Competing visions of Texas on November ballot

What’s next for Texas a deciding factor for voters

Attorney General Greg Abbot

In her quest to become Texas’ third woman governor, Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis is harkening back to the days when Ann Richards won the top job in 1990, campaigning to take back the Capitol for the people.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, playing the establishment role after his party’s long winning streak in statewide office, says he wants to build upon Texas’ GOP-led successes to make it even better in the future.

In measuring the two candidates for governor as the Nov. 4 general election nears, voters will find divergent visions for the Lone Star State.

“Voters tend to look at governors the way they hire plumbers or electricians. Do they have a good reputation? Will they take care of the problems? Will they leave you alone otherwise?” said John Weingart, director of the Center on the American Governor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Davis’ theme is to “give all Texans a voice in their future and a place in Texas’ future,” while Abbott wants to empower Texans through “limited government and unlimited opportunity.”

While few Texans would challenge those goals, each candidate has a different idea of how to get there, and they are pushing their proposals hard just as many voters begin to tune in.

They may have their work cut out for them, if recent lunch crowds at two Austin restaurants are typical. Only two of 18 customers who said they are likely to vote knew the candidates’ policy specifics, aside from their positions on abortion and their party affiliations.

“I really don’t know anything about who’s running for governor right now, because I’m busy with other things in my life,” said Gloria Orta-Lopez, 44, an Austin online marketing consultant who says she leans Democratic but likes the tea party mantra of less government.

Nick Davis, a Round Rock construction project supervisor, said he has perused the websites of both candidates and is leaning toward Abbott, although he admitted he is not particularly happy with Texas’ current state after a decade of Republican leadership.

“Taxes are too high. Government has gotten bigger and bigger, not smaller. … Before I vote, I’m going to see which one of them will get us there,” he said.

On same page

Aside from the sniping that the two campaigns have engaged in during recent weeks – over even such things as NFL football and how many men showed up at an Abbott press conference in Houston – substantive policies are at stake.

On some issues, they espouse the same goals, such as improving education and making job-luring initiatives more accountable, creating jobs and support for veterans.

They both voice support for the Second Amendment, a requirement for any politician expecting to get elected to any office in Texas, though Davis favors background checks at gun shows. Abbott does not.

She supports current law providing in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria. Abbott has said the program’s goals are noble, but he wants reforms, including the assurance that students comply with a requirement that they apply for legal residency when eligible.

Davis supports investment in transportation infrastructure, saying it has been ignored and “funds siphoned off” for too long. Abbott has proposed $4 billion more for transportation infrastructure improvements, as Texas’ population continues to grow.

Opposite sides

On others issues, they are complete opposites.

Davis supports gay marriage, while Abbott is a champion of the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex unions.

He is strongly opposed to abortion and supports the state’s current tough rules on the procedure. She rose to national attention for filibustering tighter abortion rules that critics said would force clinics to close, threatening women’s health care.

Abbott opposes the expansion of federal health programs and supports repeal of Obamacare, saying there are better ways to ensure more Texans get proper health care.

Davis supports expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Texans, pointing out the state would get an estimated $100 billion in federal money over 10 years with an investment of just $15.6 billion. It is estimated that more than 1 million Texans would be newly eligible.

For victims of wage discrimination, including women paid less than men for the same work, Davis has pushed for more access to the courts. Abbott says sufficient protections already are in place.

Davis supports raising the state-mandated minimum wage from $7.15 to $10 an hour. Abbott is a no, saying it will cost employers who will cut jobs.

Abbott wants to tighten state ethics laws to prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel to public entities, an obvious dig at Davis’ past legal work. Davis wants more public disclosure about hazardous-chemical caches at plants, slamming Abbott over a ruling that state agencies cannot release previously public records because of a 2003 Homeland Security law to protect against terrorists. Abbott says he wants disclosure through local emergency officials.

While they both support education improvements, Davis backs universal pre-kindergarten. Abbott has proposed helping school districts that want to improve the quality of state-funded pre-kindergarten.

On guns, Davis backs allowing properly trained, background-checked and licensed Texans to carry their handguns openly. She also, however, has said that entities, including cities, should be able to make their own decisions, not only on any proposed open-carry law, but on the existing concealed-carry law. Abbott supports open carry and no new restrictions on concealed-carry laws.

Davis long has pushed for tighter regulations on payday lending, and has cited the possibility of closing corporate tax loopholes to find funding for key needs such as education. Abbott’s camp has called that a tax increase.

Making minds up

In the end, voters will make up their minds in their own way.

Cile Melankowski, 33, a Buda medical assistant who describes herself as a “Republican independent,” said she has been unimpressed by both candidates so far, even though she admits she has not listened much to either.

“I’m inclined to vote for anyone who will get government more out of my personal life, who will respect my rights and solve problems – not just talk about them,” she said.

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