Democratic candidates plan to address education

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Former Mayor Bill White shakes hands with Rep. Mark Strama after a rally for his gubernatorial candidacy at Sholtz Garten in December.

Photo Credit: Caleb Bryant Miller | Daily Texan Staff

As the gubernatorial primaries draw near, Democratic candidates Bill White and Farouk Shami are gearing up for their first debate Monday.

The debate, hosted by public broadcasting station KERA, will begin at 7 p.m. and will be held at a CBS studio in Fort Worth in front of an audience. White, a former mayor of Houston, and Shami, a self-made businessman, will take questions from viewers through social-networking Web sites, reporters and live audience members.

Sherri Greenberg, economics lecturer and former member of the House of Representatives, said education, jobs and environmental issues will dominate Monday’s debate. Greenberg said the idea of fresh leadership will underscore both Shami’s and White’s answers.

“Both [candidates] are positioning themselves as agents of change,” Greenberg said. “Shami will say that he’s an outsider, and White will say that we need new blood in the governor’s office.”

Ally Smith, spokeswoman for White, said the candidates will probably focus more on debating the issues, not each others’ reputations, which happened during the Republican primary debate on Jan. 29 between Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina.

Viewers should also expect to hear candidates addressing a more student-friendly topic, Smith said.

“You didn’t hear anything about education in Friday’s debate, yet it’s the most important role of state government,” she said.

She said the long-term economic growth of Texas is dependent on having an educated workforce, which can be done by increasing high school graduation rates and reducing financial obstacles to higher education.

“We need to bring down the skyrocketing tuition increases,” White said in an interview with The Daily Texan. “We need to make sure young people are not prevented from going to college for financial reasons.”

Greenberg said Shami is not favored to win the Democratic nomination, but that hasn’t kept the underdog candidate from campaigning.

“I feel confident that after this debate, the Democratic primary will receive significantly more attention as people in Texas realize I am the only candidate who is not a career politician and who has real-life experience solving significant problems on a large scale,” Shami said in a prepared statement.