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Perry, White Trade Barbs At TAB Meeting

By Ben Philpott, KUT Radio

Dallas, TX –

Governor Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger Bill White appeared on the same stage in Austin today. But those itching for a debate between the two were disappointed. The candidates were separated by other speakers - and were never even in the room at the same time. Ben Philpott of public radio station KUT has more on the candidates crossing paths on the campaign trail.

Ben Philpott: Governor Perry and former Houston Mayor White have been campaigning against each other for about five months now. Their stop in Austin to speak to the Texas Association of Broadcasters was sort of a condensed version of their campaigns so far. Some say Governor Perry's re-election bid began with a rousing anti-Washington speech in April 2009. That same theme was front and center in today's speech.

Gov. Rick Perry: I think there are some people out there who go "Well wait a minute. Why does the governor of Texas talk so much about Washington D.C.?" And the reasons from my perspective are pretty simple. Somebody has to cover that debt that they're accumulating up there. Somebody has to pay the Taxes that equate to a death by a thousand cuts. That somebody is the hard working people of our state. And they need a leader who will challenge Washington."

Philpott: For Bill White, the event also brought back memories of his own campaign beginnings. White made a late entry into the governor's race because he had initially campaigned for the seat Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison never gave up.

Male speaker: So ladies and gentlemen please welcome the Democratic candidate for governor of the great state of Texas, Mr. Bill White. (clapping)

Philpott: Today saw another late entry when White wasn't quite ready to take the stage after his name was called.

Male speaker: Now, as we all know, we all rehearse our news.

Philpott: In the campaign, White was hounded by Democrats begging him to make the switch from the Senate race to Governor's race. Thursday morning, it only took two attempts to get him on stage.

Male speaker: Ladies and gentlemen, Mayor Bill White.

But once on stage, like in the governor's race, White quickly started swinging at Governor Perry.

White: And incidentally if anybody in any party ever claims credit for everything good about Texas, you know they've been in office too long. We've had that tradition for a long time. Generation after generation.

Philpott: As the White campaign has evolved, so have his attacks against Perry. His initial "been here too long" attack changed to "the state has gotten worse" in areas like education. Most recently, White has focused on ethics and cronyism.

White: It's simply wrong and you know it's wrong and I know it's wrong. For people appointed to regulatory boards and commissions to solicit funds from the very people that there are supposed to regulate. That would stop if I was governor.

Philpott: There has been less change in Perry's message. He's had 10 years as governor to perfect it. His push from the start of the campaign has been create jobs, lower taxes and secure the border. That final point has been emphasized recently as the national debate over immigration and border violence has increased. The governor says securing the border has become paramount with drug cartel-related deaths rising dramatically.

Gov. Perry: And the fact of the matter is a line on a map is not going to constrain those individuals from crossing and doing harm to the citizens of this state.

Philpott: But the speeches, like the candidates, remain separate. And at least for now, the 30 minutes that separated their appearances is as close to a debate as voters are going to get. Governor Perry says that's the way it will stay, unless White complies with his debate terms.

Gov. Perry: All he's got to do is release his income tax from those years as being assistant secretary of energy. And be transparent and open with the people of the state of Texas about what you were doing. Where you're doing any deals that the people of the state of Texas need to know about. I suggest there is something there or he would have already laid them out and said "not a problem."

Philpott: White has already released tax returns for the years he was mayor of Houston and thinks that's enough. He says the reason there hasn't been a debate has more to do with Perry's campaign strategy than tax returns.

White: The fact is that his handlers just don't want him to appear before editorial boards or in debates where they can answer questions. I'll be happy to debate Governor Perry in many different formats and in many different cities and on many different topics and the public demands that kind of accountability."

Philpott: Both candidates say they're ready to debate and they're just waiting on the other to make the next move. There are about 11 weeks left until the November 2nd election. Reporting for KUT News, I'm Ben Philpott.