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Photo: The Editorial Board / Associated Press
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AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez faced off in their only debate tonight in Austin.
Abbott, a Republican, is heavily favored to win another term, and hours before the debate, he announced his campaign raked in $5.5 million over the past three months. Valdez has yet to release her latest fundraising numbers, but finance reports show her campaign brought in less than $700,000 over the first six months of 2018.
Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, is the first Latina and openly gay person to win a major party’s nomination for Texas governor.
There was no live audience at the debate. A group of invited guests watched from a separate auditorium.
SCHOOL SAFETY AND ARMING TEACHERS
The first question was about school safety and arming teachers. Abbott said he is in favor of arming teachers or other school staff. He said schools should be given the choice to arm whatever employees they choose and adopt other security measures such as metal detectors. He emphasized that those things were among the recommendations that came out of a series of roundtable discussions he hosted following the Santa Fe shooting.
He also called again for more mental health resources on campus to spot troubled students earlier, and provide intervention.
Valdez does not support arming teachers. “Teachers should be teaching, not being armed and being the defense,” she said. “We continue to fortify our schools, but we won’t pay for education.”
She agreed about increasing resources to address mental health issues on campus.
Someone is tweeting for Valdez while she’s on stage.
#Texas continues to slash its share of public education funding which forces local government to raise your property taxes. The state needs to pay its fair share and quit dumping it on our families. #TxGovDebate #TeamLupe
— Lupe Valdez (@LupeValdez) September 29, 2018
HURRICANE HARVEY RESPONSE
Valdez critized Abbott for not calling a special session after the hurricane to tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for recovery. “He calls a special session for bathrooms, but does not call a special session when people are dying.”
Abbott defended his response saying he can spend money for recovery without having to call a special session. He said the state put hundreds of millions of dollars into hurricane recovery efforts that will be covered by drawing down the Rainy Day Fund.
He said he traveled to storm-damaged areas a half-dozen times “to hug and to help.”
CAPITOL CIVIL WAR PLAQUE
Abbott and Valdez were asked about a controversial plaque at the Capitol that claims the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
Abbott said the plaque was placed there by the Texas Legislature, and “because the Legislature was the body that put it up, it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to take it down.”
He said unilateral action by the governor, as head of the state’s Historic Preservation Board, is not a solution he would consider.
Valdez replied: “First, do no harm. That’s the rule … If that plaque is doing harm to someone, maybe we should come to the table and do something about it … Let’s take action and get it done.”
Valdez says it’s a federal issue and faulted the state for spending $800 million on border security in 2018 and 2019. She said that money should go to public education or health care.
“We have some of the safest cities along the border…yet we take $800 million and put troops on the border. We militarize the area … If we’re talking about a crisis then we should take the money and put it into a genuine crisis,” she said, such as health care.
Abbott pointed out that the federal government is paying for the National Guard troops that were sent to the border, but did not directly address the state spending.
He pointed to an anti-gang center in the border town of McAllen as a key to stopping organized crime on the border.
“I want to go after the human traffickers, the sex traffickers” and gangs such as MS-13, he said.
THE BATHROOM BILL
Abbott would not say definitively whether he would sign a bill restricting the access of transgender people to public restrooms in Texas, a measure that was proposed and defeated in the 2017 Legislative Session.
But he did say that another bathroom bill is “not on my agenda.”
“I don’t sign hypothetical bills,” he said. “But what I can do is tell you what my agenda is.”
Valdez’s response here in a tweet.
VALDEZ’S PROPERTY TAX BILLS
Valdez was asked about her property taxes. As the Chronicle reported in May, she was overdue on $12,000 in property taxes, and was on a payment plan. She pointed out that she was never delinquent on her bills and chose to pay them over time, rather than raise the rent on her tenants. Abbott said he has always paid his property taxes on time.
Valdez called for expanding medical marijuana in Texas.
“I’m in favor of expanding medical marijuana,” she said, calling for a referndum on the matter. “The people need to decide whether that’s going to be in Texas or not.”
Abbott said he would also consider expanding medical marijuana, after speaking with veterans and the parents of children with Autism about its possible benefits.
But he also said that he’s seen abuses of medical marijuana laws in other states “that raise concerns, so I’m still not convinced yet.”
Abbott said he doesn’t want to see Texas jails “stockpiled” with people charged with possession of under two ounces of the drug, however, and called for reducing the penalties from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor.
Valdez said she agreed with that.