Bud Kennedy

Burton, Willis gaining speed but also veering wildly as Senate race nears finish

Time ran out Friday on Democrat Libby Willis, and the question is whether the calendar has as well.

Rallying from behind for Fort Worth’s District 10 seat in the Texas Senate, Willis was left flabbergasted when Colleyville Republican Konni Burton got in both the loudest and last words in their final debate.

Eight days before voting begins, Willis has money and the influential Fort Worth medical lobby on her side, but Burton has Tea Party protest passion and an inherent advantage in a year generally favoring Texas Rs.

Their last debate Friday, at KXAS/Channel 5’s new CentrePort studio, more closely resembled an Airport Freeway smashup.

As the debate ended, Burton was careening out of her lane, dictating questions to stunned host Kristi Nelson and then overrunning Willis’ time to answer.

When the clock ran out, Burton raised her hands high like a race winner.

The candidates exchanged sideswipes about “Obamacare,” voter ID, abortion and Dream Act immigrants’ tuition, but never mentioned a new Texas Medical Association doctors’ letter calling Burton “not fit to hold public office” and adding in boldface letters, “She must be stopped.”

Fort Worth allergist Robert Rogers signed the letter to 1,200 doctors after Burton sent a mailer saying she will “protect the elderly … from doctors who want to administer life-ending procedures.”

In a TMA endorsement interview, Burton had thrown a tantrum, yelled and “called us murderers,” Rogers wrote: “It was astonishing.”

By email, Burton campaign spokesman Luke Macias of Bulverde described the TMA letter as “juvenile” and wrote that Burton wants decisions to end life support left to “patients and their family.”

A 1999 law authored by former Fort Worth state Sen. Mike Moncrief at the behest of Baylor Health Care System and signed by Gov. George W. Bush allows a doctors’ ethics panel to end life in event of “medical futility.” Families have 10 days to react.

Anti-abortion activists and religious leaders are sharply divided over whether the law is moral, and over if or when doctors or hospitals should be allowed to end life support.

Willis said Burton’s position is “another example of how my opponent is over the edge, way out there.”

A Burton supporter, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, wrote on Twitter on Friday that he “can’t wait to see what TMA says” about the new Legislature and signed it, “Bring it on, socialists.”

With all that off-screen, Burton and Willis confronted each other repeatedly in a quarter-hour of sharp exchanges to be televised Sunday at 8:40 a.m. on KXAS/Channel 5’s Lone Star Politics.

When co-host Gromer Jeffers of The Dallas Morning News asked whether the candidates support asking Congress to renew the federal Voting Rights Act, Burton interrupted.

“Gromer,” she said to Jeffers’ surprise, “I get so frustrated because we don’t talk about the issues voters want to talk about.”

Afterward, in a station hallway, she again shook off the Voting Rights Act.

“When I’m knocking on doors, nobody’s asking me about that,” she said.

Burton pressured Willis far more than in their first debate, accusing her directly, “So you do want Obamacare!” after Willis said she supports Republican county judges’ plea for a “Texas solution” to cover uncompensated county hospital healthcare.

When Nelson asked whether gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis should have been allowed to have a life-saving abortion procedure in 1994 to end an ectopic pregnancy, Burton changed the subject to Willis’ recent $500,000 donation from a Houston PAC backed by prominent Democratic trial lawyer Steve Mostyn.

Another thing I want to talk about here is who’s supporting our campaigns,” Burton said, ending as time ran out that she’s “worried” by Mostyn’s gift.

Her own report includes $335,000 in donations, with the largest donor Houston-based Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

On her way out, Willis said: “Since I didn’t get the last word, what we need to know is this: What I’m worried about is that she has money from somewhere to buy $250,000 in TV time. And she signed a letter to the Ethics Commission saying nonprofits shoudn’t have to report who their donors are.”

Burton was already on her way.

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