Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In final debate, Cruz, Dewhurst trade jabs on conservative credentials, taxes, border

Dallas Morning News
July 17, 2012
By Robert T. Garrett

GOP Senate rivals Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst clashed on state taxes, a border wall and whether U.S. health care produces bang for the buck in their final televised debate Tuesday, a heated affair in which each questioned the other’s credibility and qualifications.

Cruz accused the lieutenant governor of pushing a jobs-threatening business tax that he said Gov. Rick Perry barely averted, even as Dewhurst fired back that he delivered a tax swap in 2006 that cut local school property taxes by one-third.

“I don’t know whether you ever took a course in economics but … we had a net -- net – cut for Texans, for homeowners and for business of some $4 billion to $5 billion” a year, Dewhurst told the Ivy League-trained Cruz.

Cruz retorted, “I graduated from Second Baptist High School in Houston and they did teach arithmetic.”

He noted that overall state revenues have increased by 49 percent since Dewhurst became lieutenant governor in 2003.

“I’ll tell you what a fiscal conservative would do,” Cruz said. “In the state of California when Ronald Reagan was governor and they had tax revenues go up, he refunded the tax money. What the lieutenant governor did is he took that 49 percent in additional tax revenue and he grew state spending by $72 billion.”

The two, seated for an hourlong exchange at Dallas’ WFAA-TV, engaged in close-in combat in their second and final televised encounter since the May 29 primary narrowed the crowded field, forcing a July 31 runoff.

Among the primary losers was former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who made a surprise appearance in the television studio after the debate to endorse Dewhurst.

Leppert said he was eager to put behind him Dewhurst’s last-minute TV spot that blasted the former mayor as a liberal, and the lieutenant governor told reporters he’d apologized privately for that ad.

“The issue is having someone who understands how to right the economy,” Leppert said, taking a veiled shot at Cruz. “We’ve got a lot of people in Washington that give great speeches.”

Cruz, standing in front of placard-waving supporters at Victory Plaza outside the TV studio, offered congratulations to Dewhurst for winning the former mayor’s backing.

But Cruz contrasted his grass-roots support with what he strongly implied was just another establishment endorsement for Dewhurst.

Their runoff contest has drawn national attention for clues it may offer to the Republican Party’s future course, pitting tea party insurgent Cruz against the establishment candidate Dewhurst.

Their contest has largely been driven by attacks on each other’s record and stylistic questions, and although those continued Tuesday night, they also differed more on specifics of issues than in previous faceoffs.

Cruz, a former state solicitor general, offered red meat to his party’s most fervent conservatives, the types whose enthusiasm he’s counting on to carry the day in an unusually late runoff, delayed by battles over Texas’ redistricting.

Cruz said he would be willing to see federal taxpayers absorb a $7 billion hit to pay for building an 1,100-mile-long border wall from Brownsville to El Paso.

“I don’t know the specific cost but I can guarantee you it’s far less than the cost of illegal immigration,” he said.

Dewhurst, though, was noncommittal.

“A fence is absolutely warranted in certain places but I question the benefit … the whole length,” he said.

Dewhurst stressed his support for tripling the size of the Border Patrol.

He denied Cruz’s contention that he would offer work visas to illegal immigrants. Dewhurst said he only would discuss a guest worker program after the border is secure.

On health care, Cruz again faulted the lieutenant governor for quoting “left-leaning organizations” such as the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that show U.S. health care to be very expensive, especially given high rates of infant mortality and other problems with public health.

Dewhurst said the U.S. and Texas boast many fine hospitals and doctors, but “we can do better.” He cited reports showing that as many as 45 percent of U.S. doctors don’t follow “best practices.”

Each of the two rivals, when thrown on the defensive about his recent failings on government transparency, fudged.

Dewhurst said his office’s decision last summer to request removal of his speeches from his state website was routine and unrelated to his July announcement of his Senate candidacy. He insisted people could obtain his past speeches simply by emailing his office at the Texas Capitol.

“To imply that anything was improper was done, my friend, I’m not the one who was just fined by the Senate Ethics Committee,” he shot back at Cruz.

Dewhurst was referring to a $200 late fee Cruz recently paid for failing to file an updated personal financial disclosure by May 15, as required of Senate candidates.

Cruz noted that Dewhurst’s ads have made the lapse sound ominous. Cruz aides have attributed to the rush of the final weeks of the primary campaign.

However, Cruz erred by implying Dewhurst had done the same thing.

“What he didn’t mention is the form that I was late filing, he was late filing the very same form,” Cruz said.

Actually, Dewhurst, who has a net worth of more than $200 million, obtained extensions last summer and eventually filed his disclosure before it was due.

Dewhurst had the advantage heading into the runoff, having won 45 percent of the primary vote to Cruz’s 34 percent.

However, two recent polls showed Cruz in the lead and experts are confounded over who will actually show up to vote. Texas primary runoffs usually are held in the spring.

Because Texas remains a state loyal to the GOP, the winner of the runoff is expected to win in the November general election. The seat came open after Republican incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison decided not to run again.


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