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GOP Lt. Gov. Candidates: Court Was Wrong In Pulling Brain-Dead Woman Off Life Support

LM Otero
Associated Press
GOP lieutenant governor candidates faced off in a live debate from KERA's Dallas studios. From left: Jerry Patterson, Dan Patrick, Todd Staples, David Dewhurst.

The four Republicans running for Texas lieutenant governor say the judge got it wrong by allowing a brain-dead, pregnant woman in Fort Worth to be removed from life support. It seems that last night’s live KERA debate was a race to the far right for the candidates.

The family said Marlise Munoz was brain-dead, and the fetus was “distinctly abnormal." They wanted her removed from life support and a judge agreed. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and his three competitors did not.

“We should always err on the side of life,” Patterson said, “and in this case there was an unborn child which was past the 20-week statutory limit on abortions. So I’m not sure who was the right case here but I would always err on the side of life.”

State Senator Dan Patrick agreed that the court made the wrong decision. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples took it a step further.

“Unfortunately,” Staples added, “I do believe the court erred in this situation. I think the next legislative session, we’re going to have to go in and clarify what the meaning of the statute is in order to remove the ambiguity.”

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the incumbent, made the opinion unanimous.

But they didn’t all agree on every issue.

Patrick, Staples and Dewhurst said no to legalizing medicinal marijuana. But Patterson broke ranks.

“If there is medical efficacy for the use of tetrahydrocannabinol, and the doctor prescribes it, I see nothing wrong with that,” Patterson argued. “We’re talking about medicine, we’re not talking about recreational use.”

The candidates agreed there should be term limits for state offices. There aren’t now.

Staples had the laugh line.

“I think politicians are a lot like socks and they need to be changed on a regular basis,” Staples said. “We need to instill new blood and new energy and new ideas on ways to solve problems.”

But, again, Patterson offered a different answer. He said voters should decide.

The candidates were also asked about education and creationism. All agreed Texas children should be taught evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. That’s not the case now.

Both Patrick and Dewhurst went out of their way to say that they’re Christians, and believe in creationism. Patterson emphasized teaching comparative religions.

“I think kids growing up in Texas ought to learn about other religions as well," Patterson said. "In part so they feel comfortable with their own. In part because they see some of the things that would give them pause.”

Immigration reform was another hot issue Monday night as candidates were asked how they would handle the many undocumented immigrants already living and working in Texas.

Once more, Patterson offered a different solution. He said a guest worker program is needed now while the state simultaneously works to prevent border crime, as well as undocumented immigrants from slipping into the country. The other three offered no immediate solutions to deal with undocumented immigrants, but they insisted the border must be secured before launching any guest worker program.

Patrick was adamant.

“As long as Texas does not secure the border, then the federal government is going to sit back and do nothing,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to pass real immigration reform. Stop the invasion and then we’ll address those questions.”

Which GOP candidate gets to address the questions depends on the March 4 primary. Even then, observers expect a runoff in one of the state’s hottest primary elections. The victor faces the presumed Democratic candidate, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, in November.

Correction: The online version of this story has been updated to correct Jerry Patterson's thoughts on immigration reform and a guest-worker program.

Catch up on the debate here.


Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.