The swirling force of Texas politics

Miss the Debate? Read our Liveblog

By MICHAEL GRACZIK
|  Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010  |  Updated 11:43 AM CDT
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Miss the Debate?  Read our Liveblog

KXAS/AP

Democratic hopefuls Farouk Shami and Bill White will debate in Fort Worth.

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Houston hair care businessman Farouk Shami guaranteed Monday that he would create 100,000 jobs available to everyone, free electricity and a moratorium on the death penalty if he's elected governor of Texas.

NBC DFW's Omar Villafranca live-blogged from the debate:

In the first and possibly only debate involving Shami and three-term former Houston Mayor Bill White, the two most well-funded Democrats running for governor, Shami made sweeping promises while White mostly ignored him to focus on Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry.

Both Democrats, however, agreed on the importance of jobs -- a key item in their campaigns.

"Creating jobs is my specialty," Shami, 67, of Houston, said in the debate broadcast statewide before a small audience from a TV station in Fort Worth. "When I am governor, everybody is going to go to work."

He also promised to pay the state $10 million -- the same amount he's budgeted for his election effort -- if 100,000 jobs aren't created under his watch. He did not provide specifics, though he's previously touted highway and landscaping projects.

White, 55, said the way to create jobs is to retrain unemployed people and ensure they have a job at the end of the training.

"I do not think the governor of Texas has control over the global economy," White said. "I think the governor can do what we can to prepare our work force for the future. As mayor of Houston, I brought businesses to Houston, but that alone won't be enough."

The question of a death penalty moratorium in the nation's most active capital punishment state was a major item of disagreement, with Shami declaring "a lot of innocent people" have been put to death.

"We cannot be bragging on how many people we have been executing," he said, insisting he wouldn't support resuming executions unless he was "110 percent sure" of a convicted person's guilt.

White said a blanket suspension wouldn't work "because that would disrespect the juries and the victims and the criminal justice where there is no question ... about the evidence used to convict."

The two men also disagreed on Shami's proposal for free electricity, which Shami said could be achieved in 10 years through expansion of wind and solar energy use.

White called the goal unrealistic in Texas, saying he had examined the prospects as mayor of the state's largest city and "would not want to be in a building" in the summer that was powered only by wind or solar energy.

He also turned the question, which was focused on energy deregulation, on Perry, saying the governor "doesn't hold himself accountable" for higher electric rates as a result of energy deregulation.

"Some of the politicians need to accept responsibility for advertising your (electric) bill would go down when it did not," White said.

The Democrat who wins the March 2 primary is hoping to claim the Texas governor's mansion after 16 years of GOP control.

White, responding to a question about voter ID laws, called it a "wedge issue" and continued his emphasis on Perry.

"That is a classic illustration of where Gov. Perry has brought partisan politics of Washington to the state house," he said, adding that under former governors George W. Bush and Ann Richards, "people did work together."

The Texas Democratic gubernatorial primary often has taken a back seat to the high-profile Republican slugfest between Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who have participated in two similar debates with activist Debra Medina.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner called Shami and White "liberal Democrats" and said that like Hutchison, they "are all pro-choice and they are all big government advocates."

"Gov. Perry is the only candidate in this race with a proven record of creating jobs, cutting taxes, and upholding fiscally conservative values that have made the Texas economy resilient during a national economic downturn," Miner said.

White advised voters to consider the Republican debates, which he said degenerated into name calling sessions.

"Compare how Mr. Shami and I have treated each other, with respect," he said. "Compare it to other debates when people were shouting over each other."

White appears to be mainstream Democrats' choice after abandoning his original plan to run for U.S. Senate. Shami is fueling his bid with his fortune.

Shami is a Palestinian born outside Jerusalem and parlayed his development of chemical-friendly hair care products and a flat-iron hair straightening tool into a business worth tens of millions of dollars.

He called his candidacy "proof the American dream is alive" and compared the change he advocated to the election of Barack Obama. Like the president, he said, he has "an unconventional name."

White is a lawyer, former U.S. deputy energy secretary and oil industry investor. He grew up in San Antonio as the son of two teachers.

No Democrat has held the Texas governor's office since Richards was bounced by Bush in 1994 after a single four-year term. Republicans hold all statewide elected offices and have crushed Democrats by huge margins since the late 1990s.

Five other candidates are on the Democratic ballot in the but only White and Shami were invited to the debate by north Texas public broadcast station KERA and its media partners.

Associated Press writer Angela K. Brown contributed to this report.

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