De­bat­ing ap­pears to have lost its al­lure for Perry

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Ciara O’Rourke

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.

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