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Texas is Winner in Debate about the Debate (Issue #470)
Debates provide information about candidates and their responses under pressure. In close contests, voters may wait for debates before deciding for whom to vote. This is especially true of independents, those voters who are not registered as members of a particular political party. Those who watch debates also tend to vote more often on the issues, whereas those who do not watch are more likely to vote on the basis of personality and feeling. The media not only report on a debate itself but also usually announce a “winner,” and of course the verdict affects voter behavior by creating a positive bandwagon effect. Candidates try to use debates to their advantage, in order to overcome negative perceptions or defuse certain issues. Debates are great for a candidate to reach sizeable television audiences, but just as easily debates can torpedo a campaign and are considered risky so long as the candidate enjoys a sizeable lead.
Big media agencies such as The Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, San Antonio Express-News, and The Houston Chronicle, together with KLRU “Public” TV are sponsors of the October 19th Texas Gubernatorial Debate in Austin at the UT Campus. There are five candidates running for Governor, and the sponsors changed their rules to allow two major and two minor party candidates to participate, they said to foster an exchange of ideas and promote the health of our “democracy.” They voted to allow every single candidate except one, however, to participate. The only candidate excluded by sponsors is the officially registered write-in candidate, Andy Barron, who collected thousands of petitioner signatures and then also paid the hefty registration fee. In other words, he met State Law for ballot access—and one would hope this were sufficient to be heard. The sponsors actually dropped their criterion down from ten percent to one percent of public support when Governor Perry declined to participate, but the substantiating poll the sponsors used did not pick up sufficient support for Barron’s write-in insurgent candidacy. Notwithstanding, a recent KWTX News Channel 10 poll showed support for Andy Barron in the Central Texas area to be in double digits.
The Andy Barron for Governor Campaign is currently paying for a prestigious outside research group to conduct a statewide scientific poll, on the outside chance that the campaign’s media ads have stirred recognition of their candidate and upped public support sufficiently to break the sponsors’ threshold for inclusion in the debate. The irony is that only Governor Rick Perry’s recalcitrance has materialized a debate involving more than two dominant party representatives. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules would not have allowed the sponsors to go forward with just one candidate, turning the planned debate essentially into an interview. Other candidates would have to be afforded equal time under such a circumstance. The Republican Governor has long demanded that Democrat Bill White release his 1990s income tax returns from when White served as Texas Democrat Party Chairman and Assistant U.S. Energy Secretary, or else he would not engage him in a debate.
Now there’s a good chance Andy Barron will prove public support above the lowered threshold of one percent statewide and could possibly receive a late invitation to participate. If Barron is still not afforded an invitation to debate after showing sufficient scientific polling to prove his level of support above one percent, there could be basis for a lawsuit. Many in Barron’s campaign already suspect an anti-religious bias and specifically anti-Christian discrimination. If four or five candidates who were invited actually appeared, it will be the most interesting cross-section of political opinions ever represented before the public in Texas gubernatorial debate history. There would also emerge a most difficult situation for Perry, particularly if his lead in the polls narrows by a couple points. In that situation where four of five candidates are scheduled to appear and the race between Perry and White is close, Perry might be pressured to join the debate himself. Since 1984 the Presidential debates have become such an institution, that a candidate finds it difficult to avoid them no matter how big his lead, at least without making his refusal a big issue in its own right. We may be headed for a similar situation in the context of gubernatorial debates.
Tea Party support among candidates for Governor this year is divided between Governor Perry, who has the backing from Sarah Palin, but also Libertarian Kathie Glass, as well as “Other” party write-in candidate, Andy Barron. All three have expressed support for the key constitutional concept of nullification, a doctrine whereby states may prevent enforcement of Federal authority in cases where encroachment of the Federal Government on states’ rights exceeds Constitutional authority to do so in that area. Imagine a debate scenario in which three of five candidates for Governor of Texas actually support the sovereign right of the State to nullify unconstitutional acts of Congress and unconstitutional executive orders by the president! That would make Texas the winner no matter who finally wins election on Election Day, November 2nd.