DALLAS — The two Democrats competing in a runoff for their party's nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison disagreed on how the federal government should address the faltering economy, on immigration and on the war on drugs during a debate Tuesday afternoon.
Former state Rep. Paul Sadler, of Henderson, and retired educator Grady Yarbrough, of San Antonio, participated in an hour-long debate hosted by KERA, the Dallas public radio affiliate that also hosted a debate between the two Republican Senate candidates last week. The Texas Tribune was a partner in both programs.
Sadler, who served in the Texas Legislature from 1991 to 2003, said his experience made him the only candidate at the debate qualified to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.
“The truth of the matter is, until you’ve wrestled with the problems of government and understand the consequences of the decisions you make, I don’t think you’re prepared to do it,” Sadler said.
Yarbrough, who surprised many when he beat two other candidates last month and made the runoff, said elected officials with government experience have caused the country's current problems.
“The same experience is usually going to get you the same results,” Yarbrough said.
A question about how the federal government should secure the U.S.-Mexico border highlighted the sharpest contrast between the candidates.
“I hate to refer to this, but, as you recall, the Berlin Wall was put up in 1961, and it was pretty effective,” Yarbrough said. “Now if we have to go and use a method that is similar to the Berlin Wall, then I think we have to do that.”
Sadler said the border could be secured through increasing border patrol and with technical measures.
“I think the very idea that we would take a Berlin Wall-type scenario and stick it on our border is offensive,” Sadler said.
On the economy, Sadler stressed the importance of cutting the national debt and giving businesses “stability” in regulation. Yarbrough touted a plan to have the federal government subsidize the costs of new hires in the private sector. After the debate, Sadler called the plan unrealistic.
Yarbrough said he supports extending unemployment insurance benefits for those still looking for work. Sadler said the country can’t afford it.
“Until we get our financial house in order, we can not continue to spend money,” Sadler said.
The candidates also differed on whether to decriminalize marijuana possession. Yarbrough supports it. Sadler opposes it.
Both candidates agreed on the issue of same-sex marriage. Sadler called the refusal of state and federal governments to recognize such relationships “a purely discriminatory practice.”
“Religion, as far as I’m concerned, should not dictate policy,” Yarbrough said.
They also both opposed United States intervention in Syria and were critical of Fast and Furious, a controversial federal gun running sting operation.
The candidates were allowed to ask each other a question. Yarbrough asked Sadler a question about fixing the economy. Sadler declined to ask Yarbrough a question and said later that he didn't have anything he wanted to ask his opponent.
Throughout the debate, Sadler had trouble keeping his comments within the time constraints of the program. Moderator Shelley Kofler, KERA’s managing editor, frequently cut him off mid-sentence.
Unlike the Republican debate, the Democratic debate was not broadcast live. Public radio and television stations around the state plan to broadcast it at different times over the next week. Courtesy of KERA, here's video of the debate.