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candidate forum

Candidate Forum for Senate District 6

The special election is set for SD06, for December 11. Four candidates have filed for the seat, and early voting begins this Monday, November 26. That’s not a lot of time to hear from the hopefuls, so those of you in SD06 should take advantage of every opportunity to hear them out. One such opportunity is next Wednesday, November 28, one week from today, at non-profit MECA Houston, 1900 Kane Street just northwest of downtown. Here’s the Facebook event for the forum, which will be from 6:30 to 8 PM on the 28th, and here’s a Google map link to the location. Go hear what the candidates have to say, then make sure you go vote.

Apparently, that pay parity debate did happen

I missed the last twist in this saga, but in the end it did happen.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After months of trading barbs from a distance, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the head of Houston’s firefighters’ union met in a vigorous but civil debate Saturday, displaying their fundamental differences over just about everything related to the November ballot referendum that would grant firefighters pay “parity” with police officers of corresponding rank and seniority.

The dispute revolves around a divisive question: If the measure known as Proposition B passes, can the city afford it? If anything, the debate at St. John’s United Methodist Church between Turner and Houston Professional Fire Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton revealed how irreconcilable the opposing views on that question truly are.

From Turner’s perspective, Houston firefighters deserve to receive better pay, but not to the extent that their raises “bankrupt the city,” as he claimed Proposition B would do by mandating 29 percent raises for firefighters, at a cost of than $100 million a year.

What’s more, Turner said Saturday, the measure does not call for true “parity” because it mandates only equal pay, ignoring retirement benefits, training and education requirements — in practice granting firefighters better pay, Turner argued.

To Lancton, the city has balanced its budget on the backs of firefighters to the point that the department’s rank-and-file members are struggling to make ends meet, with salaries far lower than those of firefighters in other Texas cities.

“What Houston firefighters seek is fair, competitive pay. Because of low pay, many Houston-trained firefighters are leaving for other departments,” Lancton said. “Our pay is so low that starting firefighters, supporting families, can even qualify for government assistance. We’ve asked the city for competitive pay for nearly a decade. The city has repeatedly rejected our efforts to reach an acceptable contract agreement.”

It goes from there, and I don’t think there’s much that you haven’t seen if you’ve been following this. At last report, Lancton had pulled out of the debate because the firefighters didn’t want Lisa Falkenberg moderating (because they didn’t like the Chron’s editorial stance against Prop B) and had wanted to address the Democratic precinct chairs in an effort to get Prop B endorsed by the HCDP. Neither of these conditions changed – Falkenberg still moderated, and the HCDP precinct chairs are not getting together for an endorsement vote – so I don’t know what changed from the firefighters’ perspective. Be that as it may, I’m glad this happened – the voters deserved such an event. I wish I could have been there but I was out of town. If you attended or saw a stream of it, please leave a comment with your impressions.

The pay parity proposal debate that wasn’t

Let’s not get ready to rumble!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s firefighters union has withdrawn from a Saturday debate with Mayor Sylvester Turner on their proposal to seek pay “parity” with police officers, saying the event’s host, the Harris County Democratic Party, had given the mayor too much control over the event.

The hour-long event would have marked the first time the mayor and the union addressed the contentious issue on the same stage.

“We looked forward to the debate,” Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a Wednesday morning statement, “but we recognize that party insiders failed to stop the manipulation of the ground rules to advantage the mayor. We are disappointed in the HCDP’s acquiescence to the mayor, but are grateful for the support of HCDP precinct chairs and the many Houstonians they represent.”

Among the union’s complaints were that Houston Chronicle opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg was to serve as moderator (the editorial board expressed opposition to the parity proposal in July 2017), and that Democratic Party officials did not agree to let Lancton address precinct chairs or let them vote on whether to endorse the proposition.

Alas. Here’s the earlier story announcing the event that was the original basis of this post. I am not able to be there for this not-a-forum, but perhaps you can be.

County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter said the party engaged in “extensive conversations” with both camps on the format of the discussion but respects the union’s decision to withdraw.

“The event details appeared in a Facebook announcement seen and approved by all parties last week. It is unfortunate the firefighter’s union has determined these details do not meet their needs,” she said. “We regret voters will not hear from the firefighter’s union at this time. Mayor Turner and Lisa are welcome to use the full hour we have allotted for this event.”

The party’s leadership committee, after hearing from the fire union at a recent meeting, Schechter said, voted to schedule the debate to hear from both sides. She said the gathering was never envisioned as ending in a vote, saying such votes only occur at quarterly gatherings of all precinct chairs, the last of which was held Sept. 13.

Yes, speaking as a precinct chair, that’s how our rules work. Precinct chairs vote to endorse or not endorse ballot measures like this at our quarterly meetings. We endorsed the flood bond referendum at the June meeting, for instance. There were members from the firefighters’ union at the September meeting, talking up their proposal, but no motion for an endorsement vote. Which I have to say would have been contentious, and because of that I’m glad it didn’t come up. I don’t know what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but I do know they could have made a pretty big fuss about this at the meeting if they had wanted to.

Personally, I think an event like this, aimed at the general public, rather than an agenda item for a normally dry meeting of precinct chairs, would be a much better way to allow both sides to air their views (I’m assuming that if Lancton had been given time to address us, then Mayor Turner or a representative from his office would have been given time as well). But hey, whatever. Perhaps the Mayor and Lisa Falkenberg can discuss the cost of this referendum.

The cost of Houston firefighters’ push for pay parity with police of corresponding rank and seniority could be 14 percent cheaper than what Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration has estimated, city Controller Chris Brown said Tuesday.

Brown’s office estimates that the proposal, which will appear as Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot, will cost $85.2 million a year, lower than the $98.6 million figure Turner has used. Neither estimate includes the 7 percent raise police would receive over the next two years if the city council approves a new proposed contract this week. That would increase the cost if voters decide to link fire and police salaries.

Brown acknowledged his analysis required a series of assumptions related to how the parity proposal would be implemented, and said the estimate shows the cost of the proposal would be “unsustainable.”

“The controller’s office believes that a sustainable solution exists but can only be achieved through negotiation in the collective bargaining process,” Brown said while presenting his estimate to the city council’s budget committee. “It’s through that process that the men and women of HFD should be able to negotiate a well-deserved raise, but also a well-deserved raise the city can actually afford over the long term.”

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton viewed Brown’s analysis as vindication of his view that Turner’s estimate is inflated.

“As the city controller proved today, the mayor’s Proposition B claims cannot be trusted. His math, like his judgment, is driven by an obsession with punishing Houston firefighters,” Lancton said.

[…]

Brown and Turner’s estimates are nearly identical on the projected increase to firefighters’ base salaries and the associated increase in retirement benefits: that roughly 20 percent increase would cost about $65 million per year.

The two estimates differ mostly on various incentives and allowances known as “special pays,” some of which firefighters receive now but which parity would increase, and some of which firefighters would receive for the first time if voters approve the measure.

Not sure how a reduction in the cost estimate from $98 million to $85 million is a vindication of the firefighters’ case, especially when $85 million is still a pretty damn big number and Controller Brown calls it “unsustainable”, but maybe that’s just me. I continue to believe this thing is going to pass so I sure hope the cost estimates we are seeing are overblown, but all things being equal I’d rather not have to find out. Be that as it may, if you don’t know what to make of all this, go attend the not-a-forum and see what you think.

Valdez and Abbott come to terms on September debate

Good.

Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez, the Democratic candidate for governor, has agreed to debate the Republican incumbent, Greg Abbott, on Sept. 28 in Austin, ending weeks of uncertainty over whether the two would face off.

Earlier this summer, Abbott announced his RSVP for the Austin debate, which is being hosted by Nexstar Media Group. A week later, Valdez accepted an invitation to a different debate — Oct. 8 in Houston — balking at the timing of the Austin debate, which falls on a Friday evening in the middle of high school football season.

While the timing of the Austin debate has not changed, Valdez claimed victory Monday in getting a Spanish-language media partner — Telemundo — for the debate. Valdez’s campaign said Telemundo “will broadcast the debate live across the state on television and online, and provide a moderator and instantaneous Spanish translation for their viewers.”

“I’m glad to announce that after weeks of negotiations, we have succeeded in making our debate with [President Donald] Trump’s favorite puppet governor more inclusive, representative, and accessible to Texans across the state,” Valdez said in a statement that continued to press her desire for an in-studio audience and Spanish questions.
here for the background. Abbott of course disputed that he had conceded anything. The debate is still on a Friday, and he’s probably the one statewide Republican that isn’t too bothered by having it broadcast on Telemundo as well, so as concessions go this is small. But at least it’s happening.

One thing that isn’t happening is the o’Rourke-Cruz debate that was supposed to be this Friday.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in Texas’ U.S. Senate race, says a proposed Aug. 31 debate between the two “is not going to happen.”

“Friday in Dallas is not going to happen, but I’m convinced we will debate,” O’Rourke said Monday during an appearance at the 2018 Texas Disability Issues Forum in Austin. “I’m convinced there will be a number of debates.”

[…]

O’Rourke said Monday that Cruz’s campaign has “attempted to dictate” different aspects of the debate schedule, such the time, the moderators and which subjects the candidates could speak about.

“We’re working through those differences, and we’re trying to introduce more of a collaborative style to the negotiations than he may be used to,” O’Rourke said during the forum. “And so we’re confident that out of that, we’re going to come to something good.”

See here for the last update. I figure this will work itself out and there will be multiple debates, but for now there are still some bugs in the system. The Chron has more.

Patrick finally finds a debate opponent he thinks he can handle

It’s Danno versus Geraldo, coming soon to the eleventh layer of hell.

After refusing to go toe-to-toe with his general election opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick agreed Thursday to debate television personality Geraldo Rivera over immigration and the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.

Patrick first challenged Rivera to a debate during an interview with Fox News Thursday morning, apparently in response to Rivera tweeting that Tibbetts’ death was being used “to promote proven false notion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately committing violent crimes.”

“The CNNs, the MSNBCs, most of the print media in this country and the Democrats — they are all accomplices in the death of this young girl and the death of everyone else,” Patrick said. “And even Geraldo Rivera — I never met the guy, I seem to like him. I saw him on Fox saying, ‘I feel badly about this, but —.’ There is no ‘but,’ and I’ll be happy to debate Geraldo Rivera any time, any place, anywhere on this issue. We have to secure this border and protect the lives of American citizens.”

Patrick, on Twitter, later made calls for a debate official.

[…]

In a statement Thursday, Collier accused Patrick of being “scared” to face Texas voters.

“Wait … so Dan Patrick has agreed to a debate on Fox, but with Geraldo Rivera? Texans see right past this clown,” Collier said. “Quit the stunts Dan, and stand up for yourself right here. Or are you not Texan enough?”

He’s a wimp, and it’s clear to anyone paying attention. All I can say is they should hold this at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago. Nothing could be more emblematic of this entire travesty.

What if we held a debate and only one candidate showed up?

Not a rhetorical question.

Mike Collier

The Fox News affiliate in Houston has offered to host a debate between Dan Patrick and his Democratic opponent, but it’s unlikely the lieutenant governor will accept.

“We understand that currently there are no plans for a debate or discussion between the candidates. However, we would be honored to host such an event,” Aprille Meek, executive producer for special projects for Houston’s KRIV-TV said in the invitation, which was sent Monday and provided to The Dallas Morning News by opponent Mike Collier’s campaign. “We feel that it’s important for voters to hear from the candidates themselves on the issues that are of concern to the citizens of Texas.”

Meek suggested a prime-time debate, on any Sunday to Wednesday between Sept. 10 and Oct. 20: “We are open to the various possibilities that you might consider as a format (debate, town hall, panel questions, moderated roundtable discussion, etc.).”

It’s unclear whether Collier asked for the debate or KRIV reached out independently of either campaign.

[…]

Collier has already accepted the KRIV invitation.

“There is no reason for Lt. Governor Patrick to decline this debate. If as he says, he ‘relishes debates’, then he’d come forward,” Collier said in a statement. “I’m ready to debate anytime and anywhere. Bring on the The Good, The Dan, and The Ugly of his 4 years in office.”

We already knew that Dan Patrick is a wimp. He’s too chicken to even offer a statement in these stories, leaving that task plus some ridiculous chest-thumping, to his paid flack. I hope it was Collier who pitched the idea of the debate to KRIV, as that’s just good politics and keeps the “Dan Patrick is a wimp” story in the news for another day. You stay nice and comfy in your ivory tower, Dan. We’ll find a good empty chair to be your proxy if KRIV has the moxie to go ahead with this regardless.

Beto mostly accepts Cruz’s debate terms

Looks like we’re on.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee in Texas’ U.S. Senate race, is accepting Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s proposal to debate five times over the next three months, though O’Rourke also is suggesting a few changes to the plan — including having a sixth debate in his hometown of El Paso.

“I look forward to debating Senator Cruz and am grateful for the schedule you have proposed,” O’Rourke wrote in a letter Friday to Cruz strategist Jeff Roe. “I would suggest only a few small changes.”

Roe quickly responded to O’Rourke, writing in a letter that the plan “isn’t an open negotiation” and largely not entertaining any of O’Rourke’s suggested changes. Roe, however, did express openness to having a debate in El Paso — not as a sixth meeting, but as a replacement for one of the five previously named cities.

[…]

“At each debate, our fellow Texans should be able to raise any issue and do so in an unscripted town hall format,” O’Rourke wrote. “Those issues should include ones you have already proposed and those you did not, including, but not limited to: serving our veterans, public education, money in politics, farming and ranching, the environment, civil rights and social security.”

In his response, Roe did not directly address O’Rourke’s ask for the town-hall format but said “most of the topics you suggested will already be included in the broad topics” the Cruz campaign initially outlined.

See here and here for the background. Sounds like the main points are agreed on, and while there may be some tweaking around the edges, what you see is more or less what you’re going to get. May others follow this example (they won’t).

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Cruz proposes five debates

All on Fridays, but at least he’s offering something.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has challenged Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke to five topical debates before Election Day, about three months after O’Rourke challenged Cruz to six.

Cruz strategist Jeff Roe sent a letter Wednesday to O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, proposing the following debate schedule:

  • Aug. 31 in Dallas on “Jobs/Taxes/Federal Regulations/National Economy”
  • Sept. 14 in McAllen on “Immigration/Border Security/Criminal Justice/Supreme Court”
  • Sept. 21 in San Antonio on “Foreign Policy/National Security”
  • Oct. 5 in Houston on “Energy/Trade/Texas Economy”
  • Oct. 12 in Lubbock on “Healthcare/Obamacare”

Roe said the debates would all take place on Friday evenings “because the Senate is expected to be in session during that time.” The debates would each be an hour long and vary in format — some would be town hall-style, while others would feature the two candidates seated or standing at podiums.

“As Senator Cruz has long believed, our democratic process is best served by presenting a clear and substantive contrast of competing policy ideas, and these five debates will be an excellent way for both you and the Senator to share your respective visions with Texas voters in the weeks leading up to the November election,” Roe wrote to O’Rourke.

See here for some background, and compare Cruz’s response to Dan Patrick’s sniveling wimpery. Maybe someone should email that last paragraph to Allen Blakemore and ask him what Danno thinks of that. Obviously, Cruz can’t hide behind the “unknown and underfunded opponent” dodge, but does anyone seriously believe that people are less familiar with where he stands versus where Dan Patrick stands? Ted Cruz is many lousy things, but on this one issue he’s at least not a chicken. The DMN has more.

Dan Patrick is a wimp

Yes, you’re such a big tough meanie, Danno.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick does not intend to debate his Democratic challenger, Mike Collier, before Election Day, according to Patrick’s campaign.

“It’s no secret Lt. Governor Patrick relishes debates, but since his opponent shows no sign of grasping even the most basic rudiments of state government, our campaign has no plans to debate him,” Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore said in a statement to the Tribune. “There isn’t anyone in the Lone Star State who isn’t absolutely clear about where Dan Patrick stands on the issues. He told us what he was going to do, then he did it. That’s why Dan Patrick has the overwhelming support of the conservative majority in Texas.”

Collier has not formally challenged Patrick to any debates but has needled him on Twitter over the topic, suggesting the incumbent will not spar with him because he does not want to discuss his record.

“The Lt. Governor is rejecting debates before invitations are even sent out by media,” Collier said in a statement. “As I assumed he would, he’s dodging and refusing to answer for his record.”

“If the Lt. Governor ‘relishes debates’ then I see no reason why we shouldn’t hold several all across the great state of Texas,” Collier added.

Patrick did the same thing to Scott Milder in the primary. Seriously, he’s like a character from an old Warner Brothers cartoon: “I could totally beat you up! If I wanted to. Which I don’t, cause I’m so tough. Good thing for you I’m at a safe distance away from you, or I’d whip you. With one hand tied behind my back, even. Boy, you’re lucky I’m not there to tan your hide. Oooh, I’m so tough.”

You get the idea. I mean look, I get that the frontrunner, especially someone with a big monetary edge, has no incentive to provide some free publicity to the lesser-known and underfunded challenger. But don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. Dan Patrick doesn’t want to debate because it’s not in his interest to do so. There’s no upside for him. Be honest about that or be quiet, because you’re not fooling anybody.

Debating dates

We know what the best answer is. What the most likely answer is, I have no idea.

Lupe Valdez

The back-and-forth over when and where the two major candidates for Texas governor will debate continued Wednesday, with Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez announcing that she had accepted an invitation to a debate featuring a different host, location and time than the one that incumbent Republican Greg Abbott agreed to a week earlier.

The invitation Valdez accepted was for a debate on the evening of Monday, Oct. 8, at the University of Houston-Downtown. It would be organized by the local ABC and Univision affiliates. A week earlier, Abbott announced he had agreed to a debate hosted by Nexstar Media Group on the evening of Friday, Sept. 28, at a yet-to-be-determined location in Austin.

After Abbott’s announcement, Valdez said she was “in” for a debate but took issue with the timing of Sept. 28 event — a Friday evening in the middle of high school football season. Her campaign said Wednesday that any debate between the two should be at a different time and be broadcast live on television and online, feature a live in-studio audience and include a Spanish-language media partner with a portion of questions in Spanish.

“I’m running to represent all of Texas, and if there is going to be a debate, town hall or other type of forum, we need to ensure a real discussion for all of Texas to hear,” Valdez said in a news release that called on Abbott to “stop hiding from Texans.”

See here for the background. The right answer, of course, is for both of these debates to happen. You know, for Democracy! and all that. Realistically, Greg Abbott can say “hey, I’ve already agreed to a debate, and wasn’t Lupe Valdez less than eager to engage in debates against Andrew White”, and when he does, what’s the response to that? By all means, push for more, but the leverage is not at all with Valdez.

Debating debates

We have an agreement for a debate (mostly) between Greg Abbott and Lupe Valdez.

Lupe Valdez

Incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott agreed Wednesday to participate in a televised statewide debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, the first in the general election runup.

Abbott said he has accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group for a statewide debate with Valdez in Austin from 7-8 p.m. on Sept. 28 at a location to be determined

The debate will be broadcast statewide on television and online, and will be carried on the twelve stations Nexstar Media Group owns and operates across Texas, in addition to partner stations in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

In a Tweet, Valdez accepted the chance to debate Abbott — but not on Sept. 28, a Friday night when most Texans watching high school football, not politicians on the tube.

“Thanks @GregAbbott_TX for accepting a debate!” she said in her message. “We’re in and always happy to discuss our vision for a Texas that works for all. We haven’t agreed to the terms yet — but seriously, during Friday Night Lights? Texans deserve better. Call me, maybe?”

Getting a debate scheduled at all is a decent accomplishment. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if Abbott had basically pretended he had no opponent and didn’t respond to any request for a debate. Don’t put too much hope in a better time slot, is what I’m saying.

Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz are debating the terms of their debates.

O’Rourke, a Congressman from El Paso, said on Tuesday that he sent Cruz’s campaign a second letter calling for them to begin coordinating six debates before the Nov. 6 general election. O’Rourke wants two of the debates in Spanish.

“At this critical moment for our country, when everything we are about is on the line, when the stakes couldn’t be higher, Texans deserve a serious debate on these issues and it’s a debate I want to have,” O’Rourke said in statement to the media.

Cruz’s campaign sent O’Rourke’s campaign acknowledgment of the second request for a debate and noted Cruz “has made it quite clear he is looking forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke.”

“However, your arbitrary timeline for coordinating between the campaigns remains irrelevant to our decision-making process” a letter from Cruz for Senate advisor Bryan English states. “We will let you know when we are ready to discuss the details of joint appearances.”

I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be fewer than six debates, and they will all be in English. Keep pushing for what you want, Beto, but be ready to settle and actually get debating.

Last but not least, from the inbox:

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic Nominee for Land Commissioner, is calling on George P. Bush to follow the lead of Greg Abbott and debate his Democratic challenger.

“With the fall schedule filling-up, now is the time to commit to a public debate,” said Miguel Suazo, who is an energy and natural resources attorney based in the Austin area. “Every other George Bush has debated for public office – I’m encouraging you to continue the legacy.”

The most appropriate place to debate might be the Texas Tribune Festival, but Suazo is open to debating anytime and any place.

Added Suazo: “I think all statewide Republicans should debate their Democratic opponents. And like Gov. Abbot, we can pick a time when your supporters won’t see it, since I am going to dismantle your record as Land Commissioner. How about between 6-8AM while you are reading Trump’s tweets?”

It would be nice to have debates for all the statewide offices. That’s what democracy is about, right? Good on Miguel Suazo for putting it out there.

Beto and Ted

¡Dale!

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has invited U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to participate in six debates with O’Rourke across Texas, two of them in Spanish, during their U.S. Senate race.

O’Rourke campaign manager Jody Casey made the proposal in a letter last week to Cruz’s senior staff, adding that the debates should have “media reach to all twenty markets in the state.”

“I would like to begin direct coordination of the debates with your campaign team between now and May 10th,” Casey wrote to Cruz advisers Bryan English and Eric Hollander in the April 24 letter. “Please advise my best point of contact on the Cruz campaign team.”

Cruz previously suggested he is open to debating O’Rourke. Cruz’s campaign said in response to the letter that it was exploring its options.

[…]

After a campaign event Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio, Cruz admitted to reporters that his Spanish “remains lousy” before offering a sentence in the language: “I understand almost everything, but I can’t speak like I want to.” Cruz, whose father came to America from Cuba, chalked up his shoddy Spanish skills to “the curse of the second-generation immigrant,” adding that he suspects many in the Hispanic community can relate.

“A debate in Spanish would not be very good because my Spanish isn’t good enough, but I look forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke,” Cruz said.

I’m sure Beto would be kind enough to let you use Google Translate during the debates, Ted. I think the world is owed these debates. The entertainment value alone is off the charts. and yes, I know, as does Beto, that Cruz was a champion debater in college. So what? This isn’t to be done in front of speech and debate nerds, for competition. It’s to be done in front of voters, for likability and persuasion. Who do you think might be favored in those departments?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Senate campaign.

The U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke is trending into new territory: the war on drugs.

It is a familiar topic for O’Rourke, a Democratic congressman who has earned a national reputation as an advocate for marijuana legalization since his days on the El Paso City Council. Yet it hadn’t become an issue in the Senate contest until now, as Cruz, the Republican incumbent, ramps up his general election crusade to paint O’Rourke as too liberal for Texas.

Cruz opened the new front Tuesday as he seized on a story published by the Daily Caller, a conservative news site, that claimed O’Rourke “once advocated for the legalization of all narcotics.” The story cited an episode on the El Paso City Council in 2009 where O’Rourke successfully — and controversially — amended a resolution about the war on drugs to urge for an “honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

[…]

O’Rourke has not made marijuana legalization a major part of his U.S. Senate campaign. But at town halls and other campaign events, he does not shy away from the topic when the discussion turns toward it or when he is directly asked about it.

Such was the case Saturday morning as O’Rourke made a campaign stop in Sonora, a small city on the western edge of the Hill Country. Soon after he slid into a booth with patrons at a donut shop, he was fielding questions for several minutes about marijuana legalization.

“I’m on a bill that would end the federal prohibition on marijuana once and for all,” O’Rourke told them, later lamenting that the United States is “spending on that war on drugs right now when we could put it into the classroom, into teacher pay, into treating an opioid epidemic, a methamphetamine epidemic that I’m seeing through lots of West Texas right now.”

Cruz, for his part, has long maintained marijuana legalization should be left up to the states, though he personally opposes it. He reiterated that position while speaking with reporters Tuesday in San Antonio.

“I don’t support drug legalization,” Cruz said. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people. I think it particularly hurts young people. It traps them in addiction.”

On marijuana, Cruz added: “I’ve always said that should be a question for the states. I think different states can resolve it differently. So in Texas — if we were voting on it in Texas — I would vote against legalizing it. But I think it’s the prerogative of Texans to make that decision, and I think another state like Colorado can make a very different decision.”

You can click that Daily Caller link if you want – as the Trib story notes, it’s based on a misstatement of O’Rourke. I just want to note that being anti-marijuana legalization isn’t necessarily a winning issue for Cruz. It’s hard to know how something like this will play out in a real campaign – who the candidates are, what the electorate looks like, how the issue is portrayed, things like that all matter. The point I’m making is that this isn’t some obviously uncomfortable place for Beto to be, where Cruz is bashing him for a stance that lacks public support. Beto can fight back with more or less the equivalent of “Yeah? So what?” That’s not a bad place to be.

We finally have a White/Valdez runoff debate scheduled

About time.

Lupe Valdez

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez has accepted an invitation to debate her runoff opponent, Andrew White, on May 11 in Austin, according to her campaign.

White, who was the runner-up in the March primary, has been pushing to debate Valdez since the beginning of the runoff. Up until now, her campaign has expressed openness to debating White without committing to anything.

Andrew White

The event, which comes three days before early voting starts, will take place at the University of Texas at Austin, according to organizers. It is being put on by a coalition of party groups that includes the State Tejano Democrats, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Stonewall Democrats, Texas Young Democrats, Texas College Democrats and the Travis County Democratic Party.

“I look forward to telling my story, and showing how decades of experience delivering progressive solutions and keeping people safe have prepared me to be Texas Governor,” Valdez said in a statement. “I have long known what my values are. I’m a Texas Democrat.”

White added in his own statement: “The debate is on! Democratic voters are looking for the best candidate to beat [Republican Gov.] Greg Abbott, and I welcome the opportunity to convey my message of common sense, sanity, and doing right by Texas.”

I’ve wanted this for awhile. I’m glad it’s finally happening but annoyed it took this long. There was a lot more attention that could have been paid to this race if there had been more events. At least we’ll have this.

I should note, there was a town hall event a few days ago featuring White and Valdez, among others. Among the things that resulted from this is Valdez reckoning with her record on immigration, and White promising to sell his interest in a border security firm if he’s the nominee. That’s why you have events like these, to hash this stuff out and get the candidates where they need to be, while there’s still time to pick the nominee.

CD07 candidate forum

Happening tomorrow, at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, Houston, Texas 77055, from 6:15 to 8:45. My guess, as this is the way these things tend to go, is that there will be some mix-and-mingle time with the candidates up front, with the main event to follow. I’m just guessing, you might want to post something on the Facebook event page if you need to know. The event moderator is an old friend and college classmate of mine, Patrick Pringle. Should be a good event, so if you voted for one of the other candidates in March and need to figure out who deserves your vote in May, this is a good chance to do that.

Let’s have some Valdez/White runoff debates

I have three things to say about this.

Lupe Valdez

The Democratic primary runoff for governor ramped up Tuesday with a debate over debates between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the two candidates still standing from the nine-way primary a week ago.

Within the span of a few hours, White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, called for debates with Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, ahead of the May 22 runoff and Valdez signaled an openness to sparring but with far less urgency. White was the runner-up in the March 6 primary with 27 percent of the vote behind Valdez, who drew 43 percent.

“The party’s nominee for governor – whether it’s Lupe or I – should begin spring training now for the fall campaign against Greg Abbott,” White said in a statement. “A few debates between the two of us before the runoff would make the eventual nominee all the stronger. And who doesn’t love a good debate?”

Andrew White

As part of its response, Valdez’s campaign suggested she was amenable to debating White closer to the runoff date — and took a shot at her rival over the attention-grabbing move.

“We will be glad to work out a debate schedule when the voters become more focused on the race, but this primary won’t be won on 30-second debate responses,” Valdez spokesman Kiefer Odell said in a statement. “While we understand why someone who received such low support in most of Texas’ major urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley needs a debate to create buzz, Sheriff Valdez is focused on developing substantive relationships with voters across the state — just as she has done in Dallas County for the last 13 years.”

[…]

After the election last week, The Texas Tribune and two Austin public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU, offered to host a debate between Valdez and White in mid-May in Austin. Valdez has not yet agreed to it, while White has.

1. Just as a reminder, some 30% of primary voters picked someone other than Valdez and White on March 6. Some of them surely made a conscious decision to vote for one of the other candidates, but some of them just as surely picked a name more or less at random. Neither Valdez nor White has a whole lot of money right now, and neither campaign has done that much voter outreach yet. Having debates will do a lot to perform outreach to the voters who for whatever reason didn’t pick one of the frontrunners the first time around, and they’re basically free.

2. As I said before, Democrats have the only statewide runoff on the ballot as well as more Congressional runoffs. The Democratic gubernatorial runoff is the highest-profile race on the ballot right now, the only one that can claim to give a reason for everyone to vote. (Well, everyone except those who voted in the Republican primary.) Maybe this is just restating point #1, but Valdez-White debates are the best opportunity we will have to focus attention on our eventual nominee for Governor, and perhaps the only opportunity we will have to do so in a way that isn’t filtered through the default Republican perspective. This is a great gift, and both candidates should embrace it.

3. Beyond the practical concerns elections with candidate debates >>> elections without candidate debates. Yeah, sure, most debates are more about choreography and pre-packaged applause lines and zingers and whatnot. They’re still the best chance to see what a candidate looks like under pressure, and without a squadron of consultants standing by to keep them on message. Why wouldn’t we want this? Campos has more.

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum

An event of interest for folks who will have a tough decision to make in March.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum
Hosted by Indivisible to Flip Texas District 7

Saturday, December 2 at 2 PM – 4 PM
Cook Middle School
9111 Wheatland Dr, Houston, Texas 77064

The progressive candidates running for District 7 House of Representatives will attend this event to meet constituents and participate in a policy discussion.

Please fill out this opinion survey on your top policy issues: https://goo.gl/forms/MWI56Ncxu4DJRfOx2

Come make your voice heard. And learn how to get involved. Working together, indivisible, we can #FlipTX07.

RSVP and share this event with your friends: https://actionnetwork.org/events/tx-07-candidate-policy-forum

This is the third Town Hall Forum by Indivisible Texas Dist. 7 and Swing Left 7, two groups of progressive Houstonians who are working to unite the voters and residents to unseat U.S. Congressman John Culberson in the mid term election. The two previous Town Halls were held in May and July with a total of about 500 folks in attendance turn out combined. All six candidates are confirmed to attend: Joshua Butler, James Cargas, Lizzie Fletcher, Laura Moser, Alex Triantaphyllis and Jason Westin. Come see who you want to be your candidate in November.

More on HISD IX, and a little on HISD VII Alief ISD

Wanda Adams

As noted before, I did not do interviews in HISD Trustee races in districts VII and IX. In VII, I did interview now-incumbent Anne Sung and challenger John Luman last year when they were running in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Harvin Moore. You can listen to those again if you want a refresher on those two candidates.

As for IX, I just could not get to it. Life is like that sometimes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for you to hear from the candidates in that race – Trustee Wanda Adams and challengers Karla Brown and Gerry Monroe – if you want. There was a debate sponsored by the Forward Times on October 4, and audio of it is available here. In addition, there were articles written about each candidate in the aftermath of the debate by debate moderator Durrel Douglas:

Part 1: Wanda Adams
Part 2: Karla Brown
Part 3: Gerry Monroe

There’s also a recap of the debate, with video embedded from the event. It’s not the same as individual interviews, but it’s a chance to see how the candidates interact with each other. Go take a look or give a listen – the audio should be available as a podcast in the 610 News feed – and see what you think.

Finally, Stace rounds up the candidates in Alief ISD. I wish I had more time to follow races in other ISDs, but alas, I don’t. These elections – for school board and for city council – will have more effect on your daily life than elections for Congress and Senate do. The latter have more power, but the former have more impact. Know who you’re voting for and why you’re voting for them.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update

HarrisCounty

Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

Time to get out the vote

A look at the strategies for turning out the vote for various Mayoral campaigns.

vote-button

In the days before Monday’s start to early voting, Houston’s top mayoral campaigns moved to mobilize their volunteer forces, aiming to ensure their supporters make it the polls. With 13 candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot and no incumbent, the vote is expected to splinter, forcing a December runoff. Early voting runs from Monday to Oct. 30.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who has the combination of high name identification and a reliable base, widely is expected to secure one of the two runoff spots, leaving his competitors to battle for second place.

Recent polls show the next four or five candidates separated by only a few percentage points, with former Kemah Mayor Bill King and Garcia, the former Harris County Sheriff, often in second and third place.

However, surveys also indicate a large share of Houston voters remain undecided, and the campaigns’ estimates of voter turnout vary widely, from 175,000 to 230,000.

The city’s controversial equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, is expected to bring non-traditional voters to the polls, but how many remains an open question.

In this volatile, low-turnout climate, ushering supporters to the ballot box becomes crucial, as just a few votes could separate the two candidates who advance from those whose campaigns sunset when the polls close on Election Day.

Read the rest for more details, but there’s no real mystery. Democratic campaigns are more focused on getting their people out, including some less-likely voters who might vote for their candidate if they vote. Republican campaigns are more focused on persuasion, as the polls we have indicate that more of the undecided voters lean conservative. There’s room for the four main non-Turner campaigns to get the edge for second place. The campaigns’ estimates of what turnout will look like is the most interesting piece of data in the story, and I wish there had been more information about who was banking on the lower end and who was planning for the higher end, as one’s overall strategy would be different for each.

Meanwhile, the last candidate forum delved into some topics that haven’t received a lot of coverage.

On housing, the city’s program to give a $15,000-per-unit subsidy for up to 5,000 apartments built downtown drew ample discussion, as it does not control affordability.

Hall called for those dollars to be given to help homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods afford their rising taxes; former Kemah Mayor Bill King said they should be used as down-payment assistance to single-family home-buyers; Costello and state Rep. Sylvester Turner said the city should target them to affordable units.

Former Harris County sheriff Adrian Garcia said the city should better market abandoned lots for redevelopment, and Bell called for policies to avoid gentrification in redeveloping areas.

Asked about the role of the civilian oversight board that reviews some HPD actions, former Congressman Chris Bell and Hall called for the board to be given subpoena power, and Garcia said he would consider that. Turner said the board needs more staff to be effective. Costello and King did not favor expanding the board’s purview.

Most candidates said they support citing and releasing minor possession offenders, rather than jailing them, and called for better collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address Houston’s role as a hub for human trafficking. Garcia, Turner and Costello called for more officers for the task; Hall said the crime must be deterred by punishing those who purchase sex.

Asked how the city should keep pace with its ongoing population growth, King called for neighborhoods to be given more tools to protect themselves against development and for builders to be forced to mitigate the impact of their developments.

Costello said he would use the city’s recently adopted general plan to guide city investments, steering development proactively into chosen areas. Turner said neighborhoods should be educated on the protections available today.

Along with growth came questions about transit’s role in reducing road congestion. King said he would focus on bus and park and ride services; Costello backed commuter rail. Turner agreed, and called for more buses and bike lanes. Bell stressed bus rapid transit as an alternative to light rail.

All of the candidates expressed concern about the number of recent hit-and-run accidents involving bicyclists, and many voiced support for the Vision Zero plan aimed at reducing road fatalities. Some also called for better enforcement of a city law requiring drivers to maintain a three-foot distance from cyclists. Garcia also said he would require motorists who receive moving violations to participate additional driver education.

I could have focused more on transportation issues, or on quality of life and housing affordability, or income inequality, or any number of other issues in my interviews with Mayoral candidates. There’s only so much time I can spend on them without wearing everyone out. That’s the good thing about the multitude of candidate forums – put them all together, and you can cover a lot of ground, which one needs for a powerful office like Mayor of Houston. I hope you feel like you got your questions answered somewhere.

Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

In the first televised debate in the Houston mayor’s race, three of the candidates jockeying to replace Mayor Annise Parker took aim at former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the agency’s allegedly low crime clearance rates.

The pointed effort marked a swift and telling segue from the candidates’ summer circuit of mostly small forums, featuring intermittent fireworks, to their biggest stage yet.

At the end of the debate, former Congressman Chris Bell, businessman Marty McVey and former mayor of Kemah Bill King all honed in on Garcia, a Democrat who many view as a frontrunner in the Nov. 3 balloting.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the first televised debate typically previews some of the battle lines and messaging beginning to emerge as the campaigns heat up.

Still, with the race crowded and the time limited to one hour Thursday, it was difficult for any one candidate to stand out. There was little new policy territory covered, but the candidates did find themselves on the hot seat, both with one another and the moderators, more than in previous settings.

“This (debate) rises above the clouds in terms of its prominence and its significance in that its audience is all of Houston, not just a specific interest group, and its medium is television instead of the best-case scenario a somewhat unreliable Web stream from a forum,” Jones said.

With State Rep. Sylvester Turner seemingly “close to invulnerable getting into the runoff,” Jones said, “pretty much everyone has an interest in taking a hit on Garcia.”

PDiddie was impressed by what he saw, Campos not so much. I confess I didn’t watch. I’m not a big fan of general interest candidate forums, which are especially hard to do with multiple candidates. You need to limit response times to give everyone a chance to speak, but that generally invites sound bite answers. I think forums that are focused on narrower and more specific topics can be more illuminating, partly because they often cover ground that gets very little attention overall, and partly because it gives you a chance to see who has actually thought about some of this stuff, and who is faking it.

And along those lines, there are a couple of upcoming specific-interest Mayoral forums coming up. On Thursday, September 10, Shape Up Houston and the Kinder Institute are hosting a forum on urban health and wellness. The forum goes from 8 to 9 AM with preliminaries beginning at 7 – see here for details and a list of sample questions. The event will be livestreamed here if you want to check it out. That evening at 7 PM, the Houston area Sierra Club, Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby with support of OilPatch Democrats will be hosting a forum on growth and climate change. That will be at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, see here for more information and to RSVP. Finally, there’s an event this morning at Rice hosted by Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship, Mi Familia Vota, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), the Student Government Association at University of Houston-Downtown, and Young Invincibles on the subject of young adult and Latino community issues. It’s too late to attend if you wanted to – the venue is full – but this is one I wish I would have been able to see. I’m hoping it will be recorded, and if so I’ll post a link to the video. All of this is my longwinded way of saying that if you have an opportunity to go to an event like one of these, I recommend you take it. I think you’d learn more than you would watching a general purpose event. Just my opinion, of course, and your mileage may vary.

Ballot order drawn

vote-button

Here is the official ballot order for City of Houston candidates this November, via Chron reporter Mike Morris on Twitter. You’re all familiar with my rant about ballot order by now – we have electronic voting machines, they should simply randomize the ballot order for each voter – so I’ll just skip it and move on. Whether anyone’s ballot position ultimately makes a difference or not – I sure hope it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it – we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that in any field with more than four candidates, I’d rather be first or last than anywhere in between.

This would be a short entry if this were all I had to say, so in the interest of filling out a proper length, here are two announcements about candidate forums. On Monday, Mental Health America of Greater Houston is hosting a Mayoral forum on behavioral health, a topic I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard much about in this election. The Houston Police Department has one of the only Mental Health Divisions in the entire country, so this is an issue that needs some public discussion. MHA of Greater Houston, NAMI of Greater Houston, the Council on Recovery, and the Houston Recovery Initiative are partnered for this event. That’s this Monday, August 31, at 6:30 PM at the University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum – see here for details.

Want a forum for candidates other than Mayoral candidates? On Thursday, September 3, you can attend a forum on environmental issues for At Large Council candidates, brought to you by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, League of Women Voters of Houston, and over 20 cosponsors representing environmental organizations in the Houston region, including Hermann Park Conservancy. The event is at 6 PM at the Cherie Flores Pavilion in Hermann Park, and it will be moderated by yours truly. It’s free and open to the public – see here for details. Don’t leave me hanging, come on out and hear what the candidates have to say.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

The other stuff that got discussed at the third forum

The third Mayoral candidate forum on Saturday was supposedly about “labor and workers’ rights”, but of course the story is all about the great and powerful pension question, because there’s been so little coverage of it and where the candidates stand on that question is such a mystery. There is a bit at the end of the story about those other boring issues – hilariously, it’s in a smaller font without any spacing between the paragraphs, as if to emphasize the afterthought nature of it – and being the stubborn SOB that I am, that’s what I’m going to highlight here. In a normal-sized font, with spacing added, thankyouverymuch.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Bell said at least twice that he would put a labor liaison on his executive staff as mayor and also stressed the need to address growing economic inequality in Houston. “If we don’t address this issue we’re going to continue to have a city of haves versus have-nots,” he said.

Costello focused several times on worker training. He advocated the use of “best value” rather than “low bid” selections in city contracting to enable the city to better penalize irresponsible companies that cut corners. On affordable housing, he advocated for the city to provide more incentives to developers to avoid gentrification, and for similar efforts creating an affordable district for artists.

Garcia: Touted his efforts while on City Council to get vaccines to Latino kids in his district when he learned his district had one of the city’s lowest immunization rates. He focused heavily on affordable housing and gentrification, and said the city must find ways to prevent citizens from paying for their neighbors’ investments in their own taxes.

Hall said he would give preference in city contracting to companies that provide apprenticeships and said he would pursue policies to “grandfather” existing homes in gentrifying areas to prevent residents from being pushed out.

King: Said he would work to increase the number of and funding for Federally Quality Health Clinics, and would evaluate whether city clinics unnecessarily duplicate services with county clinics. He said any contractor caught stealing workers’ wages should be fired and banned from doing business with the city.

McVey said because the Legislature has blocked the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the city should seek a way to get payments directly from Washington. McVey also called for more urban planning, with a focus on preventing gentrification.

Turner touted his support in the Legislature for expanding a health insurance program for impoverished youth and for increased funding for trauma centers, and took issue with an expansive subsidy program launched under Parker to pay developers $15,000 per apartment or condominium built downtown; “It’s about time we pushed that to the neighborhoods,” he said.

See, now wasn’t that interesting? Combine that with the first two forums, and you might have actually learned something you didn’t already know about what the candidates believe. Even if none of the questions I wanted to see asked got brought up. There’s still time for that, though. PDiddie has more.

Mayoral candidate forum season is underway

They talk about the arts.

Not exactly

Houston’s mayoral candidates were full of praise for the city’s arts scene Wednesday, when they appeared at a forum together for the first time, though most said they would not support raising taxes or allocating new city funds to support arts and culture.

The forum hosted by four city arts groups – Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre – featured seven of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and kicks off a series of similar interest-specific events leading up to November’s election.

The relatively conflict free event at the Asia Society Texas Center drew a standing room only crowd. It opened with statements from each of the candidates, who then went on to answer three arts and culture-related questions.

The first addressed the city’s recently implemented cap on arts funding from hotel occupancy tax revenues, about 19 percent of which are set aside to fund city arts organizations. Two years ago, City Council passed an ordinance capping the city’s arts and culture spending through this revenue stream, prompting criticism from some of the grantees.

Four of the seven candidates – former congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, former mayor of Kemah Bill King, businessman Marty McVey and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – said they do not support the cap. The other three – City Council member Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall – did not come out directly in favor of the limit but said they would want to further review it once in office.

The second question addressed whether the candidates would support additional funding for arts education, with the final moderator-posed question touching on whether the candidates would see through Parker’s cultural plan. It is currently being created and is intended to guide Houston’s arts and cultural development in the coming decades.

CultureMap filled in the third question.

While much of the evening was taken up with policy wonk questions about a cap on the Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax (aka the HOT tax), which funds arts projects around the city, the best — and most humanizing question — came from an audience member, who asked, “Who is your favorite artist and why?” You could almost see the wheels turning in each candidate’s head as he scrambled to come up with an unscripted answer.

First up was former Kemah mayor Bill King, who lamely listed Van Gogh, whom he first learned about from his history teacher many years ago. Businessman Marty McVey picked the 13th century poet Rumi for the “great solace” his work provides, which drew applause of one audience member.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner was the first to turn the discussion to Houston artists — John Biggers and Michelle Barnes are among his favorites, and the other candidates quickly followed his lead, with Bell listing Lamar Briggs, Houston City Council member Stephen Costello mentioning Mark Foyle, muralist Ashley Winn and Justin Garcia, and former sheriff Adrian Garcia picking his daughter along with Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe.

Attorney Ben Hall had the most unconventional answer — he’s mad about Surrealists M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali. “Read into that what you may,” he said cryptically.

I’d have gone with Beans Barton myself, though I have to admit that MC Escher is a fine answer if one doesn’t care about local pandering. Nancy Sims and Texas Leftist also reported on this forum.

Next, they talked about the budget.

Houston mayoral hopefuls swapped plans to shore up the city’s finances at a forum Thursday, pledging everything from pension reform to scrapping the city’s crime lab.

The event drew little in the way of political fireworks, with the rival candidates largely sticking to their own talking points at the University of Houston student center. More than 200 people were in attendance.

The forum was hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups that encircle the downtown core SPARC representatives asked six of the candidates jockeying to replace term-limited Annise Parker four questions, giving them 90 seconds to respond.

The seventh candidate, Ben Hall, the mayoral runner-up in 2013, was not present Thursday.

[…]

The questions from SPARC largely focused on how the candidates would spur economic development in neighborhoods to the north, east and south of downtown. The first question, however, broached how the candidates would curb the city’s looming budget deficit and drew more specific answers.

Looks like the candidate for people who thinks the revenue cap is stupid is Chris Bell, with Sylvester Turner the runnerup. There’s another forum this morning at Talento Bilingue in the East End to focus on labor and community issues, and there will be many many more after that. Find one that appeals to you and go hear what the candidates have to say for themselves. PDiddie has more.

Mayoral candidate forum season gets underway

Gentlemen, start your oratorical engines for these upcoming Mayoral candidate forums.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The events, which will focus on arts and culture, economic development, and labor and community concerns, kick off a months-long cycle in which the candidates will appear before various interest groups, speaking to their specific concerns.

Wednesday’s arts forum at the Asia Society comes two days after the conclusion of this year’s legislative session in Austin and is expected to be the first time the candidates appear together since former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race.

The forum hosted by Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be moderated by KTRK reporter Miya Shay.

[…]

Thursday’s forum hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups, will focus on the city budget and economic development. It begins at 6 p.m. at the University of Houston.

[…]

Then, on Saturday, the candidates are set to appear before area labor and community organizations for a 9 a.m. forum at Talento Bilingue.

I realize that these particular forums are tightly focused, subject-wise. Nonetheless, as a public service, I offer to the moderators of these forums and any and all future forums, the following questions that I think these candidates should be asked.

1. What is your opinion of the plan TxDOT has put forward to remake I-45 from Beltway 8 into downtown? Have you taken the opportunity to submit feedback to them via their website? The deadline for such feedback is today/was May 31.

2. During the legislative session there was a bill by Rep. Chris Paddie that would have provided a regulatory framework for “rideshare” services like Uber and Lyft to operate anywhere in Texas. In the bill’s initial form, these regulations would have superseded local rideshare ordinances, though after pushback from cities Rep. Paddie agreed to make some changes. What was your opinion of Rep. Paddie’s rideshare bill? Should the state of Texas be the one to regulate these services? Did you contact Rep. Paddie and/or your own Representative to express your opinion on this bill?

3. Texas Central Railway is currently going through the federal environmental review process to get clearance to build a privately-funded high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas. One of the things they are trying to decide is where to put the Houston terminal for this line. Their original plan was for it to be downtown, but they have encountered strong resistance from the neighborhoods that it might have to pass through (there are two possible routes), who object to elevated trains so close to their homes. An alternative now being discussed is for the station to be located at the Northwest Transit Center, though downtown and some other possibilities are still on the table. Where do you believe the Houston terminal for this high speed rail line, for which construction may begin as soon as 2017, should be? Have you gone to any of TCR’s public meetings, or provided feedback to them in any form?

4. As you know, the city received several proposals in response to its RFP for a “one bin for all” solution for solid waste management. These proposals, which are still being evaluated by the city, would require new technology and a substantial investment by a private company. The city has said that if the idea turns out to be infeasible, it will not pursue it. Mayor Parker has said that one way or another, this will be a task for the next Mayor to finish. What is your opinion of the “one bin for all” idea? Would your preference be for the city to pursue it or drop it?

I really really look forward to hearing some answers to these questions, whether next week or sometime soon thereafter.

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here: http://sanantonio.twcnews.com/content/politics/.

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.

[…]

Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.

Alameel and Cornyn will debate

We’ve had Davis-Abbott, we’ve had Van de Putte-Patrick, and we’ll get Alameel-Cornyn.

David Alameel

David Alameel

Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic challenger David Alameel have agreed to one face-to-face televised debate.

They’ll meet in Dallas at Mountain View College on Friday, Oct. 24. The hour-long debate will air Saturday night Oct. 25 at 10 pm on Univision stations across Texas. The debate will take place in English, with Spanish simulcast.

Neither campaign has announced the event.

“That’s the only one they asked for and we said yes,” said Cornyn, a Republican seeking a third 6-year term.

He mentioned the event this morning in a meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board, and Alameel spokesman Gustavo Bujanda confirmed it.

But Bujanda said the challenger sought many more debates, including and especially one aimed at a broader audience. The Cornyn side refused, he said.

“Alas, no success,” he said.

Cornyn campaign manager Brendan Steinhauser disputed that. He said he’s unaware of any requests from Alameel for other debates and said that this one stemmed from an invitation from Univision, not the challenger.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

There’s an open letter from Alameel to Cornyn at the link. Honestly, given that this event will take place after the first five days of early voting have taken place, I rather doubt there would be much value to any subsequent events. Mark your calendars for this one and we’ll see how it goes.

Gov debate II: That’s more like it

The second Governor’s debate was a lively affair.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has mostly avoided direct confrontation with his opponent in the race for Texas governor, took a hard swing at Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis over her ethics as a lawmaker in a televised debate Tuesday night.

And she let him have it right back.

While clashing over tax incentives doled out at both the state and local levels, Abbott accused Davis of using her role as a Fort Worth city councilwoman to pad her own pocketbook. Specifically, he said she made money on an economic development deal involving the sporting goods store Cabela’s, because her title company got a piece of the action during a time that she was serving on the council.

That exchange in the second half of the hour-long discussion was easily the most heated moment the two have shared in either of the two statewide debates, and it represented a far more personal and hands-on attack from Abbott, who has generally left the campaign dirty work to surrogates.

“When you used those incentive funds to attract Cabela, and then closed the deal, it was your title company that benefited by closing that deal,” he said. “So you personally profited. You were able to use your title company …”

He never got to finish his sentence. Davis, in keeping with her aggressive posture from the last debate, cut Abbott off and stopped just short of calling him a liar.

“Mr. Abbott, you are not telling the truth right now, and you know you are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit from that,” she said.

Then Davis pivoted to the latest controversy involving incentives at the state level — contained in the bruising audit from the state’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund — and revelations that much of the tax subsidies were doled out to companies with little oversight.

“You were the chief law enforcement officer over the Enterprise Fund. It was your responsibility to make sure that the tens of millions of dollars that were going to these companies were resulting in jobs, and you failed to do that,” she said.

When he was given a rebuttal opportunity, Abbott went back for more.

“I would like to respond by knowing how much your title company received by closing the Cabela’s deal that was granted an award from the Texas Enterprise Fund,” Abbott said.

Davis said the title company in question, Republic Title, which was run by her husband, “was not my title company.” She said she earned a salary that was “never depending on any deal that ever closed.” Davis finished her remarks by turning the attention back to Abbott and said he should have done more to stop misspending inside the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“Mr. Abbott, this is about your failure,” she said.

Video of the debate is here. By all accounts I’ve seen, the format was better and so was Davis’ performance than in the first debate. Here’s The Observer:

On the issues, Abbott and Davis made stark distinctions. Neither could really answer a question about how they’d fund their education plans, though Abbott at least had a dollar figure for student spending that made it appear that he had given it some thought. But Davis hit Abbott hard. It was ludicrous, she said, for Abbott to keep saying he would make Texas schools No. 1 while defending huge cuts to funding and refusing to commit to providing more resources.

“Mr. Abbott, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” she said. “You say you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You cannot accomplish that goal without making the appropriate investments.”

On immigration, Abbott committed, after some pushing, to not vetoing a bill from the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented migrants. There’s been a question about how Abbott would interact with a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Killing in-state tuition is one of Patrick’s top priorities, and Abbott’s on board, apparently.

The Chron story also noted Abbott being in tune with Dan Patrick on this, and they included Davis’ answer in which she said she would veto such a bill. Perhaps someone ought to let the Latino voters that Abbott is trying to woo know about this. On a side note, Davis’ attacks on Abbott over his less-than-transparent actions with the Texas Enterprise Fund led to AG candidate Sam Houston pledging to make Enterprise Fund applications public if elected, as well as a hilariously over-the-top non-responsive answer to the question by his opponent, Ken Paxton. Gotta love it when candidates are in tune with each other.

Back to the Observer:

But the best part of the debate might have been the discussion over Medicaid expansion—at about 29:30 in the video above. Medicaid expansion is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, one of the most serious issues in the race. If Medicaid isn’t expanded in Texas, a quantifiable number of people will suffer and die—unnecessarily. But it hasn’t come up in the race as much as it might.

Abbott said he’d ask the feds to give Texas its Medicaid dollars as a block grant to be spent as the state sees fit, which few think is a realistic possibility. He assured listeners that he “wouldn’t bankrupt Texas” by imposing on Texas the “overwhelming Obamacare disaster.”

Davis laid out a forceful argument for Medicaid expansion. “I have to laugh when I hear Mr. Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas,” she said. “Right now Texans are sending their hard-earned tax dollars to the IRS, $100 billion of which will never come back to work for us in our state unless we bring it back. As governor, I will it bring it back. Greg Abbott’s plan is for you to send that tax money to California and New York.” Abbott’s rebuttal left Davis smiling from ear to ear. The whole fairly long exchange is worth watching.

The Observer also has video embedded, if you’d rather click over there. This was the last debate, which while a shame is at least two more than we got in 2010 and one more than in 2006. What did you think? PDiddie, Burka, Newsdesk, Campos, and Egberto Willies have more.

The Lite Guv debate

It was lively, and it was a good reminder of who Dan Patrick really is.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the only scheduled debate in their race for lieutenant governor, state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte faced off on Monday night in a lively exchange that displayed their divergent positions on everything from health care and immigration to school finance and taxes.

Both candidates played offense: Patrick, Republican of Houston, attempted to portray Van de Putte, Democrat of San Antonio, as “out of step” with Texas voters. Van de Putte used the back-and-forth to try to pin Patrick down on votes he’d taken on cuts to public education. But one of the biggest points of contention in the hourlong showdown in Austin was over the state’s tax structure.

Patrick recently called for reducing the state’s dependence on the property tax to fund public schools and relying on the state’s sales tax instead. On Monday, Van de Putte used Patrick’s position to argue that he would raise the sales tax, which she said would negatively affect businesses and consumers. Patrick sought to clarify his proposal, saying he would only support increasing the sales tax “by a penny or two” to compensate for reduced revenue from property taxes.

“There are two candidates on this stage, and I’m the only one that doesn’t want to raise your sales taxes,” Van de Putte said. “To burden Texas businesses and families with a sales tax increase … well, that’s not being pro-business.”

There’s video of the debate here if you missed it or want to share it with someone else that didn’t see it but needs to. The Observer liveblogged it. Writer Forrest Wilder expressed amazement at Patrick’s admission that he’d raise the sales tax to finance a property tax cut, but he’s been saying this all along. I’ve been saying all along that someone needs to point out just how much Dan Patrick himself would benefit from the kind of tax swap he’s proposing. It’s not like we haven’t seen this before, after all.

Burka summed it up as follows:

The most interesting thing about the debate was Patrick’s persona. He felt no need to soften his message or appeal to more mainstream voters. This is exactly who he is, and who he wants to be: a true conservative radical.

Good to know his phony claims of being compassionate didn’t last long. I still don’t know why anyone would have believed him in the first place. The Chron story is here, and PDiddie, EoW, Juanita, Newsdesk, the TSTA Blog, and the Current has more.

Davis at TribFest

Wendy Davis expands on some debate topics and other campaign issues at the Texas Tribune’s TribFest.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

If elected governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis would consider using “executive action” to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act in the face of likely opposition from a Republican-dominated state Legislature, she said Saturday in a wide-ranging interview at The Texas Tribune Festival.

“There’s some indication that an executive action can achieve this,” Davis told Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. “Sometimes you have to do hard things when they’re the right things.”

Had Texas expanded Medicaid to cover more adults under federal health care reform, the federal government would have covered 100 percent of the cost for three years, eventually reducing its coverage to 90 percent. Davis criticized Republicans’ opposition to the offer, which she noted was projected to create as many as 300,000 jobs in the state.

“Once again, we’ve got people who are more interested in partisan rhetoric than being leaders for our state,” Davis said.

Davis spoke at length during the hourlong interview with Smith about her plans if she wins her race against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. She singled out two bills — a repeal of the state’s in-state tuition law for illegal immigrants and an “Arizona-style” immigration bill banning sanctuary cities — as measures she would veto if they reached her desk as governor.

Of the in-state tuition repeal, which has strong support among Republicans in the Texas Senate, Davis said she’d “veto it in a heartbeat.”

Given the Legislature’s likely makeup next year, Davis said she was pessimistic that a measure to repeal the abortion restrictions she filibustered last year would ever make it to her desk, though she would sign it if it did. She said it was the same case for a bill that would put the state’s redistricting process under an independent commission,

Smith began the interview asking Davis about Friday’s televised debate with Abbott. He questioned why she didn’t respond to Abbott when he asked her at the debate if she regrets voting for President Obama.

“No, I don’t regret it,” Davis said. She suggested that she didn’t answer Abbott’s question at the time because she thought it wasn’t valid in the “context” of a gubernatorial debate.

“I thought it was striking that when he had the one opportunity to ask me a question, instead of asking me who I would be as governor, he asked me who I voted for for president,” Davis said.

I seem to recall that the Lege passed a bill saying that their approval was needed for any kind of Medicaid expansion, but I could be wrong about that. That said, I’m glad to see Davis make clear her support for Medicaid expansion in this fashion, and I’m glad to see her draw lines in the sand about the Texas DREAM Act and the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. Good policy all around, and sure to be heartening to the people Davis will need to get out and vote in November. As for her answer about voting for President Obama, I’m sure some people would have liked her to have been more clear about what she meant, but sometimes in the heat of the moment you don’t quite say everything you mean to. At least there will be one more debate opportunity to tackle the question if it comes up again, and it’s not like Davis is going to be going into a rabbit hole anytime soon. Honestly, though, I don’t think there’s anything more to this at this point.