Knocked for a Lupe: Morning News, Chronicle, Houston GLBT Caucus snub Valdez for Andrew White

(Mark Matson for American-Statesman) Democratic gubernatorial candidates Lupe Valdez (L) and Andrew White participated in a question and answer session Saturday afternoon at the AFL-CIO convention on Jan. 18 in Austin.

 

Good morning Austin:

I  recently wrote a profile of Lupe Valdez, who stepped down as Dallas County sheriff  at the end of last year to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

As I wrote then:

So far her sole paid, all-purpose campaign aide is Kiefer Odell, a 2016 graduate of the University of Texas, where he studied government and was head of the University Democrats.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor talks with her campaign aide Kiefer Odell at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

Valdez said she’s interviewing people for campaign manager, but noted that there will be more talent available after the March 6 primary.

First she has to win the primary, in which, out of a field of nine candidates, her prime rival is Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Gov. Mark White, making his first run for elective office.

“We are going to win the primary.” Valdez told me matter-of-factly.

I checked in with Odell yesterday to see if they had added any staff to the campaign.

“Yes!” he replied by text. “We’ve added two finance staffers recently and rounded out our consulting team with mail, media and fundraising consultants and a pollster.”

And what about a campaign manager?

“We’re interviewing for the right fit,” he texted back.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but it may already be too late.

The reason I had gotten in touch with Odell on Sunday was because Valdez had a weekend that may have  done irreparable damage to her campaign.

It’s not like she had any chance of defeating Greg Abbott for governor to begin with. And I’m not saying that she won’t still end up being the Democratic nominee. But, after this weekend, that is less certain than it was before, and she is more likely to have to go to a runoff to secure the nomination.

But mostly, after this weekend, her chances of running a formidable campaign are severely diminished.

It’s not simply because the state’s two biggest newspapers endorsed Andrew White. It’s not just because the Houston GLBT Political Caucus chose White over Valdez, a groundbreaking lesbian sheriff. It’s because in each case, Valdez was found to be unprepared to be governor, or a good candidate for governor.

Most devastatingly, this is how the Dallas Morning News, her hometown paper, wrote of her in its endorsement of White.

We had high hopes for former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the only candidate who’s held elective office, having been elected in 2004 and re-elected four times since, and someone we’ve supported locally at various times.  We were disappointed by her gross unfamiliarity with state issues, however, particularly an almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing. 

At one point, Valdez, 70, volunteered that she didn’t know whether the state was spending $8 million or $8 billion on border control. (It’s closer $800 million.) On college tuition, she first suggested the Legislature “and stakeholders” should set tuition rates, but then contradicted herself, and she later said the state should move to reduce local property tax rates, apparently unaware of those set by local jurisdictions.  

Those two paragraphs will be hard to recover from.

No matter what she does from here on out, they won’t go away.

White, in his own campaign, may choose to rely on the positive things the Dallas Morning News had to say about him.

Houston businessman Andrew White has a famous last name but it is his knowledge of the state’s complex challenges that make him far and away the better choice in the crowded nine-way Democratic primary for governor.

White, 45, whose father was the late Texas Gov. Mark White, also displays a collaborative demeanor and centrist approach that would make him well-suited to lead the state and work with what most likely will remain a GOP-controlled Texas Legislature.

White blames the state’s school finance and property tax problems on state lawmakers who have failed to provide adequate state funding. He offers a multi-pronged solution that includes closing a “$5 billion loophole” that gives builders a tax break at the expense of homeowners, shifting nearly $1 billion in state spending for border security to help finance public education, and expanding Medicaid to draw down additional federal dollars.

He says university freshmen should be able to pay the same amount in tuition each year, if they graduate on time, rather than be subjected to destabilizing rate escalations. And he shows both pragmatism and political courage in advocating for more toll roads, given the fact that transportation spending by lawmakers hasn’t kept up with population growth. His caveat: Tolls should expire when construction costs are repaid.

But those lines about Valdez will haunt her campaign if she faces Greg Abbott. The ad writes itself:  gross unfamiliarity with state issues … almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing … didn’t know whether the state was spending $8 million or $8 billion on border control.

In the meantime, it will take whatever meager wind there was out of her sails. It will set the tone of coverage from here on out. Reporters writing about the race will feel obliged to test her knowledge of the issues. And, even if she acquits herself more ably from here on out, she can’t undo this first impression, which was not limited to the Morning News editorial.

In its editorial, the Chronicle wrote that:

We’re not exactly fans of political dynasties, but White ultimately won our endorsement with his answer to one obvious question. He’s the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to have given serious thought to the state government’s role in protecting Gulf Coast residents from flooding. While the other candidates who spoke to our editorial board offered only vague thoughts about this critical issue, White specifically discussed the need for a third reservoir in west Harris County and the importance of leveraging federal funds to build a coastal barrier system.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood control should be the top concern voters in the Houston area consider when they cast their ballots. Maybe White has a grasp of the issue only because he lives here and he piloted his boat around inundated neighborhoods rescuing flood victims. But any serious candidate for governor speaking to people in Houston should have good answers for basic questions about this topic.

Here’s how seriously we take flooding issues. If not for his fuzzy answer to this predictable question, we might have thrown our support to another candidate. Adrian Ocegueda runs a private equity firm in Dallas, and he was an economic policy adviser to the mayor of El Paso. Beyond his views on priorities like education and health care, Ocegueda brings up big issues that aren’t on any other candidate’s radar. He’s concerned Texas isn’t doing enough to train workers who are about to lose their jobs as technology displaces human labor. He even has the courage to touch the third rail of Texas politics, suggesting we need to seriously discuss introducing a state income tax. Ocegueda is a conspicuously smart and impressive candidate who has little or no chance of becoming governor, but he deserves serious consideration if he decides to run for another office.

Lupe Valdez, the former sheriff of Dallas County, is arguably the most high profile contender in this primary, but she also stumbled over flooding questions. Also on the ballot are Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas business owner; Joe Mumbach, a Houston audio-video technician making his first run for public office; and Grady Yarbrough, a retired educator and perennial candidate for statewide office. Three other candidates – Tom Wakely, James Jolly Clark and Cedric Davis Sr. – did not appear before our editorial board.

Next month, Democrats must pick a standard bearer with the best chance of winning votes not only for him or herself, but also for candidates running in down-ballot races. They would be wise to choose Andrew White as their nominee for Texas governor.

In other words, Valdez, who gets a single sentence in their editorial, isn’t even the Chronicle’s second choice among the nine Democratic candidates for governor.

And, then there was this.

As Mike Ward wrote in the Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Democrat Andrew White on Saturday won the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus over primary rivals who are gay.

White is straight.

White, a Houston entrepreneur and son of the late Gov. Mark White,  is among nine Democrats who are running in the March 6 primary for a chance to face incumbent Republican Greg Abbott in the November general election.

Among the others are gay Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne and former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is lesbian.

“I’m humbled by and unbelievably grateful for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement,” White said in a statement.

“Mark my words: I will fight hard for full LGBTQ equality as governor and come out swinging against any efforts to discriminate. It’s past time to treat all Texans fairly and equally under the law.”

 The Houston GLBT Political Caucus, billed as the oldest equality rights organization in the South, has been endorsing candidates since 1975.
Valdez was in Houston, which has a large gay voting population, on Saturday campaigning. Payne has been in Houston several times courting votes, as well, since he started his campaign.

I watched a live-stream of the endorsement vote by some 400 members of the caucus gathered at a Houston church.

A man – I don’t know his name – presented the recommendation from the screening meeting to endorse White.

“He interviewed very well,” he said of White. “We grilled him and we were very satisfied with his answers.”

And, of Valdez: “We absolutely, positively wanted to endorse Lupe, but she didn’t do as we as we would have liked in the interview.”

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Mike Webb, the president of the caucus, about the choice of White over Valdez.

The screening committee and the general membership, he said, “felt that White would do a better job in fighting back against (the actions) targeted against the LGBT community now by the current governor, and quite frankly, Valdez did not reassure us that she would be able to, or even had knowledge of the position of the office, to do so.”

This comes off earlier stumbles out of the gate by Valdez.

Lupe Valdez, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, marches from City Hall to the Capitol for the 45th Texas Roe v Wade Rally on Saturday January 20, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune on Jan. 22.

Every once in a while, you have to repeat a lesson for the new kids in class.

Last week, Democrat Lupe Valdez told one interviewer — The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith — that if elected the state’s next governor, she would not close the door to tax increases if they turn out to be necessary. “We keep the door open to a lot of stuff,” Valdez said. “Come on in.”

Just a few hours later, she told another interviewer — Karina Kling of Spectrum News — that tax hikes are off the table. “No, I would not look at that,” Valdez said. “I’d have to lose a leg before I do that and I certainly don’t want to lose a leg.”

She must’ve seen something scary in between those conversations. Or, more likely, she heard from a herd of handlers.

Odell last night sent me the following statement from Valdez, responding to the newspaper endorsements of White: “While we’re disappointed we can’t win them all, I’m proud to have the support of progressive clubs across the state, Stonewall Democrat chapters in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, the Tejano Democrats, and others that’ll be rolling out shortly.”

 

Before I met Valdez in Dallas to interview her for the profile, I wondered whether she was lured into the race at the last minute by a state Democratic Party which, while technically neutral, clearly preferred having Lupe Valdez, the Hispanic lesbian sheriff of Dallas County, at the top of the ticket, and not a middle-of-the-road white guy named White.

I came away from that interview convinced that Valdez wanted to run for governor and was eager, at 70, to take on a new challenge. She has an impressive life story, and people who know her well really like and admire her. But, she also came across as preternaturally calm and confident for someone setting out on such an audacious journey so late in the day.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor is shown here with her dogs Vinny and Madge at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. The photograph is from the Big Bend area from one of her trips.

As I wrote:

“She’s very Zen,” said Susan Hays, an Austin attorney who chaired the Dallas County Democratic Party when Valdez first ran for sheriff in 2004. “I’ve described her as the tortoise that wins the race. She’s not very flashy, but she keeps on moving.”

Perhaps, but Texas is a big state, Valdez is little known outside of Dallas County, and the hare in this race has a huge head start. Greg Abbott first won election as governor in 2014, defeating former state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth by 20 points. Before that, he served three terms as attorney general and six years on the Texas Supreme Court. He has his own epic story of overcoming adversity — he was just out of law school when a tree limb fell on him as he jogged, smashing his spine and leaving him a paraplegic.

And, at $43 million and counting, he has amassed more money in his campaign account than any candidate in Texas history.

“How can I compete with that?” Valdez asked a friend. “They said, `Either you’ll get the money, or you won’t need that much.’”

By the end of 2017, Valdez had raised less than $50,000 for her campaign, which she launched Dec. 6, a startlingly small haul. In a Jan. 18 conversation with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune, she said she was now raising $300 to $500 a day. But even if Abbott stopped fundraising today, and Valdez maxes out at $500 a day every day of the year, she wouldn’t catch up to Abbott until the middle of the 23rd century.

Lupe Valdez, Democratic candidate for Texas governor is shown here with her dog Vinny as she checks campaign texts at her home and campaign headquarters in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

In a state in which Democratic hopes hinge, in part, on inspiring Latino turnout, Lupe Valdez is a good name — unambiguously Hispanic.

“We had only one candidate win in 2002,” Hays told me. It was a county court seat won by Sally Montgomery, a party-switching incumbent who eked out a victory.

But Democrats that year came excruciatingly close in two district judge contests with Latina candidates: Sarah Saldaña, who would go on to be director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Obama administration, and who got 49.49 percent of the vote in a well-financed campaign, and Lena Levario, who got 49.29 percent and “didn’t spend a dime.”

“When Lupe showed up and said, `I want to run for sheriff (in 2004),’ I’m like,`Yes. You can win, because your name is Lupe Valdez,” Hays said.

“The pendulum was swinging,” Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who oversees the jail, Valdez’s prime responsibility sheriff’s office, told me. “Dallas County was in the throes of transition and she caught the right train.”

When I was writing the profile I spoke with Garry Mauro, the former land commissioner and among the last class of Democrats elected statewide in 1994, who said, at that moment, Valdez was probably right that she would win the nomination.

“You have two very good candidates,” said Mauro, the Democratic candidate for governor against George W. Bush in 1998, of Valdez and White, but, “there’s an inevitability, because of demographics and experience, about a Dallas woman Hispanic sheriff winning unless Andrew White can create a compelling reason for Democrats to vote for him.”

This past weekend, White and Valdez, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, may have done just that.

Andrew White, Houston investor and the son of former Gov. Mark White is interviewed in his home in Houston, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. White is running for Texas governor as a democrat candidate. ( Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle )

“We had a great weekend,” White told me Sunday afternoon.

This morning, White’s campaign announced that it had raised more than $1.1 million in the first three weeks of January, loaning his campaign $1 million, with an additional $138,632 coming from donors.