A Latina Lesbian Could Really Become Governor of Texas

Lupe Valdez

Some people might think a liberal Latina lesbian has no chance to unseat an incumbent Republican governor in a conservative state like Texas. But some people aren’t Lupe Valdez.

“Everybody’s telling me this is an uphill battle,” says Valdez, the Democratic candidate for governor of the Lone Star State, challenging anti-LGBT incumbent Greg Abbott and become the first out lesbian governor of any U.S. state. “My response to that is, when has it not been an uphill battle for me? … I’m getting darn good at uphill battles.”

Indeed, Valdez has won several. The daughter of migrant farmworkers and the youngest child in a family of 10, the native Texan put herself through college, sometimes working two jobs to do so. She served in the military, then worked as a federal customs agent for more than 20 years, and while on the job there, she continued her education, obtaining a master’s degree.

Then, in 2004, she was elected sheriff of Dallas County, making her the first Latina and first lesbian to win that position in any county in the state and one of the first Democrats to win Dallas County-wide office in several years. She faced a hostile department but was reelected three times, serving until 2017, when she resigned to begin her gubernatorial run.

In the Democratic primary, she notes, she was up against eight men. She won 43 percent of the vote, far ahead of her nearest competitor but short of the majority required to win the nomination outright. So she and Andrew White, son of the late Gov. Mark White, advanced to a runoff – and she won that race.

“Texas chose me. That says a lot for Texas. That’s where Texas is heading,” says Valdez, who would also be the state’s first Latina governor and its first Democratic governor since the late, beloved Ann Richards, who left office in 1995.

The state’s conservative image is misleading, according to Valdez. “Texas is not a red state. It’s a nonvoting state,” she says. “It’s up to us to get these votes out.”

Texas voter turnout is among the worst in the nation – in the 2016 election, 55 percent of eligible Texans voted, well below the national average of 61 percent, But Democratic turnout in the 2018 primary doubled that in the 2014 midterm election. No one knows yet if that means Texas will be part of a blue wave in November, but Valdez is doing her part to make that happen.

She’s doing it with a super-progressive agenda – pro-LGBT rights, pro-choice, pro-immigrant rights, pro-environment, pro-public education, and more. She seeks to appeal to ordinary Texans, who she says have been forgotten by Abbott and his cronies.

“The everyday Texan continues to struggle … but the current governor and his donors and friends are doing very well,” she says. “We continue to fight for decent public education, affordable health care, an economy that works for all of us.”

Texas is in the bottom fifth of U.S. states in national rankings of education quality, but “there was a time when Texas was considered the educated state,” Valdez says. Education has to be a state priority, she says, as that’s what prepares its people for competing in the global economy. Texas is allocating less and less state funding to education, putting the onus on local school districts.

On health care, she notes, Texas didn’t accept the expanded Medicaid funding available under the Affordable Care Act, and that has meant many Texans have gone without care. As for the economy, she says, Abbott talks about a plethora of jobs in Texas, “and my answer to that is yes, a lot of people are working two or three of them to make ends meet. That shouldn’t be the case.” She supports jobs with a livable wage, she says.

Abbott, who was Texas attorney general before becoming governor, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are known for their hostility to LGBT rights, reproductive freedom, and more, but Valdez expands on that. ”They’re known for hostility to anyone other than their own,” she says. “Muslims, transgender people … we need a government that respects everybody for who they are.” She recalls visiting the legislature several times last year to lobby against a bill that would have limited transgender people’s access to public restrooms; it did not pass.

She is also critical of Abbott’s handling of the border crisis, which saw many immigrant children separated from their parents at the Texas-Mexico border. The governor, whom she calls a “puppet” of Donald Trump, eagerly cooperated in sending the state’s National Guard troops and other law enforcement personnel to the border, tasking them with enforcing laws outside their area of expertise – and spending state funds that could have gone to education, health care, and other purposes. She acknowledges that governors have a limited say when it comes to federal immigration policy, but they do have a “bully pulpit,” she says.

Valdez has been out throughout her political career; she notes that during her time in the military and as a federal agent, she couldn’t be out. Coming out just to herself was a major event, she adds. As a “spiritual person,” she had to make sure that God was OK with her sexual orientation, and she wasn’t sure about that until she attended her first Metropolitan Community Church service on an Easter morning more than 30 years ago.

She drove around the block two or three times before going in, and when she did, the church was packed and she had to sit near the front. She noticed a gay male couple with their two young daughters, and she watched “in awe” as the family received communion and was embraced by the celebrant. Without meaning to, she said aloud, “Oh, my God, where have you been?” and a woman in the pew in front of her turned around and said, “We’ve been here, waiting for you.” Valdez teared up. “That and a few other things made it clear that God was OK with me,” she says.

She acknowledges the history-making nature of her candidacy, and she hopes to break a glass ceiling to inspire and give opportunity to others, but she emphasizes that her campaign, she says, is about opportunity and equality for all. “We’re working for the everyday Texan,” she says.

She thinks that message will resonate with voters, even though polls show Abbott with a double-digit lead. But, as she notes, she’s proved herself to be good at uphill battles.

And the election, she predicts, will show the nation a Texas that differs from the red-state stereotype. “I think the real Texas brand is about to be seen,” says Valdez.

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