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Texas gubernatorial candidates meet for civil debate

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: As they've done throughout their campaigns, both candidates stuck to tested, if worn slogans, during the debate. When asked what he'd get from spending tens of millions of his own dollars running for governor, Democrat Tony Sanchez said he just wants to give back to the state he loves and people he cares about.

Tony Sanchez, Democratic candidate for governor: I've been very fortunate, very blessed by God to have a lot of business success. I've put in 97% of what this campaign has cost me. Because I've done that, nobody, no special group or insurance cronies, are going to own me.

Rick Perry, Texas Governor, Republican: Never in the history of American politics has a candidate spent so much money and said so little.

Zeeble: Governor Rick Perry.

Perry: The people in the state of Texas are looking for a governor that's got leadership, experience and vision. Not someone who thinks if they'll just spend enough money, they can buy the governorship of the state of Texas.

Zeeble: Serious issues came up in addition to the political jabs. With the state facing at least a $5 billion shortfall, Sanchez said he'd scrub the budget.

Sanchez: Our own staff has identified about a billion dollars. It's irresponsible to talk of new taxes before we can go in and find waste in our government. My opponent is the only one I've ever heard to say Texas does not waste money. We really need to find waste and inefficiencies in the current budget we've got. If we automate our claims on Medicaid, we think we can save about $500 million.

Perry: I've balanced five state budgets before. I asked state agency heads to come up with, prospectively, ways to make savings in the next budgetary cycle. They came up with $1 billion worth of savings already. I feel confident we'll have a budget that's balanced with no new taxes.

Zeeble: The state also faces a continuing teacher shortage. Some instructors say they've left teaching because there are so many forms to fill out. Governor Perry was asked why he vetoed legislation that would've cut down on paperwork.

Perry: It would have taken away local control. I think we need to look at other ways to reduce the paperwork load on teachers. Technology is one of those ways, technology that can help lower the paperwork load on teachers.

Sanchez: He knows the paperwork problem is very serious. And he vetoed the bill, but he goes around the state campaigning and says, 'My gosh, I'm for teachers, I'm for helping them.' What he says is not what he does.

Zeeble: That was a phrase Sanchez used several times, just as Perry repeatedly touted his own experience in government, in talking about party loyalty, affirmative action, homeowner insurance problems, building standards, juries, or tort reform. Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater combined the issues of juries and tort reform in a question posed to Governor Perry.

Dallas Morning News reporter and panelist Wayne Slater: Why is that you trust
juries when it comes to executing a person, but you don't trust juries when it comes to whether they decide when a company should be penalized for injuring someone?

Perry: Wayne, it's the frivolous lawsuits that we're after in the state of Texas. That's where the difference is. It's being able to put caps in place for some of these outrageous awards we've seen in the state of Texas. They're trying to limit the frivolous lawsuits.

Slater: If it's frivolous suits, then it's gone. I assume you're talking of the large verdicts or those against companies that are real lawsuits. But the companies don't want to pay those enormous awards. And that may be true, and we may not like it. But if a jury decides it, why are you saying a jury can decide something as important as life or death, but you don't like it when a jury decides the penalty is too great against a company?

Perry: Wayne, we need to go back and discuss the reason of the veto of the bill you're talking about. We found that veto of that piece of legislation dealing with the execution of the mentally retarded in Texas would've been found unconstitutional. So the veto was appropriate in this particular instance.

Sanchez: Wayne, he didn't answer the question. He can't have it both ways. Again, you see another prime example of Rick Perry saying one thing and doing another.

Zeeble: The latest polls show the governor is ahead of Sanchez by at least 10 points. Observers believe the contest could be closer because of a possible record minority turnout. There are two gubernatorial candidates on the ballot, however, who have little chance of winning. The March primary election turnout for the Green and Libertarian candidates combined was only about 3%. But Green Party gubernatorial hopeful Rahul Mahajan says he's running for a different reason.

Rahul Mahajan, gubernatorial candidate, Texas Green Party: I'm trying to bring Democracy back into the political system.

Zeeble: Mahajan, a 33-year-old activist, was born in Philadelphia, but has lived most of his life in Austin. He earned a doctorate in physics from UT two months ago. Author of "The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism," Mahajan is dedicated to anti-war and anti-globalization efforts. He calls his book an examination of myths surrounding the war on terrorism and how they're used to benefit a small elite. The elites, he says, are corporate powers like Enron, which control and fund political candidates.

Mahajan: You have to either be wealthy or have a platform that appeals to the wealthy. You must appeal to a corporate elite in order to be able to get money to win a campaign. Well, a situation in which the wealthy, the corporate elite, can act as gatekeeper and decide which candidate is viable and has a chance to win and which candidate isn't, is NOT a democracy. It's a plutocracy or oligarchy.

Zeeble: Campaign finance reform is a key issue for Mahajan. He'd ban corporate donations, lobbyists, and special interest political ads. The Green Party basically blames a lot of local and international problems on manipulative corporations. So Mahajan would also toughen government regulations on big business. Not so with the Libertarians. In confronting issues like healthcare, education, or campaign finance reform, they'd get rid of regulations.

Jeff Daiell, Libertarian for Texas Governor: As long as government is involved in activities that'll benefit some and hurt others, you'll have corruption.

Zeeble: Jeff Daiell is the Libertarian candidate for Texas governor, an office he first sought a dozen years ago. He lives in Sugarland, where he sells books and works for an insurance company. Daiell says government's partly to blame for the likes of Enron. He doesn't excuse the company, but says executives broke laws trying to get around government rules and regulations.

Daiell: The only way to see any sort of reduction in corruption is to reduce activities where government can favor some people and hurt others - contracts, franchises, monopolies, land grants, rights of way The list goes on, but the principle's the same. The less government's allowed to do, the less temptation there is for people try to buy influence.

Zeeble: Unlike the Green Party candidate, Libertarian Daiell offers no predictions on the gubernatorial race. He says 26% of the state's voters may end up electing the next governor, so you never know. But SMU political science professor Cal Jillson expects Republican Governor Perry will easily beat all the candidates.

Cal Jillson, SMU political science professor: Libertarians and Greens tend to be the canary in the mine. They tend to raise issues. And if those issues get traction and gain salience, the two major parties will move out and take them over.

Zeeble: Jillson says in this race, there's no big issue like that. Early voting continues through November 1st. Election Day is November 5th. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

 

To contact Bill Zeeble, please send emails to bzeeble@kera.org.