The stark differences between state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, the Republican and Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor, were front and center Saturday as they participated in back-to-back interviews at the Texas Tribune Festival.
The two candidates discussed several key issues in this election cycle, including public education funding, immigration reform and improving health care in Texas.
Patrick, who took the stage first with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, said the state should transition from depending solely on property taxes for funding public schools and instead rely more on a sales tax.
“It’s not increasing, it’s a swap,” Patrick said, when asked whether this would affect his standing within the business community.
While the Texas Legislature in 2013 restored some of the billions of dollars in public education spending it cut in 2011, Patrick said he would be apprehensive about allocating additional dollars to failed schools, adding that the state should rework the way it funds its schools.
Van de Putte said that if she were lieutenant governor, she would prioritize school funding during the budget battle that develops during the legislative session by tapping the surplus in the state’s coffers as it heads into the next session.
“I know that Texans value investment,” Van de Putte said.
As he has done on the campaign trail, Patrick largely focused on immigration Saturday, insisting that Republicans are not anti-immigrant or anti-Hispanic and that instead they are working to secure the border from “real threats” from terrorist groups and drug cartels.
He said that while his position had drawn fire early in the campaign, more people are talking about the issue now. He also added that he supports immigration reform and a guest worker program, which he has previously said should only be enacted once the border is secure.
Van de Putte did not specifically discuss border security during her interview, but she clarified that she opposes amnesty for the undocumented immigrants living in the country, countering her opponent’s claims that she supports it. She also added that she believes in immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for the “hard-working immigrants” living in the state without a criminal background.
She criticized Patrick for some of the rhetoric he has used on the campaign trail, referencing Patrick’s use of the term “illegal invasion” to describe the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the state’s southern border from Mexico.
Republicans are "so disrespectful of people on the border that they will say anything to get a vote,” Van de Putte said.
On improving health care in the state, Patrick said the system needed to be reformed through federal block grants so that Texans would have control over changes within the health care system, instead of dealing with the strings tied to federal initiatives like expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Van de Putte said expanding Medicaid eligibility to cover poor, uninsured adults “would be great for Texas.”
She also focused on Republican efforts to push abortion providers like Planned Parenthood out of the state by reducing funding for women’s health and prohibiting affiliates of abortion providers from receiving state dollars for women’s health.
“In the past few years we’ve seen that attack on the types of providers that women absolutely need,” Van de Putte said. “They didn’t care who was in the crosshairs.”
Patrick hit back against claims that he’s been steering clear of public events since winning his primary runoff election against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in May.
“Its ridiculous,” Patrick said, adding that’s he’s been on the road talking to leaders across the state since the runoff.
During her interview, Van de Putte said that Texas voters should be able to question both candidates in the race ahead of the election.
“If voters can’t depend on their leaders to be accessible before they’re elected, what kind of behavior will that instill once they’re elected?” she said.
The two candidates are scheduled to take part in a Sept. 29 debate in Austin.