Editorials

Candidates who dodge debates and scrutiny don’t deserve your votes

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew White, left, and Lupe Valdez, right, shake hands following their debate, Friday, May 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Valdez, her party's nominee, is now scheduled to debate incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott on September 28.
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew White, left, and Lupe Valdez, right, shake hands following their debate, Friday, May 11, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Valdez, her party's nominee, is now scheduled to debate incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott on September 28. AP

Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that he’s agreed to a televised debate with Democratic opponent Lupe Valdez was a reminder of how you can be accessible to voters — but not as accessible as possible.

As the clear frontrunner in his race for reelection, Abbott could probably have kissed off debates and barely hurt his chances in November. He’s busy serving Texans; he’d rather meet directly with the people; the debates don’t give candidates a chance to share their ideas fully. We’ve heard all the reasons for avoiding confrontation when you think you have the election in the bag.

So to his credit, Abbott said yes to a debate that will be broadcast across the state on 12 TV stations, including stations in rural areas that might otherwise have been left out.

But to schedule it on a Friday night, during high school football season? Does anyone really think Texans are going to park themselves in front of a TV — or a mobile phone screen — when the local boys are passing and rushing for glory?

Abbott should have agreed to debate Valdez at a time when Texans would really focus on an event that has the potential to expose candidate strengths and flaws. Seeing the two side-by-side is the best way for voters to compare candidate values and abilities.

So, Gov. Abbott, what about a second debate? Or a public forum where both candidates show up and face probing questions from journalists and voters? The Star-Telegram is more than ready to play host if you’ll accept.

Debates for Governor and U.S. Senate

And we’re ready to host one of what should be several debates or forums where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and opponent Rep. Beto O’Rourke square off. O’Rourke accepted our invitation, by the way, during a recent Facebook Live broadcast with the Star-Telegram.

Once viewed as a longshot, the Democrat from El Paso is raising more money than Cruz and drawing big crowds. Could it be because he’s traveled to all 254 counties in Texas? He may be gaining steam because he shows up.

The Cruz camp has said the senator will agree to joint appearances with O’Rourke. Glad to hear it. This year Texans are hungry for candidates who are accessible. Who will address the big issues that divide us: immigration; healthcare; LGBTQ issues; taxes; and abortion, to name a few.

Voters deserve access to candidates

Sending out a newsletter or opening phone lines for a conference call just doesn’t cut it. Giving speeches to Rotary clubs but not taking probing audience questions because you’re rushing to a plane is a cop out. Avoiding news media press conferences — like top, elected Republicans did at their state convention — speaks to arrogance and a lack of accountability.

We know Texas is a big state and you can’t shake everyone’s hand. But you should rub shoulders with as many constituents as possible. You should take the uncomfortable questions, like explaining to a mother with a sick child why she doesn’t have access to better healthcare. You should defend your record at town halls or events where you meet constituents you may represent.

Frequently, protesters parade in front of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s office in Fort Worth, demanding she hold public meetings. Granger’s office couldn’t tell us when she held her last one.

Granger and town halls

A year ago — July 15, 2017 — Granger told the Star-Telegram she had stopped hosting town halls because elected officials have become targets. “There are so many threats going on,” she said.

We understand the need for caution and security, but other North Texas congressional representatives, including Michael Burgess, Joe Barton, Marc Veasey and Pete Sessions, have all held public coffees or meetings and weathered the tough questions.

There are candidates on the ballot this year who we know now probably won’t win. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas that voters deserve to hear.

Finding excuses to dodge debates, the media and public appearances because you believe you can still eke out a victory may be shrewd politics, but it’s bad for democracy.































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