The Republican candidates for lieutenant governor took the stage last night at the KERA studios in Dallas for a debate that was heavy on wedge issues like abortion but light on policy topics like transportation or school finance. Should rape or incest qualify as exceptions for abortion? Never. Should creationism be taught in the schools? Absolutely. Did the judge in the Muñoz case make the right decision? Not even close. Who is the true conservative? We all are.
The candidates, of course, are familiar faces in Texas. In fact, they have nearly 55 years of public service between them. David Dewhurst came in with the biggest target on his back. Conventional wisdom puts him in the lead in this race, but it also suggests that he has a floor in the mid-thirties and a ceiling in the low forties. That means one of his challengers—Dan Patrick, Jerry Patterson, or Todd Staples—is looking to push him to a run-off. Not surprisingly, they worked hard to establish themselves as his legitimate challenger. Patrick pressed Dewhurst on his role during the first special session in sending the abortion bill back to the House without the twenty-week ban; Staples accused him of being out of touch on public education and encouraged him to end the culture of teaching to the test.
In both of those cases, I thought Dewhurst steadied himself and held his ground. He beat back Patrick’s accusation by reminding him of the specifics of the negotiations (“You know as well as I do because I brought you in; you were in the Ramsey Room and we couldn’t get the senators onboard with the fourth element of the pro-life bill. You were there; you heard it), and he pointed out to Staples that the Legislature had passed HB 5 during the 2013 session, a signature piece of legislation that greatly reduces the number of end-of-course exams required for graduation.
That said, no one dominated the evening, and the entire affair was more clutch than gas. Patterson seemed to be the most comfortable in his own skin, and he staked out some of the more nuanced positions on topics such as medical marijuana and term limits. He also joined the group very forcefully on issues such as abortion, claiming that the state district judge in the Marlise Muñoz case was wrong to order doctors to take her off life support because her baby was past the twenty-week mark (even though she was only fourteen weeks pregnant when she was killed by a pulmonary embolism) and rejecting rape or incest as an exception to the state’s abortion laws:
“To say that we have an unborn child that is the result of rape and somehow that is less lifelike or inferior to the life that was created through a natural, non-catastrophic event like that, doesn’t make any sense. It’s either life or it’s not life. So I do not support exceptions for rape and incest.”
The candidates also agreed on the need to secure the border, though specific initiatives were set aside in favor of broad (and familiar) pronouncements. Staples has tried to make this a signature part of his campaign, promoting his six-point plan and criticizing Dewhurst for “just throwing money at the problem.” But in that same breath, he pointed out that fact that his agency had provided grant money to the Department of Public Safety for Operation Drawbridge and the need for “more resources on the ground.”
Patrick worked hard to highlight his conservative beliefs, but I think he got knocked off-balance when KERA’s Shelley Kofler asked him about his personal bankruptcy and the fact that he owed a Houston developer $340,000 as a result. Patrick tried to push past that chapter of his life—he referred to himself by saying, “I’m a risk-taker; I’m an entrepreneur”—but I think that line of questioning stung him. (Interestingly, when asked about his much-lampooned phone call to the Allen Police Department, Dewhurst replied, “What kind of man wouldn’t call when your family calls you late at night? What kind of man wouldn’t inquire about how you post bond? I wouldn’t like that kind of man.”) In the end, no candidate had an “Oops” moment, but no one separated themselves either. Let me know who your picks are in the comments.
But before you do that, here are four unedited quotes from last night’s debate; your job is to guess the speaker:
1. “It’s been said the establishment does not want me to be elected because they want the status quo to be protected.”
2. “Frankly, a citizen who cannot carry a firearm is not much of a citizen. Frankly, he’s a serf.”
3. “I don’t think we have to live in a state where we have to apologize for being a Christian.”
4. “I sent an invoice to the Obama administration of $156 million for the cost to incarcerate these illegals from late 2011 and the beginning of 2013.”