On the campaign trail, Texas lieutenant governor candidates Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte have aired deeply contrasting views on topics like immigration reform, health care policy and education funding.
The two state senators will have the chance to discuss those views and more Monday evening in their first — and likely last — debate before voters take to the polls for the Nov. 4 general election. The hourlong event will be moderated by Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey at the KLRU studio in Austin.
The issue of immigration has become a particular flashpoint in the race. Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, supports a controversial state policy that Patrick, a Houston Republican, has vowed to repeal: allowing undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition at Texas community colleges and universities.
As Patrick did during the Republican primary, where he defeated sitting Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a May runoff, he has focused much of his campaign on securing the state’s border with Mexico.
Van de Putte has criticized Patrick for what she says is anti-immigrant rhetoric. She has referenced his use of the term “illegal invasion” to describe the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing into Texas from Mexico.
Republicans are "so disrespectful of people on the border that they will say anything to get a vote,” she said Sept. 20 at The Texas Tribune Festival, where she and Patrick gave separate interviews.
Patrick, who appeared before his opponent at the festival, said in his interview that Republicans are neither anti-immigrant nor anti-Hispanic but are working to secure the border from “real threats” from terrorist groups and drug cartels.
On health care, Patrick has proposed reforming the state’s system through federal block grants to avoid dealing with the strings tied to federal initiatives like expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Van de Putte has pushed to expand Medicaid eligibility to cover poor, uninsured adults, and she has criticized Republican efforts to push abortion providers out of the state by reducing funding for women’s health.
Van de Putte, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1999, has also been critical of cuts to public education funding. She has said she would prioritize school funding by tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund for education. Patrick has expressed caution about allocating additional dollars to public schools without enacting reforms targeting failing campuses. He has said that the state should rework the way it funds its schools, transitioning from depending solely on property taxes to relying instead on a sales tax.
In August, Van de Putte released an education plan that called for doing away with the standardized exams that the state requires for high school graduation. Patrick, who has been critical of high-stakes testing, said he opposed such a move because it would hinder the state’s accountability measures for public schools.
Patrick, who has been in the Senate since 2006, is the front-runner in the statewide race.
A Democrat has not won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. In 2010, the party nominated union leader Linda Chavez-Thompson for lieutenant governor. She received 35 percent of the vote, while Bill White, the party's gubernatorial candidate, earned 42 percent.
Since the March primary, Patrick has earned endorsements from several of the state’s most influential political action committees, including Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Association of Builders.
In early September, Van de Putte's campaign released two television ads in aimed at raising her profile with statewide voters. The first calls out Patrick over his votes on school finance. The second, which is in Spanish, highlights her biography.
Patrick’s campaign has yet to go up on TV during the general election. It has also turned down additional invitations to debate Van de Putte. The Democrat, who initially proposed having five debates, has made a campaign issue out of the public not getting more opportunities to vet the candidates side by side.
In his interview at the Tribune Festival, Patrick called claims he has avoided answering voters “ridiculous,” saying he’s been on the road talking to leaders across the state since the runoff.
Disclosure: KLRU, the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Association of Business are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.