Four big-name Republicans running for lieutenant governor said Monday night that a Texas judge erred when he ordered a brain-dead, pregnant woman off life support and vowed if elected to tighten state law so that a similar outcome couldn't happen again.
"It is an extremely difficult set of circumstances. But we need to make certain that as a society, we are protecting life," Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick echoed similar sentiments after a Fort Worth hospital complied this weekend with an order to pull life-sustaining treatment for Marlise Munoz and her 23-week-old fetus.
"We need to clarify the law on this and permit this baby to be born," Dewhurst said.
Stakes were higher in the first statewide televised debate in any race, but this foursome arrived well-rehearsed, if not a little road-weary.
Campaign aides said Monday's debate marked at least the 24th debate or forum featuring all or most of the field in the race for one of the most powerful posts in Texas state politics. Many are hosted by local tea party groups -- yet another was scheduled for Tuesday night in Salado, about 50 miles north of Austin -- and follow a script of each candidate parsing otherwise identical conservative stances on border security, education and gun rights.
But for Monday's living-room audiences in Austin, Houston, Dallas and the Rio Grande Valley, candidates were often knocked off their talking points. Patterson, for instance, broke from his challengers and left the door open for Texas legalizing medical marijuana.
"I'm not a doctor. But if there is medical efficacy for the use of tetrahydrocannabinol, and the doctor prescribes it, I don't see nothing wrong with it," Patterson said. "We're talking about medicine. We're not talking about recreational use."
Afterward, Patrick was asked whether he thought there were no medical purposes for marijuana.
"I don't have the answer to that," Patrick said. "There's no chance of that passing in the Texas Legislature."
Patrick, who filed for bankruptcy in the 1980s, defended not repaying a six-figure debt even though the Houston conservative now has the financial means.
"The law of bankruptcy allows you to start with a clean slate," Patrick said. "I followed the law. It's very tough when you lose everything you have."
The primary is March 4. Awaiting the winner in November is presumptive Democratic nominee Leticia Van de Putte, who emerged as a late challenger to take over the Senate chamber where she's served for a decade.