Agreeing more than they disagreed, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) discussed issues important to seniors this morning at a forum hosted by AARP and moderated by KENS-TV anchor Sarah Lucero.
Payday lending proved to be the biggest point of contention between the candidates. Martinez Fischer emotionally recalled killing a bill favored by payday lenders on the House floor, taking pride about the drop in market value of payday lenders after the bill died. “Now they know what it’s like to be poor,” Martinez Fischer said. Menendez mused that the payday lenders and Martinez Fischer “must have made up” because Trevor Ahlberg, owner of a payday lender, has given Martinez Fischer over $100K. Martinez Fischer said Menendez has also taken contributions from payday lenders. Menendez replied, “I’ll return mine if you return yours.”
Martinez Fischer chided Menendez over his vote for the budget. “Every single San Antonio House Democrat voted against this budget,” Martinez Fischer said. Both candidates agreed more funding was needed for home care, and health care generally, and both pledged to fight for more funding. “We have the resources, we just need the will,” Martinez Fischer said. Menendez highlighted several budget items he brought to San Antonio because he could work with Republicans. “We don’t get more money because we have Republicans in charge,” Menendez said. “They don’t want a Democratic budget.”
Asked for their top three legislative priorities, Martinez Fischer (who had 90 seconds) listed investing public education resources wisely (“Keeping our promises to our children”), restoring funding to pre-K programs and paying physicians Medicare rates for Medicaid services. Menendez (who had 30 seconds) said we needed to rein in subscription drug costs for seniors and address school finance.
Discussing cuts in public education funding, “You have to stand up and push back,” Martinez Fischer said. “They will not give you anything if you stand quiet.” Menendez shot back, “No one stays quiet. I get results. I have a track record to prove it.” Martinez Fischer noted that a tough budget session was coming, and it was important to defend what is already in the budget from further cuts.
The final question addressed Ronald Reagan’s mantra that no Republican should attack another. Menendez said he did not create this “testy” situation. “Trey has been a tremendous leader … He’s killed many bills.” We asked him to stay in the House and keep fighting, because he is “the best prepared” of House members. “He was going to be the dean of the delegation,” Menendez mused. Martinez Fischer said he doubted Reagan would ever vote for him. We let the voters decide “who they want to be their voice in the Texas Senate.”
“Who do you trust to look out for the issues that are important to you … Who is not afraid to go it alone” to do what’s right, Martinez Fischer said in closing. Menendez invited voters to conduct an “independent search for the truth” to determine who is the best senator. He listed several endorsements as indicators of his ability to serve. “The last session was not a picnic, but I got to sit at the table where the decisions were made.” The previous senator “found herself on the outside looking in.” Menendez said he passed 40 bills last session, while Martinez Fischer passed none. He closed by giving the crowd his cell phone number and invited them to call him anytime.
The format tripped up Menendez several times, as a strictly enforced 30-second clock on rebuttals occasionally cut him off mid-sentence.