An already bitter campaign between two Republicans hoping to serve as lieutenant governor became even more so Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston continued personal attacks on each other during a 45-minute round-table discussion that focused on everything from character flaws to personal bankruptcy.
“Leadership is not who can shout the loudest,” Dewhurst, an 11-year incumbent hoping to keep his job, said after the heated and often terse debate.
Patrick said: “It’s hard to debate someone who won’t tell the truth.”
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Texas voters will determine in a May 27 primary runoff which candidate will face Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio pharmacist, in November’s general election.
Wednesday was one of the few times that the men have interacted since the March primary, in which Patrick, a radio talk show host, claimed a double-digit lead over Dewhurst in a contentious four-way race.
Both came out swinging during the WFAA-produced debate, interrupting each other, talking over each other and taking each other to task for campaigns that have focused on personal — and sometimes inaccurate — attacks.
Patrick fired first, claiming that Dewhurst, a millionaire businessman, has spent millions on negative campaign ads, including one featuring a photo of Patrick at a charity event, where he had literally sold the shirt off his back.
“I think that’s a question of character and judgment,” Patrick said, asking repeatedly why Dewhurst ran the ad.
Dewhurst said his campaign erred in running a charity photo, and he apologized to Patrick, applauding his work to help the charity. But he said the essence of the ad was “perfectly true.”
“You have a reputation that’s well-deserved,” he said. “Every time you get caught doing something, you play a victim.”
At one point during the debate, Dewhurst asked his challenger whether he “had snake oil for the hair loss.”
Patrick said the comment was beneath Dewhurst and later claimed it reminded him of a debate he had years ago — “in seventh grade.”
Both men declared victory in the debate.
Texas Democrats said the debate benefited their party.
“Once again, Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst traded insults instead of solutions,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “Simply mentioning the words water and transportation does not mean you have solutions to grow a 21st-century economy.
“Private school vouchers, toxic immigration rhetoric and anti-women policies don’t strengthen our state. They divide it.”
The two men did touch on policy issues such as public education, equal pay for women and border security.
But much of the time was spent on attacks.
Patrick has spoken out against Dewhurst, who tapped him to lead the powerful Senate Public Education Committee. He has asked Dewhurst not to appoint Democrats to head committees and has talked about wanting to change the so-called two-thirds rule, which would let Republicans move forward with legislative measures with no Democratic support.
Dewhurst said that Patrick is “all talk” and that when people learn about him, “they run, not walk, away from him.”
Dewhurst continues to attack Patrick over his past — employing illegal immigrants in Houston in the 1980s, filing for bankruptcy in the 1980s and walking away from more than $800,000 in debt through the bankruptcy. He also points out that Patrick changed his name from Dannie Goeb to Dan Patrick to run for office.
“All these things he accused me of are flat-out untrue — except that I went broke … and changed my name,” Patrick said.
Both were asked what they would do with a projected $2.6 billion surplus in the upcoming legislative session.
Patrick listed his priorities as securing the border, lowering property taxes and giving parents a choice in the schools their children attend.
He said he’d like to repeal or reform the business tax and reduce property taxes by lowering the appraisal cap, having a rollback rate or making sure the tax rate goes down as the value goes up.
“As lieutenant governor, I will get it done,” Patrick said. “He’s been there 12 years, and he wants four more.”
Dewhurst noted that Patrick’s tax plan sounds much like one that he has laid out and said he was among the Republican leadership that worked in 2007 to cut school property taxes.
“I’m going to get as much money back to the people of Texas as I possibly can,” he said.
Dewhurst said he helped shepherd last year’s controversial abortion bill through the Senate, “passing it and turning it into state law so that Wendy Davis is no longer going to be a state senator and Greg Abbott is going to be governor.”
Davis, a Democratic state senator from Fort Worth, and Abbott, Texas’ Republican attorney general, are facing off in the governor’s race.
Patrick said the bill passed only after Dewhurst lost control of the Senate during a filibuster that elevated Davis to “a rock star for the Democrats.” After a more than 11-hour filibuster by Davis, deafening noise from the crowd in the gallery prevented senators from knowing whether they had voted on the bill before the session ended at midnight.
Dewhurst said his mistake was not having enough Texas Department of Public Safety troopers on hand, which he rectified by the time the bill passed less than two weeks later.
And he noted that now, “Wendy Davis’ star is falling, not rising.”
A 30-minute version of the debate — led by Jason Whitely, host of WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics, and Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune — will be broadcast at 9 a.m. Sunday on WFAA/Channel 8.