Valdez kicks off campaign; Payne picks up steam on swing through state
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez officially kicked off her campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor of Texas at a rally at Tyler Station in Oak Cliff on Sunday, Jan. 7.
With just two months to go before the primary, the Valdez campaign showed signs of a late start — few campaign signs, no T-shirts, buttons or other campaign paraphernalia were evident at the rally, although signs were provided to those standing behind Valdez on the podium for the sake of the TV audience.
But what the campaign lacked in swag, it made up for in excitement from a crowd that braved the cold, wet afternoon to help their candidate jump into the race.
Valdez’s sense of humor shone through as she introduced herself, joking that many people might not recognize her out of uniform. She resigned as sheriff as of Dec. 31 to run for Texas’ top office.
Democratic candidates in general are not shying away from criticizing Republicans who spent most of the legislative session pushing discriminatory legislation, and Valdez is no exception, calling the bathroom bill, the sanctuary city law and voter fraud claims “made up issues.” When Gov. Greg Abbott pushed the Texas Legislature to pass a sanctuary city bill, he singled out Valdez for criticism.
“The people who were supposed to be serving us were doing more harm than good,” she told the crowd.
But Valdez spent only a few minutes attacking Republicans, instead using most of her time to lay out her goals.
“Our children are in cramped and crowded classrooms,” she said. “Our roads and bridges need attention.” And she called healthcare a top priority for the state.
Valdez said she would “bring common sense back to government” and run “a campaign that gives hope to all.”
“I want to be the candidate that makes the difference for Texas,” she said, “and find solutions to real issues.”
In the introductory remarks, one supporter announced the formation of Vets for Valdez. Democratic Party activist Regina Montoya called Valdez “a tenacious mentor and role model,” and an “an effective and proven leader.”
“She knows how to get things done,” Montoya said.
The Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church, recalled when his wife, 303rd District Court Judge Dennise Garcia, Valdez, and five other Democratic candidates first ran for office in 2004, the swelling of the tide that turned Dallas County blue. “We’re at that time with our whole state,” Folkerth said.
Before her official campaign kickoff on Sunday, Valdez was in San Angelo on Saturday for a candidate forum with the other nine people running for governor. (Since then, one of the candidates — Demetria Smith — has been declared ineligible to run in the Democratic Primary because her filing fee check bounced.)
The field of candidates now includes Andrew White, son of former governor Mark White, and Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, who is gay.
Major media across the state have been writing that the primary is likely to be a two-person race, between Valdez and White.
Valdez has government experience that includes four successful political races. But the Dallas Morning News, in an article about the San Angelo forum that described White as “Houston businessman Andrew White” and Payne as “Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne,” labeled White a frontrunner.
Payne campaign media director Hardy Haberman said he wonders why any credible media would label any of the candidates as frontrunners, since there’ve been no polls conducted yet.
Haberman questioned the Democrat Party’s insistence on looking for a “celebrity” to head the ticket.
“We want instant name recognition,” he said, “Wendy [Davis] had name recognition and the party gave her no support once she won [the primary].”
He said his campaign’s strategy is to develop Payne as a candidate.
“We will have been in just about every county by the primary,” Haberman said. “Well, we may miss a few.”
With 254 counties in Texas, and only 234 days from the mid-July start of the Payne campaign and the March 6 primary, that would be an exhausting schedule of more than one county a day.
Payne said he’s spent some time with White at candidate forums around the state and that he likes him. But, he said, the entire basis for White’s so-called frontrunner status is his status as the son of Mark White, who served as governor from 1983-1987.
“They’re doing the dynasty thing again,” Payne said, referring to the Bush family. “I fail to see how that qualifies.”
He noted a difference between his campaign style and that of the media-declared frontrunners: “They’re flying,” he said. “We’re in a car.”
And, Payne added, he and his staff are stopping in small towns on the way to events in bigger cities, talking to people at gas stations and diners, grabbing a beer and listening to what people tell him they want from their state government.
Payne said his campaign seems to be catching on across South Texas where they ran out of yard signs in Corpus Christi.
Payne said people are relating to him, not just because he’s personable, but because of his background. In South Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, residents can relate because Payne ended up in Dallas after losing everything in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Others can relate to his story of growing up in an orphanage and the foster system and then building his businesses himself, rather than building a business empire after inheriting a fortune.
“Believe me, there was no big check when my father died,” he said.
One thing that struck Payne is how many Republicans are showing up at his rallies.
“People are at a point where enough is enough,” he said, recounting how a 70 year-old woman attended a forum in Midland and listened to him speak for an hour-and-a-half. At the end, he said, she told him she was voting for a Democrat for the first time in her life.
Payne told her he hoped he was that Democrat and asked her why.
“Because the Republican Party now isn’t the Republican Party I grew up with,” she told him.
If that sentiment is widespread across the red swaths of Texas, that’s good news for whomever the nominee is.