Notes from Gubernatorial Debate

by Anne Shuttee, NDTDW Member

I attended the Democratic Primary Gubernatorial Debate hosted by SMU Democrats on February 20.  There were four candidates present – Andrew White, Jeffrey Payne, Cedric Davis Sr., and Adrian Ocegueda.  Lupe Valdez did not attend (I heard that she was in California addressing the Democratic Convention there, but this was not announced by the moderator), nor did the other four candidates (Tom Wakely, James Jolly Clark, Joe Mumbach, and Grady Yarbrough).

Interestingly, there were five microphones and chairs set up for the debate, and when the moderator introduced the candidates and asked them to move to the far end of the stage, the second candidate (White) instead took the middle position, leaving a gap between him and the first candidate (Ocegueda).  I don’t know if White didn’t hear the instruction, intended to isolate Ocegueda, or intended to send a visual message that a candidate was missing.  In any event, Osegueda used the extra space to his advantage – rather than looking isolated, he stood out more than the other candidates.

The “debate” was really more of a forum – the tone was very friendly and the participants did not attack one another, although pointed observations were made to the effect that absent candidates didn’t respect the voters enough to attend.

The candidates agreed on many issues, such as the need to protect the Dreamers, improve Texas education, and expand Medicaid.  My notes below are not a summary of all that was said or of the candidates’ position on all issues addressed, but simply some of the points that I thought were interesting.  For more information, please check the candidates’ websites.

Andrew White – White said that when his father, the late Governor Bill White, passed away, he realized that his father’s responsible approach to governing was woefully absent from our current leadership. He was also profoundly affected by Hurricane Harvey (he used his boat for five days to help victims), an experience that he said changed his life. He said that like his father he would make the tough decisions necessary to address our problems. He cited as an example his father’s 1985 decision to raise taxes to fund education and teacher raises and to impose the “no pass no play” rule as part of that educational reform. He explained his $2500 in donations to the GOP by saying that he’d been president of a business at the time and that he wouldn’t make that donation today. He said that all of his other donations have been to Democrats. The moderator asked him to identify his business and he didn’t answer, other than by saying that it’s not oil or fracking. Regarding education funding, he wants to “close tax loopholes” and dedicate those tax dollars to education. In discussing immigration and border security, he said, “I wouldn’t trust Trump to build a golf course on the border, much less a wall.” He noted that immigration is a federal issue and said that the Texas governor should focus on education and health care, not on spending money on border security or fighting sanctuary cities. My overall impression of White was that he is much more of a politician than the other candidates who participated.

Jeffrey Payne – Payne said that as a former EEOC mediator, he has years of experience in helping parties find common ground.  He said that Texas needs a leader who will advocate for real change and can negotiate effectively to achieve a progressive agenda. Payne said that pro-life voters are welcome in the Democratic Party, but that he supports a woman’s right to choose. He said that we will never get to zero abortions (something Ocegueda identified as a goal), but that we can minimize the number of abortions via access to health care. Regarding term limits, he said that if we get rid of political gerrymandering, we won’t need to have term limits and can continue to elect good people to serve. Payne said that education in Texas has dropped from the top 5 states to the bottom 5 states, and favors increasing education funding via “closing tax loopholes”, the Texas lottery, and legalizing and taxing marijuana and casino gaming. He opposes Davis’s proposal to merge the VA with Medicaid, and instead says that veterans should be able to see any doctor. He also said that he grew up in an orphanage and strongly relates to the plight of the Dreamers. He also noted that his husband is from Brazil. My impression of Payne was that he is very sincere and personable (of the candidates, he seemed to make the most positive impression on the audience), and that he could be an effective Governor if he were nominated and elected.

Cedric Davis Sr.  Davis said that he had resolved to run for Governor when he was just 14, and had worked to gain the experience necessary to do the job. He has been Mayor (of Balch Springs), Police Chief, School Board Trustee, a businessman, and is currently an educator. Davis believes that a life of public service is necessary to be a good Governor, and said that the example of President Trump shows what happens when experience in public service is disregarded. He advocates a 20-year term limit, saying that most people spend about 20 years in a job. He favors increasing education funding via “closing tax loopholes” and increasing the lottery by 3% (not clear to me what he meant by that). He opposes Ocegueda’s proposal to close the lottery because “we need the money” for education. He also proposes expanding Medicaid and merging it (or perhaps he meant Medicare?) with the VA’s health care system. He agrees with White that Texas should not spend its resources enforcing federal immigration laws. My impression of Davis was that he is experienced and sincerely concerned about improving the lives of Texans.

Adrian Ocegueda  All of the candidates praised Ocegueda for his intelligence and his focus on what he said repeatedly during the debate is the need for structured solutions to our problems. He said that we must move from slogans to serious ideas and new approaches to solving our problems, which he repeatedly said are structural in nature and demand structural solutions. His last public service was as assistant to the Mayor of El Paso in the 1980’s, but as the holder of a Cox MBA with experience in the business world, he said that  he can come up with those new solutions, and that it is an insult to our intelligence to have candidates who won’t take the time to research and analyze the problems we face. (I believe that here he made a reference to Valdez, suggesting perhaps that she is not taking that time.) Regarding campaign contributions, he said that they have to be viewed from the perspective of the expected return on investment. Ocegueda said that the proposal to fund education by  “closing tax loopholes” as suggested would require a Constitutional amendment, which is not fast, and he is a critic of both the lottery and gaming, which he said are regressive ways to raise revenue. He said that these approaches to funding are “hairbrained ideas” and that we need structural solutions. He also opposes the “no pass no play” approach taken by Governor White because it had a disparate impact on minorities. He said we must discuss realistic solutions, such as increasing franchise taxes. Ocegueda said he would take advantage of the Governor’s line-item veto, and suggested using funding for border security as a “carrot” to obtain passage of Democratic priorities. He also said, regarding immigration, that we should make every Texas city a sanctuary city. With respect to immigration as with most other subjects, he urged unspecified structural solutions. Regarding gun control, Ocegueda said that he would table it for his first term because there is a lot to do legislatively and “we’re not there yet,” but more is needed than universal background checks and banning assault weapons and bump stocks. My impression of Ocegueda was that he is very bright and that he is right in noting that many of our problems call for structural solutions, but that his failure to communicate even a hint as to what those structural solutions might be is an impediment.