Capital Tonight: Governor’s Race Kicks Into Higher Gear

It’s the day after Labor Day, and for Texas politicians, that means more than just fashion cues. In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at how the Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott campaigns are ramping up and finding new ways to tell their personal stories.

BATTLE OVER THE BALLOT BOX

The state’s voter ID law is on trial, in a case that could have national implications. We checked in on the court battle in Corpus Christi. Plus, the Deputy State Director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, Marcelo Tafoya, joined us to explain why they’re involved in the fight.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Our Capital Commentators weighed in on the public fight between the Abbott and Davis camps over where and how to debate.

Gubernatorial Debate Debate Continues, Candidates Unable to Agree

Updated with Sen. Wendy Davis Response:

The candidates for governor are still sparring over the format and sponsor for a September 30 debate. Democrat Wendy Davis announced today that she would be willing concede to a change in the debate format for the originally agreed upon WFAA-TV sponsored debate.

Last week, Republican Greg Abbott backed out of the round-table match-up, citing a disagreement over formatting. Instead, he proposed an alternative statewide televised debate on KERA/KXAS-TV. Abbott had previously turned down that offer, but changed his mind on Friday.

Tuesday, the Davis campaign released a statement saying they would be willing to reconsider. “We have spoken with WFAA this afternoon and expressed our willingness to alter the previously agreed upon debate format to accommodate the Abbott campaign’s concerns about the lack of timed responses,” said campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas.

The Abbott campaign, however, says it will not return to the negotiating table. ”Greg Abbott is and has been ready, willing and eager to participate in two statewide debates,” campaign manager Wayne Hamilton said. “Only after losing the debate to other outlets did WFAA ask for and receive permission from the Davis campaign to restructure the debate – something they could have done three months ago or even three days ago.”

Update:

Davis is leaving the door open to the possibility of the alternate debate, however the campaign is critical of Abbott’s refusal to participate in a format with looser restrictions. In a statement, spokesman Zac Petkanas said:

“If Greg Abbott isn’t tough enough to handle a roundtable discussion in front of a statewide audience, it’s hard to see how he’s tough enough to be Governor of Texas. However, the fact that Greg Abbott isn’t willing to keep his word shouldn’t deprive voters of the chance to see both candidates debate issues like his defense of $5.4 billion in public education cuts.  In that spirit, we will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate.”

Attorney General Abbott says he will still take part in the KERA/KXAS-TV debate. Both candidates have also agreed to a September 19 debate in the Rio Grande Valley. That debate will be seen on Sinclair stations across Texas.

 

Updated: Abbott Highlights Personal Story in New TV Ad

Updated to include Texas Democratic Party Response:

In a new television ad, Attorney General Greg Abbott is highlighting his recovery following an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Abbott, who is the Republican running for governor, released the new spot, Tuesday. The ad shows him rolling his wheelchair to the roof of a parking garage.

In the narration, he says, “After my accident I had to rebuild my strength. I would roll up an eight story parking garage. Spending hours going up the ramps. With each floor, it got harder and harder. But I wouldn’t quit. ‘Just one more,’ I’d tell myself. ‘Just one more.’ I see life that way. And it’s how I’ll govern Texas. To get to the top, we must push ourselves to do just one more.”

You can watch the ad in English and Spanish, below.


The Texas Democratic Party was quick to respond to Abbott’s new television ad with an attack of its own. In a press release, party officials pointed to a 1999 case when Abbott sided sided against a woman who was sexually assaulted in an unattended parking garage. Abbott was a member of the Texas Supreme Court at the time.

In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Lisa Paul said:

“Greg Abbott felt safe enough to use a parking garage as his training ground, it’s unfortunate he couldn’t give Texas women that same sense of safety. Greg Abbott sided against female victims four times in sexual assault cases while serving on the Texas Supreme Court, including one where the victim was assaulted in a parking garage.

“In his new ad Greg Abbott claims he won’t quit, but he’s already given up on Texas women.”

Update: Abbott Proposes Alternate Dallas Debate

Updated with Wendy Davis Response

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is proposing an alternative statewide televised debate. Abbott announced Friday evening that he would accept an invitation from KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News. The announcement came hours after WFAA-TV reported that Abbott was backing out of an already scheduled debate on Sept. 30.

WFAA officials said the Abbott campaign formally accepted the terms of their debate back in May, but then disagreed with a proposed round table format. In a statement on their website, WFAA General Manager said:

“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate. WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”

In a press release, Abbott said he withdrew from the WFAA debate due to an”inability to agree on a suitable format.”  He said the new proposal would also allow the debate to be distributed statewide without restrictions.

Abbott’s Democratic challenger Sen. Wendy Davis’ campaign issued a statement, saying she will consider the proposal.

“There have been reports that the Abbott campaign has ‘committed’ to another debate, but as we learned today Greg Abbott’s commitments don’t mean very much.

“Wendy Davis has already committed the evening of September 30th to a debate on WFAA.  The station has asked to have a discussion on Tuesday, September 2nd to discuss options given the recent developments and, as Wendy Davis is someone who honors her commitments, the campaign looks forward to having that discussion.”

So far, the only confirmed debate before the November election is scheduled in the Rio Grande Valley, later this month. It will be distributed to Sinclair stations in Austin, San Antonio and certain other Texas markets.

Judge Rules Key Part of Abortion Law Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Austin has struck another blow to the state’s new abortion laws. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled Friday that the portion of the law requiring medical and structural upgrades is unconstitutional. That provision of House Bill 2, which passed last legislative session, was set to take effect on Monday.

The costly upgrades would have forced more than a dozen abortion clinics out of business, leaving seven operating abortion clinics in the state.

This latest lawsuit was filed by Whole Women’s Health, which was already forced to close its Austin facility because its lease was running out and they couldn’t afford to wait for a ruling. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the law would put an undue burden on women who would be forced to travel hundreds of miles for care.

Supporters of the law say the regulations were meant to improve safety.

Two other provisions of the state’s stricter abortion regulations were challenged earlier this year. Back in March, a federal appeals court upheld new rules requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. They also upheld stricter limits on the way doctors prescribe abortion inducing drugs. That case could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Exclusive: Perry’s Taxpayer Funded Legal Bill Hits Six Figures

Gov. Rick Perry spent nearly $133,000 in state money on his legal defense – more than the $80,000 previously reported. The governor’s office confirmed to Capital Tonight on Friday that Gov. Perry enlisted three law firms to provide counsel during the grand jury proceedings. Gov. Perry paid $98,000 to Botsford & Roark, $15,000 to Baker Botts and $19,890 to attorney Jack Bacon.

Those fees were paid through appropriations designated for legal fees through the Texas Comptroller’s office. Perry was not required to request access to the funds, nor explain for what purpose they would be used.

“The firms worked with Governor’s Office attorneys to protect the governor’s interest during the grand jury process, including legal research, witness interviews, and dealing with the Court and the prosecutor on a broad range of issues,” said a Perry spokesperson.

Attorneys with two of those firms, David Botsford and Thomas Phillips, remain on Perry’s legal team. Jack Bacon, meanwhile, works for Keel Nassour LLP.

Gov. Perry is facing two felony charges stemming from his 2013 threat to cut funding to the Public Integrity Unit if Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign following her drunken driving conviction. When Lehmberg refused, the governor followed through and pulled the funding. Perry’s attorneys have maintained that the governor was within his rights to veto the money and to issue a warning about a possible veto. Monday, they filed a writ of habeus corpus to have the indictment thrown out on the grounds that the charges are unconstitutional.

Perry is currently employing six attorneys, including Botsford and Phillips, as well as consultant Steve Schmidt. Moving forward, their fees are being paid for with campaign funds. The governor’s office has not said if Perry plans to repay the $133,000 already spent.

Organizers of South Texas Gubernatorial Debate Clarify Details

Now that Attorney General Greg Abbott has pulled out of the televised gubernatorial debate with State Sen. Wendy Davis scheduled for Sept. 30 in Dallas, does that leave all of us without a statewide televised debate? That depends on your definition of statewide.

According to WFAA-TV, theirs would have been the only debate available in every television market in the state. That would have included all Gannett-owned stations in Texas in the following markets: Abilene, Austin, Beaumont/Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Tyler/Longview, San Angelo, San Antonio, Waco, and Bryan/College Station. Any station located in a non-Gannett market would have also been allowed to broadcast the debate.

According to Carlos Sanchez, editor of the McAllen Monitor, the debate his newspaper is co-sponsoring will air on all Sinclair-owned television stations across the state, including: Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont/Port Arthur, El Paso, Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen, and San Antonio. While it is not be available to English-language stations in other Texas markets, it will be available live on the Internet, and will be simulcast in Spanish on all Telemundo stations in Texas. That debate is scheduled for Sept. 19.

As for formats, WFAA indicated theirs would have been a “round-table” format without strict time guidelines. Sanchez said the Rio Grande Valley debate will have a more traditional format, with timed responses. Each candidate will get one minute to respond to a question, and 45 seconds to offer a rebuttal. There will be no opening statements. Each candidate will receive two minutes for a closing statement.

 

 

 

Davis Responds to Abbott’s Decision to Cancel Debate

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has backed out of the only scheduled statewide televised debate before the November election. The debate, which was to be hosted by WFAA-TV, was set to be held in Dallas on Sept. 30. Station officials say Abbott’s campaign cited concerns over the format as the reason for the reversal.

In a statement on their website, WFAA-TV General Manager Mike Devlin said,

“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate. WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”

Abbott’s Democratic challenger Sen. Wendy Davis had initially proposed six debates across the state. Abbott only agreed to a debate in McAllen later this month, and the now-cancelled WFAA debate.

Davis campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas issued this statement, Friday:

“It’s no surprise that Greg Abbott is pulling out of a long planned debate the day after he was defeated in court for protecting billions in public education cuts that have led to overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and shuttered schools. Greg Abbott is clearly too afraid to defend his record of siding with insiders at the expense of Texans – whether it’s defending funding cuts for classrooms, siding with a corporation against a victim of rape or letting his donors take tens of millions of taxpayer dollars intended for cancer research. This is nothing short of an insult to the voters of Texas.”

Texas Candidates for Governor Respond to School Finance Ruling

Any possible changes the Texas Legislature makes to the school finance system will happen under the watch of the next governor. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is the current attorney general. His office represents the state in school finance litigation. Officially, his office said he would defend this law in court, just as he would any other law passed by the Legislature.

Later Thursday, his campaign released this statement:

“Our obligation is to improve education for our children rather than just doubling down on an outdated education system constructed decades ago. In my campaign for governor, I have proposed substantial improvements for our schools that will do a better job of educating Texans while spending tax dollars wisely. My plan will make Texas top-ranked in the nation for education by returning genuine local control to school districts, ensuring all children are reading and doing math at grade level by third grade, and graduating more students from high school than ever before.”

Sen. Wendy Davis is also weighing in on today’s ruling. She has long criticized the Legislature’s decision to slash $5.4 billion in school spending in 2011. In a statement Thursday, she said:

“Today is a victory for our schools, for the future of our state and for the promise of opportunity that’s at the core of who we are as Texans. The reality is clear and indefensible: insiders like Greg Abbott haven’t been working for our schools; they’ve been actively working against them. Abbott has been in court for years, defending overcrowded classrooms, teacher layoffs and public-school closings, and today, Judge John Dietz ruled against him. This ruling underscores the crucial need to invest in education and reminds us of just how much our schools, teachers and students have had to sacrifice over the past three years just to get by.”

Judge Declares School Finance System Unconstitutional, Again

State District Judge John Dietz has once again ruled that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional. The decision comes six months after the second phase of the trial wrapped up in Austin. 

The case stems from 2011, when the Texas legislature cut more than $5 billion in education funding. More than 600 school districts sued, arguing the budget cuts left them without the resources to meet academic standards. They also said the gap between property rich schools and poor property districts was too great.

In a verbal ruling last year, Judge Dietz agreed. He reopened the case, however, after lawmakers restored about $3.5 billion and cut testing requirements during the 2013 session. Today, Dietz reaffirmed that the “Robin Hood” system of property tax sharing doesn’t allocate money fairly among school districts.

The state is expected to appeal this ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. If it’s upheld, the Legislature will have to come up with a new funding formula.