- Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
Good morning, class. From the following list, please choose the one you’d least expect the Great State of Texas to be the first state to do. Remember, we’re looking for the one you’d least expect Texas to be the first to do:
1. Officially recognize football as a religion.
2. Make it illegal to be poor.
3. Declare education optional.
4. Make football the official religion of the state.
5. Elect a Hispanic lesbian governor.
Easy, right? But it looks as if we might get a shot at being the first state to knowingly elect a gay governor of any ethnic or gender persuasion.
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez today will file the paperwork and become a (the?) leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Her candidacy would invite some interesting firsts and precedents. I’m saving the most surprising for last, so stick around to the end.
Valdez, the nation’s only Hispanic female sheriff, would be trying to leap from county official to governor. She’d also be the first Hispanic governor of Texas, the first child of migrant farmworkers elected governor of Texas and the first openly gay person elected governor in the U.S.
That last one needs an asterisk or two:
* In 2004, then-New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey’s coming out came in a resignation speech after some official unpleasantness involving an unqualified man McGreevey put on the state payroll. Back then, a good joke was that McGreevey was a governor with a man date.
** Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is married to a man and is openly bisexual. She was elevated to governor from secretary of state (Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, and, no, this isn’t an invitation for you to say you wish Texas didn’t) when then-Gov. John Kitzhaber quit in 2015 during an influence-peddling scandal. Brown later won a 2016 special election.
Other than that, best as we know (though we probably know better), no state has ever had anything other than heterosexuals as governor. Wait, one more asterisk: California had an openly gay governor for eight hours on July 30, 2014, when Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins served as acting governor while real Gov. Jerry Brown and others in the succession line were out of state.
I’m not sure anybody would pick Texas as likely to be the first to back an openly gay gubernatorial candidate. But there was a time when Dallas County didn’t seem likely to elect a Hispanic lesbian sheriff. That time has passed. Valdez is in her fourth term.
I’ve long been amazed at how self-defeatingly dumb it is to rule out candidates of particular groups. Seems like we’d want to cast as broad a net as possible when looking for qualified, intelligent people to help steer this ship. They come in various genders, sexual orientations, ages, colors, ethnicities, talents and physical abilities. Heck, Texans, in picking statewide officials, someday also might find that qualified, intelligent people also come from more than one political party.
Of all the characteristics that might seem challenging for a Texas gubernatorial candidate, the one that stands out most for Valdez is obvious: She’s a Democrat.
And of all the characteristics that make Valdez a trailblazing candidate, the one that might be most surprising involves the trail she’d blaze for older Texans. She was born on Oct. 11, 1947, which means she’d be 71 if she wins and takes the oath in January 2019. That would make her the oldest person to become Texas governor for the first time. (And I invite everyone to check my math on all this.)
The current record holder for oldest first-time Texas governor? Looks as if it’s Sam Houston, who was born March 2, 1793, and was 66 when he got the guv gig in December 1859. (Although that was the first time Houston became governor of Texas, it was not the first time he became a governor. He was elected Tennessee’s governor at age 34 in 1827.)
Gov. Bill Clements was 69 when he took office in January 1987, but he was 61 when he took the oath for his first term in January 1979.
So in addition to appealing to other important demographics, perhaps we’ll see Geezers for Lupe bumper stickers.
A final update: We have a winner! I told you last week that Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign was raffling off an Astros flag that had been displayed on the Governor’s Mansion. I encouraged you to take advantage of the opportunity to enter without making a contribution, as I had. I didn’t win. I’m recovering from the disappointment, as are all entrants who wanted to win without donating to the Abbott re-election campaign.
The campaign tells me the lucky winner was “Matthew from Lorena,” who gave $75. Congrats to Matthew. Enjoy the flag.