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Notes From the Middle Seat: 24 Questions

Republican Dan Patrick and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte were asked 10 questions in Monday's debate. But there had been more waiting for them. Here's a look at the questions that didn't fit into the hourlong debate.

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*Editor’s note: Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey was the moderator of Monday’s debate — the only one scheduled — between Republican Dan Patrick and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte.

At the end of Monday night’s debate between the lieutenant governor candidates, more than half of the prepared questions remained unasked in a stack of green index cards.

After negotiations between the campaigns and The Texas Tribune, we ended up with a structured “chess clock” debate: question, two-minute answer, two-minute response, 30-second rebuttal, lather, rinse, repeat.

Factoring in opening and closing statements, there was room for as few as nine questions for the hourlong debate. More would have been possible if the candidates’ answers were shorter than the allotted time.

The questions all went onto green index cards. The shuffling of the order didn’t end until about an hour before the debate. Ten questions made it into the hour from a stack of two dozen; at the pace the candidates were going, we could have gone another 90 minutes or so.

So what made it and what didn’t?

Here’s the final list, for your quibbling and kibitzing pleasure, with notes along the way:

1. The state auditor — who reports to the Legislature — said last week that the state had given $170 million to companies for economic development without requiring written applications, and had, in several cases, not watched to make sure the companies were doing what they had promised in return for the state’s money. Though this problem goes back a decade, it has only now come to light. Should we continue to operate these incentive funds, and if so, with what kind of oversight? Also: It took a decade for lawmakers to actually look into this; where were you guys?

The idea was to chase the hottest news of the moment and to get right into a major error by legislators who were supposed to have been watching over these funds for more than a decade.

2. A student has lived in Texas for three years, got a degree from a Texas high school and has applied for citizenship papers. Should he or she continue to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at Texas schools? Should he or she be deported?

Another issue from the news and a major difference in position for the two candidates. Insiders know a lot about their political differences; debates are supposed to let everybody else see the differences between the candidates.

3. The Texas-Mexico border has become the focal point of a national debate over immigration. Texas is spending hundreds of millions dispatching state police and Texas Guard troops to that area. Is that necessary? Is it sustainable? And will the federal government pay Texas back for the expense?

Another flashpoint.

4. How should the state’s current laws on abortion and end-of-life issues be changed, if at all? What do you think about the effects of last summer’s legislation restricting abortions after 20 weeks and raising the standards on facilities where those operations are performed?

Go back and watch and you’ll see that neither candidate answered this question directly, by saying how they would change the law. But it was clear at the end where they stand on the issue.

5. Legislators have gradually lowered the state’s share of funding for public schools, for higher education and for roads. Local hospitals complain that low state aid forces them to shoulder costs for uncompensated care. As the state did that, local property taxes increased, tuition increased, we maxed out our highway debt and created miles and miles of toll roads. How would you address this? Should the state step up?

Trying to get at the balance of keeping government programs and services in place and keeping the costs of those things in check.

6. Replacing property taxes with sales taxes would nearly double sales taxes in Texas. Would you support a shift in state taxes, and would you consider expanding sales taxes to things that are now exempt, like real estate transactions, food and medicine?

Aimed at Patrick’s suggestion that sales tax increases could offset property tax cuts, and at voter anger about high property taxes.

7. Property owners are squawking about their property taxes, and a state district judge has once again said the state’s funding for public schools is out of whack, creating a system where the quality of education in Texas depends in large part on where you live. What’s the solution to this?

The perennial question about the apparently unsolvable school finance/equity/adequacy problem in Texas.

8. If Texas moves away from standardized testing in public schools, how can taxpayers hold those schools accountable? And how will we know the children in Tyler or El Paso or Houston are getting the same quality of education?

Aimed at a difference between the candidates on the number of tests required, at frustration over standardized tests, demands for accountable schools and resistance to centralized control of curricula and tests. Dangerous policy ground for politicians in both parties.

9. More than 5.5 million Texans do not have health insurance. If you could agree on how to cover them, the state does not have the medical capacity for all those patients. What is your plan to increase the state’s medical infrastructure, and how would you pay for it?

The sort of question that candidates leapfrog away from to talk about whatever they want to say about health care. Neither came up with a new financing scheme, in case you were holding out for that.

10. The state’s ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. Several other states are in same situation, and the U.S. Supreme Court has several appeals under consideration. Should same-sex unions be allowed, and is this a proper area for government regulation?

A hot-button issue across the political spectrum. And this turned out to be the final question in the actual debate.

11. Name three senators of the opposing party that you would entrust with a chairmanship. And if you are elected, who should run the budget-writing Finance Committee?

Suggested on Twitter. Potential "oops" material for both candidates.

12. Should individuals and corporations be allowed to contribute anonymously to organizations that try to influence voters? How about to organizations that lobby the state Legislature?

Regulation of so-called dark money is likely to come up in the Legislature, Congress and the courts.

13. Should Texas follow other states and legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use or both?

A wildcard, but it would have been interesting to see how the candidates dealt with it.

14. Should state and local police in Texas be using surplus military equipment designed for war?

A question reinvigorated by the police shooting and response in Ferguson, Mo.

15. Hundreds of millions in state transportation funds are used to pay for state police at the Department of Public Safety. If you instead used that money for transportation, where would you get the money for DPS?

Dry but important: The candidates have decried using highway funds for other things but have not been specific about how to end this practice.

16. Should the state government be legally required to comply with the same Americans With Disabilities Act laws that apply to businesses and local governments in Texas?

A reader-suggested question, and a good one that goes to the fairness of different rules for the state than for everybody else.

17. Why not raise the minimum wage? And should we allow Texas workers to sue their employers when they are doing the same work as some of the opposite sex and being paid less for it because of their gender?

The candidates touched on this issue in their answers to other questions.

18. Should Texas legalize casino gambling?

An oldie but a goodie.

19. Do you think the state Senate properly followed its rules during the 2013 filibuster on abortion? How would you do it differently?

This has been answered extensively by both candidates, and that’s what moved it down in the order. But they are quite animated when they talk about it, which is why it made the long list.

20. It is clear that Republicans will have a very comfortable majority in the Senate and should be in full control. What does it matter whether the next lieutenant governor is a Republican or a Democrat?

A stab at asking the candidates how important they think the office is in relation to the senators they would have to lead.

21. Texas has prospered in comparison with the rest of the country. What is the argument for a change in direction?

Probably a better question for gubernatorial candidates, but a measure of how much they want to do something new and how much they want to stay the course.

22. To Patrick: At the end of the last session, you voted against a budget you helped write, angering some of your colleagues and prompting others — like the Republican head of the finance committee — to say you had betrayed your colleagues. Your Republican opponents in the primary tried repeatedly to make the same argument. Do senators trust you enough to follow you?

A poke in the ribs, to set up an exchange over leadership style between the candidates.

23. To Van de Putte: Polling shows Texas voters favor photo voter ID, concealed handgun laws and bans on abortions after 20 weeks. Are you out of step with the state on these issues?

Another poke in the ribs, this one to provoke an exchange over the state of Texas politics.

24. Why should voters make you the next lieutenant governor? Why should they not give the job to your opponent?

The best question of all landed here at the bottom — on the theory that the candidates would get to it themselves in their opening and closing remarks. As luck would have it, they did.

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