Lupe Valdez, who most recently served as Dallas County sheriff, talks about the importance of identity and taking on incumbent Greg Abbott
This woman wants to end business as usual in Texas.
The Lone Star State is very much Republican country. It hasn’t supported a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, nor has it had a Democratic governor since Ann Richards was defeated by George W. Bush in 1994. Incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott is seen as a virtual lock for re-election in a race rated as safely GOP.
And yet, Lupe Valdez wants to throw a spanner in the works. Born in San Antonio, the 70-year-old Democrat has a profile that Texans don’t often see. She’s not just a former law enforcement officer who was sheriff of Dallas County until last year, a one-time prison guard and Army Reserve captain: Valdez is also a lesbian Latina in one of the union’s redder states.
Like many of her fellow liberals in Texas, Valdez was motivated to run by a State House that they see as veering far-right. State lawmakers infamously held a special legislative session last year in a failed attempt to revive a “bathroom bill” widely seen as targeting transgender people. They also passed law that could impose jail time on local officials who don’t cooperate with immigration detention requests from federal authorities. “There’s a lot of things in the last legislature that really disturbed me,” she tells Moneyish. “The laws all seemed to be ‘take care of me and to heck with everyone else.’ Who cares about the 99%, about y’all?”
Despite Republican domination in Texas, Democrats have recently been talking up their prospects there. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics and Latinos— a group that hasn’t been voted Republicans recently— now make up 39.1% of the state’s population, the second largest group. Getting ethnic minorities to vote is a challenge, but Democrats think they have the benefit of enthusiasm in a midterm election.
Valdez is part of a crowded pool of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination and seen as an early favorite because of her name recognition. She became the first female Hispanic sheriff nationwide to much fanfare in 2004, when she was elected to take charge in Dallas. “We just did a 1,700 mile tour of Texas and in every place I’ve been, people have heard of me,” she says. “We need to be a lot more aggressive but I’m very aware that the little towns have heard of the Hispanic sheriff.”
Valdez grew up in a house her dad built where the electricity switches were upside down because he was illiterate and couldn’t read the installation instructions. She worked in the fields with her parents, who spent most of the year gathering crops.Food was whatever her father scavenged from the farmers’ market after cutting the rotten parts of fruits out. “I didn’t know we were that poor until I grew up and found out what we didn’t have,” Valdez says. “It was a very humble upbringing but a very ethical one.” She found her exit through the armed forces, which provided her with an education and a steady income during the just over 10 years she spent there.
That said, the sheriff is less keen to trumpet the lesbian aspect of her identity now that she’s running for office in a socially conservative state. “The only ones making comments about my sexual orientation are the media. I haven’t heard it from anyone else,” Valdez says. “I’m aware there’s a group that it really bothers because I’m not thumping the Bible, but I don’t think it will make a big difference.”
— Lupe Valdez (@LupeValdez) January 20, 2018
Local observers characterize Valdez as a progressive competing against the more moderate Mark White, the son of a former governor, for the nomination. Indeed, the political arm of the state’s AFL-CIO recently endorsed her and she was photographed at last weekend’s Women’s March with Wendy Davis, the previous Democratic gubernatorial nominee and a high-profile crusader for reproductive rights.
Still, Valdez has been criticized for not offering comprehensive positions on the issues. She supports Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage and better public transit and would prioritize deportation for violent criminals— much of which is Democratic orthodoxy. The positions page on her website includes just five policy prescriptions, some of them platitudes that critics say aren’t substantial enough for someone who runs to run America’s second largest state economy. (To be fair, Valdez only started campaigning after leaving office in January, later than other candidates.)
If elected, Valdez will have to work with a state legislature that’s likely to become even more conservative now that Joe Straus, the Republican House speaker that’s widely seen as a moderating influence, is retiring. “I know I’ll have to reach out a lot and work across the aisle,” she says. But “that’s the way it should be. I’m not there to try and make everybody angry but to try and get people to work together.”
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