Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Republican challenger Danny Clancy stared each other down and traded barbs this afternoon at the Belo Mansion during their first debate, and tensions peaked when Watkins was asked what three issues the two candidates can agree upon, along with what three issues separate them.
"The fundamental difference here is I have a backbone, and I have a brain," Watkins said after claiming Clancy and he "don't agree on anything."
Watkins also criticized his opponent for urging him to publicly disclose whether he had launched an investigation into the Dallas County constables, calling it "irresponsible public safety," and disagreed with Clancy's position that the DA's office should have suffered the same cutbacks as every other department in a tough budget year.
Clancy, a former Dallas County prosecutor and criminal court judge, said he agrees with Watkins that one innocent person behind bars is "one too many," but the differences between them are "experience, competence, ethics and integrity." He blasted Watkins early on, pointing and wagging his finger at him for stepping into office as "a celebrity politician" who has taken credit for all of Dallas County's exonerations, "many of which happened before he took office."
Watkins claimed he's "put Dallas County on the map" and touted his ability to save 21 jobs in his office, while Clancy suggested that his office should work harder, prompting First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore to blurt out: "We work hard!" Clancy also ripped Watkins for losing his temper last Tuesday while trying to save jobs in his department.
"His performance at commissioners court last week, in my humble opinion, was unprofessional, unbecoming, embarrassing for the district attorney's office, and I think people are tired of it," he said.
The race is about leadership, experience and "our record," according to Watkins.
"As opposed to saying that you were a judge for eight years, what did you do to make the citizens of Dallas County safer for those eight years?" Watkins asked rhetorically.
"I presided over capital murder cases," replied Clancy, who was told by moderator and KXAS reporter Ken Kalthoff that it wasn't his turn to speak.
Clancy said he'd support a statewide ban on K2 and an increased penalty for motor vehicle burglaries and that he'd prosecute all violent cases himself if he becomes DA. He also asked why Watkins hasn't done anything about public corruption or voter fraud and why there hasn't been any progress in the investigation of the constables.
A quote by Watkins' campaign spokesperson Eric Celeste in today's Dallas Morning News also struck a nerve with Clancy.
"I was called a sleazy defense attorney because I had the gall to represent a man charged with capital murder," Clancy proclaimed.
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Watkins compared the situation to Clancy calling it "reprehensible" for him to defend a child molester, but Clancy pointed out that his criticism was that he had a 10-year-old girl sign an affidavit of non-prosecution in the case.
Strangely, Watkins denied that he's changed his stance about the death penalty, but he didn't provide an explanation.
"I didn't change my position on the death penalty," he said.
Today's debate was the first of only two agreed upon by Watkins. Questions were provided by personal injury lawyer Laura Geisler, criminal defense lawyer Russell Wilson and former council member Sandy Greyson. The final debate is at Watkins' church, Friendship West Baptist Church, on October 14.