By Mike Ward
Ending weeks of uncertainty, Dallas County Sheriff Guadalupe "Lupe" Valdez announced Wednesday she is running for governor, giving Democrats a Hispanic standard-bearer they hope will boost minority turnout to end their two-decade drought at winning statewide office.
"Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state, but it is out of reach for far too many. That's why I'm running for Texas governor," Valdez said after filing paperwork with party officials to formally declare her long-shot candidacy. "I'm a proud Texas Democrat. I believe good government can make people's lives better, and I intend to do just that."
Valdez resigned as sheriff as she filed. State law prohibits her from holding one office while running for another.
Speculation has swirled publicly for weeks about whether Valdez would run after she acknowledged she was "in the exploratory process" of starting a gubernatorial bid. News reports last week had her on the verge of resigning her position as sheriff to run, but she delayed that formal announcement until Wednesday.
Valdez, 70, has been the Dallas County sheriff for 12 years, after earlier careers as a prison guard, a federal customs agent and a Department of Homeland Security investigator and supervisor. A San Antonio native, she is the daughter of migrant farmworkers and Army veteran who publicly acknowledged she was lesbian when she ran for sheriff.
She is the second gay Democrat running for governor. Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne filed to challenge Abbott on Monday.
Valdez' announcement makes her the most well-known Democrat in the race after several more prominent Texans passed on trying to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott and break a 22-year hold by Republicans on the Texas governor's mansion. Political consultants and experts rated her chances of success as slim, at best.
"If you place a bet on a horse that has trouble coming out of the gate, you can probably tear up your (betting) ticket," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "She spent weeks trying to get in the race, made a head fake last week, and is now in. The Dems have been waiting for years for Hispanics to turn out in large numbers for them, and that just hasn't happened -- even when they had a Hispanic running for governor. ... She has no statewide campaign experience or organization, no fundraising network, no name ID outside Dallas. I don't see her winning."
Getting Hispanics to vote
Nonetheless, Democratic Party officials applauded her candidacy as another step to turning Texas blue next year.
If elected, Valdez would be the first Democrat to serve since Ann Richards was governor for one term in the early 1990s, the second woman in Texas history to hold the post.
Abbott won by a 20-point margin three years ago against former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose abortion-rights stance in a legislative filibuster briefly made her a national political star.
This year, Democratic Party officials said they are confident Valdez can draw out Hispanic voters disgusted with Republican Party policies on sanctuary cities, LGBT equality and other issues.
Republicans said Wednesday her positions will make her an easy target for Abbott, who polls show riding a wave of popularity despite his support of several divisive issues during this year's legislative session, including the so-called bathroom bill that pitted conservatives against business interests in Texas.
Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, the son of the late former Gov. Mark White and who is expected to announce his bid for governor on Thursday, said he welcomes Valdez's candidacy because it will allow him and other Democrats to highlight Abbott's policies that he says are out of step with those of most Texans, not just the conservative GOP voters they cater to.
Others who have filed as Democrats to challenge Abbott include Houston electronics businessman Joe Mumbach, Dallas financial analyst Adrian Ocegueda, retired Flint teacher Grady Yarbrough, former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis Sr. and San Antonio businessman Tom Wakely.
They will appear on the Democratic primary ballot next March 6.
Abbott has no serious GOP primary challenger and has more than $50 million in his re-election war chest, his campaign aides say.
People, not money
Valdez said she was undaunted by Abbott's campaign fund-raising edge or the fact the state has voted Republican for years.
"I think we're going to raise whatever money's necessary," she said. "I don't believe that we need 40, 60, 90 bazillion dollars. Abbott may have the money. We're going to have the people."
Abbott's campaign had no immediate reaction to Valdez's candidacy. Hours after she formally announced, his campaign team trumpeted an endorsement by the Dallas Police Association, a notable law-enforcement group in Valdez' hometown.
Valdez dismissed the endorsement as not reflecting the view of the association's full membership.
Hours later, Abbott's camp released a YouTube video entitled "Can the Texas Democrats Find a Match?" that mocks the party's trouble finding a high-profile candidate to run for governor in what likely is a preview of how he will portray her in the campaign.
Using a mock dating website called "DHarmony," the search clicks through 10 well-known Democrats who declined to run against Abbott, from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio to former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Davis. "Not a match," each says.
"We're having trouble finding a match," the video says, before Valdez's profile pops up.
"I'm interested in open borders, sanctuary cities and California," her profile reads. "I think we'd be a great match."
(c)2017 the Houston Chronicle