Perry as debater

Sep 4, 2011 By Paul Burka

All the papers are running stories today about the upcoming Republican debate at the Reagan Library, which will be Perry's first test. What kind of a debater is he? He was involved in debates against Tony Sanchez in 2002, against Chris Bell, Carole Strayhorn, and Kinky Friedman in 2006, and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina in 2010. He refused to debate Bill White in 2010. I was on the panel in 2002. The Trans-Texas corridor had not yet become controversial. I asked, shouldn't we be focusing on the cities, not on new rural highways? The congestion is in the cities. Sanchez agreed. Perry didn't. In general, it was an uninspired debate, and I have very little recollection of it. Here is the late Molly Ivins' report on the 2006 debate: I sacrificed an hour Friday evening to watch the Texas gubernatorial debate on your behalf, since I knew none of you would do it. Democrat Chris Bell looked and sounded like the only candidate who won't embarrass the state -- he was intelligent, well informed and even funny. But the question remains: Can Texas afford to lose that hair? The Coiffure was in his usual form. As one opponent after another attacked his record, Gov. Rick Perry stood there proudly behind that 35 percent voter support he has so richly earned and simply disagreed. The Coiffure seemed to consider blanket denials a fully sufficient and adequate response. At one point, the debate actually became more interesting, as a panel of reporters with Belo Corp. changed formats. Doing a quick pop quiz, they asked independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn who won the election in Mexico. She informed us the winner had won by a narrow margin, and she is ready to work with him. They asked Goodhair the interest rate on a home mortgage. He said 5.9 percent, and it is 6.4 percent (I don't think I would have known that, either). Independent candidate Kinky Friedman didn't even try to guess the average cost of a year's tuition at the University of Texas ($7,630). They asked Bell when the battle of the Alamo was fought. He correctly answered 1836. One overall impression: It seems to me both Strayhorn and Friedman damaged themselves. Lots of people are voting for Kinky for the fun of it, but the thin-skinned Texas Jew reacted badly to questions about his recent racist remarks. He first became defensive and then petulant -- sort of, if you can't take a joke, to hell with you. The politically incorrect humor didn't work because it wasn't funny ... in fact, it was painfully bad. Strayhorn seemed over-prepped and over-amped. As Texas political guru Bob Armstrong said, she talked 40 mph, with gusts up to 70. So that leaves us with two Protestant white guys again. Just FYI, the percentage of minority citizens working for the state government has gone down steadily since Ann Richards. Rick Perry and Chris Bell: Compare and contrast. Rick Perry has really good hair. Chris Bell has everything else. Obviously, you think my prejudices are showing here, but others who reported on the debate, while often taking shelter behind the "no major blows landed" dodge, rather clearly thought Bell had done best, even if Perry won on the politics of it by not actually saying anything totally idiotic. According to the post-debate "fact check" article in the Dallas Morning News, Perry claimed he had pushed a tax bill through the Legislature "lowering property taxes by a record amount." He didn't mention that the bill is not a tax cut, it's a tax-swap -- it didn't lower taxes, it just moved them over to business and smokers. He also claimed teachers could get a $12,000 raise under his school plan. Actually, the pay raise for teachers is $2,000 across the board, with the stated recommendation to the school districts that they add merit pay raises between $3,000 and $10,000. That's some mighty fancy slicing and dicing there. Bell picked up a $1 million pledge that night from John O'Quinn, the Houston trial lawyer. The trial lawyers have almost blown a good shot here -- all it takes is one more vote than 36 percent, there is no run-off, this is winner-take-all, sudden death. Polls show two out of three Texas voters ready to vote against Perry. The Democrats have a base vote around 40 percent. I think it would be a real tragedy to throw this one away, and you know what is tripping us up? We think we can't win. We're in a real "why try, why work, why contribute?" spiral, believing our guy doesn't have a chance. Nonsense. You couldn't ask for an easier win. The following is was my report on the 06 debate. There was some controversy about the date; it was held on a Friday night, when many Texans were attending high school football games, and therefore was perceived as being much to Perry's advantage: If he made a gaffe, or one of his opponents performed well, few would see it. * * * * Rick Perry won the debate. A debate is not like a track event; the constestants do not share the same starting position. Perry went into the debate as the clear frontrunner and, while he took some punches, he did nothing that would lose votes. He had only one rough moment, and that was his response to an e-mail asking why the public had never been allowed to vote on the Trans-Texas Corridor. Perry answered that they had voted on a portion of the plan. That's a stretch. They voted for a constitutional amendment creating a mobility fund, not on the gigantic plan for toll roads everywhere. His response to charges that he had taken large contributions from involved parties--that his campaign transactions were transparent--was true but not on point. That was the one moment in the debate when he looked off his game; his eyes were moving around, as if he was looking for the exit. Which, as it turned out, he was.

CNN to air Republican debate from NH

Jun 11, 2011 By Paul Burka

The first debate of the political season will occur on Monday night. It is the New Hampshire Republican debate on CNN. Seven candidates have accepted invitations; in alphabetical order they are Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, the late Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. Bachmann and…

Early post-debate polling: leaders lose ground

Jan 17, 2010 By Paul Burka

This report comes from a polling firm that did a post-debate survey of Republican primary voters. I am authorized to publish these numbers. I have no further information to provide other than what I am publishing here. –Perry and Hutchison lost support as a result of the debate. Perry fell…

Perry must be worried…

Jan 17, 2010 By Paul Burka

…or else he would not have pulled the plug on the Governor’s Mansion addition. Perry has gotten himself out on a limb with all the bragging about Texas, and it may come back to haunt. Add up the boasts about how he balanced the budget (no mention of those stimulus…

And the winner is …

Jan 15, 2010 By Paul Burka

Maybe the question is: Was there a winner? Well, the format was a winner. The questions from viewers, from members of the audience, and from one panelist to another, made for a lively if not necessarily enlightening debate. Perry did a good job of repeating his major themes. He must…

The Texas Gubernatorial Debate

Jan 14, 2010 By Paul Burka

First question, none of you like Washington, can you name a federal program that you like, one that you don't like. Hutchison and Perry argued over highway funding--are we getting back 76 cents per each dollar, Perry says 70 cents. Medina likes military but says the federal gov't is not doing a good job running the military. She would nullify the EPA and Health care. Question from listener: What would you do about unemployment. Medina--Perry and Hutchison will offer big government solutions. We should learn to lean on each other. Should eliminate prop taxes, adds $3 billion to personal income. To Perry, unemployment useed to be at 8%, used to be 4%. Perry--nobody misunderstands that Texas is the best state in the union for this. We lead the nation in the development of jobs. America lost 3 million jobs, spend it all, spend it now, Texas created jobs in Oct Nov. Let's have skilled work force, get schools adequately funded. (Uh, what about the structural deficit.) Perry is getting passionate about a lot of jobs. Medina--You're talking about 08-09, what about 07. Perry--really wears me out that there are two people on this stage that wants to tear Texas down. KBH -- Lower the burden on business so that we can create more jobs. Gov Perry has raised the burden. New business tax, have to pay the highest unemployment tax. Our unemployment rate is higher than all of the surrounding states. Hiding from it is not the way to make things better. KBH -- Don't add business expenses. Medina -- important to point out, we have lost jobs in the private sector. All the jobs the gov is talking about is 156 thousand in the government sector. Perry: Hold on. No gov has cut taxes more than we did. We cut taxes for 40,000 small business.l We cut property taxes by one-third. KBH -- Dallas Morning News says largest tax increase in our history. Perry -- I don't take the Dallas Morning News as the standard for truth and veracity. Perry--cut property taxes by 1/3. KBH--no you didn't, didn't take into account increasing appraisals. Question on Abortion--Do you support Roe v, Wade. KBH -- I have always supported life. We have added restrictions on abortion that protect life. Follow up--should Roe v Wade remain in effect? Follow up -- So you would not overturn. SHE WON'T GIVE A STRAIGHT ANSWER. (Audience laughs). KBH -- You have to look at what happens if Roe goes away. Question for Medina--You have indicated that you support right to bear arms. Given how you feel, is there any restriction you would support. Answer--Here is the difference between someone who understands the U.S. Constitution and the answer the governor and Senator would give. We have had tragedies, Columbine, Fort Hood. Private property ownership and gun ownership, the two things essential to a free society. Gun registration leads to gun confiscation. Question--Where are the limits? Medina--We have made average citizen unable to defend themselves.

The Speaker’s Race: The Craddick-Dingus Debate

Oct 29, 2008 By Paul Burka

On Sunday, October 19, the two candidates for district 82, incumbent Republican Tom Craddick and Democratic challenger Bill Dingus met in a debate in Midland. The complete debate may be viewed online here. The online version has separate segments for each question that was asked and for the opening and closing statements. One peculiarity is that the debate was sponsored by AT&T, and the senior vice-president of AT&T Texas was allowed to be a member of the panel that asked questions. My report on the debate is based upon my notes of the answers to questions. It is not a verbatim transcript. Each candidate had one minute to respond to a question, and they were allowed unlimited thirty-second rebuttals. Craddick opening statement: I grew up in Midland, moved here when I was 9. I went to public schools here, and my children went to school here and graduated from high school. When I ran for speaker I made some commitments. We took a ten billion deficit and turned it into a positive, no new tax increase. We gave more than $14 billion in property tax relief, the largest property tax cut in history . We did tort reform and brought ten thousand new doctors to Texas. We have the number one business climate of any state. And I've done lots of things for Midland. Dingus opening statement: I want to thank KMID and everyone who is here tonight and those who are watching this debate. Thanks to Speaker Craddick for agreeing to participate. I want to thank all the voters of district 82 who have been so supportive of my candidacy. I am running because I want to provide a choice, an independent voice in Austin as opposed to one that is not. West Texas has big issues, the Trans-Texas Corridor, high utility rates, paltry funding of public education. But the biggest problem is the domination by special interest lobbyists who control too much of what is decided in Austin, and that is the change I want to bring to district 82. What is your position on the Trans-Texas Corridor? Dingus: It's a bad idea, and we shouldn't do it. It's a $140 billion boondoggle. The state would have to condemn 460,000 acres of good Texas farm and ranch land. This is a good example of how lobbyists control everything we do in Austin. Craddick: The Trans-Texas Corridor was originally designed to get larger highways between the major cities. Tx-DOT took it and ran with it. The Trans-Texas Corridor is dead. There is a moratorium on it. I did not vote for the Trans-Texas Corridor. I wasn't even on the floor when the Trans-Texas Corridor was passed. It doesn't affect West Texas. Everybody in Austin knows it is dead. [Craddick and Dingus then engaged in a fast-paced discussion over whether Dingus supported another major highway that was to cut through West Texas from Presidio. Craddick said Dingus made the motion to support it as a Midland city councilman and named the date of the vote. Dingus said that he voted for the bypass around Midland to keep 5,000 trucks a day out of the city. He added that he and other opponents completely rewrote the proposal.] Fifty percent of the money in this race has been received from outside the district. How can local voters be suyre their voice is heard, and would you be beholden to people from outside the district? Dingus: I got a contribution from my mother, I;m beholden to her. Others I got were all from friends and relatives. They're not going to be asking me for any favors. I got an awful lot of contributions from the district in small amounts. Craddick: We received a lot of contributions from the district, more than our opponent, and a larger amount dollarwise, and a lot of statewide contributions. A lot of these are from political action committees. Well, what is that? That's a lot of people who live in Midland, doctors, dentists, have done that. [Craddick named people in the audience who were involved in PACs, including "my opponent's dentist."] Dingus: There is a difference between lobbyists and PACs. Corporate lobbyists money is huge, and that I have a problem with, and you should too. In the Legislature a lot of emphasis is placed on seniority and rank. Does having the speaker come from Midland make a difference? [I intend to keep my personal opinions about the candidates out of this report, but -- this is outrageous. The debate was sponsored by AT&T. This question was asked by Leslie Ward, the AT&T vice-president and lobbyist whose company has given Craddick bucketsful of money. It is obviously a softball pitched so that Craddick can knock it out of the park. She had no business being on that panel, or asking that question.] Dingus: It does make a difference, and it should make a difference. The problem isn't so much the rank and the seniority, it's the behavior of the person. I think we can all agree that if we did establish term limits, we wouldn't say one term of forty years or two terms of twenty years. That's too long. With power comes longevity, and there's a problem with longevity. Craddick: The speaker being from West Texas does make a difference. It's a real positive for us out here and people across the state. And probably, in today's world, looking at redistricting in two years, there won't be another speaker from rural areas after me. It's been a real positive. Look at the health care facilities tied to Texas Tech, OB-GYN, two new surgical suites, digital mammograms. And I think as far as term limits, we have term limits in this state. People can vote you out every two years, that's our term limits. Dingus: I'm not running against Tom Craddick because he is speaker. It is because of what he has done as speaker that I am running against him. Craddick: I'm very proud of what I have done as speaker and I'd do it again.

McCain Scores, but Can’t Keep the Momentum

Oct 16, 2008 By Paul Burka

This was a debate out of the past, one that centered on familiar issues–taxes, spending, health care, education, abortion, litmus tests for judges. It was about ideology, left versus right. The 800 pound gorilla in the room is the economic crisis, but only the first two questions dealt with it.

The rules for tonight’s debate

Oct 7, 2008 By Paul Burka

This is from my favorite web site, It represents outtakes from a longer piece by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago-Sun Times about the negotiations between the two camps for the debate. I recommend Sweet’s article. Readers will find it informative. Sweet points out that the…

Who won the debate?

Sep 28, 2008 By Paul Burka

Can I vote "present?" It was hard to score. One of the factors in a presidential debate is gaffes. There were none. Another is body language. (Remember Al Gore's eye-rolling performance in the first debate of 2000.) Both candidates maintained their discipline, McCain moreso than Obama, who was too visibly eager to start his rebuttals. I give McCain the edge here, though with an assist from CNN, which seemed to focus more on Obama when McCain was talking than the reverse. This was supposed to be a foreign policy debate, but the economic crisis was uppermost in everyone's minds, and the early focus was on the economy generally and the bailout package specifically. Obama clearly won round one with a crisp opening statement: four things that the package had to accomplish. First, assuring more oversight of the financial system. Second, providing a chance for taxpayers to get their money back as housing regains its value. Third, preventing the money from being used to enrich CEO's with higher salaries and golden parachutes (good luck). Fourth, saving homeowners from foreclosures. He ended by saying, "We also have to recognize that this is a final verdict on eight years of failed economic policies promoted by George Bush, supported by Senator McCain, a theory that basically says that we can shred regulations and consumer protections and give more and more to the most [well off], and somehow prosperity will trickle down." McCain never sounds comfortable talking about economics, except when the subject is small ball: earmarks, pork barrel, "excess and greed in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street," his "fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker," his intention to "veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk " It's attitude, not policy. Obama responded, "Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up....But let's be clear: Earmarks account for $18 billion in last year's budget. Senator McCain is proposing -- and this is a fundamental difference between us -- $300 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country, $300 billion. Now, $18 billion is important; $300 billion is really important. And in his tax plan, you would have CEOs of Fortune 500 companies getting an average of $700,000 in reduced taxes, while leaving 100 million Americans out. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the earmarks process has been abused, which is why I suspended any requests for my home state, whether it was for senior centers or what have you, until we cleaned it up....So my attitude is, we've got to grow the economy from the bottom up. What I've called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, 95 percent....And over time, that, I think, is going to be a better recipe for economic growth than the policies of President Bush that John McCain wants to to follow." The next exchange exposed a weakness in Obama's debating style. McCain focused on Obama's comment about earmarks, suggesting that Obama represented the Washington view that "It's only $18 billion." Obama responded, "John, nobody is denying that $18 billion is important. And, absolutely, we need earmark reform. And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely." I think Obama should have moved on. His lawyer's instinct told him that he couldn't let McCain's point go unanswered. But he could have, and should have, ignored it. Instead, he let McCain put him on the defensive. This happened to Obama time after time in his debates against Hillary. In the Texas debate (it might have been Ohio), she pounded him on not just renouncing the support of Louis Farrakhan; she insisted that he "reject" it. She dangled the bait and Obama swallowed it: He meekly said, okay, he rejected it. One of the worst things you can do in a presidential debate is be defensive. It doesn't look presidential. This was just a small exchange, but it is instructive. Obama was killing McCain on economics, but McCain was able to get inside his head and make him defensive. McCain's instinct is honed by his military experiences, and he never takes a defensive posture. He made no attempt to defend his $300 billion in tax cuts. He attacked: "Now, Senator Obama didn't mention that, along with his tax cuts, he is also proposing some $800 billion in new spending on new programs. Now, that's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. I want to cut spending. I want to keep taxes low. The worst thing we could do in this economic climate is to raise people's taxes." Heres another example: MCCAIN: We had an energy bill before the United States Senate. It was festooned with Christmas tree ornaments. It had all kinds of breaks for the oil companies, I mean, billions of dollars worth. I voted against it; Senator Obama voted for it. OBAMA: John, you want to give oil companies another $4 billion. MCCAIN: You've got to look at our record. You've got to look at our records. That's the important thing.... If "Never let your opponent put you on the defensive" is Rule 2 of presidential debating, Rule 1 is, Ignore what your opponent says and get your message out. McCain understands this much better than Obama. That's not his problem. McCain's problem is that (1) his message isn't very good, at least on economics, and (2) He's not the best at delivering it. Plus, he's getting bad advice. Suspending his campaign and contemplating missing the debate are actions contrary to his central message that he is a leader and he makes the tough decisions. I am going to skip the discussion in which moderator Jim Lehrer tried to get the candidates to say which programs they might postpone or eliminate in order to pay for the bailout. Both Obama and McCain pitched their appeals to the bases of their respective parties. Obama turned the question to his advantage by talking about his priorities for programs he would KEEP: energy independence, health care, education (science and technology in particular), and rebuilding infrastructure; his cuts would come from ending the Iraq war. McCain said he would eliminate the ethanol subsidy and get rid of cost-plus military contracts. His main proposal was a spending freeze on all programs except defense, veterans, and entitlements. He concluded by saying, "A healthy economy with low taxes ... is probably the best recipe for eventually having our economy recover. This is about as clear a difference in the philosophies of the two candidates, and their parties, as you can get.

McCain’s strategy: lunacy or genius?

Sep 25, 2008 By Paul Burka

My first reaction to McCain’s decision to suspend his campaign and forego the debate due to the economic meltdown was that it was an awful move. My second reaction was the same. The country is facing a crisis and McCain, who just ran a TV spot saying, “I’ve tackled tougher…