Herman: Why Lupe Valdez? Why Andrew White? Let’s have a debate

While we’re talking about a Democratic gubernatorial runoff debate (something Lupe Valdez might be forced to talk about a lot unless and until she firmly agrees to do one), let’s take a look at a potential first question she and foe Andrew White might get in said debate.

Valdez fielded it last week at a San Antonio campaign event.

“Thanks for your service in the military and law enforcement,” an attendee asked. “So, besides that, what distinguishes you from Andrew White?”

Good question, perhaps the best one as we move toward the May 22 runoff to pick a Democratic challenger to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Oh my goodness,” former Dallas County Sheriff Valdez replied, “a whole bunch.”

RELATED: Pressure mounts for Lupe Valdez to accept Andrew White debate

“I know what it is to come from the poorest ZIP code in San Antonio and still be able to make a decent living and go to college. I know what it is to have your family struggle with the everyday issues of medicine” and other necessities, she said, referring to daily decisions about how to pay for things such as school supplies.

“I would sit there and listen to my parents discuss, ‘How are we going to do this? Do we take the money from the grocery? Do we take the money from the light? How are we going to take those few centavos and pay for this?’ I know what it is to come from there. And I also know (what) it is to go to the military and get an education and end up doing pretty decent,” she said.

It’s an inspiring story but short of all we need to know about why she should be the Democratic candidate for governor.

Valdez, saying she identifies with “the common people of Texas,” addressed that thusly: “I also know what it is to run an election four times and win in a situation where they thought it was impossible for a female Hispanic lesbian Democrat to win. … They were saying somebody like that will never win in Dallas. I won,” she said. “I know what it is to manage over 2,000 people and run a budget of $163 million. This Latina can do it.”

On Monday, I posed the question to White: Why you and not Valdez for the nomination?

“I am a proven leader. I sold my house when I was in my 30s and used the money to invest in business. … From that experience, I started other businesses as well,” he said.

“I know how to create jobs. I know how to understand and deal in complicated policy, and I know how to build consensus under on the most difficult issues,” White said, calling those “traits required as governor.”

“Our state needs leadership in education more so than anywhere else,” he added. “I have a vision for how to do that, how to bring the changes that we need in education and also how to pay for it.”

In addition to previously announced school finance ideas, White said he wants lawmakers — perhaps with a vote of the people — to allow slot machines and table games at existing horse and dog tracks in the state. The concept, rejected several times by Texas lawmakers, is needed “so Texans don’t invest in Louisiana schools and Oklahoma health care and New Mexico highways,” he said, referring to casinos in those states.

External factors in this important Democratic runoff include its potential impact on the U.S. Senate race in which U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is mounting an aggressive campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. That’s shaping up to be the Democrats’ best shot at winning a Texas statewide race for the first time since 1994.

Having an Hispanic gubernatorial candidate could help O’Rourke attract the kind of turnout a Texas Democrat needs to win statewide. Without Valdez, the Democratic ticket would be top-heavy with white males: O’Rourke for Senate, White for governor, Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Justin Nelson for attorney general.

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Diversity matters, especially in putting together a Democratic win in Texas. And in the Valdez-White race, in which many voters know little about either candidate, debates matter.

We’re entitled to a televised, informed grilling of both candidates. As Democrats, there’s a good chance they won’t differ much on issues. But we need to find out if they differ much on what they know about issues. Whoever gets the nomination will face a November battle and, we would hope, a debate or debates with a governor who’s been immersed in those issues.

White has given a firm and unqualified yes on participating in a Democrat runoff debate or debates. Valdez has been far less committal, saying her staff is working on details and she “doesn’t like to fight other Democrats,” which I thought was half the fun of being a Democrat.

“My name is Lupe Valdez,” she said in introducing herself at the San Antonio event last week. “I’m in a runoff. I need you to go back to the polls. … I need you to go back to the polls because I’m the candidate that can beat Greg Abbott. I am the person.”

We look forward to hearing more about why. Hey, I have an idea: Let’s have a debate.

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