The debate over debates: Abbott, Davis go for two. Sorry, ‘Lassie’

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy (Updated.)

Frankly, I haven’t exactly heard a public outcry for more Greg Abbott-Wendy Davis debates.

So far, there will be only two to decide Texas’ first wide-open race for governor in 24 years.

Appropriately, the first will be on a high school football Friday night Sept. 19.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, it will air at 6 p.m on COZI-TV, KXAS’ digital subchannel Channel 5.2.

For the record, it will pre-empt Lassie.

As of Wednesday morning, Davis’ Democratic campaign apparently has worked out a second debate with KERA/Channel 13, the usual host of The Texas Debates and the apparent winner of a taffy pull against WFAA/Channel 8.

If you’ve been confused by the he-said, she-said debate over debates lately, so have a lot of reporters.

It all seemed settled back on May 28, when Abbott campaign manager Wayne Hamilton and WFAA agreed to a debate.

“Thank you for your invitation,” Hamilton wrote.

“One of our primary goals for this campaign is to reach out and connect with voters across the state in ways never seen before in a gubernatorial race.”

Abbott’s campaign has certainly achieved that.

I doubt any campaign before has ever dissed 12 TV stations at once, ditching Gannett Co. viewers from Dallas-Fort Worth to Beaumont-Port Arthur.

Last week, after rumblings that a consultant wanted changes, Abbott’s campaign switched its Evite reply to “No.”

Officially, new hand Robert Black, a veteran of Gov. Rick Perry’s debates, and WFAA couldn’t agree on “specific details,” mainly whether there would be a formal timed Q-&-A or more of a face-to-face conversation.

Then, Abbott’s campaign quickly accepted a KERA invitation for a presidential-style debate.

(Both TV stations are Star-Telegram partners.)

But Davis’ campaigners stood their ground all weekend, saying that Abbott “reneged” and that she would fulfill the WFAA deal.

Finally, with that going nowhere, Davis’ campaign agreed to work with KERA.

Then, Hamilton and WFAA exchanged barbs.

In a statement, Hamilton said “only after losing the debate” did WFAA discuss changes.

WFAA President and General Manager Mike Devlin was quoted in The Texas Tribune: “ When you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t keep commitments, why would you keep going back?”

Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said the campaign needed to discuss the KERA format, panelists and time allotted.

“As of an hour ago, we are starting all over again,” he said Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning the campaign announced an agreement.

It was not clear whether the Tribune, a past participant in The Texas Debates, will be included.

“We haven’t been asked,” CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith replied.

Four years ago, Perry refused to debate Democrat Bill White.

So White debated Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party nominee Deb Shafto twice, in Houston and Austin.

Glass, a Houston lawyer angling for some of Abbott’s libertarian-conservative voters, offered an idea this week in a campaign email.

“I will debate each one-on-one,” she wrote.

Might as well show a rerun.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy Get alerts at

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