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Statewide candidates should debate

August 3, 2018

There is no public policy argument for statewide candidates not to debate one another. Oh, sure, there are political reasons for incumbents to duck debates, and there is a long tradition of incumbents in Texas doing just that — the concern being giving those pesky challengers attention and legitimacy.

But in terms of honoring and informing voters, and doing what is right for the public, there simply is no debate. Having candidates debate is a good thing.

This is true at the local level when mayoral and city council candidates spar over the issues and take tough questions, and it’s true at the presidential level before a national television audience.

Unfortunately, a number of statewide incumbents are ducking debates this year.

Not all. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican and excellent debater, has agreed to five debates with his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has been a fundraising machine and wants six debates.

Details are still being worked out, but these should be lively, engaging and informative events. Voters will come away with a much stronger sense of each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Bravo.

Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, sort of appear on their way to agreeing to at least one debate. This sets Abbott apart from other incumbents.

Other statewide candidates are avoiding their opponents and the prospect of tough questions.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had no problem debating former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro on immigration in 2014, but they were not running against each other for office. Patrick has refused to debate Democrat Mike Collier, who holds an MBA and was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Houston.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has refused to debate his Democratic opponent, Kim Olson.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has refused to debate Houston attorney Justin Nelson.

And Land Commissioner George P. Bush is dodging a debate with Democrat Miguel Suazo.

C’mon, candidates. Take the tough questions and spar with your challengers on policies and ideas. It’s the right thing to do for voters and an important part of running for office.

Is that really such a scary proposition? If it is, perhaps you should seek other work.

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