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Debate Shows Many Differences Between Lieutenant Governor Candidates

The Texas Tribune
Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte took the stage together in Austin for their only debate in the race to be the next lieutenant governor.

Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte went head to head Monday night in their only debate in the race to be the state’s next lieutenant governor. The Austin debate showcased their wide differences on nearly every issue.

The two Texas senators were substantive yet civil. Republican Dan Patrick is considered the frontrunner. He’s staked out a tough position to increase border security. Democrat Leticia Van de Putte took aim at what she called his harsh stance.

“I would make sure our local law enforcement officers have the tools they need to get the job done,” Van de Putte said. “It’s the local law enforcement officers that can arrest those that would want to come and sell your teenagers drugs. Those local leaders have asked for help but what doesn’t help is when harsh rhetoric and the politics of fear damage your region.”

Van de Putte said border leaders blame Patrick for hurting the local economy. He countered, saying businesses back his campaign.

“I’ve heard her talk about this harsh rhetoric,” Patrick said. “Maybe you’re talking about something like this -- that the public health crisis could quickly be upon us if we don’t face the reality that immigrants often carry invisible diseases. Is that what you’re talking about? That maybe tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis have serious potential coming across the border. Is that what you’re talking about as harsh?"

As for students who are here because their parents crossed the border illegally, Patrick took aim at the state’s Dream Act, which lets immigrants pay in-state tuition rates. Van de Putte wrote the bill to help those wanting to attend college, and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.

Patrick said: “If there was only one seat left at a university and two students had an equal GPA, equal SAT and the choice was between an American student and someone not a legal citizen of our country, who would get the seat? I don’t know how my opponent would answer, but it’s just a question of fairness.”

Van de Putte said Patrick’s was a misleading question.

“Dan Patrick hasn’t read the bill. This is not about admissions,” Van de Putte explained. “This is about what you pay in tuition. Other Republican candidates don’t agree with you, Sen. Patrick. They know that the hardworking students who have earned the chance to pay the same, and probably they want to serve in the military. They should be given that chance.” 

Van de Putte also took a shot at Patrick on tax cuts. 

“Dan is the only Republican I know that wants to increase your sales taxes,” Van de Putte said. “He calls it a tax swap. But in all actuality, it’s just tooth fairy tax policy. Who would want to raise taxes on our businesses? And he wants to raise your taxes but he won’t release his.”

Patrick said his financial disclosure report provides more information than his tax returns. Then he said his tax proposal is a way to pay for education while reducing property taxes that currently fund it.

“It’s not a tax swap,” Patrick said. “What it is is lowering your property taxes. If we add it, a penny or two to your sales tax, we can generate enough money to lower your property taxes even more. We have about 4.5 million homeowners in Texas and they’re carrying the burden of the entire state on their back.”

Patrick also disagreed with Van de Putte on abortion rights. She supports abortions in the case of rape or incest. He doesn’t.

In a rare instance of agreement, however, they were together on an education policy. Both argued for fewer mandatory tests to graduate from high school. It had been 15. Patrick supported the drop to five, the current state law. Van de Putte wants it lowered to three.

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