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Texas Lt. Governor Candidates Agree On Almost Nothing

Bob Daemmrich
Texas Tribune
Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, the Republican and Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, spoke at the Texas Tribune Festival over the weekend.

In a precursor to their only head to head debate scheduled a week from today, Lt. Governor candidates Dan Patrick, and Leticia Van de Putte appeared on the same stage at different times. Each of them sat for a Q&A session with Evan Smith at the Texas Tribune’s annual festival in Austin.

Through his entire campaign. Republican Dan Patrick has run on tougher border security, saying federal authorities have dropped the ball. He said it again this weekend.

“We must secure the border,” insisted Patrick, “to protect Texans from terrorist and criminals that come here.”

Accused by Van de Putte of being anti-Latino and anti-immigrant, Patrick insisted he’s not. He said his positions are backed by business people on the border.

Democrat Leticia Van de Putte called Patrick’s border comments “toxic.”

“Business leaders, law enforcement, local elected officials,” Van de Putte said, “have told us that the very harsh rhetoric and tones that have been taken are hurting their ability to attract jobs.”

On education, Van de Putte says she would restore state funding that was slashed by more than $5 billion. She said that cost 11,000 teachers their jobs. She would also pay for full-day pre-k, and use some of the state’s rainy day money to send qualified, low-income Texans to college.

“Our rainy day fund,” Van de Putte said, “will probably be sitting at $8.4 billion. And because all economists have told us we’re in a golden age of oil and gas, our rainy day fund will constantly be replenished.”

With voter approval, Van de Putte would take $2 billion of the fund for the program and use interest to pay for its future. She sees it as an investment in the state’s future.

Patrick defended the education funding cuts and didn’t comment on a judge’s ruling that the funding system is unconstitutional.

“It was better to take a little bit of money out of the school district’s pockets than to take money out of your pocket when people were facing losing their job,” Patrick said. “And the schools survived and we did fine.”  

Patrick would also like to change the way education is funded altogether. Now, property taxes pay for schools.  He would use a sales tax. 

“It’s a swap” Patrick explained. “Would you rather pay $2,000 less in your property taxes, and maybe $200 more in sales taxes? You would come out $1,800 ahead.”

Patrick and Van de Putte also disagreed on health care. Patrick lines up behind Republican leaders who reject billions of federal health care dollars, fearing the state will eventually have to pay more if federal funding diminishes. Patrick wants the federal government to just send Texas the money.

“We need to continue to try to provide health care to every Texan that we can possibly provide it to. We do have a situation where our hands are tied by the federal Government in many ways,” Patrick said. “We’ve asked for waivers, we’ve asked for block grants. We’ve made some progress in those areas…”

Van de Putte said Governor Rick Perry’s rejection of federal money denies adequate health care to rural, female, and low income Texans.

“It is for me a very bad business decision to not work with the federal government to return those dollars that we’re all paying in IRS taxes back to Texas,” Van de Putte said.

The candidates disagreed on almost everything except a stated mutual respect for the other in the Senate, where they both serve and sit near each other. Soon, one will preside over the Senate and also control budgeting as Lt. Governor.

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