Picking up the GOP’s new strategy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has refused to debate his Democratic opponent Bill White because White would not release his personal income tax returns for three years in the 1990s. Despite the fact that White paid no personal income taxes in 1995 and did release some tax returns, Perry still refused unless White released additional returns by September 15. Because of this impasse, Texas may not see a general election gubernatorial debate “for the first time since 1990.”
To the consternation of newspapers across the state, Perry has also refused to meet with newspaper editorial boards, where political candidates answer questions from Texas editorial writers and editors in an effort to win the newspaper’s endorsement and inform voters of their positions. Yesterday, Texas newspaper Tyler Morning Telegraph — the paper he once described as his “favorite” in the state and “the most conservative” — lambasted Perry for his “unacceptable and undeserved” position of “silence.” In an unprecedented above-the-fold, above-the-nameplate editorial with an all caps headline, “TIME FOR RESPECT –GOVERNOR PERRY SHOULD END SILENCE,” the paper called on the Texas governor to meet with its board and debate White:
Your position to not visit with the editorial boards of Texas newspapers may be astute politically, but it demonstrates a disregard for newspaper readers and voters across the state, who deserve to hear substance rather than silence.
It is therefore with the greatest concern that we offer not only an editorial board meeting with us, but also an opportunity for a face-to-face debate between you and your opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, for the purposes of illustrating to Texas voters your positions on key issues.[...]
We are facing what’s rumored to be the largest budget deficit and crisis in the history of our state – informed estimates of the budget shortfall range from $18 billion to $20 billion. Newspaper readers, whether Republicans, Democrats or Independents – deserve to hear your solutions to the staggering problems we will be facing as the legislative session begins.
Instead, we’re confronted with an unacceptable and undeserved silence.
This newspaper, which you have repeatedly called “your favorite paper in the state,” has given you support in previous elections in the form of endorsements.[...]
You also have characterized this as one of the most conservative newspapers in the state. We guarantee a level playing field.
As the Texas paper Austin American-Statesman’s Jason Embry noted this morning, it is “very rare to see a newspaper put an editorial on the front page. (I can’t remember any paper I’ve worked for in my 12 years doing that.) Even more rare to put it above the fold. But above the paper’s nameplate?”
Trying to shift blame, Perry insisted in an August press release that it was White who was refusing to debate. But, as the White campaign pointed out, White had accepted five televised debates (six now) and called on the governor to join him in those debates, which Perry has refused to do. Perry’s debate defense was not only false, but made such a “ridiculous claim” that it earned Perry the “pants-on-fire” ruling from nonpartisan fact-checking organization Politifact.
The San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, along with three other newspapers, have said they will host a debate on October 19 “even if White is the only one who shows up.” (HT: Burnt Orange)