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The Abbott, Valdez debate over arming teachers, Harvey recovery in debate

PATRICK SVITEK | 10/8/2018, 11:36 a.m.
Lupe Valdez, the Democratic nominee for governor, swung away at Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in their first and only debate ...
An audience watches the only Texas gubernatorial debate between incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, in Austin, Sept.28. Laura Skelding

(The Texas Tribune) – Lupe Valdez, the Democratic nominee for governor, swung away at Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in their first and only debate the evening of Sept.28, while Abbott largely ignored her and defended his first term.

Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, hammered Abbott in response to nearly every question, accusing him of focusing on the wrong issues in his first term. Abbott often responded to the criticism obliquely and rarely mentioned his opponent.

There were nonetheless tense moments, such as when Valdez criticized Abbott for not calling a special session after Hurricane Harvey last year to tap the state’s savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund.

“He calls a special session for bathrooms but does not call a special session when people are dying,” Valdez said, alluding to the “bathroom bill” that was among Abbott’s agenda items for a special session last summer. “The Rainy Day Fund is the biggest savings account in the United States. Governor, it rained!”

Abbott explained in response that the governor “has the authority to spend state money without having to call a special session to tap the Rainy Day Fund.” That money, he said, will be repaid from the fund when the legislature meets for its next session in 2019.

Abbott made news on several fronts, starting with providing his clearest position yet on the historically inaccurate Confederate plaque at the Capitol that has drawn calls for removal by many Democrats and some Republicans. He said it was installed by a vote of the Legislature and thus lawmakers have a responsibility to take it down.

“Should they take it down because of a factual inaccuracy?” Abbott said. “Absolutely.”

Valdez was more forceful about removing the plaque, saying, “We just need to take care of it and get it done.”

Abbott also made clear that he will not be prioritizing a “bathroom bill” next session similar to the one that drew a business backlash last year, saying it is “not on my agenda” for 2019. However, he declined to say whether he would sign such a proposal if it made it to his desk, saying he “won’t sign hypothetical bills.”

Finally, Abbott expressed openness to reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana – 2 ounces or less – from a class B misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor. “We agree on something,” Valdez subsequently declared.

Other moments showed stark differences between the two, particularly when it came to guns. Abbott reaffirmed his support for letting teachers be armed in the aftermath of the deadly shooting earlier this year at Santa Fe High School. Valdez, meanwhile, insisted “teachers should be teaching, not being armed and in defense.”

The two also split on red flag laws, which would allow courts to order the seizure or surrender of guns from people who are deemed an imminent threat by a judge. Abbott raised due process concerns about such legislation, while Valdez said she supports it and accused Abbott of having “confusion between gun ownership and gun violence.”