Bush should resist debate-ducking trend

July 28, 2018

For a while Texans could be optimistic about debates between the Republican incumbents for statewide races and their mostly underdog Democratic challengers. Gov. Greg Abbott agreed to a debate with Lupe Valdez, regrettably on a Friday night when high school football would distract many Texans. Sen. Ted Cruz has also agreed to debate Beto O’Rourke, possibly at several different cities. That early momentum is fading, however. Other top Republicans are saying they won’t respect voters with this basic gesture. That was to be expected — though still not excused — from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick or Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, but Land Commissioner George P. Bush should not put himself in that group.

Patrick is the loudest voice of Republicans who have little or no respect for Democrats. Miller is a character who careened from one embarrassment in his current term, like calling Hillary Clinton the C-word in a tweet, an insult he blamed on a staffer.

Bush, however, is not like Patrick or Miller. He’s young and ambitious, and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. Great things are not done by average people. Already some are saying Bush could be the next Texas governor and might run for president some day.

If Bush’s long-range plans include anything like that, he should agree to debate his Democratic opponent, Miguel Suazo. Bush should know that voters want to see candidates in an unscripted format, thinking on their feet, dealing with unpredictable questions. They get none of that in glossy ads or well-rehearsed stump speeches. If Bush ducks Suazo this fall, he would give voters little reason to think he is ready for something bigger.

Years ago, debates were common between Democrats and Republicans for statewide races. But partisan feelings got harder, and Democrats often put up weak or unqualified candidates. Even when the Democrat presented a deserving alternative, the Republican incumbent invariably refused to meet on a stage. The Republican office-holder didn’t have to, so he or she didn’t.

In this cycle, however, things are different. Democrats have some solid challengers, and their party is hoping that anti-Trump feelings will unleash a “Blue wave” in the November elections. O’Rourke is even raising more money than Cruz for now, something that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

The debate drought needs to end — permanently — in this fall’s campaigns. Once again, debates should be seen as a regular part of any race for higher office. Bush can keep that momentum going — and coincidentally help his own fortunes — or he can side with the unreasonable faction of his party. That choice should be simple.

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