A Houston businessman on Thursday announced plans to move back into the Austin home in which he lived as a kid until the people of Texas threw his family out.
His mom, Linda Gale White, who also lived in that house, sat in the front row, led the applause and had tears in her eyes when it was over. Linda Gale White says she’d love to spend some more time in that home, this time as a grandmother.
The problem is the home’s current occupant has no plans to move out and is prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars to remain there.
Andrew White, who announced Thursday that he’s officially a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is the son of late Gov. Mark White, who moved his family to Austin when Andrew, now 45, was 6 months old.
The family later moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 1983 when White became governor. Andrew, the middle child, was 10 at the time. He went to Zavala Elementary School and O. Henry Middle School.
“Dad lost in my eighth-grade year so we came back to Houston,” Andrew White told me Thursday just prior to announcing a candidacy that came as a surprise to his mom when he first mentioned it to her shortly after his dad’s death in August.
On Thursday, Linda Gale White had a mom’s honor of introducing her son to a crowd of a couple of hundred supporters gathered in an office building lobby. Cold, rainy weather had erased the plan to hold the event at Houston’s Mark White Elementary School.
For Andrew White (whose campaign logo uses the same typeface and color as his dad’s), getting back to the Governor’s Mansion is a long shot. He’s never run for office and faces an uphill battle to get the Democratic nomination. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who announced Wednesday, is the anointed candidate of much of the party machinery, such as it is. The field includes a half-dozen lesser-known candidates.
Andrew White made no mention of Valdez in his announcement speech, opting instead to focus on Abbott and position himself as a moderate Democrat (“I’ll work with people on both sides,” he said in his speech) who can do something no Texas Democrat has done since 1994: win a statewide election.
Longtime state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, is backing White and said, “Centrists always do well in governing.”
Andrew White told the crowd: “I’m a common-sense Democrat and I can beat Gov. Abbott in November,” later branding Abbott as “not a bad man, but he is the wrong man for the future of Texas.”
“After 22 years serving the state, Gov. Abbott should have more to show for his service than a failed bathroom bill,” he said.
But for now, getting into a one-on-one battle with Abbott is Job Two. First, he has to win his party’s nomination.
Prior to the speech, Andrew White said he’s “looking forward to hearing what (Valdez) has to say.”
“But I’m excited about the attention she’s bringing to the race because the more attention we can have and place on Greg Abbott’s record the better,” White said. “So I’m looking forward to a real race. And frankly, as a newbie coming out of the gate as a politician, when I make it through the primary I’ll be a better candidate in the general because of Lupe.”
He acknowledged he has a potentially tricky line to walk on one of the hottest-button issue for Democrats. White believes life begins at conception, a stance that led Wendy Davis, the Dems’ unsuccessful 2014 gubernatorial nominee, to recently blast White as an “anti-choice man asking for our support as the Democratic choice for governor. Uhh-no. Just no.”
Andrew White says Davis has it wrong.
“That’s a personal religious view I have and I feel strongly about that,” he said. “It’s important to me. So when I say making abortion rare, it’s part of I’d love to find ways to work to make it rare. But it always should be legal and that’s the way the Supreme Court settled it.”
He acknowledges the 1973 Roe V. Wade ruling as the law of the land.
“My personal beliefs are my personal beliefs. This would pertain to my wife and my children, the beliefs I would grow my children to believe in,” he said. “But as it relates to other people in America, we live in a free country and we’re ruled by law and that rule of law is set by the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has already determined that law. And I don’t see them overturning themselves any time soon.”
I asked if he disagrees with that law.
“On a personal level, I do,” he said. “I also believe in Christianity. I don’t enforce my Christian beliefs on others as well.”
In his speech, White blasted Abbott’s record on health care and said Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have “dramatically reduced spending on women’s health services, which is why more mothers die in pregnancy in Texas than anywhere else.”
“Abortion is legal,” he said in the speech, “and we must all work to keep it safe and to make it rare.”
How well White walks the precarious line he’s trying to navigate on abortion could go a long way toward determining whether he gets a shot at moving back into the downtown house that was his boyhood home for four years.
Watch a video with this column at mystatesman.com.