Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick sparred with practiced acrimony over familiar issues of bankruptcy and trustworthiness Wednesday at the last debate before the May 27 GOP lieutenant governor runoff. But they also tussled over the details of a Dewhurst outing last summer: how long he left the Senate abortion debate to have a late evening tête-à-tête with a consultant at Austin Land and Cattle Company and precisely what he consumed.
Dewhurst’s break from the abortion debate during the first special session last June to meet with political consultant Rob Johnson, his former chief of staff, became a source of derision at the time. Critics said the episode was emblematic of the lieutenant governor’s inattention to the serious business at hand.
That culminated, Patrick charged, with Dewhurst losing control of the Senate a week later, allowing Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster to delay consideration and ultimate approval of the legislation restricting access to abortion until a second special session. It also made Davis into what Patrick called a “rock star” now running for governor as the Democratic Party nominee and, Patrick said, costing Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate, “another $20 million to beat her.”
In reply, Dewhurst said, “I had some chicken, and I was gone for 35 minutes. All the senators had some dinner.”
But Patrick charged Dewhurst was “gone for almost two hours” — clocking out about 9 p.m. and back in at 11 p.m. — and that the other senators didn’t leave the Capitol to dine.
“All the senators were shocked,” Patrick said. “We’re fighting off 25 amendments, and the lieutenant governor went to Austin Land and Cattle.”
“A lot of people say they saw him there drinking,” Patrick said.
At the time it was reported that Dewhurst didn’t eat that night at the restaurant eight blocks west of the Capitol.
For his part, Patrick said, “I wouldn’t go to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal in the middle of a pro-life debate.”
A week later, the special session ended in tumult as the gallery, packed with boisterous opponents of the abortion legislation, erupted in support of the Davis filibuster and kept the Senate from enacting the measure before the stroke of midnight.
“He lost control of the Senate,” Patrick said. “It was absolute anarchy.”
“We had anarchy,” Dewhurst said. “It’s my fault we didn’t have more DPS in the gallery,” to clear the protesters, he said referring to Department of Public Safety officers.
But, Dewhurst said, “We came back a week-and-a-half later” and passed the legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks and raising requirements for abortion facilities in ways that have led to the shutdown of some clinics.
“You’re missing the point,” Dewhurst told Patrick. “We passed the bill.”
The 45-minute confrontation between the two candidates — each in a blue suit, Dewhurst with an American flag lapel pin and a blue tie, Patrick with a Texas flag lapel pin and a red tie — was held in the studio of WFAA-TV. The station’s Jason Whitely and the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey asked questions. Dewhurst and Patrick, locked in this spring’s highest-profile and most personal campaign, went after one another, face to face, at opposite ends of a small table. The winner will face Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in November.
Patrick said Dewhurst’s barrage of TV ads was unrelievedly negative and especially crossed the line when it attempted to mock him by using a photo of him, shirtless in a tie and jacket, taken at a charity auction for disabled children.
“We apologized for using the photograph,” Dewhurst said.
“Why didn’t you take the ad down?” Patrick asked.
“Because I chose to run it,” Dewhurst said, explaining that the ad, about Patrick’s personal bankruptcy, “was perfectly true.”
“That is not true governor, that is a plain lie,” Patrick said.
After the debate, the Dewhurst campaign released a new Web video, in which an image of Patrick sings, “The Ballad of Dannie Goeb,” referring to Patrick’s given name.
Among the lyrics: “I changed my name to cover my past, to cover my bankruptcy.”
And, “We won’t let them in, won’t let them see, that I’m a phony radio disc jockey.”
The ad also features actual images of Patrick having his body painted and performing looking like a 1970s lounge singer.
In the debate, as he has before, Patrick said he legally changed his name when he wanted to run for office using the broadcasting name he had been known by for decades, and that it had nothing to do with the long-ago bankruptcy.
Dewhurst trailed Patrick by 13 percentage points in the March primary, and he has sought to savage Patrick’s character in an attempt to overtake him in the runoff.
Dewhurst said the runoff is “not about who’s more conservative,” though he said he was. He said that he and Patrick agree “90 percent of the time,” probably “more than me and my wife.” But Dewhurst said he knows how to get things done and Patrick doesn’t.
On the trust issue, Dewhurst, threading his fingers through his receding hair, asked Patrick, “Do you have snake oil for the hair loss too, Dan?”
Patrick said that Dewhurst had 12 years to accomplish his agenda. Patrick said if he were elected, “I am going to secure the border, lower your property taxes and I’m going to pass school choice because I am not going to take `no’ for an answer. It is the keystone for our future.”
After the debate, Patrick, asked about the snake oil line, said it “reminded me of a debate I had a long, long, long, long time ago … when I was in the seventh grade,” and he thinks he won that debate.
Both Dewhurst and Patrick indicated that they would vote for the other in November if their rival prevailed in the primary, but each said that wasn’t going to happen.
When he was asked after the debate whether voters should trust a man who orders chicken in a steak joint, Dewhurst chuckled, replying, “You know that I’m not aware that the Austin Land and Cattle is just a steak restaurant.”
The lone chicken dish on the menu is a breast of chicken with either poblano cream or Creole style with jalapeño horseradish. It goes for $20.