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Final Governor's Debate Between Abbott And Davis Got Hot

Andy Jacobsohn
The Dallas Morning News
Attorney Genral Greg Abbott, Senator Wendy Davis, in KERA's Dallas debate studio

Sparks flew between Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis during last night’s gubernatorial debate in KERA’s Dallas studios. Each accused the other of serious ethical violations.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken some heat this week. Reports show his campaign took more than a million dollars from recipients of the Texas Enterprise Fund, created to grow jobs with that money. Abbott’s office is supposed to monitor the fund but an audit showed millions improperly went to some companies. He said he welcomed the audit.

“In that 107 pages where the auditor looked at the fund and the conduct of the governor  as well as the conduct of myself and my office,” Abbott said, “there was nothing in there critical of either me or my office.”

Abbott’s office said it couldn’t reveal some application information, for privacy reasons. Yet the audit showed some businesses got money even though they never filled out an application. So Wendy Davis wondered what was being kept secret, and has accused Abbott of a cover-up. 

“My question for you is,” Davis asked, “will you agree to release any documentation that you had during that time in reaching that decision?”

Credit KERA News
Abbott and Davis went after each other in the debate but behaved civilly

That’s when Abbott unexpectedly turned the tables. He said Davis, while on Fort Worth’s city council, tapped Texas Enterprise money to attract a Cabela’s retail business, whose application now cannot be found. Then he said there was more she was hiding.

“It was your title company that benefited by closing that deal,” Abbott said. “So you personally profited…you were able to use your title company …”

Davis broke in, saying “Mr. Abbott you are not telling the truth and you know you are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit from that …”

The volley of accusations continued. 

“I would like to respond,” Abbott said, “by knowing how much your title company received by closing the Cabela’s deal…”

“It was not my title company,” responded Davis. “I was an employee of a title company earning a salary that was never dependent on any deal that ever closed.”

That may have been the hottest exchange but there were others highlighting vast differences between the two. Both favored fewer end of course school exams that were eventually reduced from 15 to 5, thanks to a bill co-authored by Davis.

“I, unlike my opponent,” Davis said, “would never advocate the idea that we expand the use of standardized tests to 4 year-olds. However, he’s laid out a plan for his pre-k funding program that would include the use of those standardized tools in child ren as young as 4 years old.”  

Abbott laughed it off.

“I no more want 4 year-olds to take standardized tests than I want a cow to jump over the moon,” Abbott said.  “The reality of what I want to achieve in education is to insure we build a strong foundation for education.”

The two also differed on offering undocumented residents a chance to get a driver’s license. Davis cited safety first.

“Other states have successfully done this,” Davis said. “Requiring, in exchange for that permit, special training to make sure we have safe drivers on the road and proof of insurance.”  

Abbott said flaws have hindered the plans he’s seen.

“If we want to fix the problem about insuring those who are here are driving safely on the road with a driver’s license,” Abbott said, “what we really need to do is to  fix the broken immigration system.”  

Differences continued. On Medicaid funding, Abbott – like Governor Rick Perry - wants federal dollars to insure more Texans, but he dislikes the Affordable Care Act the funding is tied to. He wants the funding in a block grant. Davis says it’s foolish to reject millions in federal healthcare dollars that Texans already play in. As governor, she’d try to bring the money home. But they broadly agreed on one issue, how to handle the Ebola diagnosis in Dallas. News of the nation’s first diagnosis here, was announced hours before the debate. Both candidates would defer to health officials.

“ Do that first to find out what our game plan is and where we’re going,” Abbott said. Davis said “As governor, that coordination would be my primary purpose and of course helping the public understand and to remain calm.”

Remaining calm is not expected now from these candidates. The election’s five weeks away, early voting even sooner, October 20th

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