Dewhurst and Patrick Clash in a Very Personal Debate in DFW

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick debate at WFAA in Dallas.

DALLAS – Sen. Dan Patrick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pulled no punches on Wednesday in a 45-minute televised debate that one candidate would later describe as childish. Patrick said “I think it was in the seventh grade” the last time he had heard something like a question lobbed by Dewhurst about the senator from Houston selling snake oil for his receding hairline.

Yes, that was the tone of it as the GOP candidates in the Lite Guv runoff debated things like immigration, women’s health, equal pay for women, Patrick’s name change and just what exactly Dewhurst had for dinner the night of an abortion debate in the Texas Senate.

Patrick seized on the fact Dewhurst said on Wednesday that he ate some chicken at Austin Land and Cattle while talking with his political consultant Rob Johnson on a night last summer when Democrats were unsuccessfully trying to amend abortion legislation. “Now, it’s chicken!” Patrick said, looking a bit incensed.

Dewhurst has said – and repeated in Dallas – that when he left the chamber that night to visit the steakhouse, senators were working through Democratic amendments that had no chance of adoption.

Before Wednesday’s debate even got underway, the Patrick campaign released a statement saying the incumbent had succumbed to pressure and stopped airing “offensive TV ads.” Patrick repeated that claim to reporters and his chief strategist Allen Blakemore said Dewhurst has “gone dark,” but TV contracts show Dewhurst is still airing ads. Since then, Dewhurst has made more ad buys on TV and radio.

The debate initially focused on that barrage of ads from Dewhurst that show, among other things, Patrick wearing no shirt at a charity auction. Patrick took exception to Dewhurst knowingly including a photo taken at an event where he was raising money for kids. “We haven’t spent two million dollars like my opponent on negative ads,” he said.

Dewhurst admitted that his campaign had “made a mistake” as far as the unflattering photo but emphasized that every accusation in the ad is true. That includes, Dewhurst said, information about Patrick’s personal bankruptcy and why he changed his name. Dewhurst pointed out that the only piece of his ad that the fact checkers at Politifact Texas took issue with was the idea that Patrick legally changed his name because of his past debts.

“I’ve been Dan Patrick since 1977,” Patrick said. It is the name that people know him by in Houston where he was been on radio and television for 35 years, Patrick said. “This is ancient history,” Patrick said of the name change and the past debts. At one point, debate moderator Jason Whitely of WFAA Channel 8, the station that hosted the debate, pressed the candidates on why the race is so personal and not about policy.


Lt Gov. David Dewhurst, WFAA’s Jason Whitely, the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey, and Sen. Dan Patrick

In shifting the argument to policy, Whitely asked the candidates about immigration and specifically tried to drill down on how it would impact the Texas economy to stop illegal immigration. It was pointed out that business leaders like the late home builder Bob Perry and the head of HEB stores, Charles Butt, have been proponents of reform that would give legal status millions of undocumented people.

“That labor can still come to Texas but we want it to come legally,” Dewhurst said and suggested the so-called “Texas miracle” is not propped up by undocumented workers.

“I don’t think it’s a miracle to come to Texas and live in the shadows,” Patrick said. Appearing perplexed by Whitely’s question, Patrick said “You don’t break the law, Jason, so that the economy keeps going.”

Patrick said “we have plenty of money in the budget” to put additional dollars into border security, but when asked about expectations of a budget surplus for the 2015 session, he said “I’m not going to spend any more money.” He said he’d prefer to find ways to give that money back to taxpayers.

Dewhurst said he wants to, in the name of local control and accountability, change state law such that county appraisal districts are made up of elected boards rather than being appointed. Patrick countered that when he has tried to push legislation to cap appraisals in past sessions, Dewhurst has not helped him pass any of it.

As you’d expect, the campaign of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte – the Democratic Lite Guv nominee – was not impressed.

“Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst refused to focus on how to strengthen neighborhood schools, and build an infrastructure that keeps Texas’ economy strong,” said Van de Putte Campaign Manager Scott Remley. “Personal attacks don’t create jobs and Texans are tired of Washington-style bickering. Its time for a leader who puts policy over politics, no matter who she faces this November, Leticia Van de Putte will be the clear choice.”

In the spin room afterward, Patrick said that when it comes to their records, Dewhurst is asking voters to believe that everyone is being untruthful except Dewhurst. He said all the attention on his past has been unsettling. “I’m focused on today,” Patrick said.

Dewhurst said he felt pretty good about the debate. “You saw me being shouted down but leadership is not who can yell loudest,” he said. As far as whether the negative ad blitz will continue all the way through May 27, Dewhurst said that his polling indicates the more ads they run, the more the numbers move in the incumbent’s favor.

You can watch the debate from WFAA Television below.

Copyright May 07, 2014, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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