Jeffrey Payne is a businessman, bar owner, leather titleholder and now, gubernatorial candidate

Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

Texas has been good to me. Texas has been very, very good to me,” Jeffrey Payne said in an interview this week.

Now he wants to repay the favor. That’s why, the Dallas businessman said, he is running for governor in 2018.

Payne was born in Maine, but when he was 3, his mother passed away and he, his brother and their father moved back to their father’s home state of Louisiana. His father remarried, Payne said, but then, “in a nutshell, he went out one night for that infamous pack of cigarettes and never came home.”

Payne’s stepmother then chose to leave him and his brother in an orphanage in Ruston, La., where they were separated and put on different campuses to live. Payne went into the foster care system at age 15, then graduated high school and aged out of foster care at 18.

“I went to Louisiana Tech, but I didn’t graduate from there,” Payne continued. He got married, and moved with his wife back to her hometown of Lake

Charles. A short time later, they moved to Alexandria and opened a jewelry store.

The marriage ended after five years, and Payne moved south, eventually ending up in New Orleans. He went to work for the Department of Labor, in the EEOC office there.

“Then in August of 2005, we had a hurricane in New Orleans, and I lost everything,” Payne said, referring to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. “I financed a new car for myself. Then I put my two puppies in my new car and drove to Dallas, with nothing to my name but $2,000, a hope and a prayer in my pocket.”

He started out with a job at a flooring company, then opened the first of many of his own businesses — a court reporting firm called Notarias, which he still owns. Then bought into the Dallas Eagle bar with co-owner Mark Frazier, before buying out Frazier two-and-a-half years later to become sole owner of the bar.

Payne’s business empire continued to grow, and today he owns Notarias, Dallas Eagle, a retail clothing store, a property management company and a land management company.

“Dallas has been really good to me,” Payne said. “Texas has been really good to me.”

Payne has made his mark on Dallas’ nonprofit community, too. In 2009, he founded the Sharon St. Cyr Foundation in honor of his mother, who was deaf. The organization gives grants to those with hearing loss who can’t afford to buy hearing aids. It also gives grants to help pay for ASL interpreters at community events, “so we have equal access for everyone, so everyone can enjoy the events,” Payne said.

“We are going strong,” he said of the foundation. “This is something that is very near and dear to me, knowing that my mother was deaf, my father was deaf and my brother has hearing loss. I have hearing loss, too, and I know that hearing aids are not cheap. Not at all.”

In 2009, Payne entered — and won — the title of Mr. Texas Leather. One of the perks of winning was a chance to compete in the 2010 International Mr.

Leather contest, and Payne won that title, too. That title gave him the chance to travel the world, participating in educational events and fundraising efforts.

Five years ago. Payne purchased another leather contest system — International LeatherSIR/boy and International Community Bootblack, a family of 15 regional contests, the winners of which travel to Dallas each Labor Day weekend to compete in the international contest.

“It is a great event each year,” Payne said of the annual gathering. “It’s not just the contest. We have workshops and vendors. It’s always a lot of fun.”
ILSB/ICBB was a for-profit enterprise when Payne bought it. But he chose to turn it into a nonprofit fundraising organization.

“Now we are able to raise money for other nonprofits with ILSB/ICBB,” he said, adding that the organization is able to donate between $30,000 and $50,000 a year to other charitable efforts.

“I’m very blessed. I know I am very blessed,” Payne said, explaining why he chose to make ILSB/ICBB a nonprofit. “The community supports this organization. And this organization needs to give back to the community, not give back to me.”

Launching a political career

It was the idea of giving back, Payne said, that prompted him to launch a political career on top of his business enterprises and community work.

“I thought about it, and I realized, I could go to another protest, and protests are great. It’s incredible when people march and make their voices heard.

That’s  spectacular,” Payne said. “I could write another check. That’s great, too. It’s wonderful when people can give money to important causes.

“But I realized that, by God, we need someone in office who is actually listening, who really wants to represent all Texans. When we go after certain groups for the sole purpose of riling up the ‘base,’ that’s not leadership; that’s fear-mongering. And that’s what’s happening with our government now,” he said. “So I couldn’t just sit back and wait and watch and hope that someone else would step up. I had to step up myself.”

Payne said he and his husband, Sergio Saragoça, had talked about his decision to run for governor for about a year. “I wouldn’t do it without his support,” Payne said. “And one day, he looked at me and he said, ‘I support this. It’s time.’”

Payne said he and Saragoça already have in place people and plans for running their various businesses, so that “when I am governor, I will be governor. I won’t have to focus on anything else.”

Most office holders now, Payne said, are more concerned with getting re-elected than with what’s right. “They’ll say whatever they think they have to say to get re-elected,” he said. “And they are on the wrong side of history.”

Payne said he is concerned about a number of issues, starting with an educational system that he described as “horrid. Somebody needs to stand up and say that, to say our education system needs to be fixed and here’s how to fix it. Instead, they just said, let’s give the teachers a $1,000 raise, but they didn’t give the schools any way to pay for it. So the school’s have to lay off teachers or cut services. That’s not the way to fix education.”

He continued, “I care about healthcare for women and about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own body. Right now, the governor and the lieutenant governor spend all their times in our bedrooms, in our bathrooms, telling us what we can and can’t do with our own bodies. It’s time for them to get out of our bedrooms, to get out of our bathrooms. And while they’re at it, they need to get off our property, too!”

Payne said he knows that his opponents are going to try to use the fact that he is a gay man — and the owner of a gay bar, and a leather titleholder — against him. But, unlike so many politicians, Payne said, he’s not hiding any secrets in his closet. He believes that by refusing to try and hide anything about his identity, he takes away their power to use that against him.

“Yes, I am gay. I don’t think people care that much about that anymore,” he said. “And yes, I won International Mr. Leather. But let’s face it, it was a pageant, and I won it. And winning it meant I got to travel the world for a year. Culturally, it was incredible. In that year, I attended more fundraisers than most people do in a lifetime. That was my job, really, to raise money. When it comes to charity, some people wear leather, some people wear sequined gowns. But that’s just what we wear.

“My mantra is, whoever you are, celebrate who you are,” Payne said. “Whether you are fetish or kink or vanilla or whatever, celebrate yourself and who you are. The thing is, they need to be careful what they try to throw at me. Nothing I do is illegal. I just am who I am . … They can come after me. I’ve been through worse. I went through Katrina and lost everything. Nothing they can do would be worse than that.”

Payne said that he won’t accept campaign money from PACs or special interests, and he won’t owe anybody any political favors. Running for governor isn’t about getting a job, he said, adding with a laugh, “I’ve already got plenty of jobs. And it’s not about power. It’s about doing what’s right for the economy, what’s right for the state. It’s about doing what’s right for the people of Texas.

“I want to do what’s right for Texas. After all, we only get one shot at this … well, unless you’re Shirley MacLaine!”

Jeffrey Payne will formally announce his campaign for governor at a celebration at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Blvd. The event is open to the public.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 15, 2017.