In 2010 Debra Medina, a nurse and the chair of the Wharton County Republican Party, startled the Texas Republican establishment by winning almost nineteen percent of the vote in that year’s gubernatorial primary. It wasn’t enough to win, obviously, but it served notice, especially given that Medina was running against incumbent governor Rick Perry, already the longest-serving governor in Texas history at that point, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. And it was, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come. By 2014, a number of Republican statewide candidates would be trying to position themselves as outsiders.
But Medina, who announced a bid for comptroller earlier this year to replace Susan Combs, is the only Republican running statewide who ran against the establishment before Ted Cruz scored a historic upset against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in 2012. In March she’ll face state senator Glenn Hegar, state representative Harvey Hilderbran, and former state representative Raul Torres in the primary. One poll found her leading the field, although it also found that a large majority of Texans aren’t paying attention to the race. When I sat down with her in Austin on December 7, she told me that she would spend the next few months crisscrossing Texas, mostly by car. “I drive as much as I can drive,” she said. “I don’t like the rigidity of airports.” None of her supporters would be surprised by that.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Erica Grieder: Let’s start with your first campaign for statewide office. Why did you decide to run for governor in 2010 in the first place?
Debra Medina: That campaign came completely from a phone call out of the blue. I’d never thought about running for that office. I had thought one day I might run for Congress, but that was kind of a “maybe some day I’ll do that!” I got a phone call one day from a woman I’d known for about fifteen years who was concerned about Kay and Rick as the options, and she said she’d been talking to a number of groups. I said, “Well, I share your concern. Why are you calling me?” [ Laughs.]
And she said, “Well, we’ve been talking to these groups, and nobody can really agree on any one person we’d like to see running against those two—unless we put your name in the mix. There’s a lot of agreement that, yeah, people could be supportive of a Debra Medina candidacy.”
EG: That’s a nice vote of confidence. Were these libertarian groups?
DM: [ Laughs.] You know, in politics, there are people that call and say, “We’ve been talking to people.” You learn to say, “Well, who were those people?” But at that point, I didn’t ask for names. You know, I’m a rural county chairman from Wharton, and while I have some name ID across the state, it is in a very limited segment of the Republican party. Initially that very first phone call was such an out-of-left field thing for me that I said no. But she continued to press, and I guess that circulated around the group. That was November to February, I guess. It was about three months before I said, “Okay, I’ll do this race.”
EG: What were the qualms about Senator Hutchison and Governor Perry?
DM: For me personally, I had gone from being a grassroots activist to vice-chair of my local party to chair of my local party to someone who was actively engaging in my entire Senate district, while being told