Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 23, 2014, 1:36pm

In the first debate in the Texas race for governor Friday night, the two candidates both did a good job pointing out the differences between themselves.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, Republican, met in South Texas at the Edinburg Conference Center Renaissance Inn.

The Sept. 19 debate was the first ever held in the Rio Grande Valley, according to moderator Ryan Wolf of KGBT-TV television station. In addition to Wolf, Carlos Sanchez, editor of The Monitor newspaper and Dalila Garza, anchor of Telemundo 40 television station were co-moderators.

Davis got the first question on a coin toss, and was given a chance to go after Abbott right away. She was asked about the negative public image emerging about the Rio Grande Valley after the recent problems with border security. Abbott was previously quoted as saying the “creeping corruption” in South Texas resembles “Third World Country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities.”

Davis said Abbott’s comment was “inappropriate.” She said she supported the surge of additional officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the area, but said there should be a dialogue with local law enforcement officials, because they are the ones that know best what is needed.

Abbott responded that “secure communities support economic growth,” and referred to the announcement that the SpaceX facility is breaking ground in South Texas.

Later in the debate Abbott said he “didn’t mean to call out the Rio Grande Valley” as corrupt as a Third World Country, and said he is against corruption everywhere and has proposed ethics reform to root out legislators who are profiteering.

When asked about school funding, the lawsuit and the judge’s recent decision that the state’s system is unconstitutional, Abbott said Texas now had the opportunity to get beyond a school structure that is nearly a century old. He wants focus on the building blocks of math and reading and “mandates off the backs of teachers,” Abbott said.

It was here that Davis got in another jab at Abbott, who she said supported the cuts to school funding that led to the lawsuit against the state.

“In stark contrast to Mr. Abbott, I stood against the $5.4 million cut (the legislature made to the school funding budget),” she said.

“Mr. Abbott, these cuts and the cuts that you're defending that have left our classrooms overcrowded, that have left our teachers laid off, that's not liberal. That's not conservative. It's just dumb. And it's shortchanging our children and selling out their future."

On medical care for veterans, Abbott said it is “offensive” that veterans have to wait for medical care. “Those who served on the front line should not be getting pushed to the back of the line,” Abbott said.

When asked about the “Obamacare” health reforms and Gov. Rick Perry’s decision not to accept additional federal funds for Medicaid, Abbott said it is a “bad” program and an “abject failure.”

“It’s bad for patients, bad for doctors and bad for Texas,” he said.

Another hot topic brought up at the debate was the question of raising the minimum wage.

“We don’t need a mandate telling business how to run their business,” Abbott said.

He added that in Texas, many of the minimum wage jobs are already paying employees more than the minimum wage, an example of the way business can manage itself.

Davis however, said that living on the minimum wage, about $15,000 a year, is not enough to raise a family.

“My opponent is looking out for his insider friends, not for Texas families,” Davis said.

After taking questions from moderators for 30 minutes, the two candidates had half an hour to address each other directly.

Abbott jumped in and, looking directly at Davis, asked “Do you regret voting for Barack Obama?”

Davis seemed a little taken aback by the question, and responded “Hah!” after a few seconds.

“Mr. Abbott, what I am working on now is running for governor of this incredible state …” she said.

The senator took her opportunity to return to the school funding trial.

Abbott, who as attorney general has represented the state in the lawsuit over the school funding system, plans to appeal the federal judge’s decision that the system is unconstitutional, tying up the matter for an unknown time.

“The only thing right now between our children and appropriate funding of their schools today is you!” Davis said to Abbott.

But Abbott was quick to respond,“Sen. Davis, there is actually another thing coming between me and settling that lawsuit, and that is a law that you voted on and helped pass in 2011 that removes from the attorney general the ability to settle lawsuits just like this."

The debaters also fielded questions about capital punishment, abortion, chemical storage, water shortages and Voter ID laws.

Taking of advantage of a variety of electronic media, the debate was broadcast live, streamed on The Monitor website and rebroadcast nationally on C-Span.

It was sponsored by Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance.

The General Election is Nov. 4. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins Oct. 20.


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