Texans hope to change things on Election Day

In the Texas elections, the top of the ticket is generating hope and fear. The fear comes from the polls, which show Republicans from the far right – Gregg Abbott for Governor and Dan Patrick for Lieutenant Governor – maintaining solid leads. The hope is that Democrats Wendy Davis and Leticia van de Putte can come from behind, that they can bring out unprecedented numbers of women and Latino voters, and that the general rightward direction of Texas politics may finally come to an end.

Wendy Davis has drawn the most attention nationwide, but van de Putte’s run for Lieutenant Governor may be the more important in Texas. The Lieutenant Governor has to ability to stop almost any legislation. He/she (it’s never been a she) controls all the committee assignments in the Senate. He/she sets the agenda. No Texas officer who stands for office in a general election has as much power.

Van de Putte was able to get only one televised debate. It took place on September 29. It was easy to see why Patrick would not take more debates, having done very poorly in his first debate with Van de Putte.

Both are presently state senators and have long mirror-opposite voting records. Van de Putte strongly advocates for spending on education and on water. She stands strong for women’s rights and for fair treatment for immigrants. Both top Democrats participated in recent Gay Pride parades.

Patrick argues that ultra-conservative government has made Texas the 12th largest economy in the world and the greatest job-creator in the nation. He doesn’t mention the quality of those jobs, but Texas holds the record for the greatest percentage of minimum wage workers.

Davis was able to negotiate two televised debates with her opponent. The second one took place on September 30. Gregg Abbott has a far better television presence than Patrick, but he needs it to confront the well-prepared and lively debater, Wendy Davis.

The first question of the debate had to do with handling the first diagnosed case of ebola in the nation, which happened that day in Dallas. The candidates’ answers were similar, but their general stance on health care has a wide divide. The hottest issue has to do with taking around $100 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Davis wants the money in Texas, and Abbott opposes it strongly.

The candidates differ on the use of standardized testing in schools. The Republican candidates try to tone down their long-time support of standardized tests, and both Democrats want standardized tests de-emphasized. Davis supports drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants on the basis of highway safety. Abbott didn’t answer the question, but took the opportunity to repeat the theme of his campaign and what seems to be his life’s work, deprecating the federal government.

Gregg Abbott accuses Wendy Davis of unethical behavior in having voted on issues that concerned clients of her private business. Davis responds that she has done nothing outside ethical guidelines, but that Attorney General Abbott has clearly made decisions that benefited his campaign contributors. The most recent scandal has to do with the Governor’s Enterprise Fund. It was set up to create good jobs in Texas. Senator Davis sponsored a bill to audit the fund, and the audit showed that millions of dollars were granted to corporations that had made no commitments at all. The same corporations were big donors to Governor Perry and to Attorney General Abbott. Abbott was supposed to have been overseeing the fund.

The scandal over the Enterprise Fund came to light after the first governor’s debate but before the second. Abbott’s complicity in the scandal gave Davis an edge that she did not have before, and she used it to advantage.

Texas has some of the highest homeowner insurance rates in the nation. Attorney General Abbott ducked the issue, but Senator Davis aggressively said that she would replace the Insurance Commissioner “who is not doing her job.” She went on to say that Abbott gets big donations from insurance companies.

Gregg Abbott, even more than other Republicans, opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Wendy Davis made her national reputation by filibustering a bill that cuts deeply into women’s health care. 

Not every liberal in Texas is completely happy with the information being shared in the debates. Neither top Democrat says they would raise any taxes, nor find any new revenues, to accomplish the social progress they espouse. They don’t oppose the current governor’s sending the National Guard to the Mexican border. Both tend to duck any association with President Obama.

When the campaign began, Democrats said that their only hope was better turnout, but the candidates have focused on negative attacks, which do not bring out new voters. Big turnout is our great hope, but our great fear is that it may not come. 

Photo: Leticia van de Putte, Democrat, campaigns for post of Lt. Governor in Texas. Andrew Brosig/AP