Who will step up to challenge Abbott?
Democrats could use our help as they seek ‘authentic’ candidate.
The time has come — perhaps a little later than usual because the summer special session sent lawmaking into overtime — when we turn our attention from policy to politics. There is a difference. At least there’s supposed to be.
We have a big ol’ election year coming up highlighted by the selection of a governor and a U.S. senator.
That latter race is shaping up to be an entertaining one, featuring Ted Cruz, a sharptongued Republican who believes that in a fair world, he’d now be living on Washington’s trendy Pennsylvania Avenue, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a pugnacious Democrat from as far west as you can go and still be in Texas.
The gubernatorial race will feature incumbent Republican Greg Abbott versus A Democrat to Be Named Later. Manny Garcia, the party’s friendly deputy executive director, has promised it will be “an authentic, dynamic candidate” whose identity will be revealed to all “at an appropriate time in the fall.”
Authentic would be good. Ditto for dynamic. And both would be great. I’m for a twoparty Texas, something we had for about 20 minutes in the latter 20th century as we morphed from all-Democrat-all-the-time to all-GOP-all-thetime.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert of Austin recently summed up the state of play on the Democrat side in a story noting “Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying. Any continued faith in a Democratic turnaround in Texas is now colliding with pessimism that it will happen anytime soon.”
Weissert’s story drew bipartisan attention. Texas Democrats didn’t like it one bit — branding it premature — and the Repub--
lican Governors Association chortled and linked to it as quickly as it could.
We all know the history, and that it’s distant history — Ann Richards in 1990 — since Texans decided a Democratic governor would be a good idea. It would be fun to see her talented daughter Cecile Richards come home to Texas and run for governor. She’s now president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a credential I’m guessing might not go too far in a Texas election unless it changes the turnout dynamic that has plagued Democrats for a generation.
Here’s another name that won’t run but would be fun — Dallas Mavericks owner and noted referee-baiter Mark Cuban.
The calendar says the time for a Dem candidate to put up or shut up is drawing nigh — and more importantly, start raising money. Abbott’s got $41 million in the bank and hasn’t pulled back on the fundraising accelerator.
True, former Houston Mayor Bill White, the Democrats’ 2010 loser to then-Gov. Rick Perry with only 42 percent of the vote, didn’t announce until December 2009. That was a year after White had announced as a U.S. Senate candidate for the seat Kay Bailey Hutchison was expected to give up to challenge Perry in the GOP primary, which she did to no avail.
Though a solid candidate with a stout resume, White was, shall we say, less than a campaign-trail fireball. White — as in devoid of color — was appropriately named.
In 2014, Texas Democrats got all hot and bothered about the gubernatorial candidacy of thenstate Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth. She didn’t announce until Oct. 3, 2013, but everybody kind of knew she was running about a third of the way through the 12-hour filibuster that made her a national figure in 2013. Despite the excitement and attention, she lost to Abbott by 20 percentage points.
This would be a good time for a big-name Texas Democrat to step forward in the gubernatorial race. Unfortunately, there are none.
San Antonio twins Julian and Joaquin Castro have made it clear they’re not interested, probably realizing that, now both 42, their best shot might be a few years in the future. Julian is a former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary. Joaquin is in the U.S. House and says he’s running for re-election.
(Hey, I just had a great idea. Let’s amend the Texas Constitution to allow identical twins to serve as co-governors, splitting the salary. All the better if one’s a Democrat and one’s a Republican.)
The most intriguing potential Democratic candidate out there — and I’d be shocked if this happened — is a political novice: University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven. McRaven vs. Abbott would be a good show.
The Democrats’ dilemma boils down to two options: (1) Get all excited about a big- or semi-big-name candidate and make believe there’s a chance of winning (see Davis, Wendy) or (2) Admit it’s not yet time to even make-believe Texas wants a Democratic governor and concentrate instead on other contests.
Both options have problems. The first invites big-time disappointment again (see Davis, Wendy). And the other choice ignores the fact that somebody is going to be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. And it could be an odd somebody who could be an embarrassment to the party.
As of now, the only announced Dem candidates I’ve heard about are decidedly low-name ID guys. Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne’s got a nifty campaign logo and about the same chance of being governor of Texas as I do. He’s a Hurricane Katrina survivor who became a Texan after the storm.
“His title as former International Mr. Leather was a great start to his philanthropic work for the LGBTQ community and for the greater Texas community, which he continues to this day,” says the bio on his website.
I don’t believe we’ve ever had a governor who was a former International Mr. Leather.
Somebody named Tom Wakely of San Antonio also has a gubernatorial campaign website. It bills him as “An economic populist for a change.”
“I am entering this race for governor not because I want to but because I have to,” he says on the page, adding, “I have been saying this over and over again. If the Democrats want to win any statewide election here in Texas, they need to reject the centrist policies pushed by the Texas Democratic party establishment.
I’m not sure further left is the way to go.
So what’s a long-beleaguered party to do for a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, one who offers the perfect combination, defined for now as one who’s credible and won’t be an embarrassment yet does not raise any expectations that he or she actually could win.
The Democrats have that candidate, but he’s running for lieutenant governor: Mike Collier of Houston has a solid background as a private-sector auditor and an energy industry executive. He played trumpet in the Longhorn band and has experience as a statewide candidate, running a credible, no- to low-budget race in picking up 38 percent of the vote in losing to Republican Glenn Hegar for state comptroller in 2014.
Collier should look at moving up a notch on the ballot. It can’t be much more difficult to look gubernatorial than it does to look lieutenant gubernatorial.
Anybody got any other ideas on who might emerge as the “authentic, dynamic candidate” we’ve been promised?
Then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro (left) and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, join in a Travis County Democratic rally last October. Each says he is not interested in a gubernatorial run.