12:21 AM CST on Friday, January 15, 2010
By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News
DENTON – Kay Bailey Hutchison had to convince Republican primary voters of two things in Thursday's debate: why they should boot Rick Perry out of the governor's office and why they should put her in.
The veteran senator offered plenty of ammunition for the first: toll roads, new taxes, school dropouts under Perry's tenure and the dark warning of creeping cronyism in Austin.
But for the voters she needs – the conservative, small-government, anti-abortion party activists who will dominate turnout in March – the reason to pick her seemed a less convincing case.
No issue animates social conservatives like abortion. And for anti-abortion forces in the GOP, Hutchison's views on that always have been a problem.
When a panelist asked Hutchison about her vote against overturning the Roe vs. Wade court decision legalizing abortion, Hutchison rolled out her conservative credentials.
"My record is one always coming down on the side of life," she said. "If I'm governor of Texas, I will do everything I can to lower the number of abortions in this state."
She was asked again: Should the Supreme Court decision be overturned. Yes or no?
Hutchison warned that to do so might actually increase abortions by sending the issue to the states, some of which might pursue a liberal course.
"I'm concerned about having abortion havens all over the country," she said.
The answer – nuanced and reasoned – probably isn't what many in the GOP primary electorate wanted to hear. And those are the voters she, Perry and Debra Medina will be vying for in the primary.
Ganging up on Perry
Hutchison got some help from Medina, a former Wharton County Republican chairwoman and advocate of the anti-tax Tea Party movement.
The two joined up in critiquing Perry's stewardship, particularly on job growth, rising property taxes and a looming budge crisis. At one point, Medina noted that Perry's rosy picture about creating jobs included plenty of government jobs.
"It really wears me out that we have two people on this state who want to tear Texas down," Perry said, portraying criticism of him as criticism of Texas.
"This is the best state in the nation to be living in today," he said.
For the Perry camp – and for primary election voters each candidate needs – the charge that Hutchison is part of the problem in Washington is a clear winner.
Again and again, Perry reminded voters that Hutchison works in Washington and he works in Texas.
"I know the truth is sometimes had to recognize when you've been in Washington for 16 years," Perry said, one of perhaps a dozen times he invoked D.C.
Hutchison sought to defend her tenure in Washington.
"I'm fighting against the government takeover of health care," she said. "I'm fighting against government encroachment in so many parts of our lives."
Sniping colors GOP debate: Clashes between Perry and Hutchison frustrate Medina
By R.G. RATCLIFFE and PEGGY FIKAC
Jan. 15, 2010, 12:04PM
DENTON — Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison clashed repeatedly in the first Republican gubernatorial debate, speaking over one another and all but calling the other a liar.
Activist Debra Medina pushed for a place apart, describing Perry and Hutchison as politicians who embrace big-government solutions to Texas' problems. After one overlapping exchange of sniping between Hutchison and Perry, Medina expressed frustration.
“This squabbling isn't getting us anywhere,” Medina said.
The debate was a key exchange between the candidates leading into the March 2 primary. Only one other debate currently is scheduled for the Republicans. There is no Democratic debate scheduled between the front runners, former Houston Mayor Bill White and millionaire businessman Farouk Shami.
Perry, as the incumbent, was the one to beat going into the debate. And while he repeatedly showed he was willing to take the contest to Hutchison and Medina, they would not back down.
The senator went after Perry's veracity time and again, while he painted Hutchison as out of touch from her years in Washington.
When the challengers criticized his job growth record, Perry said he has created a positive economic atmosphere that has people moving to Texas from other states.
“It really wears me out that we have two people on this stage here who want to tear Texas down,” Perry said.
Hutchison slashed at Perry's record in office, saying he is “trying to have it both ways” — describing himself as cutting taxes while the state's tax burden on business rises and the state's budget grows.
Taunts over TARP
Perry and Hutchison verbally attacked each other when discussing her 2008 vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, derided by some as the Wall Street bailout bill.
Perry said Hutchison told Texans she would not vote for the measure but then did. Hutchison said she voted for the measure because she was asked to by then-President George W. Bush, and said the bill was changed to limit how much was spent.
Hutchison then called Perry “disingenuous” because he had written a letter the day before urging congressional action: “You were for it before you were against it.”
Perry said the intent of his letter was to get Congress to cut spending and taxes to stimulate the economy. Perry said he thought Hutchison and Republicans in Congress would be “smart enough” to understand that.
In another instance, Perry accused Hutchison of attacking Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and the Republican legislative leadership on state budget growth and an expected $16 billion state budget shortfall in 2011. Hutchison responded by saying Perry is attacking Texas' Republican congressional delegation.
“I'm criticizing the leadership at the top. The buck stops on your desk,” Hutchison said.
About the budget, Perry replied, “We're going to cut it just like we did in 2003. We have the experience,” referring to a $10 billion shortfall that was eliminated without a tax increase.
Medina proposed solving the state's budget and economic problems by eliminating the property tax and replacing it with higher sales taxes: “The governor and the senator are both going to offer big-government solutions.”
On social conservative issues involving life and abortion, both the main contenders took a beating.
When asked about her ongoing support for the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Hutchison said she continues to back it because without the decision there would be “abortion havens.” She said some states would make abortion illegal while others would legalize it “even as the baby is coming out of the birth canal.”
All three candidates said they could support repealing the state's advance directives law that allows hospitals to cut off care for terminally ill patients, but Perry stumbled.
“I always stand by the side of life,” Perry said, but then he had to admit he did not realize the Legislature passed the law when he was lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the state Senate.
All three candidates also opposed the national health care finance reform bill being pushed by President Barack Obama and Democrats. But Perry used the discussion to take a swipe at Hutchison for the time she is spending campaigning for governor.
“We have heard it is hanging by a thread. I hope that our senior senator would get back to Washington, D.C., and cut that thread. That's where she needs to be,” Perry said.
An audience of more than 800 people watched the debate in the Murchison Performing Arts Center at the University of North Texas. The debate was sponsored by KERA, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, CBS and Univision affiliates in Dallas, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas State Network, and the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation.
Campaign Trail Mix
12:00 AM CST on Friday, January 15, 2010
White has $5.5 million
in his campaign coffers
Democrat Bill White has nearly $5.5 million in the bank for his race for governor, his campaign said Thursday. White, who jumped into the race Dec. 4, took in $2.5 million before the end of the year.
The former Houston mayor also transferred money from the account he established earlier to run for Senate.
Candidates face a deadline today to file campaign finance reports with the state. White will face hair care magnate Farouk Shami and five other contenders in the March 2 Democratic primary.
On the Republican side, Kay Bailey Hutchison has said that she has $12 million to spend, and Rick Perry is not far behind with $11.6 million.