While Congress is showing no signs of moving forward on passing comprehensive immigration reform, the complicated issue was spotlighted Tuesday night in a heated debate between state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
Patrick and Castro aren’t running against each other for political office; Castro isn’t running for anything right now.
Patrick is running for what many call the most powerful job in Texas, lieutenant governor, and he’s doing it with ads like this:
“Dan Patrick is the only candidate running for lieutenant governor who opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. 'I’ll do what Washington won’t do. I’ll secure our border and I’ll end sanctuary cities and I’ll never stop fighting against Obama’s attacks on Texas.' Secure the border. Fight Obama. Dan Patrick for lieutenant governor."
Patrick got the most votes in the March primary for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, but still faces incumbent David Dewhurst in the May runoff.
Castro said watching Patrick’s political ads is what spurred him to send a tweet challenging him on the issue of immigration. That first tweet led to Tuesday night’s debate, which was hosted by the San Antonio Spanish-language station Univision KWEX-TV.
And while Patrick and Castro shared a stage they definitely did not share a common view on the future of Texas in regards to how to treat people who are in the state illegally.
Castro: "You have talked about undocumented immigrants bringing third world diseases, including leprosy and polio, to Texas. You have said we are seeing an illegal invasion from Mexico.”
Patrick: “The fact is I have to put American citizens, whether they be Mexican Americans, Anglos or African Americans, first.”
Patrick also tried to uses the night’s platform to reach out Latino viewers and soften his position on illegal immigration.
Patrick: “I have the courage to come to speak to an audience that is primarily Democrat in your viewing audience and tell them who we are, that we care about them, that we love them as evangelical Christians or Catholic Christians. That we don’t want to see them exploited, don’t want them to live in the shadows. We want their communities to be safe from crime. We don’t want them to come to America in the back of an 18 wheeler. That’s who we are, mayor.”
But Castro was focused on reminding viewers of Patrick’s record and his previous hardline stance on illegal immigrants.
Castro: “Out there on Twitter, in front of the Alamo [and] in your campaign you’ve been huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf and now you’re dancing around, tip toeing like Little Red Riding Hood on this issue.”
After the hour-long debate the two agreed that the legal immigration system is broken, border security can be improved and Congress should pass immigration reform now, but they disagreed on a pathway to citizenship.
And in post debate interviews they disagreed on who won the debate. Castro said he was the victor.
Castro: “He couldn’t defend his record tonight. He started talking defending his comments about third world diseases coming into this country from immigrants. And he talked about the number of anchor babies.”
But Patrick had a different tact.
Patrick: “ It wasn’t about winning or losing it was about communicating a message. I’ll let the people decide that. It wasn’t about winning or losing. We aren’t running against each other. We’re not trying to get voters.”
University of Texas at San Antonio Professor of Political Science Walt Wilson said they each won because Patrick and Castro had different reasons for agreeing to the debate.
“I would say in some ways a draw," Wilson said. "Castro attempted to put Dan Patrick on the spot quite a bit. Patrick did a pretty good job of trying to change the subject to issues that he thought might help him score some points like abortion and so on. It was kind of an interesting exercise given that they aren’t running against one another.”
Clearly both politicians are aware of the changing demographics of Texas and that a growing Latino population could mean the end of solid GOP rule -- particularly if the Texas republican party continues to embrace policies unpopular with the majority of Hispanics in the state. Wilson said that was made clear in the debate during this exchange.
Patrick: “I’m the one candidates that the Democrats fear that’s why all of you have been attacking me because you know that I’m going to go out speak too, like I am tonight. I have the courage to come out and talk about public policy.
Castro: “Actually, you are our meal ticket back in.”
“That is definitely telling as to why Castro thought that this debate might be worthwhile, which is with Dan Patrick the standard bearer for the Republican Party -- in the lieutenant governor’s race -- if he can be successfully painted as out of the main stream he can also be someone who can begin to make it harder and harder for moderates to vote Republican,” Wilson said.
Wilson said Patrick’s performance helped his chances in winning the lieutenant governor runoff, but looking at the long-term, big picture in Texas politics, he may be hurting the Republican party’s chances in winning the critical Latino vote in future election cycles; maybe even one where Patrick and Castro are running for the same office.
Dewhurst, Patrick's opponent in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, had this to say about the debate:
“The political circus rolled through San Antonio tonight and trampled an important policy issue into an unrecognizable mess. Texans understand the importance of securing the border, but were subjected to an hour of name calling and wild tangents. Their empty exchange is further proof that Lt. Governor Dewhurst is the only candidate who has not only secured funding for law enforcement’s battle with drug cartels, but also presented a proven plan to secure the border. There were no winners in tonight’s ‘debate,’ but the clear losers were the people of Texas.”