While the state's major party candidates for governor — Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White — bicker over whether to debate before the November elections and under what terms, we looked back at the debates that have shaped Texas gubernatorial races since 1982. The leading candidates have faced off in some way in every race over the past three decades — and a reluctant incumbent isn’t necessarily a new development.
Perry delayed this debate, too.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram said on Sept. 30, 2006:
The format and the time slot, which competes with Friday night football games across Texas, have three challengers griping that incumbent Republican Rick Perry is trying to sit on his lead and run out the clock during the month leading up to the Nov. 7 election.
“Debates are where ordinary voters can tune in and see the candidates answer questions that are well-thought-out from media professionals with minimal opportunities for spin,” [Bell’s spokeswoman Heather Guntert] said. “We think more would be better than fewer.”
Kinky Friedman: “At a time when we are trying to spread democracy around the world, Rick Perry has ducked out of five out of the six debates that we were offered – deliberately ducked out of them. [Chris Bell,] What do you think the heroes of the Alamo would think of a guy like that?”
Question for Carole Strayhorn: “Who is the newly elected president of Mexico?”
Carole Strayhorn: “The newly elected president of Mexico won with a very narrow margin and there has been a lot of anxiety about that. In a Strayhorn administration we will work with all of our friends south of the border.”
Question for Chris Bell: “What is the term limit for Texas governor?”
Chris Bell: “There is no term limit for Texas governor, and that’s why people should be horrified. Because Rick Perry said he plans to run for another term if he’s successful this time. That’s the best reason that I can give you tonight for voting for me.”
Question for Kinky Friedman: “Who is the highest-ranking African American on your campaign?”
Kinky Friedman: “There are several... My friend Frank, from Atlanta.”
Kinky Friedman: “I don’t use the internet. I think it’s the work of Satan.”
Rick Perry: “You have a clear choice in this campaign… whether you want to have a vigilant security of our border, or the benign ‘gollect’ of Congressman Chris Bell and his former colleagues in Washington, D.C.” [Yes, he said “gollect,” apparently meaning neglect.]
Perry was eager to debate the first time he ran for governor.
The Austin American-Statesman said on Aug. 7, 2002:
The debates between Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Tony Sanchez will play out in miniseries format.
But the premiere will not come as early as Perry would like.
“I’m ready to start next week,” he said Tuesday in calling for a series of debates, “and hope Mr. Sanchez will step from behind his multimillion-dollar attack advertising campaign and join me at these debates.”
The Dallas Morning News said on Sept. 13, 2002:
Although Mr. Perry has lobbied for as many as 11 other debates, the Sanchez campaign responded that two probably will be it.
… [a Perry spokesman] said such [rural] areas have unique problems that deserve the candidates’ attention, and Mr. Sanchez’s decision “to limit debate is a slap in the face to rural Texas.”
DÉJÀ VU: In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on April 16, 2002:
“We can’t really have this debate until Mr. Sanchez opens up his private affairs, his tax schedules, to the public,” Perry said.
Rick Perry: “Mr. Sanchez, you shouldn’t feel good. You shouldn’t feel good when the federal authorities tell you that there is drug money that came into your bank, in cash, in suitcases. And then you sent the money to Panama, at the request of those drug dealers.”
Rick Perry: “I’ve been elected statewide more times than [Sanchez] has voted in the past decade.”
Tony Sanchez: “He’s been bragging for the past year about all of his experience. He’s been in there 17 years. He’s a professional politician. My question to him is this: If he has so much experience, and has spent so much time in government, and knows so much about it, how come we have some many problems in Texas?”
Gov. Bush was another reluctant incumbent.
ABC News said in fall 2000:
After noting that “if you have a big lead … why debate?” Bush finally faced 1998 gubernatorial challenger Democrat [Garry] Mauro on a low-ratings-guaranteed Friday night during high school football season.
The Amarillo Globe-News said on Oct. 3, 1998:
Bush said some supporters had recommended he avoid a debate.
He has a rather comfortable lead of as many as 51 percentage points over Mauro in some state polls.
Bush probably has nothing to gain by participating in a debate. However, the exchange of ideas and opinions on state issues and informing the public carries more weight than playing politics.
The Daily Texan said on Oct. 1, 1998:
Mauro called Bush's acceptance of the debate "minimally acceptable behavior" for a governor running for re-election and accused him of choosing Friday night only to attract the smallest possible audience.
George Bush: “I don’t know whether I’ll seek the presidency or not … I don’t think there would be all this speculation going on, if the people didn’t think I was doing a good job as governor.”
Garry Mauro: “I respect Gov. Bush’s indecision. But when you’re running for [governor of] the second largest state in the union, and when we have such a unique opportunity in history, I think Bush better speed up his decision making process and tell the people of Texas where he stands.”
Richards was ready to debate Bush in August.
The Austin American-Statesman (on July 28, 1994) attributed Bush’s apathy in terms of debates to his confidence in his well-known name, thanks to his dad, the former President Bush.
In The Dallas Morning News on Aug. 27, 1994:
"I am ready to debate George W. Bush this afternoon…" Ms. Richards said in a statement.
George Bush (on his complete lack of experience in the public sector): “[I would not be] constrained by the current ways of doing things in Austin … [Texans] ought to give me a chance.”
George Bush: "I proudly proclaim I have never held office. I have been in the business world all my adult life. I have met a payroll."
Ann Richards: "This is really serious. This is not a joke. We're talking about who is going to run the State of Texas. You have got to have had some experience in the public sector before you get the chief executive's job."
Ann Richards: "I think that George Bush means very well. I think he sincerely wants to be Governor of Texas. But I think the question of qualifications is one that is really important."
George Bush (on whether he received special help and joined the National Guard to avoid being sent to Vietnam): "Putting an F-102 jet in afterburner in a single-seat, single-engine aircraft was a thrill, but it also wasn't trying to avoid duty. Had that engine failed, I could have been killed. So I was at risk."
|1. Tuesday, Oct. 23, 1990 via satellite (Video)||2. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 1990 via satellite (Video)|
Instead of a debate, the candidates faced off via satellite in two eight-minute segments on the evening news.
In USA Today on Oct. 5, 1990:
Williams hasn’t answered, he says, because he is awaiting an answer to his offer to debate Richards Nov. 2. Richards’ campaign says Williams is trying to duck a debate by setting too many conditions.
In The New York Times on Aug. 22, 1994 (looking back at the 1990 election):
That was a bitter, tumultuous spectacle of a campaign, in which Ms. Richards's Republican opponent, a West Texas oilman named Clayton Williams, promised supporters he would "head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt" in a debate. Ms. Richards skillfully took advantage of a series of gaffes by Mr. Williams, including a joke about rape, and when he refused to shake her hand in front of television cameras, she charmed voters with a memorable put-down in a demure, old-girl twang, "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way about it, Clayton."
Clayton Williams: “I’d like to point out that the county jails that were under the supervision of Ann Richards in Travis County, that they later found out they could open the locks with popsicles. I think we’ve got to get plum serious about crime, and get those people behind bars with locks they can’t open with a popsicle stick.”
Ann Richards: “I think it’s important to point out that that jail did not open that had those ineffective locks. It never opened until they were corrected.”
The challenger pushed to debate the incumbent.
In the Dallas Morning News on May 6, 1986:
Clements also kicked off his general election campaign by repeating his challenge for White to debate him.
In the Dallas Morning News on Oct. 7, 1986:
A matchbook-size electronic eavesdropping device [was] discovered in the private office of gubernatorial candidate Bill Clements’ chief strategist Karl Rove. [Without blaming Mark White directly, Rove did say:] “I do know for a fact who benefits from the kind of knowledge that you’d get from listening into my phone conversations, and that’s our political opposition.”
Bill Clements: “The way he keeps talking about my administration, [White] reminds me of Bobby Ewing telling Pam, ‘It’s all a bad dream. It never really happened.’”
Mark White: “Bill Clements, frankly, hasn’t been out there on the playing field. He has abandoned that field. He has never told us what he would do, but he has criticized everything we have done.”
Libertarian David Hutzelman and Citizens Party candidate Bob Poteet also ran for Governor, but were not invited to the debates.
The challenger used the debates to beat the incumbent.
TIME said on Nov. 1, 1982:
White, the underfunded underdog, began to edge up after three televised debates gave him an opportunity to put Clements on the defensive.
The Dallas Morning News said on Oct. 12, 1982 of the Oct. 11 debate:
It was the first time a gubernatorial debate had been broadcast live throughout the state.
…Visually, the Clements-White face-off was suitable for black-and-white television sets. Both candidates wore dark suits and white shirts. Their backdrop as a cross between black and navy blue. The camera captured only one angle, and that was straight on. There were no reaction shots of the candidates, as there were during the 1980 presidential debates between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. In short, this was a no-frills production. As such, it couldn’t be called ‘good television,’ but it could be termed a wholly responsible, if colorless way to stage an issue-oriented debate.
Bill Clements touted the state’s “great business climate.” He said that Texas was “the best place in America to live and work and raise a family.”
Mark White: “That kind of bragging may enhance Bill Clements’ reputation, but it also causes unemployed people from the North to move to Texas looking for work.”
After Clements and White argued over the specifics of Houston’s long-range transportation plan, Clements called White’s statistics “wampy-jawed.”