( - promoted by Phillip Martin)
Update: go here for audio of the debate! Thanks to Mike Heidenreich at UT's Liberal Arts ITS.
First off, let me apologize to Trey for my earlier insinuations that the questions might be filtered. The questions were fantastic ones for McMurrey, and I was very pleased to see that the candidates had a good deal of time to speak on the most important issues.
Burkablog has a decent rundown of the candidates positions, question by question, and I've posted a comment that adds some things to his list. Burka called the debate for McMurrey, and I agree 100%. McMurrey played to win, while Noriega played not to lose.
I agree with Phillip that both candidates did well last night, but for different reasons. For McMurrey, this was his big chance to inform people about his progressive platform, which he did a fabulous job of. He addressed the crowd directly, listed specific policies that he would support, and showed a broad knowledge of the various topics. McMurrey was energetic, challenging Noriega on a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq and on his commitment to national health care. Noriega took a more cautious approach, avoiding direct engagement with McMurrey and declining to move beyond generalities about his policy positions. This was smart strategy for the front-runner, just get through without any mistakes, and Noriega did just that. Noriega was also fairly good at delivering jokes - both of his laugh lines about not hunting with Dick Cheney and wanting public funding of elections because John Cornyn has such a big lead in fundraising went over well.
Commenting on the health care question, there is a big difference between McMurrey and Noriega on this issue. Noriega supports "guaranteed coverage," according to his website, and said last night that he would support Hillary's proposal to mandate that everyone go out and get coverage. But Noriega still envisions a major role for private insurers, which will leave us with many of the same problems of the current system - playing the deductible/copay game, dealing with red tape, doctors having to deal with these companies, and most importantly, the insurance companies will still decide what get what gets covered and what doesn't, and will still be able to leave doctors off their lists on a whim. This plan is similar to Cornyn's plan in all of the above ways. It is a step in the right direction in terms of affordability, but it is not nearly enough.
On the other hand, the single-payer system that McMurrey is touting will allow everyone to be insured by the government. This way, the people will have a say in the type of coverage they have, the system will be streamlined through one processing center, we will cut costs far more effectively by cutting bloated executive salaries and corporate profits out of the system, and best of all, we won't have to deal with the insurance companies. When we need care, we'll simply go get it, secure in the knowledge that the national health care system will provide that care. There is a huge difference between Noriega's corporate-centric plan and McMurrey's people/government-centric plan, and McMurrey is right to draw the distinction here, and to point out the similarities between Noriega and Cornyn on this issue.
Another big difference between the two candidates was on Iraq - McMurrey took the lead on this issue, not simply saying it's time for us to leave now, but that he has gone on record opposing the war at the time we invaded Iraq. He called the occupation illegal and immoral, and set a clear timetable for withdrawal - 15 months. Noriega agreed that it was time to go, but did not talk about his feelings on the war when it began, and would not commit to a timetable, despite being asked twice by a moderator. He seemed more interested in talking about his military experience, frankly.
Noriega came out in favor of publicly funded elections, which was a surprise, having never heard him make a public statement in favor of clean elections. He listed off a bunch of campaign finance bills that he's supported without going into any details, but I wonder if any of those were related to public financing of campaigns, which is different from campaign finance writ large. Can anyone give me a bill number and session number on a bill in the Texas lege over the last few years that has called for public financing of elections? At any rate, money still runs politics in Texas, so if Noriega has acted on this issue, we don't have any results. I'm glad he's for it, though, and I hope he'll make it a major issue. Maybe McMurrey has pulled him to the left on this one, since this has always been one of Ray's top issues.
I liked that the mods worked the Hutto debacle into the question about immigration - that was a national shame, and a lot of people still don't know about it. If you're one of those, read here.
I do want to thank KAB and UDems for finding the room and the moderators, setting up all the sound stuff, and emceeing. This was a sizable undertaking, and I appreciate their efforts. One question I have for the hosts - why were the audience questions cut out at the end? They are an important part of any debate, and were promised in the debate format agreement, yet were dropped without explanation.