Lt. Gov. hopefuls tout pro-business credentials

AUSTIN (AP) — They haven’t yet agreed to hold even one debate, but the two state senators vying to be Texas’ next lieutenant governor at least appeared at the same event Thursday — both saying they’re the right choice to keep the state’s economy humming.

Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio told the annual conference of the Texas Association of Broadcasters in Austin, “I’ve always been an investment gal.” She even defended the economic incentive funds that Republican Gov. Rick Perry has used to lure top employers to Texas. Opponents have likened them to slush funds because of a lack of outside oversight.

“I’m a pro-business Democrat and I’ve never made any apologies about it,” Van de Putte, a pharmacist and 24-year veteran legislator, told the crowd. “We know that we need to lure more business to Texas. I’m not content with just where we are.”

Speaking moments later, tea party-backed Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston said, “The record is clear I’m the pro-business candidate in this race.” His campaign, meanwhile, got a boost earlier in the day, winning the endorsement of the powerful lobbying organization the Texas Association of Business.

Patrick didn’t mention the incentive funds, which Perry’s office administers and which have distributed millions of dollars to attract job-creators. Their future could be in jeopardy, though.

Perry isn’t seeking re-election and the favorite to replace him, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, has expressed reservations about continuing the funds in their current forms. Patrick also has been critical in the past of the notion of “government picking winners and losers” in the business world — a practice conservative activists have also fiercely criticized.

Though they didn’t actually share a stage, Thursday was one of the few times the lieutenant governor candidates’ campaign paths crossed. Van de Putte has proposed holding five debates in different cities around Texas ahead of November’s election, but says she’s yet to get a response from Patrick.

“I don’t know where Dan’s been,” Van de Putte told reporters after the broadcasters’ event. “I don’t know if he’s dodging or just can’t decide.”

Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia responded that the campaign was still negotiating a venue and finalizing media coverage for at least one debate. It was unclear how long that process would take.

A conservative radio show host who isn’t broadcasting during the campaign because of equal-time limitations, Patrick himself didn’t speak to reporters afterward. But he was clearly in his element with the broadcast crowd, reminiscing about cutting his teeth as a young sportscaster in Pennsylvania.

He got serious, though, when stressing the need for Texas to secure its border with Mexico above all else.

“We’re not anti-Hispanic, we’re not anti-immigrant, we’re not anti-anyone but we want people to come here with dignity,” Patrick said. He said it is up to Congress to change federal law, but “when you secure the border, you force Washington’s hand to pass immigration reform.”

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