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Few Differences, Plenty of Attacks at GOP Lt. Governor's Debate

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
Clockwise, the four GOP Candidates for Lt. Gov.: incumbent David Dewhurst, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.

The four Republican candidates for Texas Lieutenant Governor met last night in a debate broadcast across the state. And, as it’s been through the months leading up to the March primaries, the hour-long event showed few differences among the candidates when it came to policy. But that didn’t stop them from attacking each other throughout the night.

As a three-term incumbent, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has been the main punching bag of his three challengers throughout the campaign. With each highlighting what they consider missteps by Dewhurst as reason to give someone else a chance at the job.

Dewhurst defended his record last night, and specifically answered attacks that his mismanagement of the Texas Senate allowed Democratic state Senator, and now candidate for Governor, Wendy Davis to gain national prominence during an abortion bill filibuster.

“I have shown repeatedly over the years that I’m a strong conservative leader. If I wasn’t a strong conservative leader, our economy in Texas would look more like California’s," Dewhurst said. "Quite frankly, Barack Obama and the Democrats created Wendy Davis.”

But in a four-person toss-up for Lieutenant Governor, any time not spent trying to knock off Dewhurst was spent on each candidate trying to say something memorable and appealing to Republican primary voters. Which is why state Sen. Dan Patrick gave an impassioned speech on the need for more teaching of religion in public schools.

He argued that right now, children are getting mixed messages at home and in the classroom.

“We want them to go to church on Sunday. And we teach them about Jesus Christ. And then they go to school on Monday. They can’t pray, they can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused," Patrick said.

But much of the debate showed there wasn’t much to distinguish each of the candidate from the others on policy. They were asked about the recent case of a brain-dead woman in Fort Worth being kept alive against her family's wishes because she was pregnant.

The woman was allowed to die over the weekend, after a judge ordered the hospital to turn off the ventilator keeping her alive. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples echoed the three other candidates who want the state to have strong laws to protect any fetus.

“And I think it’s the responsibility of us as a society to have laws and regulations that encourages life that protects life and tries to find a viable way to continue to promote that life. And unfortunately I do believe that the court erred in this situation," Staples said.

The four candidates also had little different to say about immigration. All said increasing boarder security is the first step before any new immigration policies are considered.

“We need to start securing the border. We need to implement policies that provide for assimilation and we need to start a worker program. Because they’re a three-legged stool, each will help the other if we do it correctly," Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

The race is considered very close, there's no clear front runner heading into the March 4 primary. None of the candidates are expected to get 50 percent of the vote, which means the top two vote-getters will likely be in a runoff election some time later this spring.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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