For the first time last night the top five GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate met to debate. KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports sparks occasionally flew as the state’s former solicitor general took aim at the Lieutenant Governor.
For much of the 90 minute debate the candidates enthusiastically but politely burnished their conservative credentials. They agreed on the need to cut federal spending and regulations. They vowed to support an audit of the Federal Reserve and back a flat or flatter tax on income.
But with a primary election just months away former solicitor general Ted Cruz tried to gain ground on Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst the perceived front runner. The 41-year old lawyer sought to saddle Dewhurst with an issue that has plagued Rick Perry in his run for president.
Cruz: As the solicitor general of Texas I lead a coalition of states in front of the U.S. Supreme Court arguing the very strictest criminal penalties should be posed on those who come here illegally with criminal records. In contrast Lt. Governor Dewhurst as lieutenant governor supported instate tuition for illegal aliens and he killed a bill that would have prohibited sanctuary cities in the state of Texas.
The 66-year old Lieutenant Governor said Cruz’s facts are fiction.
Dewhurst: No, I have never supported instate tuition. As a matter of fact, I have opposed it. The first chance I had, even though the majority of the Senate was for it, I cut different elements.
And Dewhurst said he passed the sanctuary cities bill out of the Senate.
The two tangled again when Cruz read media reports that suggested Dewhurst has supported a state income tax.
Cruz: In 2006 he told the Associated Press, “I think I’d rather see a tax based on income.”
Dewhurst: I have repeated: over my cold dead body there will never be a personal state income tax.
Throughout the debate Dewhurst cast himself as a military and CIA veteran knowledgeable about national security, and as a government leader who cut state spending.
Cruz said he’s as a fighter who has earned impressive endorsements from political conservatives.
Hoping to raise his profile, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert talked about his track record of cutting spending in the private sector at Turner Construction and in the public sector as Mayor of Dallas.
Leppert: We got out of programs government shouldn’t have been in. We found ways to do things differently like privatizing the zoo. And finally we departments down from 31 to 22.
Former ESPN Anchor Craig James is making his first run for political office. He cast himself as a non-politician who would defend the Constitution. James proved a little testy when a reporter asked if he knew the name of the Secretary of Defense.
James: This is the problem with our country. Let’s go do one of those getcha moments. You know I find that it’s unbelievable you would – Leon Panetta.
Glenn Addison, who owns a funeral home business in Magnolia, was the least known among debaters but delivered the most colorful comments. Here’s what he said about tackling our addiction to debt.
Addison: We’ve got too many people on the government teat. And I’m the one who said I will reach down and pull that little piglet off that momma sow and the squealing needs to begin.
The GOP senate candidates now return to the campaign trail where a low visibility contest may pick up steam as Cruz and others challenge Dewhurst and try to shake up the race.