Lt. governor race favors Dewhurst, faces funding gap

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The biggest challenge for the next lieutenant governor, the second-highest ranking official in the state, could be how to plug the state’s ever-growing budget deficit. The latest estimates place the deficit as high as $25 billion.

The current lieutenant governor, two-term Republican incumbent David Dewhurst faces an underdog challenge from Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson.

“Dewhurst is clearly in the lead because of a number of different factors,” said Sherri Greenberg, a lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and former state legislator. “He has the power of incumbency and is a Republican in a red state in a year that is really good for Republicans.”

As president of the Texas Senate, the lieutenant governor appoints legislators to committees and casts, deciding votes on legislation in case of a tie.

Dewhurst leads Chavez-Thompson 51 to 38 percent in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Libertarian candidate Scott Jameson took 9 percent.

UT government lecturer James Henson, a co-director of the poll, said the race fit a general pattern of statewide contests, where Republican candidates hold serious advantages of incumbency, fundraising and expected party turnout.

“Dewhurst is a very well-funded candidate, with a lot of personal money to put into his campaign,” Henson said. “Chavez-Thompson has been unsuccessful at raising the necessary amount of funds for her campaign, partly because she has had little help from the state Democratic Party.”

In the latest 30-day campaign finance reports, Dewhurst outspent Chavez $3.39 million to $184,000, according to data from the Texas Tribune.

Chavez-Thompson wants to use every dollar of the state’s $8.2 million Rainy Day Fund to plug the budget hole, but Dewhurst would use only half the rainy day fund to fill the gap.

State lawmakers will also take up the redistricting process in 2011, and several conservative lawmakers have promised to introduce stricter immigration laws modeled on Arizona’s controversial SB 1070.

Dewhurst was one of the biggest supporters of a bill in the 81st legislative session that would have required Texans to show either one photo ID such as a driver’s license along with their voting card or two non-photo IDs such as a birth certificate when they vote in state elections. Chavez-Thompson said voter fraud is not a serious issue in the state.

“I think we should be making it as easy as possible for citizens of this great state to be free to vote and not have any obstacle placed before them,” Chavez-Thompson said.

As executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, Chavez-Thompson has advocated for pro-labor issues. She is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and served as a member of a presidential advisory commission on race relations. Prior to being elected lieutenant governor, Dewhurst was commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

Dewhurst established a program called the Texas Back to Work Initiative earlier this year, which he said has helped create thousands of jobs in the state.

“We were the last ones into this recession, and I want to make sure we are the first ones out,” Dewhurst said.

But Chavez-Thompson said she is skeptical of Republican leaders’ claims about the state’s economic health. She said that according to recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas has the highest share of minimum-wage workers in the nation, and needs to focus on creating higher-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.