The lone televised Bill White-Farouk Shami debate before the Democratic gubernatorial primary*––an event watched by perhaps dozens of voters across Texas––was a major snooze-inducing disappointment, primarily because Shami failed to say anything really off-the-wall or lay down some of the gratuitous nastiness he'd been laying down when out of White's earshot. Of course, we're not 100-percent positive Shami didn't say anything truly outrageous, because, frankly, we had a difficult time understanding a lot of what the native of the West Bank (not of the Brazos) said.** In fact, we were hoping that White, after Shami had reeled off a long, winding, half-sensical ask-your-opponent-a-question query,*** which had something to do with "butadiene" and "benzene" (or, maybe, "Benzedrine"), was going to pause for a beat and reply, "Would you repeat the question?" Now that would have been nasty!
But that was not to be, because White was there not so much to debate Shami as to tune-up for his expected main bout with Rick Perry. Shami, however, was not a worthy sparring partner. White even seized on the relative sedateness of the hour-long (seemed like two,) encounter when he asked voters to note that he and the well-coiffed hair-care products manufacturer had "treated each other with respect"--not like those impolite Republicans who were "shouting" over one another and throwing gang signs, etc., during their debates.
We did not keep a scorecard, because this wasn't really a sporting encounter worthy of scoring, but we must offer the following observations, annotated by the cold light of morning:
1. White seemed up-tight and bit constricted in the early going, wearing a strained grin that he couldn't seem to wipe off until one or two questions in. He settled down later, but somehow he needs to project his sittin'-'round-the-council horseshoe persona. Otherwise, he just won't show when he debates Sr. Perry, the unacknowledged promotional genius of Texas politics.
2. Shami needs to learn how to pronounce "moratorium," especially since he's calling for one on executions. White wisely rejected that notion out-of-hand, knowing full well that no one's getting elected governor of Texas by promoting a stay on the death house action. The ex-mayor, who we suppose did not have to add that he's against executing the innocent, also set forth a rather stout defense of the current criminal justice system, which he described as "for the most part" just (or something close to that--our notes are squinchy and hard to read). We'd bet this did not sit well with the editor of the Houston Chronicle or his wife or their new favorite author, but it's unlikely to keep White from winning the newspaper's endorsement. It's also the correct position.
3. White also came on like a tough guy on potential voting abuse, declaring that any "non-citizen" caught voting should be "investigated," "indicted" and then "serve time" (Ouch!) ... but, of course, he couldn't bring himself to stray from the party line and endorse the display of a photo I.D. as a requirement for voting. This is why Democrats can't win a statewide election, in case you were wondering.
4. The one indisputable Shami-esque moment came when the hair-care magnate, in answering some question on border control, said––and we believe he was grinning wildly when he did––"Without Mexicans it would be like a day without sunshine." (By which he meant, if we can interpret: "A day without Mexicans--that is, people from Mexico, as opposed to Mexican Americans--is like a day without cheap, easily exploitable labor.") At first we weren't sure we had heard him correctly and scribbled in our notes, "w/o Mex.s=day w/o s-shine????", but according to subsequent news reports our ears had not betrayed us.
5. White will have a difficult go of it facing-off against Perry, who during the Republican debates was affecting a very pronounced Paul Newman-as-Hud swagger and smile. (Unfortunately, K. B. Hutchison is no Patricia Neal, either in the brains or the smouldering, self-possessed sexuality department, so their verbal confrontations lacked the snap of the movie's.). White, meanwhile, seemed to be channeling Arnold Stang, with a Texas accent, during the first few minutes of Monday night's debate.
So you got Hud in a top-down Caddy vs. some smilin' bald guy from Houston. How do you think the odds stand right now?
**Unlike some minor local media celebs, we would never mock or belittle someone for the way they talked, because our parents raised us better, but we do believe that communication is one of the key duties of a governor and therefore he or she should have the ability to make himself or herself easily understood.
***Allowing candidates to "question" their opponents during televised debates is a horrible idea that needs to be abandoned immediately, as these question-posings are just another occasion for the candidates to deliver some of their canned ham.