use my veto for that.

Follow up to White: your position on Barnett Shale again? White: where there is excessive level of benzene (there’s no good reason for benzene emissions). If operators are not completing those wells properly, they should be fined.

Transportation question: In 2 years, no state money for new roads. What about a gas tax increase? Shami: We need to reform TxDOT definitely. Yes, I would raise it a little. We need more roads in the Valley. We are putting roads in rich areas and leaving the Valley behind. White: Gasoline tax is not where I would start. I think we have to have a multi-year plan to end the diversions of motor fuel tax, use funds for the purpose for which they were intended. Have regional projects with cooperation. We’ve had a time with this terrible obsession with toll roads. I would stop immediately with $2.9 billion of TxDOT borrowing from road maintenance funds.
 ??? Audience question on electric rates: Electric bills have gone up, what can you do for the people of Texas to make sure that they will be warm in their homes. My aim for the state, you will not have high electric bills. We would use wind and solar and you can sell it to the electric company. You will receive a few dollars every month. We are lagging behind on green energy? White: Deregulation has not helped Texas families. Governor Perry talks about holding teachers accountable but he doesn’t hold himself accountable. Now our rates are higher than other states, highest in the nation. Houston, we cut energy bills by 10%. At least some of the politicians should accept responsibility for raising your bills. Green energy is not enough in the hot summer.
 ??? Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in 20 years. How do you intend to get Republican and independent votes? White: No one thought Saints could win the Super Bowl. We need a governor who can work for the future of our state. In Houston, I was reelected with 91% and 86%. Need for people to talk with each other, not about each other? Shami: People are ready for a change, tired of career politicians. Thank God I am not a politician, I am a businessman. I can bring jobs, create jobs, I understand health care, I understand budgets. State is ready for a brown goernor called Farouk Shami.

Closing statement by White. I’m Bill White. I would like your support to be the next governor of Texas. I have a track record. It is a record of getting things done. We need to prepare our citizens to compete in the global economy. I want to ask the people of this state to compare this to the Republican debate. We have treated each other with respect.

Shami: Thank you my fellow Americans for this opportunity, and my beloved Texans. I am the man who can secure jobs. My heart, my mind, are all Texans. I would accept $1 a year. I want to make the American dream a reality for all citizens.

* * * *

Not a lot of fireworks in this debate. White’s best moment came when he chastised TxDOT for borrowing $2.9 billion to build roads and pay it back out of road maintenance funds. He should have said that it was Rick Perry’s plan rather than TxDOT’s. He also performed well on the Voter ID question when he said that he would not allow wedge issues like Voter ID to hijack the session, and in his closing statement, when he asked viewers to notice the difference between the civility of the Democratic debate and the lack thereof in the Republican debates. The down side was that White did not show a much passion. He is what he is, and that is a wonk. On the question about how he would deal with the looming budget crisis, I didn’t care for his “scrub the budget” answer. We’ve all heard that dodge before. But he did make the point that he had done it when he was mayor and saved a lot of money.

Shami far exceeded my expectations, but then my expectations weren’t very high. He is quite endearing, really. We have all heard politicians talk about the American dream, but Shami had real passion about it. He is absolutely genuine. White is not yet comfortable in front of the camera. He’s going to have to work on that. There will be plenty of time for that.

* * * *

Vince Leibowitz, who is working with Shami, issued a statement immediately after the debate:

DALLAS-Former Houston Mayor Bill White Monday night refused to reconsider his position on a drilling moratorium in the Barnett Shale. “We will not shut down a clean source of fuel, natural gas,” White said. “Bill White owes the people of the Barnett Shale some serious answers,” said Vince Leibowitz, campaign director for Farouk Shami’s campaign. “White said this at a debate in Fort Worth, where Barnett Shale drilling issues are a significant concern to Democratic Primary voters. It is amazing to me that Mayor White would stand in the heart of this area of the state and tell people who are facing this every day that he won’t consider a moratorium,” Leibowitz said.

White’s position was reasonable: find the violators and fine the violators. That would require the Railroad Commission to aggressively regulate the industry, which would be a departure from current practice. The nature of moratoriums is that they last for a long time while the problem is investigated to death. If you shut down production, you are going to deprive companies and royalty owners of income. That is not a wise idea in a recession.

The Shami campaign also challenged White’s position on funding TxDOT: “Bill White, like Tom Schieffer and Sen. Hutchison, is lying to the public when he says ending diversions and inefficiencies at TXDOT will solve the problem. It just won’t. A bipartisan consensus is already emerging that TXDOT desperately needs additional revenue and the most sensible solution is the one presented by Mr. Shami, indexing the gas tax,” said Vince Leibowitz, Shami Campaign Director.

Ending diversions is a phony solution, and White undoubtedly knows better. It amounts to shifting deck chairs on the Titanic. Of the $1.53 billion in diversions, $1.24 billion goes to fund the Department of Public Safety. The other big diversions – and they are small by comparison – are for TEA ($100 million) and Medicaid ($83 million). Sure, you can do away with these diversions. But then how do you fund DPS? Are you going to cut the education budget by $100 million? The Medicaid budget by $83 million? Ending the diversions only creates a hole somewhere else in the budget. Shami’s proposal, indexing the gasoline tax, is no silver bullet. It doesn’t accomplish much unless you combine it with an increase in the tax and issuing revenue bonds.

The Shami campaign issued a statement after the debate claiming victory. I didn’t see it that way. White didn’t blow him away, certainly, but Shami’s answer to every question was that he would create jobs. White just played to run out the clock. If this were baseball, both pitchers would get a “no decision.”

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