I realized recently that I wasn’t quite sure where we are on whether there will be debates between Democratic gubernatorial runoff candidates Lupe Valdez and Andrew White.
White has aggressively pushed for them. But I hadn’t heard from Valdez on the topic.
So I headed to VFW Post 76 (the state’s oldest) in San Antonio for a Wednesday evening Valdez meet-and-greet with about 25 supporters. She has a similar event at 6 p.m. Friday at North Austin’s Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery at 7020 Easy Wind Drive.
Valdez came in first with 43 percent of the votes in the March 6 primary. White was second with 27 percent. The winner of the May 22 runoff faces GOP Gov. Greg Abbott in November.
Back on primary night in Houston, White told me he wanted several pre-runoff debates with Valdez.
Doesn’t everybody? I know Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke said he would like to hear Valdez and White debate. He said so in a recent Lubbock radio interview.
“I want to make an informed decision and right now I just don’t have … a good enough idea about what they stand for and their differences. Let’s hope that there’s a debate,” O’Rourke said.
White has been pushing for debates: “A few debates between the two of us before the runoff would make the eventual nominee all the stronger,” he said. “And who doesn’t love a good debate?”
The realpolitik answer to that rhetorical question is that sometimes a potentially overconfident front-runner doesn’t love a debate, good or otherwise.
A week after the primary, Valdez campaign spokesman Kiefer Odell expressed qualified support for debates.
“We will be glad to work out a debate schedule when the voters become more focused on the race, but this primary won’t be won on 30-second debate responses,” he said. “While we understand why someone who received such low support in most of Texas’ major urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley needs a debate to create buzz, Sheriff Valdez is focused on developing substantive relationships with voters across the state — just as she has done in Dallas County for the last 13 years.”
So far, I know of two upcoming joint appearances by White and Valdez, one in Houston on April 25 and one in Austin on April 29. Both will include candidates in several Democratic runoffs, and organizers say neither event is a debate.
But, after talking with Valdez about it, I’m happy to report there will be a debate or debates. I think.
“You know,” she told me, “I’ve always been willing to do debates. Right now, all of that is being taken care of by my staff. They’re looking at logistics and everything else that needs to happen.”
But, I asked, you are committing to them?
“I have been willing to do them,” she said. “Yes.”
So there will be debates?
“It’s being worked out. I’ve commit—,” she said, stopping prior to completing the word “committed” and opting instead to say, “I’ve been willing to do debates.”
Any reason, any potential logistical reason why it won’t happen?
“I don’t see any. I can’t think of any right now,” she said.
What would be a good number of debates?
“Again, that’s an issue to be taken care of by my team,” she said.
Later, after she had spent more time chatting with voters, I asked her why she’d be a better governor than White.
“First of all,” she told me, “I come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio and I had to struggle to get to where I am. I had to struggle to go to school. I had to struggle to go to college. I had to struggle in the military. I was always a person struggling to get further along. I know what it is to have to struggle in your everyday life. And the majority of Texans are still struggling today. I know what it is to want to send your child to better schools, to get a decent education.”
She spoke about a living wage and how Texas’ school finance system is “totally broken.” I led her through an abbreviated version of the school finance questions a gubernatorial candidate might get in a debate.
Valdez said the current system unfairly is “on the backs of the property owners” and we need more of a “level playing field.”
I asked if all options, including a state income tax, should be considered if we work toward a new school finance system.
She didn’t say no. “Again, we don’t want this on the back of the everyday Texan. We need to make this fair across the state,” she said. “I think — as a matter of fact, I know — if we just make it a level playing field and everybody pays their share, we’ll have what we need.”
I asked her what tax most fairly makes everyone pays their fair share.
“The service fees, the property fees, the businesses, everybody needs to pay their fair share. And we need to get back to having the state put in their fair share and not on the backs of the everyday person,” she said by way of sort of answering.
(FYI: After the interview, a Valdez aide told me Valdez opposes a state income tax.)
I wrapped up by circling back to the reason I made the drive to San Antonio: “And there are going to be debates between you and Mr. White?”
“More than likely,” she said.
That’s just short of yes, I told her.
“Short of yes. More than likely,” she said. “All of that is being taken care of by my team. If you want time, date and all of that, that’s going to be taken care of by them.”
And there’s this update from a Thursday night Democratic event in Plano at which White and Valdez each spoke. After she spoke, Valdez told the Dallas Morning News she’d rather not debate White because she “doesn’t like to fight other Democrats.” She added, “If that’s what the people want, I’ll do it.”
So this apparently is a referendum. If you qualify as “people” and you want a debate I’d encourage you to let Valdez know that.
And isn’t Democrats fighting among themselves something of a sacred tradition?