- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

DALLAS Democratic candidates for Texas governor took off the gloves Friday night as they traded insults, accusations and innuendo in two languages the only debate scheduled before the state's March 12 primary election.
Tony Sanchez, 59, suggested his opponent, Dan Morales, 45, might be indicted before the November elections.
Mr. Morales wondered aloud how involved Mr. Sanchez was in a drug money-laundering operation some 20 years ago at his Laredo bank.
Mr. Sanchez, considerably ahead in most polls and by far the richest candidate, may not have won the debate, but most political operatives said he had become more spirited and certainly had not lost appreciable ground.
"There were no big gaffs and no big flaws," said Harvey Kronberg, Quorum Report publisher.
Henry Flores, political science professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, said Mr. Sanchez appeared "warmer," and he thought Mr. Morales came off as "a meanie starting off with personal and ugly attacks."
The debate sandwiched around a one-hour debate among three Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate, Ron Kirk, Ken Bentsen and Victor Morales was the first with a segment totally in Spanish.
Presented by Dallas' PBS station, KERA-TV, it was fed not only to scores of Texas television and radio stations, but to a small number of foreign networks.
Mr. Morales, two-term state attorney general in the 1990s, knew he was on the spot. His campaign was faltering, his financing growing desperate and Mr. Sanchez had refused to debate him except for the single occasion here.
Mr. Morales had to come up with something powerful.
He accused his opponent of spending more than $10 million to "buy" the election. He charged that Mr. Sanchez should have been held responsible for activities at his Laredo bank, where federal law enforcement officials claimed in the early 1980s that more than $25 million in Mexican drug cartel money had been laundered, and he questioned Mr. Sanchez's party credentials noting that the neophyte candidate had financially backed George W. Bush in his race against Democrat Ann Richards in 1994.
He accused the front-running candidate of fomenting racial disharmony by his insistence on debating an hour half the debate in Spanish.
"That has had the effect of driving a wedge between and among our citizens based on race, based on ethnicity and now, based on language," Mr. Morales said.
Mr. Sanchez wasn't quite as articulate at times and often seemed ill at ease, but he slashed back and hard.
He accused Mr. Morales of being "ashamed" of his Hispanic heritage and charged the former attorney general had failed deserving minority students by his ruling in an affirmative-action case one that effectively ended race-based admissions policies at state colleges and universities.
"He is the son of affirmative action," said Mr. Sanchez, glaring at his opponent. "He is the baby of affirmative action. That's how he went to Harvard. But when he got to the top, he picked up the ladder behind him and shattered all those dreams below him."
As for Mr. Morales' cutting remarks about using Spanish in the second hour of the debate, Mr. Sanchez said it was "a slap in the face to 7 million Latinos" who prefer to converse in Spanish.
"I'm proud of my heritage," Mr. Morales said after the debate, "but I'm prouder that I am a Texan and that I'm an American."
Mr. Sanchez said that when federal authorities informed him of the money laundering at Tesoro Savings and Loan, the bank took "corrective measures."
"We were not involved; we didn't condone it. We didn't have anything to do with it."
Mr. Sanchez then went on the attack.
"He cannot assure that he is not going to be indicted," Mr. Sanchez said, referring to a federal investigation still under way stemming over lawyers' fees from the state's $17.3 billion tobacco settlement.
"There is a criminal grand jury investigating him right now," Mr. Sanchez said. "He and his good friend tried to take $500 million from the tobacco settlement. They altered documents. The government found out about it. They gave the money back."

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