Who will step up to chal­lenge Ab­bott?

Democrats could use our help as they seek ‘au­then­tic’ can­di­date.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - INSIGHT - Ken Her­man

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?

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2016

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.

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