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Dewhurst, Cruz engage in televised Belo Debate Print E-mail
by Will Lutz    Wed, Jul 18, 2012, 08:10 am

U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz portrayed himself as a constitutional conservative ready to go and fight for those principles. His opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, told Texas voters his experience means he can deliver on conservative change and bring Washington under control. Cruz came across as one whose primary allegiance is to constitutional ideas, while Dewhurst came across as a technician and emphasized his ability to implement change. The two candidates debated July 17 in Dallas at WFAA's Victory Park studio in a debate televised on Belo affiliates statewide. WFAA's Brad Watson and The Dallas Morning News's Gromer Jeffers Jr. asked the questions.

The entire debate has been archived and can be viewed on the Internet. Click here to see.

The debate started with preliminary questions to the candidates. In Cruz's case, he had to explain how he was qualified. Cruz cited the fact that he has never held elective office as a reason to vote for him. "People are tired of career politicians," Cruz said. "... What I have done is spent my entire life fighting for the Constitution."

Dewhurst had to answer whether he would fight for Texas conservative values. "You won't find anyone at this table more firm, more of a fighter, than me," Dewhurst said of his willingness to take on liberal Democrats. "In dealing with the Democrats over the last eight years, I've had to stand them down. I've had to fight them when 12 went to Albuquerque. I had to push through in a very tough situation photo-voter ID ..."

The first topic that the two candidates debated was health care. Both candidates were asked whether Gov. Rick Perry's decision not to opt in to ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion would cause local hospital districts to raise property taxes. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) prohibits hospitals that take any federal funds (including Medicare) from turning emergency patients away on the basis of ability to pay.

 Both candidates supported Perry's decision but their answers reflected the tone of their campaigns. Dewhurst focused on efforts to grow the economy, and his efforts to control  health care costs as a way of addressing the local hospital concerns. Dewhurst's record there is substantial. Working with Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Dewhurst passed a series of cost-containment initiatives that focus on better health care outcomes while controlling state Medicaid costs.

Cruz, by contrast, said emphatically that it is not the government's role to provide health care. Cruz approached the health care issue from the constitutional perspective and did not delve into the complex nuts and bolts of the Texas health care issue.

The debate then moved to border security. Both candidates were asked whether they support building a wall. Cruz supported it, citing a constitutional mandate for the federal government to protect the border. "Texans are tired of politicians talking a good game on immigration and not solving the problem," Cruz said.

Dewhurst supported fencing in some areas, but not a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Dewhurst preferred to triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol, citing the efforts state government has done to attempt to fix the problem. "The federal government has been an abject failure [in securing the border]," he said.

Dewhurst and Cruz also sparred on tax policy. Dewhurst denied ever supporting a payroll tax or wage tax. During the 2005 and 2006 legislative sessions, House Speaker Tom Craddick -- not Dewhurst -- pushed the payroll tax, a point Dewhurst made in the debate. But then Dewhurst said he cut taxes more than 50 times, including school property taxes by one-third. Then Cruz pounced, citing increases in state tax revenue.

The Legislature did cut school maintenance and operation tax rates by about one-third. But the impact of appraisal hikes and local tax rate hikes eroded the tax cut. Several members of the Texas Senate -- even some Republicans -- are former mayors or city officials who would not take on the big government, high property tax lobby (the Texas Municipal League). Dewhurst did try to address the issue but was stymied by moderate senators.

To read more about the property tax cut that wasn't, visit this web address for a Lone Star Foundation study, which also contains recommendations on fixing the problem:

The debate closed with Dewhurst and Cruz sparring over attack ads, including Cruz's legal clients and Dewhurst's finances. The debate ended with both candidates being asked whether they would cut spending if it resulted in Texas programs -- including a military aircraft manufactured in North Texas -- being axed. Both candidates said they would consult with key military leaders at the Pentagon, but both pledged fealty to spending cuts.

In the end, the debate provided insight into the two candidates' approach to the office: Dewhurst is a conservative policy technician, while Cruz is a constitutional conservative.

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