Andrew White loans campaign $1 million, seeks to reshape race

Feb 05, 2018
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Lupe Valdez and Andrew White participated in a question and answer session Jan. 20 at the AFL-CIO convention in Austin. (Mark Matson for American-Statesman)

Houston businessman Andrew White, endorsed this weekend for the Democratic nomination for governor by the state’s two biggest newspapers, announced Monday that he has loaned his campaign $1 million.

The commitment, which would enable him to herald his endorsements in mailers, digital media and limited cable advertising, is a shot across the bow at Lupe Valdez, who, because of her readily identifiable Hispanic name and 13 years as sheriff in Dallas County (she stepped down at the end of December to run for governor), was considered the front-runner in the March 6 primary against White and seven lesser-known candidates.

“White has now signaled that if Valdez thought that with the support of most of the Democratic establishment this was going to be a cakewalk, that is not at all going to be the case,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

White’s campaign also reported $138,632 in contributions during the first three weeks of January in its fundraising statement due Monday.

FIRST READING: Knocked for a Lupe: Morning News, Chronicle, Houston GLBT Caucus snub Valdez for Andrew White

White, the son of the late Democratic Gov. Mark White, raised $219,000, including $40,000 in loans in his first fundraising report, for the last quarter of 2017, a period during which Valdez raised $51,000. Her campaign said it was still working on final numbers for the new report Monday evening.

“I come from humble beginnings as one of eight children born to migrant farm workers. I then spent my career in service to the people of Texas,” Valdez said in a statement issued by her campaign. “I’m not wealthy but I have a lot to be thankful for — including the grassroots support that’s powering my campaign and this movement. I’m not worried about Andrew White’s $1 million campaign loan because Texan Democrats can’t be bought, and we’ll prove that on election day.”

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott raised nearly $1.1 million between Jan. 1 and Jan. 25, spent $891,000 and had $43.3 million in cash on hand for his re-election campaign.

“Democrats will need a war chest to beat Gov. Abbott in the fall,” White said in a statement. “We’ve started building one today.”

But Jones said White’s infusion of a million dollars suggests he plans to spend that much before the primary, while replenishing his treasury, and, to the extent possible, paying himself back in the coming weeks.

If no candidate wins at least half the votes, the two top finishers will compete in a May 22 primary.

Unprepared to be governor?

The weekend endorsements of White by The Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle, as well as by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which chose White over Valdez, a groundbreaking lesbian sheriff, were especially significant because in each case, Valdez was described as being unprepared to be governor.

“We had high hopes for former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the only candidate who’s held elective office, having been elected in 2004 and re-elected four times since, and someone we’ve supported locally at various times,” the Morning News wrote. “We were disappointed by her gross unfamiliarity with state issues, however, particularly an almost incoherent attempt to discuss state financing.”

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“At one point, Valdez, 70, volunteered that she didn’t know whether the state was spending $8 million or $8 billion on border control. (It’s closer $800 million.)” the endorsement continued. “On college tuition, she first suggested the Legislature ‘and stakeholders’ should set tuition rates, but then contradicted herself, and she later said the state should move to reduce local property tax rates, apparently unaware of those set by local jurisdictions.”

The Chronicle’s only mention of Valdez in its endorsement editorial was that she “stumbled over flooding questions.”

Mike Webb, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said the screening committee and the general membership, “felt that White would do a better job in fighting back against (the actions) targeted against the LGBT community now by the current governor, and quite frankly, Valdez did not reassure us that she would be able to, or even had knowledge of the position of the office, to do so.”

‘Can’t win them all’

Valdez, in a statement responding to the newspaper endorsements for White, said that “while we’re disappointed we can’t win them all, I’m proud to have the support of progressive clubs across the state, Stonewall Democrat chapters in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, the Tejano Democrats, and others that’ll be rolling out shortly.”

Valdez has been slow to hire campaign staffers, but campaign aide Kiefer Odell said Monday that “the campaign had rounded out our consulting team with mail, media and fundraising consultants and a pollster” and was “interviewing for the right fit” with a campaign manager.

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Democratic pundit Harold Cook of Austin said that neither Valdez nor White had lit a fire under Democratic voters so far, and while challenging Abbott seems a hopeless undertaking, “if you can’t put up what passes for a credible candidate for governor you really can’t call yourself a political party, so I’m awfully glad we’ve got people running for governor.”

But, he said, what Democratic activists are most concerned about is which candidate can do the most to help U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, in what they view as his more credible challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.