Greg Abbott Backs Out Of Only TV Debate With Wendy Davis After Hiring New Debate Consultant

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UPDATED 8/30/14: Apparently Greg Abbott has “agreed” to a different televised debate after complaining about the format and backing out of the previously planned TV debate with WFAA. Davis and Abbott will appear on the same day (Sept. 30th) on KERA. One of Abbott’s major concerns in his original acceptance letter was the presence of a live audience.

Original Story:

Back in May Wendy Davis proposed 6 debates with Greg Abbott across the state of Texas, he agreed to do two, but today he backed out of the only one that was planned to be broadcasted on statewide television.

The move is another mark in a disturbing trend of Abbott moving away from transparency and the public spotlight just as the traditional campaign season kicks-off this Labor Day weekend.

It seems all the heat Abbott has been taking regarding his policy positions and connections to the Rick Perry indictment is starting to make him a little uncomfortable and he has decided to take his ball and go home.

The backlash has been swift and from all sides. After Abbott initially committed to 2 of the 6 debates Davis wrote him, “Your campaign’s public commitment to multiple debates gives me confidence that you share my eagerness to engage as many voters as possible in this manner before Election Day.”

Even at the time the Abbott camp was not showing an “eagerness” to put their man out on the stage with Senator Davis. The Houston Chronicle reported that Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager, declined any further debate opportunities beyond the first two but firmly committed saying, “As you know, two invitations for statewide debates were established weeks ago, and our campaign will not waiver on those commitments,” Well scratch that.

Now the campaign’s line goes like, “Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate.” That’s according to Robert Black, Abbott’s new campaign debate consultant.  WFAA said the debate format was chosen to, “create a conversation and give voters a more candid look at candidates and their positions.” So I guess it is safe to assume that is not something the campaign is willing to do.

Unsurprisingly that doesn’t sit well with WFAA, the station that had agreed to host the debate and who also disputes Abbott’s claims. They published the original acceptance letter they received from Abbott’s campaign back in May where they did agree to the terms of the debate.  It was slated to air on all Gannett stations which currently reach 83% of Texans, it was also being made available on the radio and via livestream.

Mike Devlin, President and General Manager of WFAA-TV said,

We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate…WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.

The station even insinuated that the campaign waited until Friday to bury the announcement in people’s busy Labor Day weekend. Friday is often referred to as “news dump day” and is when most entities choose to let out bad or unflattering news.

Even GOP Senator John Carona of Dallas said Abbott’s snubbing of the Dallas area stations commitment was chicken. He told WFAA, “I’m a staunch Republican, but this is one more embarrassing move by a Republican candidate that either can’t or won’t defend his position on the issues.”

Texas Organizing Project’s political Director Joaquin Guerra made the following statement:

Texas has huge problems after 14 years under Rick Perry’s leadership, and Greg Abbott must have a copy of Perry’s leadership handbook. How else can he explain his defense of Texas’ broken public school financing system that a district judge found to be unconstitutional just yesterday? No wonder he backed out.”

Indeed Perry’s years of avoiding editorial boards may have keep Texans in the dark on his policies but it made him woefully unprepared for the national stage. And now it looks like Abbott is trying to take the same easy path to the Governor’s mansion.  And given the headlines lately, can you blame him?

Abbott’s campaign took several devastating blows already this week including that our school finance system that he defended in court was deemed unconstitutional and being wrapped in the Perry indictment and other ethics scandals. Given these turn of events just as voters are starting to pay attention, the Abbott camp must think it is a better move to renege on a promise to appear than to actually have to appear and answer tough questions.

Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer released a strong admonishment of Abbott for backing out calling him a “coward,” and questions what he has been hiding especially since the indictment of Governor Perry.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is a coward. Backing out of a debate shows his campaign isn’t ready for prime time. He and his team have a fundamental disrespect for Texans and he is unwilling to have his ideas questioned by the press and everyday voters. After Perry’s indictment, it seems like Texas Republicans have a lot to hide. Will Hailer

And for good measure he is the reaction from a prominent reporter from the Dallas Morning News:

Read the full acceptance letter that Abbott sent to WFAA here.

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard.

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