For the first time in more than two decades, there is an open seat for governor of Texas, and the two major parties are likely to nominate two candidates who will offer voters distinct choices based on substantive issues, style and leadership qualities.
The presumptive nominees — Attorney General Greg Abbott for the Republicans and Fort Worth state Sen. Wendy Davis for the Democrats — are hoping to become the 48th governor of Texas since the state’s annexation to the union in 1845.
The new governor will succeed Rick Perry, the longest serving Texas governor, who is not running for re-election.
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Both candidates are expected to win easily in their respective March 4 party primaries, which means their campaigns already are focusing on the November general election and on each other. This may very well be the most competitive Texas governor’s race since 1994, when George W. Bush defeated incumbent Ann Richards.
To that end, it is important that Texans have the opportunity to hear Abbott and Davis explain in detail their positions on serious issues affecting this state, and offer real solutions.
Some of the matters they must address are:
• Education — From preschool, to elementary and secondary education, to higher ed, voters need to know how the candidates will solve funding problems and provide for appropriate accountability.
As a state with continued annual growth of student population and in which a judge has declared the way public schools are funded to be unconstitutional, Texas needs a leader who can take on persistent problems in a practical and fair way.
• Transportation — One of the fastest-growing states in the country cannot depend only on expansion of highways to meet the mobility needs of its residents. What are the the best ways to improve public transit, including commuter rail, light rail and high-speed rail? Where does the money come from?
• Criminal justice — The state has begun to address some of the juvenile justice concerns by coming up with alternative programs besides incarceration of troubled youth, but more must be done. In the adult system, the prison populations remain high, the recidivism rate is unacceptable and there are still too many complaints about the conditions in our penitentiaries.
Texas still has the death penalty, which many think is administered in an arbitrary and capricious way. It is time to rethink how it is used.
• Casino gambling — Can this be a source of new revenue for the state or would it create more social problems than it is worth? Should the people of Texas at least have a chance to vote on it, or are the out-of-state lobbying dollars too influential for Texas leaders to allow this to happen?
• There are still concerns about the recently approved voter ID law, which is being examined by a federal district court and which will have its biggest test so far in the March 4 primaries. The candidates need to tell us how they think that law can be improved.
• Abortion — This highly charged issue will not go away anytime soon. The battle lines already are drawn between Davis and Abbott, but the voters should expect more clarity on their positions.
• Healthcare — Texas still has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country, a problem that will require much more attention than just repudiation of a federal program. If the state is not willing to expand Medicaid, then the candidates need to present other options.
These are just a few of the issues we should expect to hear about as the campaigns pick up steam.
A competitive race for governor will be good for Texas. It’s a chance to air opinions and policy stands in new ways.
Voters should expect no less.