The latest gubernatorial debate featured everything but the incumbent, who willingly sparred with Republicans during the primary but has avoided appearances with Democrat Bill White, Libertarian Kathie Glass and the Green Party's Deb Shafto. The other three showed up to answer questions about immigration, the budget, education and even their favorite philosophers.
The debate, broadcast from the studios of KLRU-TV in Austin and sponsored by a half-dozen media organizations, offered voters a chance to see and hear from the minor party candidates who are usually overshadowed by White and Gov. Rick Perry.
Glass said Texas should "secure our borders and stop all taxpayer supported services to non-U.S. citizens." She said she'd cut the state's budget in half and cautioned against Republicans who she said have been running up the cost of government. "They're going to use this budget problem to institute taxes that they've wanted all along."
Glass got off a number of good lines. Asked about state-sponsored gambling, she suggested the players might be on to something: "If you've looked at your 401k statement lately, you might think that they've made the better choice." Asked if there was something nice to be said about the incumbent, she offered, "I hear he's a pretty good shot."
She said she supports the death penalty but would slow down the process if elected governor, carefully going over the court transcripts before executing anyone. "I feel that we have put some innocent people to death, and that's something that should weigh on a governor and on us as a society."
Glass doesn't think the Republican Legislature would vote to legalize medical marijuana but said as governor she would sign the bill if it reached her desk.
And she had a distinctly contrarian turn to a question about dropouts, suggesting students of a certain age ought to be allowed to quit school. "Maybe they know something about what's best for their lives. If a 16-year-old wants to drop out … you're talking about a product that's so bad, you can't give it away," she said. That might improve school for those left behind: "More than likely, that student is a disruptive force. Let him go. He made a mistake. Ignorance can be cured."
At the end of the debate, the candidates got a couple of minutes to make final remarks. "If by now you're thinking I'd be the best governor but you're not sure that I can win, this closing is for you," Glass said. "… We're in a battle for America and Texas is the battleground … with Kathie Glass, it will be a vote for change."
Shafto, a retired teacher, said the state should continue educating children of undocumented immigrants. "They're anxious. They're education-oriented. Let's let them have it."
Her recommendation for the economy? "I would take state funds and start massive public works projects to get people back to work."
Asked whether gambling offers a way to help the state balance its budget, Shafto turned up her nose. "I think it's sleazy to say the least when you are taking people who don't know what the odds are and using them to finance the state." She favors an income tax and said the state under-taxes the wealthy and overtaxes the poor. "The top 20 percent pay roughly 3 percent of their income in taxes. The bottom 20 pay 12 percent."
Shafto's not impressed with Perry: "I don't want to appear too negative, but I can't think of anything offhand… all in all, I can't think of a single thing. I'm sorry."
She said she's against the death penalty: "I think it's much too drastic."
Shafto had no hesitation about using state and federal money for children's health and said those programs shouldn't be cut to balance the budget. " I would love to have lower cost insurance but not at the expense of one child, whether they are citizens or not citizens," she said. "That's our money," she said of federal funds for CHIP. "Why would we not want to spend it on our children?"
In her close, Shafto said she, too, would be an agent of change. "I want to construct a different kind of world … a world where we care for each other … a world where we care for our environment. … We need to vote for the candidate who best expresses our hopes and desires."
UPDATE: Here's the whole debate on video: