AUSTIN, Texas — Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Lupe Valdez and Andrew White took the stage in their first and only debate. The two are vying for their party’s nomination in a May 22 runoff.
The debate was moderated by Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers. The candidates clashed on topics ranging from abortion to gun rights to immigration.
You can watch Capital Tonight's Karina Kling with political experts Harold Cook and Ted Delisi for their thoughts on the debate in the video above.
Highlights from the debate by topic:
The debate kicked off with the most controversial of topics — immigration. Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, has been criticized for being too accommodating of federal immigration authorities.
White jumped in, quick to praise on Democratic Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez in Austin, saying “she did not work with ICE the way that Sheriff Valdez worked with ICE.”
“I did not work with ICE,” Valdez said. “I did what I had to do and that was an imperfect choice. What I did do ... is make sure that the people who were brought in received humane services.”
Would you want to roll back any abortion limitations already in place, and if so, which?,” Jeffers asked of White.
White said despite his personal stance, that he would work to “end the assault on women’s health care.”
Valdez fired back alleging that White has said in the past that women who’ve had abortions did not respect life. White denied.
"You owe an apology to these women,” Valdez said. Speaking to reporters after the debate, Valdez clarified that White didn’t actually say the women didn’t respect life. “He implied it."
Though he personally opposes abortion, as governor he would veto bills to further restrict it.
"My personal opinions are my personal opinions,” he said. “As governor, I trust women to make their own health care decisions."
When asked about her pro-abortion stance affecting her fellow Hispanics' votes, Valdez played down the question:
“I don’t think a wedge will come for a person who’s trying to represent the average, everyday Texan,” she said. “We will be able to get that message out to all the Hispanics.”
White, when pressed about the LGBT vote, mentioned his endorsement from the GLBT Caucus, a Houston-based group.
Valdez, the first lesbian elected sheriff in Texas, fired back, "I did get the largest LGBT organization in Texas. Texas Equality endorsed me.”
Jeffers asked White how would he reconcile being an evangelical that doesn't support the LGBT community and the Democratic Party platform is for LGBT equality, to which White responded that he supports the LGBT community, and is willing to fight for those issues.
"It's a community, and we don't all agree on the same thing, just like in your communities," White said, adding that the separation of church and state is critical.
Teachers Toting Weapons
Both White and Valdez were in agreement that President Donald Trump’s proposals to have some teachers carry guns is not a good one.
"We do not need to arm our teachers. In fact, what we need to do is protect our teachers and invest in our teachers. And we can do that by paying them what they're worth and making sure their retirement program works," White said.
Both agreed affordable housing in Texas’ biggest cities is an issue.
Andrew, son of Gov. Mark White, said he has a plan for stopping deterioration of local property tax receipts by stopping downward revisions of commercial property appraisals. Which, in turn, would help pay for some of his education plans, he said, though the move wouldn’t directly enable the Legislature to spend more money.
White and Valdez also said Texas needs universal pre-K, though neither supports higher taxes.
When asked how she would end the mass incarceration of African Americans and Hispanics, Valdez responded by saying wehave to look at why they're being incarcerated as well as invest in those areas so that the automatic thing is not to turn to crime.
Valdez says the first thing she would do is put minorities in management positions.
"The community does not trust law enforcement that does not look like them," she said.
White followed by saying the important thing Texas can do is decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Second, fix the cash bail problem, White said that if a rich man and poor man commit the same crime, they have different experiences.
Jeffers asked Valdez whether she could successfully debate Abbott if she’s the Democratic nominee. He noted that he state’s major newspapers have endorsed White, citing concerns about Valdez’s grasp of state issues.
“It’s not that I’m not as sharp” as White, Valdez responded. “The problem may be that I don’t talk newspaper language. I talk people language.”
The one-hour event, sponsored by a “grassroots coalition” of Democratic groups, was at St. James Episcopal Church in East Austin on Friday evening.
Early voting begins Monday, May 14 and runs through Friday, May 18. Runoff election day is Tuesday, May 22.