PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott says that as Texas governor he wouldn’t veto a repeal of a law that gives in-state tuition to immigrants who entered the country illegally and that is supported by other big GOP figures including Gov. Rick Perry and George P. Bush.
Abbott has long said he believes the law signed by Perry in 2001 is “flawed” and, when pressed in a debate Wednesday night against Democrat Wendy Davis, said he wouldn’t stop lawmakers if they try to get rid of it soon as next year.
“The way it’s supposed to work is that a student is supposed to be shown to be making progress toward establishing legal status. That’s simply not being done,” Abbott said.
During his presidential run in 2011, Perry said during a GOP debate that critics of the law were “heartless.” The younger Bush, who is the favorite to be elected Texas’ land commissioner in November, has also defended the law.
Davis said she would veto any bills passed by what is certain to be a GOP-controlled Legislature to wipe the law off the books.
“It’s good for our economy to make sure that every person who lives here has an opportunity to be a vibrant part of the Texas economy,” Davis said.
Fallout from a new scathing audit of how Republican Gov. Rick Perry awarded a half-billion in taxpayer dollars to private businesses made this a livelier and looser debate than the first one earlier this month. With Election Day only 35 days away, Davis must now hope her performance closes the gap in the polls.
Hours after federal officials confirmed that a patient in Dallas had the first diagnosed Ebola case in the U.S., Abbott and Davis vowed to keep Texans safe if there were more cases on their watch. Both agreed with the immediate response, which Abbott said included quarantining the ambulance used to transport the patient.
But from there, common ground gave way to clashes.
“Mr. Abbott, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth,” Davis said when the topic turned to classrooms and proposals by Abbott to give school districts more control.
It came after Davis was pressed twice about putting a price tag on her plan for education, which remains the biggest policy issue in the race. She wouldn’t give a number, but said that not increasing state spending would only push costs down to local schools.
Abbott said per-pupil spending — a category in which Texas ranks near the bottom nationally — isn’t the way to look at the problem.
“No business starts out by saying we need to spend ‘X’ amount and then create a product,” he said.
But the most pointed exchange was about the audit of Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund. The report found that roughly $172 million was given to private companies that never submitted applications for lucrative economic development awards.
Abbott has taken criticism for open records rulings from his office that blocked the release of documents involving those companies. Abbott said auditors found no wrongdoing by his office, and after Davis accused him of failing as a watchdog, he accused her of profiting from one of the awards.
Davis’ title company in Fort Worth closed the deal for the outdoor retailer Cabela’s. Davis said she was salaried and didn’t receive extra profits based on individual deals.
“I have always acted within the ethical guidelines and have been very careful to do so,” Davis said.
Bigger stakes confronted Davis in this final debate — and a bigger audience. The prime-time slot all but guaranteed more viewers than the first debate two weeks ago on a Friday night in high school football-crazy Texas, which most observers scored as a political draw.
But the status quo between now and Nov. 4 will likely not be enough for Davis to become the first female and Democratic governor of Texas since Ann Richards was elected in 1990. Her record-breaking fundraising for a Texas Democrat — more than $27 million as of July — and national profile haven’t elevated Davis from underdog status.
She hardly needed debates to get her message on TV: Davis began the month having already spent close to $5 million on ads, which was slightly more than Abbott, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Nine in 10 have been negative spots, including a new one Thursday set in a school hallway that attacked Abbott on education.
Even if the debates didn’t shake up the race, at least Texas voters got debates before picking a governor this year. Perry refused to square off against his Democratic opponent during his last re-election bid, making these the first in a Texas general election since 2006.