The road show of Republicans wanting to become Texas’ next lieutenant governor came to Austin on Friday, looking more like “The Jerry Springer Show” at times as the four candidates accused each other of lying and feuded over an assortment of issues — even their manhood.
The forum was a statewide conference of the Texas Municipal League, a trade group of mayors and city officials who reacted to the feisty midday panel discussion at the Austin Convention Center with their hands and their feet. The candidates drew light applause, but a large portion of the audience walked out before the debate was over, with some saying they were disgusted by the bickering.
“We need to get away from personal attacks,” said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, whose ad earlier this week claiming he was the only candidate who voted against in-state college tuition fees for illegal immigrants prompted his opponents to call him a liar. “We stand by that ad,” he said.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said the Patrick ad was wrong, that they had never supported the current law. They noted that the American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas fact-checking project and other state newspapers had declared the ad ‘“false.”
“You’re Political Dan,” Patrick was told by Staples, who as a senator voted for the law but said it was supposed to cover only immigrant students who obtained their legal status. “That has not been enforced. … I’ve said I would repeal that bill, … and you know that.”
Patterson and Staples also challenged Patrick’s assertion that he is the only one who would prevent undocumented immigrants from getting state driver’s licenses. Texas law currently allows some undocumented immigrants to get licenses. “I’m the only one who legislatively opposes that,” Patrick said, drawing applause as he quickly added, “This is what people don’t want to hear.”
At another point, Staples riled Patrick by insisting that the state senator had called U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz a liar on the Houston radio show Patrick hosts during Cruz’s successful race last year to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Cruz, a tea party favorite, defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff to take the Senate seat.
Patrick said that Staples wasn’t correct, that he “never called (Cruz) a liar.”
Patterson started the day by challenging Patrick to make public his tax returns and financial information back to 2006, along with the details of a previous bankruptcy — a filing that Patterson said had allowed Patrick to avoid paying “$816,000 of bills he owed to many hard-working Texans.”
“After walking away from those debts — he legally changed his name, never paid those folks back and poured over $1 million of his new wealth into his political campaigns instead,” Patterson said, noting that Patrick several years ago had legally changed his name from Dannie Goeb to Dan Patrick.
In a press release, Patterson demanded that Patrick, a former TV sportscaster, disclose any “other aliases” he might have used.
“I’m willing to provide tax returns all the way back to when I was flying fighters and you were wearing rainbow-colored wigs on the TV news,” Patterson said. “I’m not ashamed of my past. Let’s get this all out in the open for the people of Texas. I hope you’ll be a man and step up to the challenge.”
The demand followed a dust-up between the two candidates at a Clear Lake debate last week over double-dipping by some state officeholders who collect a state pension and a salary for holding office at the same time. Patterson had said he planned to take his U.S. Marine Corps pension and the $600-a-month salary Texas pays its lieutenant governor, because he has no personal wealth to draw from.
Patrick had fired back in Clear Lake: “You couldn’t, like the rest of us, have a job?”
Patterson responded, “Being the lieutenant governor of Texas is a full-time job — and that’s what I intend to do, be full-time lieutenant governor.”
Patterson then blasted Patrick for voting to increase his legislative pension, a charge that Staples repeated Friday. Patrick shot back that he had “worked hard” for his business successes.
Patrick said after Friday’s discussion that he planned no response to the sniping about his finances and has no plans to release the data Patterson wants. He insisted that Patterson and Staples are attacking him because he is far ahead of them in the polls.
The filing period for the March primary doesn’t begin until November, and few independent polls have been conducted on the race so far.
“They’re just trying to get attention,” Patrick said. “These are just baseless personal attacks.”
In a shift from past appearances where the candidates focused on Dewhurst, the incumbent, Staples and Patterson concentrated on Patrick. Dewhurst is considered the front-runner, and the other candidates hope to force a runoff in which they could face him in a two-man race.
Many in the audience were put off by the tone of the forum. When Patrick promised not to personally attack his opponents and asserted his right to run for Dewhurst’s position, the audience gasped when Dewhurst replied: “Everyone has the right, just tell the truth.”
Contains material from The Associated Press.