Texas Politics

Davis, Abbott: How Many Debates are Enough?



I t is a time-honored tactic in politics for an underdog in an election to challenge the presumed leader to debate.

Particularly in running against an incumbent seeking re-election, the challenger hopes to get additional exposure, and legitimacy, by standing on the same platform.

The favorite often refuses to debate, thinking the only things that can come from a debate usually are bad. It will give the challenger free publicity, and there’s a chance the favorite either will commit blunders – “Oops!” — or be forced to talk about things they’d rather not.

Sometimes the favorite will agree to one debate, or maybe two, just to avoid the charge they’re hiding behind their campaign managers, and too chicken to come out and appear before the public.

However, in this year’s governor’s race, in Red-State Texas, the favorite — Republican Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott – accepted two debate invitations, and then challenged the Democratic nominee, Sen. Wendy Davis to follow suit.

One is in McAllen on Sept. 19. The other is in Dallas on Oct. 3. Those are Friday nights, so the debates would be in competition with high school football games. The final one would be exactly a month before the Nov. 3 election.

The Abbott team undoubtedly wants the last one no closer to the election, to avoid having issues from the debate upstage Abbott’s controlled message being delivered by saturation TV ads in the last month of the campaign. It took Davis’s sometimes slow-footed campaign several days to respond. But then she came back with her own challenge to Abbott, and a specific list of druthers.

Two debates late in the campaign isn’t enough in a state as big as Texas, Davis said. She called for six debates – beginning in the Rio Grande Valley in July, and then on to Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock. And at least one should be simulcast in English and Spanish, she said.

And they shouldn’t wait until mid- September to start, but begin in July and go through October. And two should be issue-specific, on education and economic opportunity. And two should be in 90-minute town hall formats.

No, she didn’t get around to specifying how they should dress, but you get the idea.

The Abbott team’s immediate but rather haughty reply came, as usual, through a spokesman – this time, campaign manager Wayne Hamilton.

“Thank you for your letter,” Hamilton wrote in an open letter to Davis. “General Abbott has already committed to two statewide televised debates, and therefore we must respectfully decline your proposal.”

Then there’s a long paragraph outlining the specific details of the two debates Abbott has agreed to. That’s followed by an oddly arrogant dismissal sentence:

“We hope you can recognize the need to participate and engage with Texas voters across our state. Sincerely, Wayne Hamilton.”

This from the campaign of the guy who says two debates are plenty, to the gal calling for six, all over the state.

It won’t be a surprise if Davis starts carting around a life-size cardboard cutout of Abbott, to put in an empty chair. She can ask it questions about Abbott’s stands on issues like education and health care, and question why he’s dodging most debates.

Team Abbott’s logic that the person calling for six debates is less interested in engaging with voters than the person who refuses to do more than two may fall in the same category as Sen. Dan Patrick’s recent dismissal of global warming.

In a debate with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, an audience questioner asked about the $1.2 billion President Barack Obama proposes to spend to fight global warming, and how much Patrick would be willing to spend.

“Zero dollars,” Patrick responded.

“When it comes to climate change, there’s been scientific arguments on both sides of the issue,” Patrick said. “But you know, if you want a tiebreaker, if Al Gore thinks it’s right, you know it’s wrong.”

Perry’s Back . . . . After being on the sidelines for a while during a special House committee’s consideration of whether University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall should be impeached, the governor said Hall instead should be applauded.

The committee days earlier voted 7-1 to draw up articles of impeachment of Hall for what some think is an over-zealous combing of UT records in an effort to embarrass President Bill Powers.

UT board chairman Paul Foster recently called for Hall to resign. Hall refused. Both were appointed to the board by Perry.

Perry’s statement, on Wednesday, May 21, said Hall “should be commended for his persistence” in facing “overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats” to make sure things are “operating effectively, efficiently and within the law. . . Texans should be outraged by his treatment.”

Other regents should be following Hall’s example,

Perry said.

Too Good to Pass Up . . .Dallas Morning News on why GOP agriculture commissioner candidate Sid Miller’s campaign couldn’t comment on campaign finance glitches:

“Controversial musician Ted Nugent serves as Miller’s campaign treasurer. Smith said Nugent was unable to be reached Wednesday because he was in Alaska hunting bears.”

DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458-2963.

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