AUSTIN October 19, 2010 — Even before the debate between three candidates on the ballot to be Texas’s next governor began, the main issue tonight was clear: Republican candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, was nowhere to be seen, and was once again refusing to participate in a debate with Democratic challenger Bill White or any other candidate. Bill White, former mayor of Houston, would instead share the stage with two other candidates, Libertarian Kathie Glass, an attorney from Houston, and Green Party nominee Deb Shafto, a retired school teacher.
Rick Perry’s campaign has justified the Governor’s refusal to appear on-stage with other candidates because Mr. White has not released personal IRS tax forms from the 1990s when White was chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Mr. White has made an issue of the massive debts built up by the state during Perry’s decade in office, and the looming budget shortfall of over $20 billion that is expected in 2011. The decision by Gov. Perry to avoid public debates appears to be part of a campaign strategy to prevent potential pitfalls or negative publicity that could result if he is put on the spot by his opponents to defend his record as Governor.
Tonight’s debate was broadcast on PBS affiliates across the state, and featured a panel of journalists from Texas’s largest newspapers, such as the Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, and Austin American-Statesman. This debate has been in the works for several months, but over the summer, Gov. Perry announced that he was declining to participate in any debate or forum with Democratic nominee Bill White until the ex-mayor released certain tax return information from the last decade.
Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass stole the show at certain points with some biting one-liners aimed at the absentee Governor, and with strong stands in favor of fiscal responsibility with the state budget. Green nominee Deb Shafto made her proposal for a statewide income tax on people who make more than $88,000 a core part of her plan to balance the state budget without increasing taxes on lower income residents, although she admitted this proposal would be tough to get approved.
A panel of journalists asked candidates to state their positions on the following issues:
Should the state offer financial aid to illegal immigrants to attend state colleges and universities?
White and Shafto both responded that Texas had an interest in all young residents (regardless of their legal status) being well-educated, and so this policy currently in effect should continue. Ms. Glass took an opposing stand, saying that the state should cut all medical and educational funding that goes to illegal immigrants, which she says would save the state $45 million annually.
What should the state do about the over one million Texans who are now unemployed?
Ms. Shafto suggested the state begin major public works projects to create solar and wind electric power grids, while Ms. Glass said the state should limit occupational licenses and fees that are barriers to people starting their own businesses. Mr. White drew attention to millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies that have gone to Gov. Perry’s friends and campaign donors through the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technologies Fund, and said this money should be spent in a fairer way to create good jobs.
Do the candidates support legalizing casinos and slot machines as a way to generate money for the state budget?
Ms. Shafto responded that gambling is a “sleazy” way to bring in money for the state, and a state income tax would be a fairer way to raise funds. Bill White responded that he would not promote gambling, but did not rule it out and said voters would like to have a chance to voice their opinion on this issue. Ms. Glass said that if the legislature approved gambling, she would sign the bill, but did not think it should be legalized just to raise revenue.
What are the candidates’ stands on the death penalty, especially with evidence emerging of wrongful executions and prisoners being exonerated who were on death row for many years?
Both Mr. White and Ms. Glass voiced support for the death penalty, while Ms. Shafto said it should be abolished since this practice is “not fit for a civilied society.”
Do candidates support state Sen. Steve Ogden’s proposal for a statewide property tax to fund public schools?
All three candidates indicated that they believed property taxes were already too high, and Ms. Glass even said property taxes should be abolished, and the state should send money straight to school districts based on a per-student cost basis ranging from $5,000 to $8,000 per student in a district.
What is each candidate’s position on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes?
Bill White responded that this is not a good idea for Texas while Kathie Glass said she does not consider this a critical issue, but would sign a bill legalizing marijuana if the conservative Texas legislature were to send it to her desk as Governor. Deb Shafto set herself apart, saying all drugs should be decriminalized and treated as a medical issue, since illegal drugs are the root cause of the violence and crime along the Texas border with Mexico.
How should Texas limit the number of high school dropouts?
Mayor White proposed state funding for early childhood (pre-kindergarten) programs to get kids in public schools at an even younger age, while Deb Shafto, a school teacher for 28 years, said major changes needed to happen in how public school treat children so that it would promote their individual creativity, and not just emphasize sitting still and being quiet. Ms. Glass had a much different response, saying that dropouts are often a negative influence in the classroom, and so truancy laws should be abandoned, and young people should be allowed to learn to take care of themselves working in the real world rather than being forced to stay in the structured environment of a public school if they so choose.
How would candidates address the estimated $21-24 billion budget shortfall in 2011?
Deb Shafto again proposed her income tax on top earners in Texas, and proposed an audit of all state jobs to see if they are necessary and actually being done. Bill White said “boondoggles” like expensive vendor contracts, personnel costs, and capital expenditures approved during Rick Perry’s time in office need to be reviewed to reduce costs. Kathie Glass said to cut taxpayer funding for services to illegal immigrants, cut the budget of the Texas Dept. of Transportation, and said Texas should opt out of Medicaid, saving $45 million sent to the federal government each year. Then Texas could decide to set up its own statewide medical programs which would presumably cost less.