PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Newly leaked court documents showing that Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick, the favorite to become Texas’ next lieutenant governor, was hospitalized for depression in the 1980s further escalated an already rancorous primary runoff for the powerful state office Friday.
Early voting begins Monday, and the disclosure of Patrick’s treatment drew rebuke from several Republican senators who had so far stayed out of the acrimonious race between their colleague and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’s fighting to hang onto his job of 12 years.
Patrick in a statement acknowledged voluntarily admitting himself but said he hasn’t needed additional treatment or medication in three decades. The Houston radio show host accused Dewhurst of stooping “to a new low” with less than two weeks before the May 27 runoff.
“Now comes David Dewhurst, caked in mud, and oozing sleaze, with his latest personal attack,” Patrick spokesman Allen Blakemore said in a statement.
The court documents were leaked by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished last in a four-way March primary race for lieutenant governor. He has since endorsed Dewhurst and waged a scorched-earth campaign against Patrick, suggesting at one point that Patrick dodged the draft in the 1970s. Patrick admonished the attack and said he was drafted but deemed medically ineligible.
Patterson said he believes voters should know about the hospitalization before deciding who should occupy one of the most influential positions in Texas government.
The Dewhurst campaign released a statement saying: “My heart goes out to Dan and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” A phone message for a Dewhurst spokesman was not returned.
Texas is on the verge of its biggest political shake-up in two decades, with every statewide office up for grabs and Gov. Rick Perry leaving office after 14 years. Dewhurst, who was first elected in 2002, is the only incumbent who could survive, but he must overcome finishing 13 points behind Patrick in the primary.
The campaigns have traded slings over financial debts and accusations of lies. A hostile debate last week largely devolved into both candidates talking over each other.
Patrick’s stint at a now-shuttered Houston psychiatric hospital was revealed in a court transcript from a lawsuit that he brought against a Houston newspaper. Blakemore said Patrick’s medical past was no secret and that he had discussed it on his radio show for years.
Republican Jane Nelson, who chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, broke her silence in the race and called the disclosure an invasion of medical privacy and said it hit “a new low in Texas politics.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the political compass of the GOP in Texas, said during a visit in Austin that he was staying out of the race but urged candidates to steer clear of personal attacks.
“I would encourage every candidate in that race and every other race to stay positive,” Cruz said.
The winner faces Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte in November.