Debating appears to have lost its allure for Perry
Bill White, the Democratic nominee for governor, issued a news release July 21 calling Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign approach to debating “dramatically different from what it was in 2002,” when he ran for governor against Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez.
“If two debates are good, 12 will be great,” Perry said in a Sept. 9, 2002, news release titled “Texans deserve more than two urban debates.”
“Voters in East and West Texas deserve to have their voices heard and their questions answered at gubernatorial debates,” he said then.
At that point, Sanchez had committed to two debates in October in Dallas and Houston. According to the news release, Perry had accepted a dozen invitations to debate. Has Perry changed his tune? “Not at all,” said Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Perry’s campaign. “Gov. Perry looks forward to the opportunity to debate Bill White as soon as he releases his tax returns from his years in public service.”
In April, Perry said he wouldn’t debate White until the Democrat released returns for the six years he served as Houston’s mayor and the two years he served as a deputy energy secretary in the Clinton administration.
Amid Perry’s prompting, White has released his returns back to 2004, when he took office as Houston’s mayor.
But Perry’s campaign said it wasn’t enough and pushed White to release more records. “By withholding tax returns for his years in public service dating back to the 1990s, Bill White has not matched Governor Perry’s level of transparency,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner said in statement.
What do tax returns have to do with debates? Nothing that we can think of — and Perry has not linked them in his previous gubernatorial campaigns. That’s not to say he hasn’t talked about them.
In December 2001, both Perry and Sanchez released information about their 2000 income taxes. Though Perry released the accompanying tax schedules that detailed how he made his money, Sanchez revealed only what he made ($6.4 million) and paid ($852,000 in income taxes), according to a Dec. 14, 2001, American-Statesman report.
By March 2002, when Sanchez had secured the Democratic nomination, Perry was calling on him to release the rest of his tax information, plus “his complete tax returns for the years that he served on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (1985-91) and the University of Texas System Board of Regents (1997-present),” according to a March 30, 2002, Statesman article. After Sanchez released a limited amount of information dating back to 1991, Perry still pushed Sanchez to release his complete income tax returns so voters could know whether his financial holdings posed a conflict of interest.
At the time, Sanchez’s campaign manager, Glenn Smith, sounded a lot like the White campaign when he said that “it’s very easy for a career politician who has always been on the public payroll to do what Perry’s doing.”
But for all of the candidates’ huffing and puffing about income tax returns during the 2002 election, we couldn’t find any evidence that Perry had made a debate conditional upon a full release of Sanchez’s financial information. We also found no evidence that the Sanchez campaign ever complied with Perry’s request to provide more details, and Smith told us that he didn’t recall ever releasing the in-depth returns.
Meanwhile, the two debates between Perry and Sanchez were held as planned.
In his last run for election in 2006, Perry seemed less enthusiastic to debate his challengers, including Democrat Chris Bell and independents Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn. The four faced off only once, in October. A month before, Perry told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that one debate was enough because the scheduled event, with its multiple participants, would be a “circus.”
We didn’t hear back from the Perry campaign when we asked whether he has ever set a precondition on a debate before. Since we found no evidence that Perry has ever made a debate conditional upon his opponent’s release of tax returns, we call that a Full Flop on his willingness to debate.