A Democrat, a Libertarian and a Green walk into a room...
True to his word, GOP Gov. Rick Perry did not attend Tuesday night's gubernatorial debate in Austin. He'd earlier said he wouldn't gab toe-to-toe with Democratic nominee Bill White until White released more tax returns from his stints in public posts.
Unsilenced, White, Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto did their best to craft a lively hour, making some statements along the way that we've previously checked. Scroll the entire debate on the video taken by Austin American-Statesman videographer Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon that we've posted to the right below.
Of course, there was also potential fuel for the Texas Truth-O-Meter. White said payroll taxes have more than doubled for some businesses on Perry's watch. Shafto said crime increases right after state executions. And Glass said the state has more than $190 billion in unfunded liabilities plus, presuming we heard right, that services to illegal immigrants account for more than 25 percent of the state budget.
Here's a sampling from the debate of what we've heard before:
— While Perry has built a campaign around how Texas' economic success, frequently boasting that Texas has weathered the recession better than other states, White has consistently pointed out the state's economic shortcomings under the guv. We've rated Mostly True White's oft-repeated claim that Texas has higher unemployment than neighboring states. In August, Texas had a higher unemployment rate than Louisiana (7.6 percent), Arkansas (7.5 percent), and Oklahoma (7 percent). New Mexico had the same unemployment rate as Texas, at 8.3 percent.
— White also repeated this statistic: "a million people are unemployed for the first time." In March, we rate True White's statement that "there's almost 1 million Texans who are unemployed, and that's an all-time record number in our state." Since, the number of unemployed has passed the 1 million mark.
— During the debate, White said that debt has gone up two and a half times since Perry took office. In March, we rated True White's claim that "debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. Perry."
— Glass sounded like White when she said the governor has a 7-hour work week, though she cheerfully added that she's happy he does not work more. In June, White said Perry is "by far and away the highest-paid state employee on an hourly basis." White's campaign cited Perry's public schedule for January through May, calculating that Perry accumulated 145.5 hours of scheduled events in the period, or about 7 hours per week. We rated that Pants on Fire because for one, Perry's hourly wage as calculated by White was less than several state employees. Second, White assumed that the public schedule released by Perry's office accounts for all his working hours. We found that such schedules are woefully incomplete. Update: Perry recently released one weekly schedule to the White campaign — through an open records request — that was more detailed than other schedules he's made public.
— White said Perry proposed a law to reduce drop outs that — oops — was already state law. In August, we rated a similar statement by White Half True. A 1989 law required teens under 18 to show they're in school or had graduated before they could get their driver's licenses. Our finding was that Perry this year did propose a change, aimed at toughening the law that was in place for the past 20 years to cause dropouts to lose their licenses at renewal time. Still, it wasn't entirely new. Last year, Perry signed a bill into law that had a similar goal.
— Both White and Glass took a shot at the Texas Department of Transportation for losing track of $1.1 billion in its budget, a reference to the agency's admission of as much in February 2008. Debra Medina, the Wharton County businesswoman who placed third against Perry in the March GOP primary, rebuked the agency during the Republican debate, saying:"The Texas Department of Transportation... misplaced a billion dollars." We rated that Mostly True: it was an "accounting error" according to a TxDOT spokesman. "A miscalculation."
— Does the maligned Trans-Texas Corridor have a heartbeat? Glass said Tuesday night it was just dormant. In January, we rated Mostly True Perry's claim that "the Trans-Texas Corridor is dead."
We'll wager that campaign season isn't dead, though it's almost decision time for voters. Early voting started Monday and Election Day is Nov. 2.