Valdez has difficulty raising money from complacent supporters as she seeks 3rd term, but says opponent Charlie Thomas ‘not a joke to me’
Despite running as a two-term incumbent, lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said she’s not taking anything for granted in the fast-approaching May 29 primary.
Valdez, 64, is up against Democratic challenger Charlie Thomas, 23. Thomas works as a security guard and as a valet. Two Republicans are also vying for the position, so if Valdez wins the primary, she’ll have a general election opponent.
“I take it seriously,” she said about the primary. “Any person contesting is a viable opponent.”
Thomas is a certified peace officer and said that while he hasn’t worked for a police department, he worked for UT Southwestern Medical Center as a police officer.
Thomas said he’s also working on his lawn service business and doesn’t have a campaign website but is still focused on his run for sheriff. He wants to increase the number of deputies in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as improve the healthcare system for inmates and use the position to influence job creation among veterans and other underrepresented groups, he said.
Tracy Clinton, political chair for Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, said Thomas is “not a viable candidate” and didn’t receive any votes when he interviewed for Stonewall’s endorsement.
Clinton called Thomas running for sheriff “a bold step for someone who doesn’t have much of a background in elected office,” adding that he isn’t sure why Thomas is running for the position.
“I hope people pay attention to the sheriff’s race just because the sheriff is such a central element of law enforcement in Dallas County and has grown even more so,” Clinton said.
Valdez, Dallas County’s first female, first Hispanic and first lesbian sheriff, said she takes every election seriously, and while some have called Thomas a joke, “he’s not a joke to me.”
Valdez said the primary and general election are “both as serious” because of Republicans wanting to win back countywide offices.
Valdez’s sexual orientation was targeted during her initial campaign in 2004 and her re-election bid in 2008, but she said she doesn’t think it will be an issue this year because of her accomplishments.
“Now it’s kind of ignored,” she said. “If they’re against the fact that I am a lesbian, they always look at the fact of what’s being done.”
Kirk Launius, one of the Republican candidates for sheriff, is a Navy veteran and former Dallas police officer who owns his own security company.
He said he’s running to provide stronger leadership amid concerns that there is low morale in the sheriff’s office.
Although Valdez’s sexual orientation has been an issue for past Republican candidates, Launius said “it’s not for me” because if elected he would be “sworn to protect all the citizens of Dallas County.”
The other candidate listed as running in the Republican primary, Renee Christian, said while her name will appear on the ballot, she’s suspended her campaign for “personal reasons.”
Valdez said employee disgruntlement and pay raises are always brought up during elections and she expects those areas to be mentioned again.
Most importantly, she said Republicans will target her in an effort to win back the county. Valdez and three Democratic judges won countywide races in 2004, in a precursor to the sweep of 2006, and the county has remained solidly blue ever since.
“I am known as the person who started the flow, so guess who they’re coming after?” she said. “They’re coming after me with loaded guns and complacency is what I fear my supporters have.”
Many supporters assume she’ll win, creating a lag in fundraising, Valdez said.
And with so many political fundraisers in the spring, Valdez said she’ll have to wait until fall, when she needs to gear up to combat the Republican nominee.
“By this time in normal elections, I have yard signs everywhere,” she said. “You know what, there’s no money this year.”
Proud of many things she’s done as sheriff, Valdez said her single largest accomplishment has been the jail passing state inspection for the last three years.
Valdez said this and other successes have resulted from her leadership, cooperation and ability to compromise.
“If people want something, then you compromise and work together,” she said.
Valdez said there are always areas that need work, and she wants to continue the improvements by engaging with the community, increasing professionalism among staff with customer service and focusing on humane treatment of inmates.
Elections hold Valdez accountable, she said, something she’s grateful for with the opportunity to inform voters of the progress she’s made.
“Every four years I have to be kept accountable, but I keep myself accountable,” Valdez said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.