The third-annual Texas Tribune Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with headlining appearances by most of the major players in Texas politics in 2014 and beyond. Specifically, declared gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and yet-to-declare gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Senator Ted Cruz, and Texas First Lady Anita Perry all made headlines during their interview and audience Q&A sessions in Austin over the weekend.
If you weren’t keeping up on Texas politics over the weekend, we can’t say we blame you—the federal government is on the verge of a shutdown, there was a lot of football on TV, and Breaking Bad finally ended, so it’s not like there weren’t other things to think about. But here’s a quick cheatsheet on what you missed if you weren’t paying attention to the #TribuneFest hashtag all weekend.
The First Lady of Texas made national news when she answered a question from Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief about the “War on Women” rhetoric and abortion. She denied the existence of a “war on women,” but when it came to abortion, she said, “It’s really difficult for me, Evan, because I see it as a woman’s right. If they want to do that, that’s their decision, they have to live with that decision.” When Smith followed up to make sure she said what she meant (“I want to make sure you didn’t just inadvertently make news”), she seemed to uncomfortably push the issue as a matter of states’ rights, before deciding to affirm her personal point of view: “I don’t think that’s really making news,” she told Smith. “Yeah, that could be a woman’s right, just like it’s a man’s right if he wants to have some kind of procedure.” She expressed her own personal opposition to the idea of abortion throughout, but her endorsement of the procedure as a right was a bit of a surprise.
— Becca Aaronson (@becca_aa) September 28, 2013
Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst didn’t exactly make news during his session at the festival, but he did open up about a few things. He commented on the possibility of a Blue Texas (which he believes would only come about due to Republican “complacency”), and declared that such an outcome would only happen “over my cold, dead body,” which perhaps means that a complacent Texas GOP would kill him. Speaking of cold, dead bodies, when discussing Obamacare—a popular and timely topic of conversation among many of the event’s speakers—the Lieutenant Governor declared that the US already has “universal health care,” citing the emergency room:
— David Saleh Rauf (@davidrauf) September 28, 2013
The Tribune Fest is not exactly a friendly crowd to an embattled figure like Dewhurst, but by most accounts, he didn’t come off very well. He did clarify the phone call he made to the Allen Police Department regarding the arrest of his niece, explaining that he stressed that he was David Dewhurst, Lieutenant Governor of Texas so many times to make it clear to the person on the other end of the line that it wasn’t a prank call. So that’s been cleared up.
The current Texas Monthly cover star had a more productive session than Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst. The focus of Attorney General Abbott’s appearance was voter ID, voter fraud, and race. Abbott declared an intention to receive “at least 40 percent of the hispanic vote” in his forthcoming Governor’s race against—well, you know who it’s against. He also said that the state would make receiving a copy of your birth certificate in order to obtain voter ID cheaper, down to $2 from its usual $22. He also suggested voting by fingerprint, as a way to cut down on vote fraud. There are probably some civil libertarians who would number themselves among his supporters who would have concerns with that, but it’s not the line that garnered the current Attorney General and potential future Governor the most attention:
— Peggy Fikac (@pfikac) September 28, 2013
Abbott responded to the room’s reported laughter with a pithy, “Not my crowd,” and it’s probably true that, to a less unfriendly audience, a line like that plays much differently.
The freshman Senator appeared via teleconference, as he stayed in Washington for a budget vote. And his choice of backdrop for the session was instantly popular with conservative political blog Twitchy.
— TwitchyTeam (@TwitchyTeam) September 28, 2013
Not surprisingly, one of his major topics of conversation was Obamacare, but he also discussed some of the current drama surrounding his barely-concealed disagreements with current Republican leadership. That included declining, when given the opportunity, to endorse Texas Senator John Cornyn for reelection. Now, that’s not a huge deal, given that Cornyn will face no challengers, but it’s also compelling evidence that Cruz strongly values his identity as an outsider as he mulls, well, let’s not talk about Presidential ambitions yet, but also, yes, he has been to Iowa and New Hampshire.
— Tim Gregg (@TimGregg1) September 27, 2013
All of that speculation up there would probably bum the Senator out, though, given that he said that the media treats these things like “Hollywood gossip columns.” (Which, ouch, but also, when you sign up for a major GQ profile in an issue with movie stars on the cover, it kind of seems like you’re trying to have it both ways.) Oh, and speaking of that GQ profile, he called the part about him refusing to study with “minor Ivies” flat-out false.
The State Senator, who was the closing keynote speaker on Sunday, could “neither confirm nor deny” that she’d be announcing a run for governor on Thursday, although man would the supporters she’s urging to attend her Fort Worth announcement that afternoon be disappointed to learn that she’s seeking reelection to her current office. In any case, the biggest news about Davis did not occur on the Tribune Fest stage. She was, however, easily the biggest star for a crowd that laughed at Greg Abbott’s applause lines.
Standing room only at #tribunefest for Sen. Wendy Davis. Not since high school have I needed a “hall pass” for restroom.
— S Joel Hastings (@SJoelHastings) September 29, 2013
Question: is it weird if I cry when she takes the stage? #TribuneFest
— Shelby Cole (@ShelbyLCole) September 29, 2013
Most of her time was devoted to previewing what a potential (hah) Wendy Davis gubernatorial campaign might focus on: pivoting away from the perception that she’s a single-issue candidate by talking about public education, highways, and the potential American Airlines/US Airways merger, which she brought up to highlight a difference between herself and President Obama. It was a well-timed appearance, given what she’ll be announcing on Thursday, but it sure would have made the Tribune Fest crowd’s day to hear her say that on Sunday afternoon.