We deserve a debate

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Editor’s note: On Aug. 27, five major Texas newspapers jointly announced they would sponsor a gubernatorial debate on the UT campus with KLRU-TV, Austin’s public television station. With the election only a couple of months away, the newspapers’ announcement was meant to put pressure on Bill White and Gov. Rick Perry to debate each other and inform the electorate of their positions. White has announced he will attend the debate, but Perry has so far refused. The Texan has teamed up with nine major college newspapers around the state, representing a total of 250,000 students, to take to the editorial page and add urgency to that request: We want a debate.

On Oct. 19, UT is supposed to host a gubernatorial debate between Gov. Rick Perry and Bill White, but there’s a good chance that White will stand on stage alone for an hour, fielding questions from a panel of newspaper representatives.

The governor refuses to debate White until he releases tax returns from when he served as deputy energy secretary under President Clinton from 1993-95 and Texas Democratic Party chairman from 1995-98.

Whether or not you believe White should release the records, one thing is clear: Perry should not be able to define the terms under which he will debate. The debate isn’t about him and his grievances with the White campaign — it’s about informing the voters.

Perry’s repeated refusal to debate White is petty and does a disservice to voters who would like to hear the candidates — both of them — answer tough questions before they go to the polls.

It’s true that strategically, Perry has the least to gain by showing up at the debate. He’s the incumbent, after all, and he’s leading in polls. But Perry needs to stop thinking like a politician and start acting like a public servant. As the current — and possibly future — leader of the state, he owes it to every voter to stand next to White and justify his actions as governor and explain why Texans should vote for him.

Perry needs to explain, for example, how he would approach the projected budget shortfall next spring when the Legislature is in session. We presume that students would especially like to hear him debate White on his plans for funding higher education.

Without a debate, the voters lack the necessary information about the candidates and their positions. Voters need to hear direct questions and direct answers, the type that would be provided in a debate setting. It is not enough to read vague and hyperbolic campaign materials.

Perry also refused to meet with Texas editorial boards this election. His spokesman Mark Miner said they believe “a better use of the governor’s time is to talk directly to Texans and reporters throughout the state.”

The Perry campaign is in luck because the debate is an opportunity to directly communicate with a huge audience of Texans.

By blowing off the debate, Perry is not acting like the governor of Texas. That position should be filled by someone who will represent and serve the people of Texas. Instead, he’s acting like a typical self-serving politician.

We hope he reconsiders his decision because we’d like to see a vigorous and productive debate. We’re confident Texas voters would, too.