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Texas

Lt. Gov. Candidates Trade Barbs on Taxes, Education & Immigration in Debate

VDP-Patrick-Debate.jpg
Eric Gay/AP
State Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, the candidates for lieutenant governor, debated in Austin on Sept. 29, 2014.

The two candidates for the state's second highest statewide office met last night at KLRU studios in Austin in their first and only debate before Election Day in November.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spent much of his time on stage trying to paint his opponent, as a tax-and-spend liberal who would wreck the Texas economy, while State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, spent much of the night trying to paint Patrick as out of step with the mainstream.

Patrick set his sights on Van de Putte’s legislative support of a bill providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, questioning whether the law gave deference to immigrants in admissions. Van de Putte singled out Patrick's support of $5.4 billion cuts in the state's education budget during the 2011 legislative session.

For Senator Patrick, much of his policy answers revolved around his call for tax cuts.

“When it comes to attracting businesses to Texas, the best thing we can do is eliminate the business tax. And the best thing we can do is lower property taxes, so employees of companies who move to Texas can live in their home with a low tax rate,” Patrick said. “And even with they retire and they pay it off, they don't have to rent it from the state.”

While Patrick's property tax proposal wouldn't exactly cut property taxes, it would lower the limit on how much property tax appraisals can increase each year. Sen. Van de Putte spent much of the night trying to paint Patrick as too extreme for Texas – focusing specifically on anti-immigrant rhetoric by Patrick during the GOP primary.

“[W]hat doesn't help is when harsh rhetoric and the politics of fear damage a region, that they disrespect the people that live there. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce and those business leaders have asked Senator Patrick and those that would use that vile rhetoric to tone it down,” Van de Putte said. “It hurts their economy and hurts their ability to attract jobs.”

Patrick's characterization of an immigrant invasion or that immigrants are bringing leprosy across the border drew criticism from some Hispanic Republicans. But much of his language Monday night was tempered with questions of fairness in immigration policy, and how the state allocates its resources. That included Patrick's calls to eliminate the Texas Dream Act, which allows some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities.

“If there was only one seat left at a university – and two students had equal GPA, equal SAT, ACT scores, and the choice was between an American student, a Mexican-American student and African-American student. . .and someone who was not a legal citizen of our country, who would get the seat?” Patrick asked. “I don't know how my opponent would answer it, but it's just a question of fairness.”

Van de Putte quickly shot back that the law has support from even conservative business groups, and that Patrick was mischaracterizing what the bill does.

“Dan Patrick hasn't read the bill. This is not about admissions. This is about what you pay in tuition at the registrar's office. And this we know is important for the workforce,” she contested. “Other Republican candidates who are running state-wide don't agree with you Senator Patrick.”

Republicans have been able to successfully use disapproval of President Obama and his policies to their advantage on the campaign trail. Patrick made sure to tie Van de Putte to as many federal policies as he could, including the Affordable Care Act. But Van de Putte pushed back, saying the state's decision to not expand Medicaid has cost it billions in economic development.

“When Governor Perry said no to that expansion, he said no to over 200,000 jobs, to billions of dollars in healthcare services, and most hurtful for me, 68,000 veterans and their spouses,” she said.

Patrick said he knows healthcare is important for the state’s continued growth and laid out a plan that he says will increase the number of doctors in Texas.

“I will dramatically increase the number of residency slots to attract more doctors. And remember early in this debate, I said she was only one of four Democrats who voted against tort reform. That protected doctors, that's another reason the [Texas Medical Association] did not endorse her,” he said. “That's brought 30,000 new doctors here. I will bring more doctors to Texas with more residency spots, and more funding for our medical schools.”

Van de Putte, like all Democrats, is trailing in her race, and was hoping for additional debates to let her share her priorities with voters.

But the conventional wisdom goes that debates can only hurt a front-runner, and Patrick appears to be taking that wisdom to heart.

Naturally, both candidates ended the night by declaring victory. The two will criss-cross the state over the next month before Election Day on Nov. 4.

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