Does Kay Still Matter? Recapping The Belo Debate

Debra Medina IMG_1818When the GOP gubernatorial debate was finished last night  at Belo’s WFAA-TV in Dallas, the 40 or 50 journalists who’d been watching the show backstage from a “media viewing area” were invited to file into the Channel 8 lobby, where featured performers Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina had been asked to attend a post-debate press conference. 

Pretty soon, though, word filtered into the lobby  that Perry wouldn’t be showing up. Then came news that Hutchison wouldn’t, either. Only Medina (pictured) stepped to the podium, claiming a “strong” debate performance and ripping her opponents for their absence at the after-party. 

Medina was right about performing strongly in the statewide debate–she outdid Hutchison, for sure–but I’d say the night’s real winner was Perry. In contrast to the public-TV debate held earlier this month, when he came off oily and shallow, last night’s Perry was sharp, composed and commanding, downright statesmanlike. The turnaround was enough to etch his frontrunner status in the race in stone, I’d bet, and by the time the evening was over the increasingly formidable Medina–surprisingly and against all odds– seemed a threat to overtake Kay.

Maybe it was the camera angle–it couldn’t have been his narrow pink tie!–but Perry seemed confident, less defensive than before, better prepared. That showed when he touted Texas’ “No. 1” status, citing low taxes, experienced leadership and tort reform (“we don’t allow for over-suin’, ” Perry said).  

It also showed when he came under repeated fire for his Texas Enterprise Fund–a $380 million jobs initiative that funnels dough to companies that agree to expand (like Dallas-based Texas Instruments) or to move to Texas. 

Seemingly encouraged by tough questions to Perry about the fund from reporter Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News–Slater called it a program with a “checkered past”–Hutchison said the state would be better off using the TEF money for education. And Medina branded the program a “corporate slush fund” that rewards Perry’s business friends.

“You are absolutely wrong that this is a program with ‘a checkered past,’ ” Perry told Slater. The reporter had said the governor has “moved the goal posts” on the TEF, amending contracts for some companies that failed to meet their  jobs goals. Asked Perry: “What’s wrong with that?”

It was a good question. Competition among the states for jobs-creating companies is fierce, and Perry can fairly argue that the fund has been a factor in keeping  Texas’ economy relatively healthy. 

Hutchison, for her part, was articulate and (sometimes) pointed during the evening, attacking the governor for mismanagement at TxDOT–“I will jerk it by its roots,” she said–and for presiding over a 30 percent high-school dropout rate (“that’s not success, that’s failure”).

But her position on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision–whose “restrictions are good restrictions; I think it’s very clear,” she said–showed again why she’s weak among Republican pro-life voters. She also made a risky flat statement about resigning her Senate seat: “There’s not a scintilla of a chance a Democrat will be elected to the Senate.” And, all in all, she simply seemed again to lack a clear compelling argument–“the fire in the belly”–to install  her in the governor’s office over the incumbent.

Medina was another story. Though coming into the debate she was trailing in the polls (12 percent in Rasmussen’s, behind Perry’s 43 percent and Hutchison’s 33), the nurse from Wharton County seized the moment like an old pro, pounding home the anti-incumbent, tea-party themes that have juiced her candidacy lately.

Calling Perry and Hutchison “a team of economic tricksters,” Medina talked about the costs of illegal immigration, why she’s opposed to gay marriage, the use of “nullification” to counter federal encroachment, and her plan to replace property taxes with a sales tax. She also nailed one of the “gotcha” questions thrown her way by the debate panelists, missing the average public school teacher’s pay in Texas by less than $200 (Medina guessed $46,000; the right  answer, the panel said, was $46,179).

At the post-debate press conference, someone asked Medina about her earlier prediction that “financial ruin is knocking at our doorstep”–and whether that wasn’t a little over-the-top. “We’ve seen California go bankrupt,” and the city of Houston is technically bankrupt as well, though it hasn’t been widely reported, Medina replied. “We’ve tripled our debt,” there’s rising unemployment in the U.S., and “now Texas finds itself struggling, too.”  

It’s clear that Medina fancies herself a truth-telling realist, while Perry, she says, “has tried to paint Texas with a broad, rose-colored brush.” (Even some of his supporters agree.) Now–as each candidate vies for 51 percent of the March 2 vote to avoid a runoff–the question is which picture GOP voters will prefer: Debra the Cassandra, or Rick the cheerleader-in-chief. Many will wonder whether Hutchison still matters.      




  • Eric

    Excellent analysis. And it begs the question, has Kay ever mattered? Just what has she done in 17 years in DC? Claiming to be a Conservative, KBH displays a political disingenuousness that the electorate will no longer accept.

  • John

    This race is over. KBH is toast.

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    I’ve tried to be impressed with KBH from day one, ultimately to absolutely no avail. As my Aunt Blanche used to say when she was feeling weary, ‘I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried’.

  • Mike

    Kay can save a lot of people’s money by quitting now.

    I really wanted to like Medina, but she is not prepared to be governor. It will be Perry vs. White in a close one.

  • Lee

    Oh Kay, you’ve been in Washington too long. You can’t out spin the spin King anymore. Medina offers a fresh look at an old reality.

  • Curtis Remington

    Pretty much spot on. KBH essentially ended her candidacy last night. Her answer on Roe was awful. She did not answer how she would fund future TXDOT obligations. I honestly have no idea why she’s running – other than to get out of Washington.

    Medina was GREAT. Her answer to the viewer question on a state income tax even got cheers from both Perry and Hutchison.

    Perry was solid too. He defended his record well.

    The whole thing cements my vote for Perry. Medina is good, but has no experience. Her tax plan is interesting, but ultimately might be quite a problem for the state. Regardless, she has never run anything that would demonstrate an ability to get any legislative agenda passed. Perry has and therefore gets my vote.

  • Jackson

    I can’t believe I’m writing this….but I agree with Glenn about Medina. Still, she’s a loon.

    And Perry, going for 14 years as gov in this election, is oily and creepy, while Kay is weak and ineffectual.

    The dull but competent Bill White, the dem who waits quietly for the Fall general election, is the more preferred and less loony choice.

  • Sleuth 51

    Paradise is a bigger government. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union did not get it right the first time. I’m sure we can do better. $13 trillion in national debt is just a minor speed bump. The $53 trillion in unfunded mandates? We keep that information locked up in a cupboard in the basement. Let’s pretend that’s not true.

    OK, here’s $16 billion for AIDS in Africa; $15 billion for a military dictator in Pakistan; $1 billion for Georgia — the country, not the state. The Middle East gets $100 billion a year or is it slightly less than that? Now as guardian angel to the world, here’s $500 billion dollars a year to pacify, protect and bribe our allies. A trillion dollar war here. A trillion dollar war there.

    Now domestic matters also require our attention. Let’s expand Medicare, universal health care, social security,education, homeland security and every other agency you may wish to mention. Oh, yes, the SEC, guardian of our investment interest now needs more than a billion a year to help them catch the Madoffs. Our friends on Wall Street backed our campaigns. We need to bail them out. The folk on main street seem clueless. The media have lulled them to sleep. What has worked so well at federal level we can also perpetuate at state level. Just look at the cheerleaders, egging on the Perrys and Hutchisons to expand their largesse and take care of all our needs. Life has never been better and with folk like these at the helm, paradise is just around the corner. These nuts who call in question their commitment to the Constitution have not read Marx and Keynes. They are so 1776.

    Did you say Hong Kong? No property taxes, no income taxes… just minimal taxes and NO public debt. 35 years of uninterrupted economic growth. Oh, well that’s just an aberration. We’ll, take the high road.

  • moomoo

    Well after Friday’s debate I think Debra Medina has my support. I will be sending her donations for her money bomb on Tuesday. I don’t know why Kay didn’t give a better answer this time when asked about Roe v Wade. Perry as for him he is an incumbent. All incumbents must go.

  • Dallasite

    “The dull but competent Bill White… “

    would lose the election if he were the only candidate. Texas isn’t turning blue this year.

    Prediction, Governor Good Hair wins both the primary and the general election in landslides.

  • Brad

    I miss the days when Wick was shilling for KBH by relentlessly attacking Perry. Will Kay pay back all of her campaign donors for wasting their money? How on earth has she been elected Senator?

  • Jackson

    “Dallasite” predicts that Perry wins “the primary and general election in landslides.” Four short years ago, in a four-way general election, he got a paltry 39% of the vote.

    Granted, it was a four-way, and Carole Strayhorn on the ballot as an Independent (18%) took repub votes away from him. But the bottom line is that 60% of all Texans who voted said no to Perry.

    He’s hardly gotten more beloved since then.

    And don’t be too sure Medina doesn’t mount an Independent effort for the general election.

    She likes the spotlight, and the far right base of voters in Texas like her. A lot. I could sketch a scenario where a three-way of Perry, White and Medina makes for a very close race in November, not a landslide.

  • Don in Austin

    I think election laws prevent Medina from running as an independent if she runs in a primary.

    Isn’t Karl Rove on Kay’s team? Her campaign started bad and has gotten worse. She’s maneuvered herself into a position of weakness for her Senate seat, if she chooses to run for re-election.

  • GMOM

    Ya, Karl is her campaign advisor, way to go Karl, you still don’t have what it takes..

  • -e

    Debra Medina has my support!