Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick unapologetically stuck to his guns in an on-stage interview Friday evening — as well as his religious views, the Legislature’s conservative budget and the state’s reluctance to embrace Medicaid expansion and the federal health care law.
Patrick talked one-on-one with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith on the opening night of the 5th annual Texas Tribune Festival on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.
The conversation ranged widely:
• Guns — Patrick said he was happy to see campus carry and open carry laws pass during the legislative session, but he said support for so-called "constitutional carry" was thin among lawmakers and the public. And he said he doesn’t expect to see widespread adoption of open carry. "I don’t think you’re gonna see a lot of people walking around with a gun on their hip," he said.
Asked about the epidemic of mass shootings, Patrick said many of those take place in gun-free zones. "If you're intent on killing people, are you going to go into a room with 20 students who are armed or unarmed?" he asked.
He said he wouldn’t feel safe if a shooting occurred on campus and nobody had a gun with which to defend themselves and said he was unaware until asked that the Texas open-carry law will take effect on the 50th anniversary of the tower shooting on the University of Texas campus during which Charles Whitman shot 46 people and killed 14.
• Religion — Patrick talked about religious liberty laws, which he has asked senators to study between now and the beginning of the next legislative session: “I’m an unashamed Christian. No one should be able to deny service to anyone who comes in the door. But should a person in business be forced to participate in an event that is against their religious beliefs?”
Smith asked whether saying this is a Christian nation, as Patrick has done, should put people off. "I’m a Jew. I’m the worst Jew in the world, but I’m a Jew,” Smith said.
“I can’t control how people feel,” Patrick said. “To deny that we were founded on Christian principles is to deny history.”
Asked if a point can be reached where there is too much religion in politics, Patrick replied “not as long as you’re sincere.”
“Everyone is entitled to see it how they see it,” he said. But he said he would get out of politics if he felt staying would force him to break his faith.
• Health care — Patrick, after discussion about the expense of expanding health care and the state’s reluctance to accept Medicaid expansion or embrace the federal Affordable Care Act, told a somewhat hostile audience that it was ignoring the other side of that issue. “There's no free anything,” he said. “Someone paying for it, folks, and that someone is you.”
“We have demonstrated the model of conservative policy works,” he said. “We’re leading the nation in so many ways, and some liberals can’t take it.”
• Economic incentives — “I don’t believe in picking winners and losers,” Patrick reiterated, saying companies come to Texas for low taxes, moderate regulations and laws.
He also said an educated workforce is important for economic development and added: “We have devalued blue-collar work.”
• Taxes — Recent proposed property tax cuts — an increase in the homestead exemption that is on the ballot next month as a constitutional amendment — are just a first step, Patrick said. Next, the state should tighten laws requiring automatic rollback elections when taxes go up.
He would lower the automatic rollback elections on tax increases of 6 percent, applied to cities and counties as well as schools. “As your value goes up, your tax rate should go down,” Patrick said.
• Conservative accomplishments — Asked what he'd done for Texas, Patrick highlighted legislation passed by lawmakers earlier this year including property tax exemptions, scholarships for math and science teachers, incentives to keep Texas-trained doctors here when they begin their practices and passage of tuition revenue bonds for higher education. And he said most of the legislation that passed did so with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
He also touted the relatively small growth in state spending, which he put at 3.9 percent. “We passed a conservative budget,” he said. “It was a conservative thing to do and a wise thing to do to not spend all the money.”
Lawmakers left much of the money they expected to have unbudgeted, a decision that looks better in light of Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s recent announcement that state revenues will be lower than expected because of a slumping energy industry. Patrick said oil prices fell because Saudi Arabians lowered prices to keep their enemies at bay and the U.S. close. “If we become energy independent, we won’t need Saudi Arabia anymore,” he said.
• Running for governor — Before Smith could get out a question, Patrick answered one: “I’m not running for governor in 2018.” That’s not new, and in fact, Patrick said as much in interviews earlier this summer. But he said he gets along fine with Gov. Greg Abbott and won’t run against him when Abbott’s term is up.
• The presidency —Patrick was not ready to endorse anyone in the presidential race, but said he will “soon enough.” He also said there is a “high chance we will have a brokered convention,” where no candidate has amassed more than half the votes.
• Voter turnout — Patrick said the state doesn’t need to make it easier to vote. He said voters should be informed and study the issues. “If people don’t show up and vote, they’re either happy or they don’t care,” he said.
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