Pitching himself as a centrist and a pragmatist, Andrew White, the son of former Gov. Mark White, is exploring a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
White, an investor in Houston, has never run for office but said he became interested in challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott after his father died in August and after Hurricane Harvey, during which he helped rescue about 100 people on his small fishing boat.
White said hearing old stories at the funeral about how his father grappled with such weighty issues as taxes and public school finance made him realize the triviality of Abbott’s push for policies like the “bathroom bill” to prohibit transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice.
“Compared to what he was doing, our politicians today are playing games, and they’re trying to get more and more extreme,” Andrew White said in an interview. “Our governor and lieutenant governor are representing really well the 200,000 fringe voters in the very extreme end of their party and ignoring the 27.8 million other Texans.”
Although he has not officially entered the race, White said the early results of the “social media listening tour” he launched this week have been encouraging.
“It’s been one day that the word has gotten out, and we’ve had phone calls, emails, text messages. Neighbors came over to give us hugs. The message we’re hearing is clear,” he said.
Abbott is considered a prohibitive favorite for re-election to a second term. He defeated state Sen. Wendy Davis in 2014 by 20 points, has more than $40 million in his campaign treasury and can be expected to raise a lot more.
The filing deadline to run in the March primary ballot is Dec. 11. So far, there are two declared Democratic candidates: Jeffrey Payne, a Dallas businessman, and Tom Wakely of San Antonio, who is running as a democratic socialist in the Bernie Sanders mold.
State party officials have been looking for a more formidable candidate. It remains to be seen whether White fills that bill.
“Texas Democrats are all about a fair shot for all, and it is clear that millions of Texans, from all walks of life, can no longer endure Greg Abbott’s failed policies and dangerous agenda. Mr. White is one of these people,” Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s deputy executive director, said in a statement.
Andrew White, who described himself as a “very conservative Democrat,” presents his candidacy as an answer to the divisiveness and extremism of state politics in a state that last elected a Democrat to statewide office in 1994.
White’s father defeated Republican Gov. Bill Clements in 1982 but lost to Clements in seeking a second term in 1986. He also served as Texas secretary of state and attorney general.
Houstonian raised in Austin
Born in Houston and raised in Austin while his dad held statewide office, Andrew White majored in religious studies at the University of Virginia and got an MBA from the University of Texas.
White, who now lives in Houston’s River Oaks, has started six companies and founded the investment firm Sweat Equity Partners LP.
His greatest success as an entrepreneur, he said, was selling two companies he started, Allied Home Warranty and Lone Star Repair, to NRG Energy in 2012. He declined to disclose the sales price.
White’s exploits as one of the many volunteers rescuing flood victims during Hurricane Harvey was recounted in Texas Monthly and other media outlets.
“I know, in my boat alone, we’ve picked up close to 100 people, 20 dogs, a bunch of cats, and one rabbit. We’ve picked up babies, children with special needs, a teenager with cerebral palsy, and an elderly woman who we found lying in her own feces, running out of oxygen,” he told Texas Monthly.
‘Very conservative Democrat’
While White is pitching himself as a conservative, many of his policy preferences are in line with Democratic Party orthodoxy.
He describes himself as “personally pro-life” but said he respects that the law of the land was established by the Roe v. Wade ruling, which held that women have a constitutional right to abortion.
He supports the growth of charter schools but opposes a voucher system that would allow parents to use taxpayer money for their kids’ private school tuition.
He wants stronger border security but believes there are smarter solutions than President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. White also said he’s against Senate Bill 4 — the new state law to ban so-called sanctuary cities that decline to assist federal immigration enforcement — because it was opposed by the police chiefs of the state’s largest cities.
On all fronts, White said he is less concerned with which ideological camp he is in and more concerned with finding pragmatic solutions.
“The whole theme of my campaign is bringing common sense and decency back to state government,” he said.
He cited Abbott’s decision to forgo billions of federal dollars by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as an example of how partisan fights interfere with the public’s interest.
“This is not about whether Obamacare works or doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s a game. Stop playing games.”