Herman: Dem gov candidates spar over abortion and who can beat Abbott

Commentary


For Lupe Valdez, still trying to shake doubts about her candidacy two months after coming within seven percentage points of winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination without a runoff, it was an hour to try to push back on the notion that she’s underschooled on issues.

For Andrew White, the Friday night debate — the only one prior to the May 22 runoff (early voting starts Monday) — it was an hour to make the case that he’s the Democrat best positioned to beat GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in November.

Valdez, former Dallas County sheriff, confronted her top challenge when moderator Gromer Jeffers of the Dallas Morning News addressed it head-on in a question about why the state’s major newspapers, after interviewing both candidates, endorsed White.

“It’s not that I’m not as sharp, because I am just as sharp,” she said, repeating the adjective Jeffers had used. “The problem may be that I don’t talk newspaper language. I talk people language.”

That’s her deal: candidate of the people. It’s something she retreats to when she runs out of other things to say.

On the whole, the debate showed White’s deeper grasp of detail, something he showed off by tossing out how long it had been since retired teachers got a cost of living increase (17 years) and finer points about how schools are financed.

On the other hand, Valdez, in complaining about insufficient state funding for public schools, said that resulted in a burden for cities. Cities don’t have a role in school funding. Independent school districts do. A fine point perhaps, but a moment that showed Valdez is not fluent in the lingo of public school finance, perhaps as complicated and important an issue as the state faces.

Valdez might not have scored any big points, but she probably also didn’t lose many. For her, in baseball parlance, it was no runs, an attempted hit or two at White and, most importantly, no major errors.

The evening’s most contentious moment came during discussion of one of the most contentious issues, albeit one in which Democrats often march in lock step: Abortion. Jeffers reminded White that Wendy Davis, the Dems’ 2014 gubernatorial nominee, said she does not trust White on the issue due, in part, to his attempt to separate his religious-based personal belief against abortion from his political support for a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

“You know who trusts me on this issue? Cecile Richards, the former president of planned parenthood,” he said, noting she “recently came out and said there is room in her movement for people with this perspective. And you know who they are? They’re people like Joe Biden and Tim Kaine. So this issue in my opinion is not really an issue. Again, my personal opinions are not what’s important in this election.”

Valdez seemed prepped for this one, a hot-button issue she’s counting on as a divider among Democrats.

“But Andrew,” she said pointedly, “you imply that women that have had an abortion do not respect life.”

White: “I have not implied that.”

Valdez scoffed and said White’s “own personal beliefs. … (imply) that other people that don’t agree with you do not respect life. Andrew you owe an apology to these women.”

No apology was offered. Instead, White said, “Let me say this. I know there’s a theatrical aspect to what you just said. But what you just said had nothing to do with what I have been saying. So the reality is still the reality, right? My personal opinions are my personal opinions. And as governor I’d trust women to make their own heath care decisions.”

There was also discussion and difference on the only issue that really matters: Who can beat Abbott and his millions and his minions.

On this, the two Dems are treading differing paths, with White veering toward the center of the road where he thinks there are Repubs who are fed up with their party.

“There’s a huge schism in the (Republican) party. There is the Greg Abbott-Dan Patrick side of the party, the guys driving the crazy train with bathroom bills and all sorts of craziness,” White said. “And there’s the Joe Straus side of the party. The old George Bush side of the party. And those guys, they don’t recognize their party anymore.”

“Frankly, this is our opportunity to take advantage of that fact,” he said. “Moderate Democrats are winning in red states all over the nation.”

Valdez said that’s a path to defeat in Texas.

“We’ve tried before,” she said, “tried to get middle of the road (voters). But the truth is, and I do agree with Andrew, Democrats are angry. There are more and more Democrats registering to vote.”

And then, as is her wont, she strayed to personal stories about how she’s won uphill battles, including working two jobs to pay for college and pursuing a career in a male-dominated field.

“Take a good look around,” she told the diverse audience in the church pews. “This is Texas. This is what Texas looks like. Take a good look around. This is the winning coalition. And this is the grassroots that is going to win in November. My name is Lupe Valdez and I humbly ask for your support. I am the candidate of the working Texan and I will never, never, never stop working for you.”

Her passion was palpable. But her history was challenged. Could this be a winning coalition in Texas in 2018? Maybe. But it’s been a long time since it has been.



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