Democrat Lupe Valdez, six weeks into her run for Texas governor, took exception to Republican handling of immigration, gun laws and the state’s rainy day fund during a wide-ranging discussion Thursday in Austin.
Valdez also defended lackluster fundraising numbers after her campaign collected only $46,000 in the last 3½ weeks of December, well behind Democratic rival Andrew White, who raised $219,000 in roughly the same amount of time.
Fundraising took a backseat to finishing her time as Dallas County sheriff — a 13-year job she left Dec. 31 to run for governor, Valdez told Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during a public conversation.
“That’s going to go up,” she said, adding that her campaign has been collecting $300 to $500 a day this month — totals campaign spokesman Kiefer Odell later said were inaccurate.
“We’ve raised substantially more,” Odell said. “Our next report will reflect it.”
Seven lesser-known Democratic rivals raised far less. The winner of the March 6 Democratic primary — or a potential May 22 runoff — election will likely face Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November.
Valdez’s campaign recently unveiled several policy priorities — including improved education, water supplies and transportation options. Asked how she would pay for the initiatives, Valdez said she saw opportunities to close a property tax “loophole” that values commercial property at lower rates than residential property.
Valdez also said she would never support a state income tax, was open to raising taxes if needed and supported tapping the rainy day fund to help build roads and bridges, fund education and create jobs — a sharp difference from Republican leaders who believe the economic stabilization fund should be tapped rarely and for one-time emergency expenses.
“You are not going to drain it,” but the rainy day fund can provide one-time, short-term help to kick-start important measures, she said.
“We need to spend it on the things that are going to help the average Texan,” Valdez said. “It’s raining out there. Let’s use the rainy day fund.”
Valdez also opposed Abbott’s proposal requiring voter approval for property tax revenue increases above 2.5 percent, saying it would saddle local governments with unfunded state spending mandates.
On guns, Valdez said she supports the concealed carry of handguns but opposed recently enacted Republican priorities to allow guns to be openly carried in holsters and to be carried concealed into university buildings and dorms.
She also said she supports stricter background checks for gun sales, limits on high-capacity magazines and removing guns from people involved in domestic abuse and other violent situations.
“A person who shows a tendency to harm with a weapon, why would you let them have a weapon? A person who has a weapon to protect and defend and to take care of their property, there’s no issue with that,” Valdez said.
On immigration, Valdez ripped Senate Bill 4, another GOP priority that was passed last year to allow local law officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions with the public, including traffic stops.
While police need to build trust with their community, SB 4 put a barrier between officers and the people they serve, she said.
“Now that it’s in there, how has it improved public safety? Those of us who were out in the field didn’t see any difference,” Valdez said. “The only thing it did was cause people to be in fear, and there are a lot of people who are being harmed who will not call the police now.”
Valdez said she favored policies that do not target immigrants who crossed the border without authorization in search of a better life.
“Criminals? I have no problem sending them somewhere else. Sometimes I wish I could do that for the Americans who cause these problems, but I can’t,” she said to laughter. “I have no problem with people who come here to help our economy and provide a better life for themselves and wherever they send the money back.”
Valdez said she opposes the death penalty, saying the number of death row inmates exonerated before they could be executed points to a dangerous flaw in the system. “We cannot continue to be in a situation where we risk killing an innocent person,” she said.
Valdez also defended her lack of policy specifics, saying she plans to make use of expert opinion while employing consensus-building techniques she used to tackle problems as sheriff.
“One of the talents of being a good leader is not depending on your own wisdom for everything. You need to have other people who are experts at this to come in and help you make decisions,” she said.