Jim Henson

A joint UT/Texas Tribune poll released Monday shows a close gubernatorial race shaping up between Greg Abbott, the likely Republican nominee and state attorney general, and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the likely Democratic candidate.

The poll, which is Texas’ only statewide, open-source public opinion survey, lists Abbott in the lead with 40 percent of likely voters and Davis trailing behind with 34 percent. But in the case of a three-way race between Abbott, Davis and the Libertarian gubernatorial-hopeful Kathie Glass, Glass would net 5 percent of the vote, with Abbott’s share of the vote unchanged and Davis’ totaling 35 percent, according to the study.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and co-director of the poll, emphasized that he thinks it is too early to read the poll as a definitive statement about how things will turn out on election night. Discussing Glass’ effect on the election outcome, he noted that Libertarian candidates typically attract voters who would otherwise vote Republican, but it is not yet clear how much that will affect the race.

“Just how critical that effect will be will depend on how the campaigning unfolds,” Henson said.

In June, the UT/Texas Tribune poll found that 58 percent of likely voters had no opinion on Wendy Davis, compared with only 16 percent in Monday’s poll.

“When you look at the favorable and unfavorable numbers for Abbott and Davis, you see that many more people have opinions about Davis than they did in June,” Henson said. “In June, almost no one knew who she was.” 

Two days after the Texas House passed a $164 billion budget bill, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, told a group of students the cuts in the bill were necessary.

The Texas Politics Speaker Series, a government department program that brings politicians to the University, hosted Straus. About 65 students and community members attended the event.

House Bill 1, which passed Sunday after almost 20 hours of debate, shrank the current state budget 12.3 percent from $187 billion. The bill included significant cuts to public education and health and human services and will head to the state Senate in the coming weeks.

Government lecturer Jim Henson moderated the conversation with Straus and brought him to UT. Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the House chair for higher education, was the last speaker in the series. Henson said the series tries to bring government figures that can offer insight into policy.

“The House has worked very well under some difficult constraints,” Straus said. “Chairman [Jim] Pitts [R-Waxahachie] and I decided that we should not spend money that didn’t exist and that we shouldn’t raise taxes when we’re going on a path to recovery.”

These priorities lead the House to develop a disciplined budget, Straus said. He said universities have done a good job dealing with fiscal constraints.

“Raising tuition is something they’ve done that I haven’t been a particular critic of,” he said. “You don’t like it when tuition rises — I don’t like it — but I think in some cases it’s been necessary.”

To balance the budget for the current biennium, the government used about $3 billion of the $9 billion Rainy Day Fund, a pot of money the state sets aside for times of economic crisis.

He said lawmakers going forward are concerned about the next two years. Because of the estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget deficit, he said he’s worried lawmakers are ignoring big issues such as transportation, infrastructure and water development.

In addition to addressing concerns about the budget bill, Straus took a poll of how many people in attendance would support the concealed carry on campus bill, which would allow handgun permit owners to bring them into campus buildings. About 10 of the 65 audience members raised their hands in support.

Government and radio-television-film junior Travis McCormick, a staffer for Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said he wanted to get Straus’s opinion on the fiscal debate.

“I want to get his perspective on HB 1 and various other amendments passed Friday and Sunday,” McCormick said.