Nation’s only lesbian Latina sheriff to seek 3rd term, says she expects to once again be a GOP target
JOHN WRIGHT | Senior Political Writer
Seven years ago, she became the first female, first Hispanic and — of course — the first openly LGBT person elected sheriff of Dallas County.
She remains the only lesbian Latina sheriff in the nation, and she’s one of only two female sheriffs in the state.
But as she prepares to seek a third four-year term in 2012, Lupe Valdez said she no longer gives much thought to her pioneering status.
“I don’t even pay attention to that anymore,” the 64-year-old Valdez said recently. “What I want to hear is, ‘She’s a good sheriff.’ What I want to hear is, ‘She’s making a difference.’ What I want to hear is, ‘Changes are for the better.’ That’s what I want to hear. It doesn’t matter whether I’m Latina or lesbian or whatever I am. The important thing is that we put in place a good, functioning sheriff’s department, which is what we’ve done.”
In 2004, Valdez was one of four Democrats — along with three judges — who broke a Republican lock on countywide elected office. Her victory over Republican Danny Chandler shook the Dallas establishment and served as a harbinger to the countywide Democratic sweep of 2006.
Since then, the county has remained solidly blue, and with President Barack Obama again atop the ballot, the incumbent sheriff is a heavy favorite to win re-election.
But Valdez, long a preferred target for Republicans as they seek to win back the county, said she isn’t taking anything for granted. For one, there are rumors she could again face a challenge in the Democratic Primary — as she did in 2008.
The candidate filing period begins Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 15.
“I’m worried about both,” Valdez said when asked whether she’s more concerned about the primary or the general election. “I don’t ever assume anything. That’s how you lose, so I never assume anything. I’m really hoping that I don’t have a primary opponent.”
Not having a challenger from within the party would allow her to “focus and save money and go ahead and gather more money so I can hit whatever’s coming on” in November, Valdez said. She confirmed recent reports saying her fundraising is lagging and that she’s failed to amass much of a war chest.
“We all know that I’m going to be the [GOP’s] target for Dallas County,” Valdez said. “Last time I was the target for the state of Texas. I wouldn’t doubt that’s going to be the case again.”
“We know there’s a pendulum switch every so often,” she added. “I’m not going to assume anything, because I may be right on that pendulum.
“And even in 2004, when a lot of Republicans were elected, I was elected. So that says to me, whichever way it goes, I need to work so that I can get elected. I don’t assume anything. The only thing that I’m assuming is that I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can.”
The only Republican who’s publicly declared his intent to run for sheriff, former State Rep. Thomas Latham, said this week he doesn’t believe Dallas County is as blue as some may think.
“I think what this county has is a large number of swing voters,” Latham said. “I think the flow is going the other way.”
Latham said he believes Valdez’s Republican challenger in 2008, Lowell Cannaday, “got caught up in the Obama situation.”
“There was so much enthusiasm for him [Obama], and I don’t think that enthusiasm exists any longer,” Latham said. “I think the enthusiasm is now on the other side.”
Latham, 64, a former commander for the Garland Police Department, called Valdez “a nice lady” but said she doesn’t have the experience to effectively oversee the department.
“I think there’s a lack of leadership in the sheriff’s department,” Latham said. “I think there are some management issues down there that need to be addressed.”
In each of her previous election campaigns, Valdez has come under attack for her sexual orientation, and she said she fully expects that to happen again in 2012.
“What can they attack me on?” she said. “They can’t say I’m not doing my job … so what are they going to attack me on? ‘She’s a lesbian and she’s trying to push the gay agenda.’ Please tell me what the gay agenda is, so I can figure out how not to push it.”
Latham, for his part, said he doesn’t plan to bring up Valdez’s sexual orientation and doesn’t think it’s an issue in the race.
But he added that if someone else brings it up, he’ll respond by saying, “I wasn’t raised that way.”
Asked what he meant by that, Latham said: “I’m Southern Baptist. Southern Baptists don’t believe in that.”
LUPE VALDEZ’S CAMPAIGN KICKOFF
6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8
1626-C Hi Line Drive
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.