The Dallas Morning News
Aiming to follow in dad’s footsteps
Mark White’s son says he wants to restore ‘sanity and reason’ to Texas politics
AUSTIN — Andrew White has taken huge risks.
Fourteen years ago, he sold his house to raise the money for a home warranty firm he launched.
Then he started a sister firm arranging home repairs.
He staffed the call centers at his two startups with humans rather than machines.
Six years ago, he sold his companies, then plowed some of the proceeds into even more brainchild companies.
“I made the big bet,” he said of his decision to stop working for other people and become his own boss.
Now, White is running for governor. It’s another big bet, a Hail Mary pass.
White’s modest proposition is that he, a semi-retired investor and very busy coach of his children’s soccer teams, completely inexperienced as a political candidate, can follow his late father, Mark White, to the governor’s office.
The potential reward? He’d reclaim from the Republicans, as his father did, the state’s top elective office for the Democrats. White is quick, though, to stress that he’s not running mainly from partisan motivation.
He says he wants to pull a state government run by “extremists” such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick back into line with mainstream Texans and their views. Like him, they’re mostly moderate and pragmatic, he insisted in a recent interview.
Since 1994, however, they’ve never elected a Democrat statewide.
White, 45, is undaunted by history and political oddsmakers.
“I built a very successful business, multiple times, from the ground up with nothing but an idea and with every dollar that I could scrounge up at risk,” he explained.
Throwing together a campaign is a lot like starting a company, White said. You recruit the team, instill the culture, set the example and chart the goals.
“Guiding the ship is the skill set a governor needs,” he said.
White is fond of fishing and riding the waves. In his introductory campaign commercial, he recounted his harrowing experience using his 16foot fishing boat to rescue fellow Houstonians in August during Hurricane Harvey.
But to become Texas’ captain, he’ll have to navigate rough waters.
Challenges with Democrats
In a state Democratic Party that has spent decades in exile, he’s the new arrival talking about his junior high years spent in the Governor’s Mansion. Grizzled party activists hear in such talk a sense of entitlement. They’re not amused.
White, though, keeps smiling and bounding up to strangers — and growing as a candidate, experts have agreed.
Despite deafness in his left ear and his lack of a politician’s most blessed natural asset — an encyclopedic memory for new faces and names — he conveys exuberance as he campaigns. He complains only about being away from his three children — Emma Claire, 15; Mark White IV, 14; and Thompson, 11.
“I’m not running against Lupe Valdez,” he said of the former Dallas County sheriff, who was recruited to run by the remnants of the state Democratic Party establishment. “I respect her service. I’m running with my message. I’m running as a common-sense Democrat to bring sanity and reason back to state government.”
Most rich white guys would shy away from tackling a better-known Latina and fading Democrats’ wrath and trying to loosen the GOP’s iron grip on statewide elections. White, though, isn’t your average rich white guy, according to friends and admirers.
He thrives on long odds and is driven by family ideals of public service, said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a black Houston Democrat who is the Texas House’s sixth-longest-serving member.
On the issues
To win his maiden race, though, White first must get past nine other candidates in the Democratic primary.
What he calls his “Joe Biden-Tim Kaine” stance on abortion is an obstacle. White said he “will veto any legislation that limits a woman’s right to choose.” He urged that the state reduce unplanned pregnancies by expanding access to contraceptives and encouraging more comprehensive sex education classes in public schools.
“You’ve got to teach the birds and the bees,” he said.
White has shied away from talking about imposing new taxes. He would pay for the $5,000 pay raises he proposes for teachers by plugging a “loophole” through which businesses and industries appeal their property tax valuations and succeed in ratcheting them down.
Through his wife, the former Stacey Krause, White — a fervent Christian — has joined churches belonging to a conservative branch of the Presbyterian denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, or PCA. In Houston, the Whites’ family foundation in 2015 gave $3.5 million to their PCA church, Christ the King Presbyterian.
The money “was to buy adjacent land that is being used for sporting fields for the church and neighborhood kids,” said White spokeswoman Desi Canela.
The PCA has denounced abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and women in the military. In 1989, the denomination named a task force on AIDS. It concluded that the disease “is God’s judgment on a society.”
Asked about such church teachings, White said he supports “marriage equality” and granting work-related fringe benefits to same-sex spouses.
“My faith is important to me, but I don’t agree with members of my church on everything,” he said. “I believe discrimination of any kind is wrong, and, as governor, will actively fight against it. All Texans must be treated equally under the law — no matter race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Canela, his spokeswoman, said of the PCA’s other controversial stands, “Of course he doesn’t oppose women in the military or think AIDS is God’s judgment.”
Coleman, one of the Legislature’s most outspoken liberals, especially on abortion, gay rights and police misconduct, said White passes muster with him on issues of concern to the LGBT community and women’s reproductive rights.
“It’s clear that what Andrew supports is choice,” he said. “The law of the land is Roe v. Wade.”
White has spoken admiringly of his father’s refusal to run from unpopular stands during his 1983-87 term, such as a no-pass, no-play rule for high school athletes, more student testing and teacher competency exams. They cost him his re-election, the son said.
Andrew White said he was profoundly moved by eulogies to his father, who died in August, and by his own encounters with desperate Hurricane Harvey victims just weeks later.
“I just said, ‘Wait a minute, I need to serve my state the way my dad did,’” he recalled.
Clark Lord, a Houston municipal bond and government contract lawyer and a friend since boyhood, said Andrew White belonged to Young Life in high school and aspired to make a difference.
“His personality is to take on things that ordinary people don’t do,” Lord said. “He’s a high achiever.”
At Houston’s Lamar High, when some fellow seniors loafed, White and Lord went to 7 a.m. classes so they could complete an International Baccalaureate degree, Lord recalled.
At the University of Virginia, whizzing through to a bachelor’s in religious studies in three years wasn’t enough for White, he said. While in Charlottesville, White went through military training and became a volunteer firefighter.
White moved to New York City for two years, working as an industrial and media analyst for Credit Suisse First Boston. He returned to Houston. After gigs with American Eco and U.S. Industrial Services, two small, publicly traded companies, he moved up Interstate 45 to take a job with Market City USA, an internet startup in Dallas.
As an adult adviser to a Young Life group at Richardson’s J.J. Pearce High, he met Stacey, who was also volunteering with the group. Raised as a Baptist, he joined her family’s church. Within a year, they were married. He, though, was out of a job. Market City failed.
The couple moved to Houston, where Andrew began working for industrial and home services companies. He also earned an executive MBA from the University of Texas. But, White explained, he grew tired of having to frequently travel away from Houston as chief financial officer of a home-restoration company. So he decided to launch his own company, Allied Home Warranty, and talked Stacey into moving their two young children into a rental.
“He’s someone who likes to take up a challenge,” Lord said. “Most of the things he’s done have involved people telling him ‘You can’t do this.’ That type of challenge and his passion for wanting to change the tone of politics are what made him want to do that.”
At both the warranty business and Lone Star Repair, his other startup, which schedules visits by technicians that fix appliances and home heating and plumbing systems for homeowners, White took care to have humans rather than machines answer the phone, he said. Both businesses targeted large Texas cities.
“There was a big care factor,” he said. Soon, Allied had 250,000 customers and Lone Star was responding to 20,000 service calls each year.
The Houston energy giant NRG Energy bought both companies in 2012. White said he signed an agreement not to disclose the price.
He appears financially set, however. He, Stacey and their three children live in a $2 million, 5,600-square-foot River Oaks home, according to Harris County appraisal records.
The family owns millions of dollars’ worth of blue-chip stocks such as Apple and Berkshire Hathaway and shares in about 20 different index funds and exchange-traded funds, according to a financial disclosure statement he filed last week with the Texas Ethics Commission.
It’s hard, though, to estimate the net worth of White and his family. On the required forms, candidates are asked to list — in imprecise ranges — the numbers of shares they hold or values if an asset is sold.
The family owns two boats, a Range Rover and a dual-motor Tesla Model S, according to state Department of Motor Vehicle records and other research by
White’s new company, Sweat Equity Partners, which he created in 2010, invests in a variety of businesses, including a home repair scheduling service, an industrial tank-cleaning company and compressed natural gas fueling stations in the Houston area.
He has people running them. For several, he serves as board chairman.
He and his late father together owned a corporation, Geovox Security, that licenses a human heartbeat detector for scanning vehicles at highsecurity checkpoints. Andrew White is still the company’s board chairman.
Eagerness for federal contracts is apparently why in 2005 he donated $2,500 to a federal campaign fund run by the Kentucky Republican Party — a possible attempt to curry favor with that state’s senior U.S. senator, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The move has drawn fire, even though the donation amounted to 18 percent of White’s more than $14,000 of state and federal political contributions since 2004. All the rest went to Democrats, the newspaper found.
Andrew White said that before his father’s death, they never spoke about the idea of the son challenging Gov. Greg Abbott this year.
Growing up, he recalled, “I had a real chip on my shoulder, right? My dad was the governor of Texas and I wanted to prove myself to other people as Andrew White, not the governor’s son.”
Now he regrets not having his dad as a political sounding board.
“I would like nothing other than to be able to talk to him about that right now.”