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RECAP: Greg Abbott, Wendy Davis Face Off In Governor's Debate At KERA (Video)

Andy Jacobsohn
The Dallas Morning News
Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis met at the KERA studios in Dallas for their final governor's debate.

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis squared off Tuesday night in the KERA studios in their last governor’s debate. If you missed it, watch it here -- or catch up by reading our debate blog.

Live blog

We live-blogged the debate. Catch up on the highlights here. (Note that the summaries are sometimes paraphrases, while at other times they are direct quotes.)

8:55 p.m.: Both candidates offered their closing statements.

Davis: Who will fight for me? I have a history of fighting … standing up to powerful insurance companies and payday lenders on behalf of the people I represent. … My opponent has fought to keep schools underfunded. He has cozied up to insurance companies and payday lenders. He took over $1 million of recipients of Texas Enterprise Fund. Used power of office to cover up the fact that millions came out of that fund who didn’t even fill out an application. If Texans give me the privilege of being governor, I will fight for them.

Abbott: Fighting for your liberty. Fought to defend the 10 Commandments on the Texas Capitol grounds. I want to fight for the future of Texas. Will keep taxes low and make sure government doesn’t get too big. Keep our communities safe. Texas is exceptional and asking for your vote to make it even better.

8:52 p.m.: Question for Davis: Why allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition?

Davis: Met immigrants who are dreamers, who work hard. Abbott has called Dream Act flawed. I support it. Will veto attempts to repeal Dream Act. Makes sense for students and economy.

Question for Abbott: Would you veto a repeal of Dream Act?

Abbott: Law as it’s structured is flawed. All these laws like in-state tuition law – those are symptoms of larger problems. We have a broken immigration system. Asked if he would veto legislature effort’s to repeal act? No.

8:49 p.m. Question about abortion for Abbott: What about victims of rape or incest?

Abbott: Incredibly important when we talk with women who’re victims of rape and incest to speak with them with compassion. Have provided record amount of financial support to victims and victims’ organizations. Have arrested more sexual predators than all attorneys general in Texas history. I’m pro-life and Catholic. I want to promote culture of life. In Texas, the law – a woman has five months to make a very difficult decision.

Question for Davis: What kind of abortion restrictions are you willing to accept?

Davis: Up to a woman to make very difficult decisions for themselves. Government shouldn’t intrude on personal private decision making. Abbott believes it’s his right to intrude, even when a victim is subject of rape or incest. Abbott pays women in his office less than men. He campaigned with a known sexual predator.

Watch the governor's debate

8:47 p.m.: If a 10-year-old girl asked whether her two dads should be allowed to get married, what would you tell her?

Davis: I favor marriage equality. People who love each other who are committed to be in a relationship with each other should do so. This is a Constitutional provision but it’s been challenged by Abbott. If not remedied in courts, would welcome a bill to put to voters in state a decision whether to appeal the gay marriage ban in Texas.

Abbott: There are good and decent people on both sides of this issue. I believe in traditional marriage. Constitutional amendment passed by 75 percent of voters. This is more than an amendment.

8:40 p.m. Question about transportation and how you raise money to pay to relieve congestion.

Davis: Support use of rainy day funds for transportation. Tolls are off the table. … Texans pay at gas pump and then again on toll roads. They do that because we haven’t had leadership in Legislature that provides other alternatives. Filed bills – my way includes a plan. Need to go back to pay-as-you-go system and get out of carrying heavy debt load.

Abbott: I have a plan that will add more than $4 billion to roads in this state without taxes, fees or tolls. From three places: We stop diversions away from funding that was intended for building roads. Money that’s dedicated to roads should be spent on roads. … My plan does not involve any toll roads, period. Not interested in adding toll roads.

8:34 p.m.: Candidates ask each other questions and things get heated.

Abbott questions Davis: You want to put Obamacare on Texas so badly that even if the Legislature wouldn’t’ vote to approve it, you would go around them and use an executive order. What part of the Texas Constitution gives the governor that authority?

Davis: We should bring Medicaid expansion to Texas. As a member of Texas Legislature, every hospital association ,every chamber of commerce member … they say we should do the right thing and bring that money back to Texas. Will work with my Legislature … who knows this is the right thing to do. If we don’t bring this money back to work for us, our citizens will pay twice – once to the IRS with money they’ll never say again and again to the local level because someone will have to pay for the care somehow someway.

Davis to Abbott: Your ruling about Enterprise Fund kept secret that millions had been awarded to companies that didn’t even apply. Will you agree to release any documentation any communications that you had during that time.

Abbott: One application was about Cabela’s – when you were on Fort Worth City Council, you used taxpayer incentive dollars to attract Cabela’s there and Cabela’s benefited from Enterprise Fund. One thing you haven’t disclosed – when you use those incentive funds to attract Cabela’s, it was your title company that benefited by closing that deal. You personally profited.

Davis; You are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit. An application we reviewed carefully. As always been the case with – when private partners don’t follow through, I make sure our dollars are brought back. Davis returns to the Enterprise Fund issue.

Abbott: Want to see how much your title company received.

Davis: Not my title company. My salary was not dependent on any deal that was closed. Mr. Abbott, this is about the Enterprise Fund.

8:28 p.m. Question about Obamacare for Abbott – Texas is turning its back on $100 billion in federal money … Conservatives in Legislature say block grants aren’t the solution.  County judges in largest counties want a solution.

Abbott: The best strategy for the state of Texas would be to get a block grant so we can address unique health care challenges. We know bureaucrats. Want to increase spending on veterans, disabled, mental health. Don’t want to bankrupt Texas by imposing on Texas the overwhelming Obamacare disaster. … If anyone believes California is getting more money because Texas doesn’t get money back – Texas by not participating in Obamacare, California wont’ get a single penny more. If Texas does participate in Obamacare, it will cost taxpayers $10 billion during first years of implementation. If Texas participates, we’re making a deal with the federal government that’s $18 trillion in debt.

Davis: Doing the right thing for the people of this state. I have to laugh when I hear Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas. Texans are writing tax checks for $100 billion  and not getting that money back. He is California’s best friend in Texas. Reasons chambers of commerce in this state have begged us to do the right thing and bring the money back to work for us – will create 300,000 jobs in Texas. A true leader stops political posturing. … What Abbott is saying isn’t true. The checks we write for our property taxes will grow. There’s a reason Republican and Democratic county judges have unified around getting that money back. Their hospitals will have to increase taxes to fund that care.

8:22 p.m.: Question about funding Texas education for Davis: What is the price tag for your education plans?

Davis: Proud to filibuster cuts to schools – cuts that Abbott has been fighting in court. Cuts that he told a TV audience that he had to pursue, which is not the truth. My plan makes sure 4-year-olds have access to pre-K, reduce standardized tests, improve teacher pay. The question to ask is what price will we pay as a state if we don’t [invest in education]? It will not happen overnight. … Mr. Abbott, you are talking about both sides of your mouth. You’re fighting to keep students in overcrowded classrooms … yet you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You can’t accomplish that goal without making investments. Pushing those costs down to local level … keeping kids in situation where they’re not getting quality education. Your plan doesn’t offer full-day pre-K. …

Question for Abbott: Where would additional money per student come from?

Abbott: I want to add $1,500 more per student. But look at big picture: The amount we’ll spend on education in next biennium is going to be $60 billion. Must be wise and strategic. Build solid foundation for pre-K through third grade. Invest in teachers to make sure they have training, resources. … No business says we want to spend X amount and budget for it … We need to create the best school system and then fund it. My plan that I’ve rolled out creates the best classroom environment for students in the country.

8:17 p.m.: Question about ethics for Davis: Asking about time during Fort Worth City Council – on the council you sometimes voted on projects that used your title business. As a candidate you’ve done a book tour that’s prompted an ethics complaint from Abbott.

Davis: I’ve always acted within the ethical guidelines and have been careful to do so. Not a surprise to me that Abbott has brought these accusations forward – avoiding his own failed record. Chemical companies have given him more than $100,000 and received a ruling that they could keep secret the location of their dangerous chemicals. Or payday lenders who get to operate in a loophole in the law that they can charge various fees. We see it over and over again. … I think people who know me and know my record know this: that I fight for the people that I represent. I have been willing to stand up to the biggest, baddest bullies in the world to fight for them.

Question about ethics for Abbott: Critics say you’ve used attorney general’s office to reward political contributors. Most recent situation involves Texas Enterprise Fund. Did you know millions of taxpayer dollars were being handed out without adequate scrutiny? What about denying access to applications that didn’t exist?

Abbott: No politician is above the law. Pleased the state auditor’s office completed an independent investigation. Auditor looked at conduct of the fund and conduct of governor and conduct of myself and my office. Nothing in there critical of me or my office. … There have been iterations or time periods of the law that allowed this funding. When funding was first allowed, the way the legislature constructed it … later, when legislature put controls on it. Bigger point needs to be made: From the beginning of my campaign, I have been questioning this very fund and its purposes. … Our office did issue an opinion that certain parts of information couldn’t be disclosed. What has been released is a letter that’s about nine or 10 pages long that’s equivalent of an application. At that time, there was no prescription for an application.

8:13 p.m.: A question for Abbott from social media: There’s an effort to reintroduce a bill that would provide driver’s permits to undocumented immigrants. It would be a state document – couldn’t be used as federal ID. Would you support it?

Abbott: We’ve seen problems with laws like that be challenged by federal act. Before we go down the pathway of trying to create these differentiated types of driver’s licenses, we need to make sure we are complying with federal law.  … We are dealing with a challenge, whether it’s driver’s licenses or other issues, the problem won’t be fixed as long as we have the broken immigration system that we have. What we really need to do is fix our broken immigration system. Once we do that then these peripheral issues will get solved.

A question for Davis: You’ve said you’re in favor of driver’s permits. Why should undocumented immigrants get special treatment and do you think this could create a registry of second class individuals?

Davis: Don’t believe it creates special treatment. Addresses a very real challenge in Texas. People are driving on our roads who don’t have appropriate training and aren’t insured. Unless we as a state creates as system that provides a permit for every driver on the road … I heard repeatedly from people involved in accidents with uninsured drivers. I believe these driver permits and accompanied requirement of insurance is important to keep all drivers safe. I support comprehensive immigration reform and if people are willing to pass a background check, learn English and pay back taxes, they have a path to become a legal worker here – modeled after President Bush’s program. Not going to happen soon because of Congress. Texas can’t wait.

8:10 p.m.: Question: Gromer Jeffers asks about standardized testing for students. Both candidates say they want to cut the number of standardized student tests. But how should the test results be used?

Davis: A leader to try to reduce standardized testing. Time to decrease pressures in middle and lower school grades, too, not just high schools.  Tests should be used to assess strengths. I unlike my opponent would never advocate the idea that we expand the use of standardized tests to 4-year-olds. It is important to make sure we’re measuring student performance, but not discouraging good teachers form going into classrooms that will be helping the most challenging of students – those making tremendous progress but can’t show progress on tests. Parents haven’t told me we need more standardized tests. The high pressure associated with them should go away.  

Abbott:  What I want to achieve in education is to achieve a strong foundation in education – make sure every child can read and do math at or above grade level by the time they finish third grade. We’ve seen the ways education can transform lives of children. Place trust where it belongs - -our teachers. Rather than one-size-fits-all mandates. … What I want to do is unlike what any other governor has talked about doing before – I want to elevate the Texas education system so it’s No. 1 in the nation. More local control – returning education to the local level.

8:03 p.m.: The first question is regarding today’s breaking news in Texas: Earlier today, the CDC announced a Dallas hospital patient has tested positive for the Ebola virus, the first case to be diagnosed in the United States.

If you were the governor today, at what point might you put a quarantine in place or take steps to control exposure?

Abbott : As governor, I would do what I did earlier today – speak with the commissioner of health and human services in Texas. I learned the Texas hospital plan is one of the few locations in the country prepared to deal with Ebola. The commissioner here is working with the CDC to ensure this situation is properly addressed.  We’ve seen the innovative ways in which the U.S. is able to come up with drug therapies to treat and eliminate this disease. We’re proud that we’re national leaders in this effort. As governor, I would employ every possibility to keep Texans safe.

Davis: My sympathies go out to the patient and the people who love this patient. I had an opportunity to speak with our Dallas County judge – he reassured me with the world-class hospital system here they have the protocols in place. People will be safe and they’ll be able to contain disease. County judge asked us to keep the community calm. Talk about the coordinated effort between county, state and CDC to take all precautions necessary. As governor, that coordination would be primary purpose.

8:02 p.m.: KERA moderator Shelley Kofler opens the debate. Abbott and Davis are introduced. Panelists are introduced.

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Behind the scenes

Ever wonder what it looks like in the control room during a live production? Here's a cool time lapse with a 360 degree view inside the KERA control room during Tuesday night's debate:

Participate online

We're looking for suggestions on questions to ask the candidates. Send them our way on Twitter @keranews with the hashtag #texasdebates, or email them to

On TV, on the radio, online

The debate will air on radio and TV stations across Texas, as well as on several websites. Click here for a list.Also, C-SPAN will air the debate tonight.

About tonight’s debate

The Texas Debates: The Race for Governor, a one-hour live debate, is a co-production with NBC 5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39/KXTX-TV, and The Dallas Morning NewsRead more here.

The debate will be moderated by KERA managing editor Shelley Kofler. Questions will be posed by a panel of journalists, including Brian Curtis, NBC 5/KXAS-TV; Peggy Fikac, San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle; Norma García, Telemundo39/KXTX-TV; Gromer Jeffers, The Dallas Morning News.

Debate roundup

Here’s what media outlets across the state are saying about tonight’s matchup.

Texas Tribune: Final Gubernatorial Debate Looms In Dallas: “Democrat Wendy Davis has one more chance to share a debate stage with the Republican front-runner in the race for Texas governor, and if the recent past is any guide, she’ll use most of her hour in Dallas to crank up the heat on Attorney General Greg Abbott. “

The Dallas Morning News: What To Watch For In Greg Abbott-Wendy Davis Debate: “Ethics questions: Wendy Davis will aim to make the case that Greg Abbott protected the troubled Texas Enterprise Fund, which gave millions of taxpayer dollars to favored businesses without proper oversight, a new state audit shows. Abbott says he was just following the law in keeping records related to the fund secret. But look for Davis to link the attorney general to the problem-plagued fund as a way of underscoring her message that Abbott is a political insider.”

Houston Chronicle: Davis Expected To Use Incentives Audit To Slam Abbott In Debate: “The candidates to succeed Gov. Rick Perry head toward their final debate Tuesday locked in a tussle over one of his signature programs, an economic incentives fund engulfed by a scandal whose political fallout widened over the weekend. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, on Monday called for an independent investigation into Republican rival Greg Abbott's role in the controversy, which began Thursday with the release of a scathing report by state auditors that found the Texas Enterprise Fund doled out $222 million to 11 entities that did not submit formal applications or were not required to create jobs.” 

Politifact Texas: Previewing The Texas Governor’s Debate:PolitiFactTexas has been fact-checking the campaign and will follow the debate on Twitter. Abbott’s statements have earned every rating on the Truth-O-Meter, including two Pants on Fire. (See Abbott’s full Truth-O-Meter report card.) Davis’ statements have earned every rating except for a True or a False, and she’s earned one Pants on Fire. (See Davis’ full Truth-O-Meter report card.)”

Here are recent stories about the governor’s race from KERA:

The debate coin toss

Both campaigns visited the KERA studios to decide the order of questions.

Tom Stewart of the Davis campaign won both coin tosses. The first coin toss determined which candidate gets the first question. Robert Allen of the Abbott campaign called heads; it came up tails. The Davis campaign decided the first question will go to Abbott. That gave the Abbott campaign the choice of who gives the final closing statement. Allen chose Abbott.

A second coin toss determined whether Davis or Abbott asks the first of two candidate-to-candidate questions. The Davis campaign called tails; it came up tails. Stewart deferred the first of those questions to Abbott.

Watch the coin toss here:

The Valley debate

Abbott and Davis debated earlier this month in Edinburg, near the Texas-Mexico border. Watch that earlier debate here.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.