In debate, students deserve to know candidates’ positions

Forrest Milburn

While I completely understand why Attorney General and gubernatorial front-runner Greg Abbott would not want to debate state Sen. Wendy Davis, his Democratic adversary, I also understand that it’s not enough for both candidates to tour college campuses across the  state, reciting each campaigns’ usual talking points. Both candidates must be called out by the opposing candidate for their policies and initiatives in a debate: UT students deserve to hear Davis call out Abbott for his defense of education cuts in court; Abbott should call out Davis for her lack of clarification on how she plans to afford her education initiatives if elected governor.

Although the two gubernatorial candidates originally agreed on debating in Dallas on Sept. 30, Abbott backed out of the Dallas debate Aug. 29, citing concerns over the proposed debate’s “controversial” format. The two candidates have since agreed to another debate in Dallas on Sept. 30 with different sponsors. 

Abbott’s reasoning behind his decision doesn’t really make a lot of sense. If a candidate, no matter their chances of being elected, decides to throw his or her hat into the political ring, he or she should be able to stand against his or her opponent in a debate. However, why should a front-runner like Abbott want to debate an underdog opponent like Davis? 

The last time an open gubernatorial election occurred in Texas where the front-runner candidate debated his underdog candidate, the end result wasn’t so good for the candidate originally on top. In fact, the debate between the candidates for the 1990 gubernatorial election, State Treasurer Ann Richards and Clayton Williams, resulted in Richards using Williams’ gaffe-prone qualities against him. After Williams made some tasteless remarks over rape and refused to shake Richards’ hand during the debate, Richards was able to win the election with a plurality.

Now, if I were Abbott, I wouldn’t want to risk debating Davis at all, even if the  debate’s format fit my tastes. Who knows what could happen? It’s possible that Abbott might channel Williams’ poor manners and remarks, actually giving Davis a chance to invigorate her supporters, pushing his own supporters to stay home and even siphon moderates away from the other side. She could actually win the election because of some calculated errors of Abbott’s, and I think he’s legitimately afraid of taking that chance.

However, as someone on the ballot for one of the most powerful statewide offices in Texas, Abbott should put his fears aside and hold the people of Texas above partisanship and politics. There’s a reason debates are held during elections, especially for those that determine the control of the executive branch of local, state and national governments. This reason, exchanging ideas over a set of given issues to help the electorate make an informed decision prior to voting, is what drives the idea of voting in the first place: Texans need a government that works for them, but how can that occur when the people voting aren’t making informed decisions? 

This isn’t coming from a partisan viewpoint; I’m not talking about UT students voting for Davis over Abbott, and I’m not talking about them voting for Abbott over Davis. What I’m talking about is that UT students and other students across the state deserve to know what the candidate they plan to vote for believes before actually heading to their nearest polling place. Students can’t make that decision when all they hear is mudslinging on television ads and biased press coverage in the media. Students can and will make that decision only when they hear the candidates’ beliefs from the candidates themselves.

Milburn is a journalism freshman at Austin Community College. He is from Richardson.