Three Texans running for governor will square off in a debate tonight, but Gov. Rick Perry won't be one of them.
Democrat Bill White, Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto will debate at 7 p.m. at the Austin PBS station, KLRU, for one hour. The state's largest newspapers, including the Star-Telegram, are holding the debate.
Perry, the incumbent Republican, decided not to participate after White declined to release tax returns from the mid-1990s. He said he doesn't expect negative feedback for not debating.
"I'm not sure people are concerned they're not getting a debate," Perry said recently in Fort Worth. "Other than the people in the media, nobody's run up to me and said, 'We want you to debate.'
"What people want is to talk about the issues. Are they interested in people standing on the stage and answering: 'Who was the first governor of Texas? What's the electric bill of the governor's mansion? Who's the president of Mexico?' Those are all questions that got asked during the last debates. ... I'm going to be talking to the people in the state of Texas, in some very good, broad, open formats, where we actually talk about the issues."
White criticized Perry for not participating.
"His handlers are afraid of him appearing unscripted and his having to answer questions about the scandal [regarding] the Emerging Technology Fund," White said. "Eight years ago, he was demanding debates with his opponents, when he thought he could be outspent on TV ads.
"Now that he has so much special-interest money, he thinks he can buy his communication with 30-second commercials and doesn't need to be accountable."
Glass said she knows why Perry isn't participating in the debate.
"He is scared of me," she said. "He knows that I would expose him for the phony that he is by demonstrating that he has the power to defend our border but refused to do so and that he has contracts for the Trans-Texas Corridor ready to sign just as soon as he skates past this election."
A panel of newspaper journalists will be involved in the debate, with The Dallas Morning News' Christy Hoppe moderating. Star-Telegram Austin Bureau Chief Dave Montgomery, the Houston Chronicle's Peggy Fikac and the Austin American-Statesman's Alberta Phillips will serve on the panel.
A look at the participants:
White, a 56-year-old attorney, served three terms as Houston's mayor, was deputy secretary of energy in the Clinton administration and headed the state Democratic Party in the 1990s. He easily won the Democratic primary, besting hair-care millionaire Farouk Shami, and since then has worked to get his name and views out to all Texans -- courting fellow Democrats and crossing party lines to seek support from Republicans and independents as well.
In late September, a poll conducted for the Star-Telegram and other major Texas newspapers showed that Perry leads White 46 percent to 39 percent. But White said he feels comfortable where he is.
"I'm very fortunate to have met tens of thousands of Texans over the last 20 months," he said, "and I've learned a lot about what the people in the state care about and had the benefit of talking with so many people with experience in both political parties."
The main message he said he hopes to get across today is that "Texans have an alternative who is in it for Texas," White said. "We have to prepare Texans for good jobs. And that means better training. We don't have to be content with leading the nation in minimum-wage jobs."
Glass, a 56-year-old Houston lawyer, has never held political office. She won her party's nomination during its state convention this summer and recently landed the endorsement of author/comedian Kinky Friedman, a former gubernatorial candidate.
The September poll showed Glass with 4 percent.
Glass has traveled around the state, spreading her message of lowering taxes and spending, protecting the border, supporting private property rights and using nullification to rebut federal requirements.
"There is another choice," Glass said. "I am the only one in this race who will secure our border; push back on unconstitutional federal acts like Obamacare using the best tool available, nullification; get our fiscal house in order by slashing our budget 50 percent and ending property and the franchise tax; and defeat the Trans-Texas Corridor.
"So if these are the things you want, I'm not just another choice you have, I'm your only choice."
Green Party candidate
Shafto, 71, a retired schoolteacher from Houston, has been involved in politics for years but has never held public office. She helped start the Green Party's Texas branch a decade ago after becoming disenchanted with the Democratic Party. She unsuccessfully ran for the Houston City Council last year.
A former union organizer, Shafto is known as a passionate environmentalist who is worried about the growing wealth divide in Texas.
She drew less than 1 percent in the September poll.
Shafto also worries about fuel shortages, a long recovery from the economic downturn, and global warming. She has suggested plans to "tax the rich" that she said wouldn't necessarily be popular but would help the state budget.
And she has said publicly that she knows her chances of winning are slim.
"If I can just get 10 people to start talking, it was worth the whole effort," she has said.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610