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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.

Debate night

Nothing like a 6 PM on a Friday debate that people don’t know how to find on their cable service.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis went on the offensive against Republican Greg Abbott on issue after issue Friday in their first debate in the race for governor. Abbott, the state attorney general and frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, calmly fended off the attacks during the one-hour face off.

As the candidates faced off at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance in the Rio Grande Valley, Davis took aim at Abbott’s comparison of South Texas corruption to that which occurs in third-world countries.

She targeted his defense of a voter ID law that a judicial panel has found to be discriminatory. She slammed him for defending the public education finance system in court, which he is doing by virtue of being the state’s top lawyer.

She said his defense of a system whose funding was pared back in 2011 is “just dumb,” and she pointed out that she fought those cuts through a brief filibuster that year. Davis later was among lawmakers who worked to restore the money that was cut.

You can see a video of the debate here if you missed it, and there’s more coverage from the Trib and the Observer. I’m not the debate-watching type, so my impression of how it went comes from what I’ve been seeing on social media, where most of the Davis supporters I’ve seen seem to be happy with her performance. Of course, while Davis was on the attack, Abbott was playing the equivalent of the four corners offense, which has been the Republican strategy all along and the reason why he refused to debate under any other conditions. What was your impression of the debate?

Let there be an AG debate

I can’t think of any good reason why there shouldn’t be a debate between Sam Houston and Ken Paxton.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democratic candidate for attorney general Sam Houston wants his opponent, state Sen. Ken Paxton, to agree to a debate ahead of the November general election.

Houston is expected to issue the challenge Wednesday at a news conference in Austin, demanding his Republican opponent “quit hiding from the media and the voters,” spokeswoman Sue Davis confirmed.

“To me, this is fair. He’s either going to debate me or explain to somebody why he hasn’t,” Houston said Friday. “How is this guy going to be attorney general if he won’t even address the issues?”

Houston contends his opponent hasn’t made a public appearance in months, ever since Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade – a service for which he pocketed up to a 30 percent in commission – without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.

[…]

In response, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm called Houston’s debate demand a desperate ploy from an underdog candidate.

“It’s not surprising that anyone losing by 20 points – and unable to raise meaningful campaign funds – would want free publicity. Rabidly pushing debates is most often the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass,” said Holm.

He did not answer follow-up questions about whether Paxton would agree to a debate. Houston was unchallenged in the Democratic primary.

I should amend my statement to say that Ken Paxton has plenty of reasons to not want to be asked questions in a public forum. Houston touched on all that at a press conference where he called out Paxton.

Speaking to reporters at the Austin Club, Houston said the public should question his Republican opponent’s openness and trustworthiness after Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.

“Mr. Paxton has voted to make certain conduct a felony. He then has knowingly violated that conduct before and since,” said Houston. “Now he says, ‘don’t indict me, don’t punish me even though I’ve made that a felony for other people. In fact, make me attorney general so I can enforce that statute.’”

Speaking after the event, Houston said “I have faith he won’t” accept the challenge to debate. “He hasn’t so far. Look, I don’t think he can. I mean, he’s going to have to answer that question and I don’t think he can answer it.”

Issues he’d like to address in a hypothetical debate include his opponent’s litigation experience as well as recent open records rulings dealing with volatile chemicals and Gov. Rick Perry’s travel schedule issued by outgoing Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Looking very much the trial lawyer, Houston stood between three exhibits showing the Texas Securities Act and the disciplinary order Paxton signed in early May admitting to the violation. Paxton was fined $1,000 and issued a reprimand. Texans for Public Justice, the same watchdog group that filed the original complaint against Gov. Rick Perry that eventually led to his August indictment, has also filed a complaint over Paxton’s noncompliance with the state ethics commission.

Houston repeated criticisms Paxton hasn’t spoken to the media “as far as I know” in 120 days, specifically citing an incident in late-July when Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm physically blocked San Antonio Express-News reporter Nolan Hicks from asking him questions.

“You can’t hide behind spokespeople,” said Houston. “That’s Exhibit A that this man should not be attorney general.”

Paxton’s spokesperson then denied the charge, which kind of proves the point. I mean, the dude has issues, and I’m not talking about the kind that candidates like to discuss. There’s a Debate Challenge Clock on Sam Houston’s website now. I don’t expect it to need to be stopped.

Honestly, though, Paxton’s sins aside, I can’t think of any good reason why we shouldn’t have at least one debate among the candidates for all offices, especially this year when every single one is open. Not that I’d expect, say, Glenn Hegar to want to square off against Mike Collier any more than Paxton would want to face Houston, but you’d think it would be a worthwhile endeavor on its face. I mean, when city elections roll around next year I guarantee that nearly every candidate for every office, from the top Mayoral challengers down to the most anonymous district Council wannabees, will do their best to make it to every candidate forum put on by every club, organization, or random group of concerned citizens around. I’ve been to a bunch of these events myself. All we’re asking for here is one lousy debate. That really ain’t much.

But I don’t expect it. Paxton, like his debate-phobic colleagues elsewhere on the ballot, figure they’ve already talked to all the voters they actually care about. At this point they figure it’s just Democrats and people who don’t pay attention anyway, so why give themselves an opportunity to say something stupid that will turn into headlines? It would be nice if people demanded more, but the people who’d be doing the demanding aren’t the people these guys listen to, so there you have it. Texas Leftist has more.

Abbott keeps moving the debate goal posts

It’s like he’s afraid to directly engage on the issues or something.

Four days after Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott backed out of a planned debate with Democrat Wendy Davis in Dallas, it was unclear Tuesday whether there would be a gubernatorial debate in the city at all.

Davis agreed to Abbott’s format preferences for a debate on Sept. 30 to be hosted by WFAA-TV in Dallas, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But Abbott has committed to debating at a different venue in the city, Davis hasn’t accepted the invitation to the second one and WFAA says it’s no longer pursuing a debate. (The Texas Tribune had been a partner with WFAA on its original debate.)

Davis and Abbott had both agreed to the WFAA debate — as well as another debate in McAllen — but Abbott backed out of the WFAA event on Friday because of what one of his advisers said was “an inability to agree on specific details of the format.” The debate was to be a roundtable conversation with no specific time limits for candidate remarks.

Davis campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas issued a statement Tuesday after the campaign met with WFAA.

“We have spoken with WFAA this afternoon and expressed our willingness to alter the previously agreed upon debate format to accommodate the Abbott campaign’s concerns about the lack of timed responses,” Petkanas said. “Wendy looks forward to meeting Mr. Abbott in this more structured debate setting at WFAA on September 30th.”

[…]

WFAA President and General Manager Mike Devlin said the station will no longer pursue the debate because of Abbott’s unwillingness to cooperate.

“We expect people running for the governorship to behave in an honorable fashion,” Devlin said. “At a certain point when you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t keep commitments, why would we keep going back?”

After backing out of the WFAA debate Friday, Abbott agreed to another Dallas debate on Sept. 30 hosted by KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News. However, Davis did not agree to that debate because she had already committed to the WFAA event, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But in a statement issued later Tuesday, Petkanas said the campaign “will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate.”

Emphasis mine. Can’t really say it any better than that, though the full statement from Zac Petankas is worth highlighting as well:

“If Greg Abbott isn’t tough enough to handle a roundtable discussion in front of a statewide audience, it’s hard to see how he’s tough enough to be Governor of Texas,” said campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas. “However, the fact that Greg Abbott isn’t willing to keep his word shouldn’t deprive voters of the chance to see both candidates debate issues like his defense of $5.4 billion in public education cuts. In that spirit, we will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate.”

Indeed. See here for more.

UPDATE: We have an agreement on a new debate.

Abbott will duck Dallas debate

How very statesmanlike of him.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott has reversed his decision to appear in the only gubernatorial debate scheduled to be broadcast statewide on television.

Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, had both agreed to participate in a Sept. 30 roundtable debate in Dallas.

But on Friday morning, Abbott’s team said it would not participate, expressing concern over the format.

“Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate,” Robert Black, a senior campaign adviser said Friday morning.

Black, Abbott’s new debate consultant, joined the campaign on Aug. 4.

On May 28, Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager, sent a letter to WFAA accepting the terms of the debate.

“From grassroots events to policy announcements and roundtable discussions, we have made our personal engagement with voters a focal point,” Hamilton wrote to WFAA in May.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate,” said Mike Devlin, president and general manager of WFAA-TV. “WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”

Here’s WFAA’s coverage of Abbott’s cut and run. Note the letter they include at the bottom in which Abbott’s campaign accepted the invitation to debate.

Later in the day, the story got a bit more complicated.

The Dallas debate was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 and would have been broadcast on all of Texas’ Gannett stations including WFAA-TV in Dallas – Fort Worth, KHOU-TV in Houston, KENS-TV in San Antonio, KVUE-TV in Austin, along with other affiliates in Amarillo, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Tyler.

Outside of those Gannett markets the debate was going to be available to any radio and television station in the state. In addition, the debate would have been streamed on-line at all of the Gannett websites in Texas.

Gannett stations currently reach 83% of Texans.

[…]

Late Friday afternoon, Abbott announced that Dallas’ PBS affiliate, KERA-TV, has agreed to host a formal debate on September 30. Davis did not immediately agree to it after committing to the first one that Abbott backed out of today.

“Voters deserve a thoughtful and substantive policy discussion on how the next governor will lead Texas. Greg Abbott looks forward to sharing his vision for Texas’ future and participating in the upcoming debates,” said Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager in an emailed statement.

Gannett guaranteed live coverage on all 10 of its television stations in Texas which reach 83% of the state. It’s uncertain if any television station outside North Texas has agreed to simulcast KERA’s debate.

The Davis campaign shot back at Abbott following the KERA-TV debate announcement.

“There have been reports that the Abbott campaign has ‘committed’ to another debate, but as we learned today Greg Abbott’s commitments don’t mean very much,” said Zac Petkanas, communications director for the Davis campaign in a statement late Friday afternoon. “Wendy Davis has already committed the evening of September 30 to a debate on WFAA. The station has asked to have a discussion on Tuesday, September 2, to discuss options given the recent developments and, as Wendy Davis is someone who honors her commitments, the campaign looks forward to having that discussion.”

The Quorum Report characterized this as Abbott “hurriedly setting up another debate and then announcing it”. Lord only knows what they’re thinking over there. We’ll see what happens next.

Just as the timing of the school finance decision worked in favor of Wendy Davis and her education policies rollout this week, it works against Abbott, who of course was on the losing side in the lawsuit. Hard not to connect the two, no matter how much he’d deny it. Chalk this up as another way in which Greg Abbott is like Rick Perry, as if there had been any doubt. There will still be one debate, in McAllen on September 19, assuming Abbott doesn’t try to weasel out of it as well. PDiddie, John Coby, Juanita, BOR, Trail Blazers, the AusChron, the Trib, and the Current have more.

We have a Lite Guv debate agreement

Mark your calendars for September 29.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Both campaigns confirmed the date via email Thursday after the two sides had agreed to a Texas Tribune-hosted debate but couldn’t reach a consensus on a day. The Tribune originally proposed Sept. 24 and Sept. 27 as possible dates.

Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, accepted a debate invitation earlier this week and specified that she’d do it on Sept. 24.

Patrick’s camp shot back Wednesday that the 24th isn’t doable because it marks the start of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Patrick agreed to debate on Sept. 27.

That left the debate date in limbo until the two sides said Thursday they ended up agreeing on Sept. 29.

So there you have it. Sen. Van de Putte sent out a press release yesterday saying she still wants to have more than one debate, which I think ought to be the case as well. I hope Patrick will give some consideration to having more than one, since he participated in about a million of them for the primary and runoff. Take your show to a larger audience, Danno. The Current and Texas Leftist have more.

LVdP calls out Patrick on debates

You tell him, Leticia.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Letitica Van de Putte said Thursday that her Republican opponent, Sen. Dan Patrick, has yet to respond to her proposal for a series of debates ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

Van de Putte and Patrick spoke separately at the Texas Association of Broadcasters annual convention in a rare opportunity to see the two candidates address the same audience back to back.

A state senator from San Antonio, Van de Putte used the opportunity before cameras and microphones to reiterate her call for a robust schedule of debates.

She has challenged Patrick, a tea party favorite from Houston, to five debates, part of an aggressive plan to pit the candidates head-to-head in the state’s four largest markets and in the Rio Grande Valley. Neither Patrick nor his team have responded since she laid out the debate proposal more than a week ago, Van de Putte said.

“This is a race where there’s a big difference in candidates … and the people of the state need to hear the candidates,” she said. “He knows my phone number. I’m waiting.”

For a guy that normally loooooooooves the spotlight, Danno sure has been quiet about this.

Patrick, with less than 90 days before voters pick a new lieutenant governor, is showing no public signs of how he plans to respond to Van de Putte’s debate proposal.

The campaign has said it is “working to establish a debate schedule that is respectful to and complementary of the debates agreed to by the gubernatorial candidates.”

On Thursday, Patrick’s team used that more-than-week-old statement to shield itself from media inquiries about Van de Putte’s comments to reporters and in front of the broadcast industry trade group.

Minutes after his speech wrapped up, Patrick and his team zoomed out of the hotel lobby without answering media questions (both speeches were about a half-hour behind schedule).

Patrick did stick around just long enough to declare he has a “Huckabee event to attend” and that “I’ve been the most media-friendly guy in the Legislature.” Then he vanished.

Patrick figures, not without reason, that he has little to gain by actually engaging with Van de Putte, or doing much campaigning at all, really. He’s got the wind at his back and it’s his plan to let it blow him across the finish line. But as Stace reminds us, Lite Guv is a position with real power. The voters deserve a chance to hear what the candidates have to say for themselves. What are you afraid of, Danny?

Time for the debate about debates to begin

It’s getting to be debating season.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis on Tuesday proposed a series of six debates with Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in their race for governor.

Her proposal came after Abbott earlier said he had accepted two invitations for debates in McAllen in September and in Dallas in October.

Davis envisions a series of debates from July through October in the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock.

In a letter to Abbott dated Tuesday, she said she would like at least two of them to be issue-specific debates focused on education and economic opportunity.

Davis proposed at least two 90-minute town-hall formats “with a technology partner and social media engagement;” at least one community college with a local media partner “on a weekend so parents can attend;” and at least one English-Spanish simulcast.

I’ve got Davis’ letter to Abbott beneath the fold. It’s interesting to me that Abbott made the first move by accepting the media-sponsored debates in McAllen and Dallas. I suspect that’s one part confidence in his oratorial skills, one part bravado about “competing” for the Latino vote, and one part recognition that maybe he can’t hope to hide in a corner like Rick Perry did. Davis had already come under some questioning for not immediately jumping to accept the two debates on offer, but she apparently had bigger things in mind. Let’s see how Abbott plays it from here. The Austin Chronicle and the Monitor have more.

(more…)

Chron wants multiple multi-candidate debates

Don’t know if they’ll get what they want, but it can’t hurt to ask.

For the main show, mayoral candidate Ben Hall has called for six one-on-one debates with Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with three debates after early voting begins. Parker has rejected Hall’s proposal, agreeing only to one debate featuring multiple candidates.

Houston’s future is too important to limit the mayor’s race to one debate, and we’re far too diverse to restrict debates to an incumbent and a self-funded millionaire challenger. Putting multiple candidates on stage will provide a panoply of perspectives and a constructive conversation about our city’s needs. Municipal issues don’t always make for the most exciting discussions, but the horse-race atmosphere of elections provides a more compelling backdrop for topics like the city budget.

While we hope Ben Hall will use the debates to explain why he is spending his personal fortune on an uphill battle to unseat the mayor, the time for one-on-one debates is during a runoff. The general election should provide voters with multiple options for what our future will look like. Whether the race for mayor, controller or city council seats, voters are best served when candidates debate the issues and define what it means to be a city that is building forever.

See here for the background. It’s hardly clear to me that having candidates beyond Mayor Parker and Ben Hall in a debate will yield a “constructive conversation”. The candidates not named Parker or Hall would have to be running constructive campaigns for there to be some chance of that happening, and so far the evidence for that is lacking. The principle of democracy argues in favor of inclusiveness, but the principle of imparting useful information to as many voters as possible argues for limiting the debate to those that have something useful to say. Let whatever organizations that want to sponsor debates make their own decisions about who they want to invite, let Parker and Hall agree to abide by their decisions, and leave it at that. Campos has more.

Debating about debates

There will be some number of debates between Mayor Parker and Ben Hall between now and Election Day. How many debates, and how many participants there will be in those debates, is itself a matter of debate.

Mayor Annise Parker

In this corner…

In a letter to [Mayor Annise] Parker this week, [Ben] Hall sought three debates after Labor Day on Sept. 2 but before the start of early voting, and another three leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5.

“Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her citizens,” Hall wrote.

Parker campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis said the two-term incumbent has agreed to one debate, to include all mayoral candidates and to be scheduled after the Aug. 26 candidate filing deadline.

“All year long, Mayor Parker speaks daily about city issues to civic clubs, neighborhood groups and other organizations, holds tele-town halls and online chats and is available to the media,” Davis said.

…And in this corner

Hall campaign spokesman Mark Sanders cast Parker’s response as a win for the challenger.

“We are making progress,” Sander said. “A month ago she told Ben Hall there would be no debates. Today she said there would be one. We still look forward to six televised debates that will allow all the citizens of Houston to make informed decisions.”

Davis said Sanders was “misconstruing” Parker’s comment to Hall at a Juneteenth parade, where Davis said the mayor told Hall she would not debate “just him,” intending to include other entrants. The other three candidates in the race spent less than $25,000 as of June 30.

[…]

Republican political consultant Allen Blakemore said a key factor will be how many debates local civic institutions and media outlets want to host. The final debate count is likely to fall between one and six, he said.

“If Rice University says they want to put on a debate or the Greater Houston Partnership says they want to put on a debate and they’ve got local media participation, well, it’s difficult for Parker to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t want to do it,’ ” Blakemore said.

I think Blakemore gets this right. Sure, Parker and Hall could go the full Garland/Rooney route and put together their own traveling roadshow of Mayoral debates, but that’s usually not how these things work. Some number of organizations will want to sponsor debates. However many of them there are, it would look bad for either candidate to decline to participate. I suspect the final number will be two or three, but that’s just a guess. I do agree that one isn’t enough, and six is too many. There’s only so much material that can be reasonably covered in these debates, and after a certain point the questions start to get repeated or they become silly in an attempt to avoid repetition. On the other end, I agree with Texpatriate and Texas Leftist that the other activities Mayor Parker cites aren’t adequate substitutes for engaging her opposition, and that a lot of us thought it was bush league the way Rick Perry ducked debating Bill White at all in 2010. While it’s generally true that candidates that are leading have no great incentive to share the spotlight with those who hope to catch them, being the incumbent should mean being above that kind of game-playing. And personally, I don’t think she has anything to worry about. She has a strong record to defend, and Hall has yet to articulate any clear reason to vote her out, let alone what he himself would do as Mayor. Debating about debates eventually becomes its own issue. If I’m Mayor Parker, I’d rather talk about more interesting and substantive things than that. Texas Leftist also makes a point about it being better for any future political ambitions the Mayor may have to meet Hall head on, and I agree with that, too.

The side issue of who gets to participate in these debates will be fun to watch. Normally, frontrunners aren’t terribly excited about having a large number of debate participants since that just means more people taking potshots at them. Here, though, Mayor Parker appears to be more willing to allow the fringe characters into the as-yet-unplanned debates than Hall is. I’m generally ambivalent on this point. On the one hand, in a democracy all voices deserve to be heard. On the other hand, it’s hard to see what any of the bit players will bring to the table, since none of them has done anything to indicate they are seriously engaging in the issues that would be debated. A Mayoral debate is likely to be a 60 to 90 minute affair. How much of that time do you want to be spent on people that don’t have anything constructive to say, and how much of it do you want spent on Annise Parker and Ben Hall? Now, any organization that wants to host a debate will have its own preferences on this and that’s fine, but if Hall and Parker have different visions then it becomes another obstacle to getting anything done. If it were up to me, I’d let one or maybe two debates be all comers, but I’d insist on their being at least one of just Parker and Hall. I guarantee, we’ll get more out of that one than the others. Campos has more on that.

On a side note, I’m amused that the headline of the story was about Hall’s campaign “gathering steam” when the story was one part about the great debate debate and one part about the two new Republican campaign operatives he has coming in to replace two other Republican campaign operatives. Generally speaking, campaigns that have wholesale personnel changes midway through are not described as “gathering steam”. I will note that the new Hall team did something that the old one never did, which was send out email to the local bloggers with a copy of Hall’s letter to the Mayor containing his debate proposal; here’s a copy of it. I’m not egotistical enough to think that a handful of us Internet bloviators matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but I will point out that between us, we’ve written more about Hall and this race than the Chron has. If nothing else, you’d think a campaign might want to exert a little effort to ensure that their perspective is taken into account when we do our thing. My feelings about this campaign and the candidates aside, I’m glad to see that Team Hall has finally gotten around to doing that. Greg has more.

Three days of early voting in SD06

I’m not sure that the Chron’s classification of early voting so far in SD06 is accurate, but I’m not sure how I myself would characterize it since we have so few precedents to draw on.

Three days into early voting, the race to replace the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos continues to heat up, as does the balloting.

The first large batch of mail-in ballots was returned Friday, outpacing voters who visited the polls in person. Since early voting began, 1,561 ballots have been cast, two thirds of them in person. More votes were recorded Friday, 805, than in the two preceding days, 756.

Early voting continues through Jan. 22. Election Day is Jan. 26.

You can see the EV totals so far here. As noted, the difference was the arrival of mail ballots on Friday. 451 absentee ballots were received on Friday, which is more than the in-person total on any of the three days so far. I expect early voting to pick up as it always does, and every day of EV is from 7 to 7 except for next Sunday, which should be a boost as well, but I also expect that more than half the total ballots will be cast early. It sure would be nice to see some bigger daily numbers going forward.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones describes the relatively late date as “a strategic delay” on the part of Gov. Rick Perry and his fellow Republicans, who realize that the likely winner will be one of the Democratic candidates.

“Under the Senate’s two-thirds rule, until the new SD-6 senator arrives, the Republicans need to convince only one Democrat to vote with them to pass legislation, whereas once Alvarado or Garcia arrives in Austin, they will need two,” he said in an email.

On most legislation the difference is irrelevant, Jones said, but not on such controversial issues as the fetal pain bill, for example.

“With only 30 senators, the Republicans will need to tailor the final legislation to obtain the backing of only one of the handful of pro-life Democrats, not two of them,” he said. “The result will, quite possibly, be legislation that is closer to the Republican ideal than would have been the case if the support of both was required.”

There are three “pro-life” Dems in the Senate – Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini – and it took all three of their votes to let the awful sonogram bill through. That was because Republican Jeff Wentworth joined the other nine Dems in opposing it, but he was ousted in favor of the wingnut Donna Campbell in last year’s GOP primary, so as noted once the new Senator is seated the GOP will only need two defections to overcome the two-thirds rule for further atrocities. Until then, one is enough.

For those of you still making up your minds about whom to support, the League of Women Voters Houston is here to help:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that the full two-hour Conversations with the Candidates telecast covering the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election is now available for viewing on demand.

The Conversations program was originally telecast live on Thursday, January 10, 2013 on the channels of Houston MediaSource TV (Comcast Channel 17, ATT Uverse Channel 99 or livestreamed at www.hmstv.org, and will be re-telecast on:

Monday           1/21/13            3:00 pm

Tuesday          1/22/13            8:00 am

Tuesday          1/22/13            4:30 pm

Wednesday     1/23/13             2:30 pm

Thursday         1/24/13            4:30 pm

Friday             1/25/13            8:00 am

All eight declared candidates were invited to attend.  The seven who participated, in order of appearance, were:  Sylvia Garcia, Carol Alvarado, Maria Selva, Joaquin Martinez, Rudy Reyes, R. W. Bray and Dorothy Olmos.

The unique “candidate conveyor belt” format allowed each candidate the opportunity to explain his or her philosophy of governance and positions on selected issues.  Each candidate separately, in an order determined by drawing numbers, sat at a round table and participated in a friendly conversation with two League officials.

Members of the media are welcome to use Conversations material in their reports, and are encouraged to offer the public viewing opportunities via websites, social media or other vectors.  However, we ask that the program be made available in its entirety and without edits.  Our on-demand viewing page notes the order of candidate appearance for those who wish to scroll through to watch particular segments.

There have been numerous candidate forums as well, including one on Friday that was boycotted by Green Party candidate Maria Selva because it was sponsored by TransCanada, the company constructing the Keystone XL pipeline. From her press release, which you can see here:

“Tar sands refining will increase toxic air pollution along the Houston Ship Channel, negatively impacting the health of the people in District 6. The whole tar sands operation from mining to refining drastically increases carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change, and is at odds with the push for clean, safe energy that is one of the principal goals of my campaign,” Selva said.

“This controversial firm [TransCanada] that Houstonians and Texans have been fighting to keep out of the state should not have inappropriate influence over the candidates by sponsoring a debate among candidates who would make decisions affecting it,” said Selva.

“Candidates who seek to represent the citizens of Texas Senate district 6 should not be attending events sponsored by corporations that will poison the air of the people they claim to want to represent. We need to keep money out of politics, and that starts with removing money and inappropriate influence from the decision-making process of citizens.”

I realize that opinions tend to differ about this sort of tactic, but I personally think it’s more effective in general for a candidate to participate in an event where she has issues like this with a sponsor and tell everyone in attendance at her turn to speak exactly how she feels. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of attendees have no idea about any of this, and as such you have the opportunity to inform them. A press release is easy to ignore, assuming you ever knew of its existence in the first place. Someone telling you something to your face isn’t. Just my opinion.

And while I’m on the subject, I really have no idea what if any role the state government has in this. I know the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a federal matter. You know who would be in an excellent position to educate ignoramuses such as myself about what the state government can do to affect or prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Someone who’s running for a state government office, like Maria Selva, that’s who. Yet on her campaign website, her Facebook page, and this article about a protest in which she was quoted, I have learned nothing more about the Keystone XL pipeline than the fact that Maria Selva opposes it, which I already knew. Look, there are more starting quarterbacks in the NFL than there are members of the Texas Senate. There are very few people in Texas who can affect what happens in Texas more than the 31 Senators. What exactly would Maria Selva do as one of these uniquely powerful people to put her beliefs into action? Is there some bill she would introduce, or try to block, or some existing law she would seek to repeal? Is there a hearing she could hold, or some official she would seek to influence? I can only speculate because Maria Selva has not provided that information anywhere I can find, and she declined a golden opportunity to inform an audience that would have been well served to hear it.

As you know, I interview a lot of candidates, and I generally don’t press them to be this specific about the process. Usually, just knowing what their principles are, and whether they support or oppose something that’s already out there, is sufficient. This is one of those times where it isn’t, for two reasons. One, as I just said, is because it’s not clear how the elected office in question is relevant to the candidate’s belief and the action she would like to take. If the main thing that will happen when you get elected is that you’ll go from a protester/activist to a protester/activist with an honorific, I’m not sure you’re making the best case for your candidacy or the best use of the political process. Second, if one of your complaints as a “third party” or “fringe” candidate is that you get no respect from the establishment, by which I mean the media and the various actors in the political process, and that your views never get a fair hearing, I say it’s on you to make it clear what is being missed by your exclusion. Show me how your perspective that doesn’t neatly fit into a two-party system would bring something new and needed to the table. If I were to ask Carol Alvarado or Sylvia Garcia – or RW Bray, for that matter – about Keystone, I’d expect them to say something like “That’s a federal matter”, and I’d find that to be an acceptable answer. Maria Selva had the chance to demonstrate why that isn’t an acceptable answer, but she didn’t take it. Further, from what I can tell it’s not clear that she could demonstrate that.

Putting this another way, if I still lived in SD06 I almost certainly wouldn’t vote for Maria Selva regardless, because I think Alvarado and Garcia are the two best candidates in the race. But if Maria Selva could articulate a way for a Senator to take on this issue – or any other, for that matter, especially one that isn’t being addressed by other candidates – and it made sense to me, I would at the very least press the candidates I would consider voting for to take a position on it. You want someone to listen to you, give them a reason to listen. I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

Saggy pants

I’m not much of a candidate forum attender, but I wish I had gone to this one.

Half-a-dozen candidates in runoff City Council elections each made his or her case as champion of the downtrodden before a mostly black and Latino audience at a Fifth Ward church on Saturday afternoon.

Council aide Alvin Byrd faces nonprofit director Jerry Davis in District B; pastor Andrew Burks faces former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut for the At-Large Position 2 seat; and chiropractor Jack Christie is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for the At-Large 5 seat in the Dec. 10 elections.

At the forum sponsored by a coalition of labor and civil rights groups, the lead-off question prompted candidates’ positions on whether they would oppose changing public employee pensions from the guaranteed benefits they now offer to a 401(k) system in which the payouts are determined by how well retirement investments perform.

[…]

Burks generally did not answer questions directly but used the floor to complain that not enough police officers and firefighters live inside the city limits and that Mayor Annise Parker does not want him to defeat Thibaut in the race. He even responded to a question about providing birth control in city health clinics by calling for issuing tickets to young men who wear sagging pants that reveal their underwear.

That may be the most awesome thing I’ve heard from a candidate forum. I only wish the story had indicated how the audience reacted. Please, someone tell me you were there and can answer that.

League of Women Voters candidate debates

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund will hold a series of debates for candidates running for Council and Mayor, starting this evening. From their press release:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that we will sponsor a comprehensive series of one-hour Candidate Debates covering all contested municipal election races on the November 2011 General Election ballot. All declared candidates were invited to participate in their respective debates; some may choose not to attend.

We are committed to providing our community with helpful resources that will encourage an informed choice on Election Day and we believe that the Municipal Candidate Debate Series is an important element of this outreach.

The Municipal Candidates Debates Series will be telecast live from the studios of Houston MediaSource TV on Thursday evenings starting on September 8. The programs may be viewed on the Houston MediaSource TV website (www.hmstv.org), on Comcast Channel 17 or on AT&T Uverse Channel 99. There is no studio audience for the debate. However, members of the media are cordially invited to watch the debates from a remote viewing area within the Houston MediaSource Building (410 Roberts Street).

Ernie Manouse will serve as moderator for all debates. Mr. Manouse, a three-time Emmy winner, hosts the popular “InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse” series broadcast locally on Houston PBS.

Just so you know, I was one of the people that Manouse asked to submit questions that may be used during the debate. Fame and fortune will follow shortly, I’m sure. Here’s the full schedule of the debates:

September 8 Houston City Council Position 1 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 3 8:00 pm September 15 Houston City Council Position 4 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 5 8:00 pm September 22 Houston City Council District A 6:30 pm Houston City Council District F 8:00 pm October 6 Houston City Council Position 2 6:30 pm Houston City Council District B 8:00 pm October 13 Houston City Council District C 6:30 pm Houston City Council District D 8:00 pm October 20 Houston City Council District J 6:30 pm Houston City Council District K 8:00 pm October 27 Houston Mayor 6:30 pm

Some of these races have very large fields. At Large #2 has ten candidates filed, District B has eight. Those may present some logistical challenges for the format. Tune in for yourself and see.

We’ll only debate you on our terms

From the inbox:

Democratic SBOE candidates accept yet another debate invitation – by all-Republican panel

Earlier: Republicans turn down debate after debate and hide from voters, claiming sponsor League of Women Voters is “too Democratic”

Note: The following statement is in reaction to yesterday’s announcement, made by the Texas Business and Education Coalition, that the organization will host a debate of the major party candidates for the SBOE races in districts 5 and 10, marking the first time of many attempts that the Republican nominees for those seats have not ducked a debate invitation.

Harold Cook, a spokesman for both Democratic candidates, said the following today:

“Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau are happy to debate their opponents and face voters any time, anywhere, unlike either of their opponents. There is no stronger evidence of this than the Democrats’ willingness to enthusiastically participate in a debate at which Bill Hammond, one of Texas’ leading Republicans, is among the moderators. The other two moderators have voted in Republican primary elections as well, leaving little doubt that the Republican SBOE candidates are only playing because they’ve stacked the deck.

“Despite the fact that the Republican SBOE candidates are simply exploiting this opportunity to claim that they are also willing to debate, Jennings and Bell-Metereau are nonetheless enthusiastic about the opportunity. They trust that the organizers and moderators will run a fair and enlightening event.

“Contrast that to the Republican SBOE candidates, who ducked a debate sponsored by the well-respected League of Women Voters, and treated as a joke another one sponsored by LULAC, an organization with more than 75 years of proud non-partisan achievement.

“Jennings and Bell-Metereau are more than happy to debate, even if it means participating in a Republican debate. Here’s hoping the two seemingly shy Republican opponents show up ready to admit to their extremist views, even to the Republican allies packing the room.”

See here and here for background. Debate ducking is a national phenomenon this year. I’ve included the press release from the Texas Business and Education Coalition beneath the fold, which needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, it really was DONE IN ALL CAPS, and it includes at least four misspellings that I spotted – “vying”, “incumbent”, “assistant”, and (my personal favorite) Cynthia Dunbar‘s maiden name. You really can’t make this stuff up.

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The Perryless debate

The debate went on as planned.

In the fall campaign season’s first debate open to all candidates for governor, Democrat Bill White waited until his closing statement to attack the candidate who wasn’t there, incumbent Rick Perry, regarding allegations that he has used taxpayer funds to reward high-dollar campaign donors.

[…]

“I appreciate the other candidates being here,” White said in his opening remarks. “I think each of us views appearances in public forums as an obligation of a candidate to be accountable to you. Now there may be career politicians who think it can be done in 30-second sound bites that do not want to answer the tough questions about the state’s budget or why we’re number 49 out of 50 states of the percentage of adults with a high-school diploma.”

Alluding to the Emerging Technology Fund in his closing remarks, White told the audience of about 300 that it was important “to make sure that this state government is well-run as a public service for all the people and not as a political machine.”

Who watched the debate? What was your impression? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Here’s a good report from Texas Liberal.

Glass and Shafto get debate invites

Back in August, when I wrote about the upcoming media sponsored gubernatorial debate to be held will be held on October 19 that Rick Perry will duck, I said that if there was ever a time to ditch polling-related qualifications for third party candidates, this was it. Apparently, the sponsors now agree with that position.

In an effort to produce some form of a debate, the media organizations today will issue renewed invitations to Perry and [Bill] White and also invite Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto. Glass and Shafto will be allowed to participate regardless of whether Perry and White accept.

Glass and Shafto have accepted the invitation and will square off with White, while Rick Perry works on his dance moves. As I said, as a partisan I’d rather White have the stage to himself for an hour. But it was right to invite Glass and Shafto, just as it was cowardly of Perry to duck out. I’m sure the three candidates with the guts to face unscripted scrutiny will make the most of it.

Saturday video break: Dance, chicken, dance!

In honor of the debate Rick Perry will not be attending, I bring you this awesome chicken dance video:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is why I love the Internet.

I-Day Houston

From the Inbox, from the League of Women Voters:

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area and the American Society of Civil Engineers are set to host two debates, a candidate meet-and-greet, and infrastructure townhall meetings during the Infrastructure Day Houston (I-Day) event at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Sat., Sept. 18, 2010. The first of two debates will begin at 6:00pm. Candidate meet-and-greet opportunities and infrastructure townhall meetings will begin as early as at 3:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.

The League is hosting and facilitating two debates for the offices of the Harris County Judge and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. Elisabeth MacNamara, National President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, is introducing the candidates. Laurie Johnson, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, is moderating the debates. The Tax Assessor-Collector debate with Don Sumners and Diane Trautman is from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. The County Judge Debate with Ed Emmett and Gordon Quan is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Prior to the debates, the candidate meet-and-greet and the infrastructure-related townhall meetings will run from 3:00 to 5:30 pm. Voters will be able to meet over 150 candidates running for public office in Harris County for the election being held on November 2, 2010. The townhall meetings will focus on topics including: Transportation, Energy, Ports and Airports, and Storm and Waste Water. Experts, including Dr. John Lienhard, host of the Engines of Our Ingenuity program on National Public Radio, will lead the discussions and information sessions.

Free t-shirts will be given at the door for the first 100 attendees. For more information on the event, visit our website www.lwvhouston.org.

The Facebook invitation for this event is here. I had received a press release about this last month but didn’t post about it at the time because the event was so far off. It’s not so far off any more. Some of you will note that Saturday is also Yom Kippur. It’s unfortunate that this event, which may include the only debates of this kind, falls on a day when a significant number of people cannot attend, including State Reps. Ellen Cohen and Scott Hochberg. But this is when it is, so if you can make it I hope you will do so.

Another debate Rick Perry won’t attend

This one will be in Houston.

The latest debate, set for Oct. 3, is to be hosted by the Harris County League of Women Voters and the Harris County Department of Education.

Perry has refused to debate until Democrat Bill White releases his personal income tax returns from the mid-1990s when White was deputy U.S. energy secretary.

Libertarian Kathie Glass said Perry is doing Texas voters a disservice by not debating.

“Gov. Perry is applying for a job. He apparently thinks because he’s held the office for 10 years he doesn’t have to show up,” Glass said. “But he does.”

Unlike the other debate, Libertarian candidate Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto have been invited to participate, so it won’t just be Bill White on stage. I still think a cardboard cutout or some such to represent Perry is appropriate. Whatever is chosen to stand in for him would contribute about as much to the discourse as the real thing.

Fear of debating is contagious

From the inbox:

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Democratic nominee for State Board of Education District 5, and Judy Jennings, Democratic SBOE nominee in District 10, criticized their Republican opponents and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas today, after the RPT Chairman urged the two Republican nominees for those offices to skip a debate which would enable voters to hear from all the candidates in the two races.

The Democrats also challenged the Republican nominees for the two State Board slots to either admit that they begged the Republican Party to provide them an excuse to skip the debate, or to ignore their partisan Republican boss and face their Democratic opponents at the event.

The League of Women Voters-sponsored debates will be held September 28 in Austin, and televised by debate partner KLRU-TV. The debates will be moderated by Evan Smith, a respected journalist who is the Editor-In-Chief of the Texas Tribune and host of “Texas Monthly Talks,” a news program on KLRU-TV.

“It is painfully obvious that the two Republicans running for State Board of Education are worried that the Democratic nominees would trounce them in a fair fight, so they asked their state Party Chairman to give them any flimsy excuse not to participate,” said Harold Cook, a spokesman for Democrats Bell-Metereau and Jennings.

“Republican nominees for SBOE Marsha Farney and Ken Mercer have a lot of questions to answer, and they should come out of hiding and answer them. Are they going to participate in a fair debate, moderated by a respected non-partisan journalist, or are they going to follow the orders of their partisan boss? Texans are tired of the State Board of Education being Republicans’ political football, in which the school children of Texas get kicked around – this is supposed to be about quality public education, not political gamesmanship,” Cook said.

Both the Democrats have notified the League of Women Voters that they will participate in the League’s debate, and cautioned their opponents not to duck voters by failing to participate.

“I am honored to participate in the debate and to share my views with voters on how the State Board of Education can do much better for Texas school children. If my opponent respects the voters whose support she seeks, she will accept the offer to participate in this debate as well,” said Judy Jennings.

Jennings noted that this isn’t the first time her hyper-partisan opponent Marsha Farney has run for cover. Farney refused to respond to repeated attempts by reporters to contact her, after she was caught by the Austin American-Statesman characterizing Democrats in Texas as “America-bashing Democrats” at a Tea Party rally recently.

Both Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau have often decried the partisanship displayed by the incumbent Republican members of the Board.

“I’m pleased to accept the opportunity to let voters know my priorities if they elect me to the SBOE, and I’m equally pleased about the chance to inform voters of what my opponent has already done as an SBOE member,” said Rebecca Bell-Metereau. “I urge him to participate in the debate, because he has some explaining to do regarding his priorities while in office,” she said.

The dispute started yesterday, after Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri released a statement urging both of the Republican nominees to skip the debate, claiming that the Austin Chapter of the League of Women Voters wouldn’t be fair, despite the fact that the organization has hosted such forums for years without complaint. For this event, the League has partnered with Austin PBS affiliate KLRU to televise the debates, and had arranged for Evan Smith to moderate.

From Rick Perry to Greg Abbott to Farney and Mercer and who knows who else. Are there any Republicans out there that aren’t afraid to engage in a debate this year?

Rick Perry isn’t the only debate ducker out there

Speaking of debates and those who don’t want to have them, meet Greg “I’ll leave the decision about whether or not I participate in a debate to my staff” Abbott. What are these guys afraid of? Is the thought of defending your record in front of an audience that might not include people who already support you that scary? I guess that like Perry Abbott doesn’t want to face a smart, engaged opponent in Barbara Radnofsky who will aggressively challenge him. Much safer to stick to approved talking points about political matters that don’t really have anything to do with his job.

The one-man debate

One way or another, we will have a gubernatorial debate.

The Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman and the state’s other major newspapers will host a gubernatorial debate this fall, even if just one candidate shows up.

The newspapers, along with Austin public television station KLRU, will deliver a letter to Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Bill White today, inviting them to a debate at the KLRU studios on the University of Texas campus Oct. 19.

Perry has said he will not accept debate invitations until White agrees to release his income tax returns from his time as deputy energy secretary in the mid-1990s.

“If only one candidate shows up for the debate, we will discuss issues with him alone for the entire hour,” says the letter, which is signed by the editors of the American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, as well as Bill Stotesbery, the CEO of KLRU.

How should the debate sponsors best represent Rick Perry?

1. Empty chair
2. Cardboard cutout
3. Guy dressed in a chicken suit
4. Other

Leave a comment and let me know.

One more thing:

The sponsors plan to make the debate available to television outlets around the state. But federal regulations limit how much airtime a station can give a particular candidate, which means a one-candidate debate might not be televised.

“It could affect our broadcast plans, but we will be working over the next couple of weeks to define that more clearly,” Stotesbery said.

Newspapers will stream the debate on their websites regardless of how many candidates participate, but television likely would offer a much broader audience.

The sponsors will invite all candidates who register at least 10 percent support in a September poll conducted by the newspapers, meaning minor-party candidates are not likely to participate.

Seems to me if there ever were a time to be more generous to third-party candidates, this would be it. From a purely partisan perspective, I would prefer to see Bill White have the stage to himself for an hour. I don’t see how the organizers of this debate can justify that. If all the editorial boards that called on Perry to act like a grownup and face the voters in public don’t get their wish, there’s no reason not to let the other candidates in instead.

UPDATE: Nick Anderson votes for the cardboard cutout.

A preview of tomorrow’s paper

Look for the following ad in Tuesday’s newspaper:

Says it all

Click on it to see a larger version, and to visit the latest site that the Back to Basics PAC has worked up. I confess, I’m still rather partial to the chicken suit, but that’s quite a striking image, and it hits Perry where he lives. Well done, y’all. See here and the Back to Basics Facebook page for more.

There’s playing chicken, and there’s being chicken

Quite the suitable choice of words here.

Suggesting his opponent has something to hide, Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he will not budge on his refusal to debate unless Democrat Bill White releases more income tax returns.

The Republican governor said he will not meet with newspaper editorial boards, either – the same approach he took in the GOP primary.

White hit back, saying his financial records are more readily available than Perry’s and that he will be happy to debate an empty chair if necessary. He said Perry’s “handlers” simply do not want him to answer questions.

“They’re engaged in a game of ‘chicken’ right now. We’ll see who blinks first,” said political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin.

Buchanan said a debate draws the attention of people who otherwise do not pay attention to campaigns and gives voters another view of candidates.

“It’s greatly to be desired,” Buchanan said, but added, “Our campaigns are designed to benefit the candidates, not the public.”

We all know who the chicken is, right? KPRC called him out on this the other night – sadly, they did not invoke the “C” word; you can see a transcript here. You know he’s ducking newspaper editorial boards, too, right? Not that any of it will matter, of course. Perry knows he doesn’t want to share a stage with White, so being called a chicken and being accused of political stunts is the preferable course for him.

The first candidate forum

What do you get when you have a gubernatorial candidate forum without Governor Perry? Pretty much the same as what you’d have with him, but without the distraction of his pathetic attempts to defend his record.

The League of Women Voters forum before about 275 people at the Kathleen C. Cailloux Theater in Kerrville gave Democrat Bill White and Libertarian Kathie Glass, both of Houston, the opportunity to make their case against Perry without rebuttal. The event was carried only on local television, but was available statewide on the Internet.

White chastised Perry, saying he has run his office as a “political machine” and a “revolving door” for lobbyists. White said Perry wants to avoid accountability for his record of 10 years in office.

“Rick Perry will see how many times he can say (President) Obama and liberal in slick T.V. commercials and see if that will get him by with 51 percent of the vote,” White said. “In prior elections, he attacks his opponents with negative campaigns, takes credit for what’s good and accepts no responsibility for a lot of mismanagement.”

White said Perry should not be allowed to avoid forums where the questions come from citizens in the audience.

“If you don’t have the guts to get up here on stage and answer to the taxpayers who pay your salary, then you shouldn’t be re-elected governor,” White said.

That’s more or less what I expected. As you can see from Phillip’s liveblog, there was a fair amount of substance in the Perry-less conversation, but the story is what was said about him. You’d think a candidate would want to be there for himself and get his own licks in rather than depend on his spokesbeing after the fact, but then you’re not Rick Perry. For which you are no doubt grateful.

It’s all right, he wouldn’t have contributed anything to the debate anyway

The first gubernatorial debate of the general election is today, and one person will not be there.

Democratic nominee Bill White and Libertarian Kathie Glass, both lawyers, are scheduled to face off in a Kerrville Area League of Women Voters debate at 7 p.m. at the Cailloux Theatre in Kerrville.

The debate will be carried live on Kerrville’s KVHC-TV and will be streamed live on the station’s website.

Kerrville Area League President Donna Robinson said [Governor Rick] Perry was invited to attend but turned it down.

Perry’s spokesbot claimed it was because White hasn’t yet released a detailed accounting of the allowance he received as a kid, but we all know the real reason.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called White’s decision to debate Glass a “mixed bag.”

The debate gives White the opportunity to promote a candidate who may draw votes from Perry in the general election and highlight the fact that Perry will not debate. But Jillson said it also gives White’s campaign an air of desperation.

“It caters to the idea that they are a little frantic and are taking the eye off the ball, which is Rick Perry,” Jillson said.

All due respect, Cal, but I’m pretty sure White is going to spend his entire allotment talking about Perry, Perry’s miserable failure of a record as Governor, and the fact that Perry didn’t have the stones to show up and talk about his record. I’m not sure how that counts as “taking the eye off the ball”, but whatever.

Maybe having a press conference in front of your opponents’ campaign HQ isn’t such a hot idea

Especially if they’re ready for you to arrive.

Chicken suits are the new black. That’s what happens when you’re afraid to debate your opponent. BOR has more.

Debating about having a debate

We will eventually have televised debates between Rick Perry and Bill White. But first we have to sit through the kabuki dance.

Belo Corp., the company that owns WFAA and TV stations in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, sponsored a statewide debate during the Republican primary and invited Perry and White to debate this fall.

White accepted. But Perry’s campaign spokesman, Mark Miner, says not yet.

“Once he releases his income taxes and tells the public how he made his money while in public service and as a business person, we’ll be more than happy to discuss debates,” Miner said.

The Perry campaign demands White release returns for all six years he served as Houston’s mayor and two years as deputy energy secretary in 1990s.

White has released only his 2009 tax return since he’s running for a statewide office just as Perry has since 1991. White said he will disclose specific information when asked.

“We’ll take in consideration releasing tax returns or parts of those tax returns,” White said. “We’ve been providing information from them to journalists as time goes on. I just want there to be a standard that’s applicable to all candidates.”

Of course Rick Perry doesn’t want to debate Bill White. He’s an incumbent with a lousy record to defend; why would he want to go on TV and have to answer for it?

The tax return issue that Perry keeps harping on is just an excuse for Perry’s dodge. As Jason Embry has pointed out, several current statewide officeholders have not released full tax returns for the years they have been in office. If it weren’t for that, there would be some other reason why he didn’t want to debate. BOR and EoW have more.