|EDINBURG, September 21 - The Rio Grande Valley is now surely a “player” in the State of Texas’ political future.
For the first time, Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor debated in the Valley of South Texas. But, no, sorry, they did not have a live audience. Attorney General, Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, refused to debate if there were to be a live audience.
Surely challenger Senator Wendy Davis objected? Surely she would use that information against him? It was hardly noted by the CBS, local affiliate, Channel Four. She could have asked: “are you afraid of people, of transparency?” But, she didn’t. I trust most people will react negatively to his lack of transparency, come November elections.
Channel Four, Telemundo, the McAllen Monitor and Doctors’ Hospital at Renaissance are to be commended for their sponsorship. Their interviewers acquitted themselves well, firing off short, punchy, (and with exceptions) relevant questions. There were short, punchy responses. Both candidates were quite poised, prepared and professional. Despite hopes of supporters (the 600 about evenly split in the NON-live audience next door to the debate), neither candidate “won” the debate.
The grand debate was a tie, an “empate;” (some introductions and explanations were in Spanish). But issues were made clearer. As Dr. Paul Jorgensen, political scientist from the University of Texas—Pan American, noted: “Both achieved their goals of linking each other to particular symbols” (The Monitor, 20 Sep 14). But neither attacked too aggressively. Abbott knew better than to repeat tasteless ads about “Abortion Barbie.” Davis did not go after Abbott about the $10 million lawsuit he won against owner of a tree limb that fell on him, resulting in his paralysis. He subsequently defended a law to cut off other victims from pursuing their fair compensation against corporations or others responsible for their pain or injury. He also ironically opposed a National Disability Act. He got his compensation, and then cut off others.
However, she did bring up his support for the cut of $5 Billion from education in Texas. She did push her plans for statewide pre-K care and education. But she did not challenge his plan for “the best educational system in the nation,” accomplished, apparently by Voo-doo magic, since he will not return the $5 Billion Perry cut. Abbott, for his part, tried to tie President Obama’s standing in the polls to the Davis candidacy; he has bragged in the past: “I go to the office; I sue the President; I go home.” She responded: this is a state race over state issues.
Abbott’s state-wide career started not with an election, but with his appointment by Gov. Perry to the Texas Supreme Court. In fact, he seemed to be channeling Perry. He repeated over and over “I will not stand idly by . . .”, which were Perry’s words to justify the sending of 1,000 National Guardsmen to the Valley, over objections by local leaders, at a taxpayers’ cost of $12 million a month. Davis, on the other hand, wished for those funds for real Deputies, with arrest and detention powers, to help protect the border.
Naturally, the border loomed large in the debate. Ethnic appeals were made on both sides. A blog flashed several times at the bottom of the screen—the only virtual contact between the candidates and the fired-up audience—sent by Abbott’s spouse, asking for “prayers” for her husband.
Davis was more secular and more specific: “Reinstate women’s health care for the Valley and the state; fund pre-K; establish a Veteran’s Hospital in conjunction with the new Medical School of the new university, UT-Rio Grande Valley.” Despite these programs and beliefs, Davis, a graduate of Harvard Law with Honors, doesn’t quite fit the “liberal” tag.
Davis is a moderate. Her support for women’s rights (“equal pay for equal work”) as well as her support for raising the minimum wage are quite main stream. The majority of the people of the Valley, of Texas, and of the nation want these things. She also joined the majority in questioning Abbot’s weird plan for making 4-year olds take standardized tests. Children from affluent homes would be favored. The poor and ethnic minorities would be disadvantaged.
But Davis remains quite conservative on other issues: guns, capital punishment and mandatory drug testing. Neither candidate did sufficient credit to the sad facts about Texas.
1. 4th highest rate of children in poverty in the Union.
2. Last in the Union of those with high school diplomas.
3. Last in public monies for mental health. But we are also . . .
4. First in carbon dioxide emissions.
5. First in “production” of hazardous wastes (especially serious in the Valley).
AND. . . (another case where “We’re Number ONE!”) . . .
6. FIRST In executions. Are we proud of that? The only difference between the candidates at this point is Davis stressed the use of science and DNA, the need to be sure those executed are actually the guilty ones.
The grand finale of the grand debate centered on Abbott’s calling the Valley “third world.” He denied he meant the Valley or Mexican Americans. He disingenuously said he meant to refer to the entire state. That denial made even conservative supporters wince. Even they know better. He even upped the ante when he ended the debate with reference to the presence of “cocaine users” in the Valley. So, what? No users elsewhere in the U.S.?
Conservatives perked up when Abbott inexplicably concluded his remarks by bragging about violating traditional separation of Church and State. He argued for placement of the Ten Commandments on Texas capitol grounds. The Republican majority on the Supreme Court supported him, voting 5-4.
All the audience realized, on that point and others, “elections do make a difference.” We choose the President who appoints Judges. We choose the Governor who symbolizes our State. Rio Grande Guardian readers and any potential voters realize the vote is our main voice in our democracy. However imperfect, it is our only defense of the majority, the middle classes, the working classes and the poor against the plutocrats.
Elections in November could create a new direction for Texas government. But, Mexican American citizens must continue to register and vote. If the trend continues (now and during the 2016 presidential elections) leaders will change, policies will change. It is only a matter of time. This demographic trend is why Republicans fight so arduously to restrict the vote. Davis believes such restrictive, undemocratic laws are wrong, morally and politically.
Such change could happen not only with the Governor’s office but with the most powerful office in Texas, the Lieutenant Governor. Davis’s running-mate for that position is Senator Leticia Van de Putte. Her family name is San Miguel; she humorously noted it was too long to put all that on her bumper stickers. Her opponent is a far-right-wing radio talk show host, a Baltimorean, Dan Patrick, whom most see, to say the least, as not ready for prime time.
Will Republican voters not discriminate? Will they vote, in lock step, for all candidates of that party which now controls every single state-wide elected office? Will some not choose to be thoughtful and selective? Davis and Van de Putte deserve their consideration. Their ethnic and gender issues—issues of fairness--deserve attention and support.
Leticia represents the emerging Hispanic majority. Together, she and Wendy represent the majority of the state—women. Abbott bragged about his wife being Hispanic, but she would not be the Governor. Most people realize a responsive, democratically oriented Governor and Lt. Governor—two women, one Anglo American, one Mexican American--unafraid of audiences of real people, will be more likely to help them thrive. If and when that realization occurs, and translates into democratic votes, it would be a grand outcome, indeed!
Dr. Gary Mounce is a political science professor in the Rio Grande Valley. His op-eds appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.