The report below is based upon notes I took during the Texas Association of Business debate. It is not a verbatim report but it is substantially faithful to the candidates' remarks.
Cruz began by defining the race as "a clear contrast between a "timid career politician" -- that would be Dewhurst -- and himself. He spoke of having the support of the strongest conservatives in the Senate. Cruz has tried to make the race an ideological battle from the beginning.
Leppert was second to speak. "This race is fundamentally about opportunity," he said. He returned again and again to his experience in business and warned of "people who don't understand how to put together a business."
James too touched on the business theme. "I've been a football player, a broadcaster, a rancher." And he spoke of three touchstones: "God is God. Family is family. The Constitution is the Constitution." He said attorney general Eric Holder "should be removed from office immediately."
Dewhurst said, "We live in the best state in the greatest country in the world.We've seen Barack Obama trampling on the Constitution, trampling on our rights. I've been involved in cutting state spending. We've faced an avalanche of regulations. We can predict a stable business climate. We know what a good business climate looks like. "Send a proven conservative to Washington."
[end of opening statements]
TAB's Bill Hammond was the moderator of the debate. His choice of questions was excellent. The first question was what the candidates would do about Social Security.
--Leppert: "We have to ensure that Social Security is solvent and doesn't bankrupt us." He called for increasing the retirement age, cutting out cost of living increases, and establishing personal accounts.
--James: "I'm from Real Street." He spoke about his father's failing health and the importance of his $2000-a-month Social Security check. [I can't quite grasp what James means by Real Street. He's spent his entire career in the fantasy world of sports, television, and entertainment -- about as unreal a world as there is on the planet.
--Dewhurst: States can handle the program more effectively than the federal government. [I know that this is a common mantra, but I don't buy it. Based on what has happened with CHIP and Medicaid in 2003, we would throw people off the rolls whenever there was a fiscal crisis. Take the Frew case. The state has never lived up to its agreements. It would be worse without the federal government looking over the state's shoulder.] "Social Security is broke, the trust fund is empty, it's an IOU, if it were a private company, people would be in prison."
--Cruz: "Republicans have been too timid to fight the Democrats." He would make no changes in the system for people who are at or near retirement; for others, gradually increase the retirement age; establish personal accounts; and seek "leaders with a backbone."
Hammond's next question was what to do about Medicare:
--James: "Someone has to pay for it. The states know best.
--Dewhurst: "We have to repeal Obamacare" [this was a common theme throughout the debate]. "I always prefer a private model over a federal model. I agree with the Paul Ryan plan to move people into private insurance and give them premium support. We need national tort reform. People need to be able to buy insurance across state lines."
--Cruz: "Entitlements are out of control. We need patient centered decision-making. Entitlements should be defined contribution instead of fixed benefits. [Then they aren't entitlements any more--pb] Need to expand personal savings accounts and move toward competition."
--Leppert: Make Medicare something we can afford. Help people buy private insurance.
Hammond next asked about Medicaid:
--Dewhurst: Costs have risen by 130%. It's unsustainable. The states should insist on block grants. States can handle health care better than the federal government. We must provide incentives for individuals to take care of themselves.
--Cruz: I have spent a lifetime fighting for the Tenth Amendment. We must get people in position to buy their own health insurance.
--Leppert: We need to ensure that it is solvent, that it doesn't bankrupt us. Encourage states to increase their rolls. One large pool would reduce the overall cost of the system.
--James: Bring the money to the states. Washington promotes a handout mentality. Young people have their hands out. They have an entitlement mentality.
Hammond: Do you support a constitutional convention for a balanced budget amendment?
--Cruz: I would not vote for a balanced budget amendment without a spending cap.
--Leppert: Balanced budget amendment is not enough. We need to put discipline in the system. We should go to zero-based budgeting. End subsidies to Amtrak and Washington, D.C.
--James: I believe in a balanced budget in my own house. I would get rid of federal regulations that are costing us $1.7 trillion. I guarantee you everybody in Congress knows how to balance a checkbook.
[Dewhurst interrupts]: "I'm not so sure. I'd rather put a number in, a spending cap of 18% of GDP.
--Leppert [on a constitutional convention]: I don't trust what the politicians will do. I'd be worried about the Second Amendment in a constitutional convention.
--James: It's unimaginable what they are doing.
--Dewhurst: Over the last decade, our politicians have failed to balance the budget. A constitutional convention was an established practice at the time our country was founded.
--Cruz: I do not support a constitutional convention. Our problem is career politicians. We need to decrease the rate of growth.
Hammond: Where can we get real savings?
--James: We need to look at all the problems.
--Dewhurst: The Department of Defense is 31% of our total budget. We need to get rid of redundant spending. [He went on to tout Senate Bill 7, legislation that he championed during the 2011 session: "It will keep people out of hospitals."]
--Cruz: We need to dramatically decrease the size of the federal government. I would cut the National Endowment for the Arts, cut the IRS, call for a flat tax, and cut all discretionary spending.
--Leppert: The people who will lead that fight are people who have done it before. I've done it (cut spending) in Dallas. I would audit the Defense Department and cap salaries at the federal level. Salaries shouldn't rise unless the government's income goes up.
Hammond's next question was about the Endangered Species Act.
--Dewhurst: "Jobs are an endangered species. 1,300 species are listed as endangered. What are the costs and benefits of the Act?
--Cruz (speaking of a lizard that could shut down oil production in the Permian Basin): "That's our lizard. They make a damn fine pair of boots."
--Leppert: If there is any regulation that has a plus or minus $50 million impact on the economy, it should be repealed.
--James: The Keystone Pipeline was held up because of a lizard. Let's let people go to work.
Hammond: What changes would you make at EPA?
--Leppert: Put it under real scrutiny. Obama is killing jobs.
--James: On Real Street, if I can't get a deal down to one page, it's not a deal for me. EPA has no common sense. I'd get rid of EPA.
--Dewhurst: EPA took away our right to permit. Its cross-state pollution rule would shut down refineries.
Hammond then asked about trade policy:
--Leppert: China is guilty of manipulation. Trade needs to take place on an equal playing field. They manipulate the currency. We have to get our house in order.
--James: We have to be firm with the Chinese. Trade needs to take place on even-stephen terms. We have to stabilize what we've got.
--Dewhurst: I'm a free trader, but China has been unfair in trade negotiations. The president needs more tools to confront China.
--Cruz: China is our most significant trading partner. We don't want a trade war. I would not put tariffs in place.
[Question on unemployment insurance is omitted--notes are incomplete]
Hammond's final question was, What issue would you focus on as a freshman senator?
--James: We must protect our freedoms. We've got to adhere to the Constitution. Everything starts with freedom.
--Dewhurst: I would pick balancing the budget in the first year.
--Cruz: Repeal Obamacare. The Senate is at a tipping point. The strongest conservatives in the Senate are supporting me, all are strong constitutional conservatives.
--Dewhurst: I was raised in Houston. My dad was in World War II. He was killed by a drunk driver when I was three. My mother taught me about faith, integrity, and hard work. I served in the Air Force and the CIA. I want everybody else to have the opportunities I did. I'm very concerned about Obama's policies. He's killing the American Dream. On Day 1, I will try to repeal Obamacare.
--James: I am asked, "What qualifies you to be a senator?" I'm a dad. America gave us a chance to do our jobs. Discipline--I'm thankful I was a football player. I will never falter from doing the right thing.
--Cruz: The task is to turn the country around. Will the next senator be a strong conservative and a fighter? There is a big difference between me and Dewhurst. If what you think we need is a moderate and a conciliator, then vote for Governor Dewhurst.
--Leppert: People are really worried out there. We need people who bring not a political perspective, but people who can bring people together.
* * * *
This was a high-quality debate, and much of the credit goes to Bill Hammond for the variety of questions that he asked. On endangered species, on the EPA, on unemployment insurance, Hammond weaved together federal issues that impact Texas.
Dewhurst was the most senatorial of the group. He was more conversant with the issues than anyone else. His best moment came on a question about a balanced budget amendment. James had just said that everybody knows how to balance a checkbook, and Dewhurst immediately said, "I'm not so sure. Then he said he preferred a cap on federal spending of 18% of GDP. On another occasion, in answer to a question about how to get rid of redundant spending, Dewhurst immediately came up with the fact that the Defense Department accounts for 31% of the federal budget. Being a career politician isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Cruz is an attractive candidate, but he continues to describe the race as an ideological crusade. That strategy could work for him if he can get into a runoff with Dewhurst. Cruz has a constituency, and Dewhurst really doesn't. He has to rely on his advantage in name identification and money, and his record as lieutenant governor, much of which is piggybacking on Perry's record.
Leppert has good answers, but it is very hard for a mayor to break through in a statewide race. Just ask Bill White. It is difficult to extend one's name ID outside your home territory.
James is redshirting. He has the talent but lacks the seasoning. He got a late start. You can expect to see him running statewide in 2014, but not in the U.S. Senate in 2013.
- 1 week