By Mike Ward
Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, son of the late Gov. Mark White, announced Thursday he is running as a conservative Democrat against Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.
In a mid-morning announcement in Houston, the 45-year-old first-time candidate and father of three joined a field of Democrats that now numbers eight, most of them more liberal politically in a party that White acknowledges is to his left on some issues.
"I'm willing to leave my career and run, because Texas is worth taking a chance," White said. "The future of Texas is important. ... It will be a tough race. I know that."
With such a large field of Democrats running in the spring primary, and with Texas such a Republican state, political scientists rate White's chances of winning as slim. The last Democrat elected governor was Ann Richards in 1990, and the last time a Democrat was elected to statewide office was in 1994.
As a candidate, White said he will highlight how he believes Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have taken Texas politics too far to the right, and that Texans need to come together on many issues to move the state forward. "I will work with both sides," he said.
White said he supports improving public schools and opposes vouchers. He is against a so-called bathroom bill that would require people to use the restroom of their birth gender and the recently enacted state ban on sanctuary cities, as well as other legislation that he says discriminates against Texans.
He supports property tax reforms, including a change in the Texas Constitution to remove a provision that amounts to a $5 billion tax break for owners of commercial property.
He said he would use those savings to give teachers a pay raise.
As an avid hunter, he supports gun ownership rights but thinks some restrictions may be wise to improve public safety.
In a position that puts him at odds with top party officials, White has been described as pro-life, though he says abortion remains legal under current law that he is not suggesting be changed.
"If I had a label it would be that I'm a common-sense Texan who is pro-business, who will do what's right no matter the consequences," he told the Houston Chronicle.
Those are the same words, quoting legendary Texas revolutionary Gen. Sam Houston, that his father said he used as his guiding principle when he served as governor from 1983-87, after defeating Republican incumbent Bill Clements.
Clements defeated Mark White four years later, partly over an unpopular $4 billion tax hike he pushed through to pay for teacher pay increases and other school improvements to the public education system, at a time when Texas' oil-based economy was sagging.
Andrew White said the death of his father Aug. 5 served as a "wake-up call" for him to get involved in Texas politics to curb what he views as increasing divisive and extremist policies promoted by Abbott and Patrick to appeal to GOP primary voters.
"I'm not running because Greg Abbott is a bad man, because he's not," White said. "I'm running because Texas needs a leader who will be willing to risk re-election to do the right thing. ... Too many of our leaders now just want to do the politically expedient thing.
"We will never fix the tough issues we face as a state in a politically expedient way," he said.
In announcing his bid, White also faces the likelihood he will be running against the Democratic Party leadership, which declined to embrace his candidacy more than a month ago. The party's standard-bearer for governor in the 2018 elections widely is seen as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the daughter of migrant farm workers and a lesbian who filed as a candidate Wednesday.
Party officials said they believe she will bring out large numbers of Hispanic, gay and minority voters who could drive a blue wave of wins in the November general election.
White said he thinks having Valdez in the race is good because it allows Democrats to better showcase Abbott's divisive policies during the campaign. But he said he sees himself as the only Democrat who can face off successfully with Abbott in the November election.
"I want to bring the race to Gov. Abbott," he said.
First, Democratic activists said Thursday, White must explain his positions to primary voters that are contrary to party ideals.
"How does an anti-choice, conservative Democrat appeal to the thousands of progressives, women and people of color who lobbied, rallied and marched this year?" said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, an organization of progressive Democrats in Austin. "He needs to explain his positions: What does it mean to be a conservative in the era of Trump? If the Legislature passes an anti-abortion bill, would he sign it? Conservatives actively oppose LGBTQ equality, from the bathroom bill to the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that Houston can deny spousal benefits to same-sex couples. Where does he stand on that?"
Harold Cook, a veteran Democratic Party strategist, echoed that sentiment.
"I have to see how several of his positions fit with those of Democrats, and I've been unsuccessful so far," Cook said. "I guess if you squinted your eyes just right, you might be able to imagine there are enough Democratic primary voters who will vote for the candidate they think will win the general election, even if you don't agree with them, and I think that's dead wrong. Primary voters vote their own values, and that won't help him."
Born in Houston, White grew up in Austin while his father served as secretary of state, then attorney general and then as governor. Raised in a family that had "tons of teachers" in it, White attended public schools in Austin and graduated from Lamar High School in Houston.
A religious-studies graduate from the University of Virginia, with a masters in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin, White has started six businesses in Houston and has headed Sweat Equity Partners LP since he started it in 2010.
He said he plans to manage his campaign "like a startup."
During Hurricane Harvey's devastating flooding in Houston in August, White worked for days ferrying dozens of stranded Houstonians out of submerged houses in his 16-foot bass boat. He said that reaffirmed his appreciation for Texans' legendary spirit of can-do accomplishment, no matter the circumstances, and since has underscored how he believes state leaders have failed to tap the $10 billion savings account to expedite the recovery.
Abbott has said he wants the state to use its approximately $100 billion, two-year budget to help with the recovery, after which the Legislature can return in 2019 for a regular session to allocate money from the account without the costs of a special legislative session.
His target support
To win, White said he believes he will have to raise at least $3 million to $4 million to win the Democratic primary next March, and $30 million to $40 million for the general election. Abbott has upward of $50 million in his campaign war chest.
White's target for support in his campaign: Conservative and "common-sense" Democrats himself who are disgusted with divisive Texas politics, along with moderate Republicans who will cross over to vote for him.
"I'm a guy who can get elected," he said.
Others besides White and Valdez 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.
(c)2017 the Houston Chronicle