Houston investor Andrew White—the son of the late Texas governor Mark White and one of the small boat heroes of Hurricane Harvey—plans to launch an exploratory bid for governor in the 2018 elections this week. Although White wants to run as a Democrat, he aims to appeal to moderate Republicans who are frustrated with the state’s leadership on issues like the bathroom bill.
“What we’re trying to do is look beyond the issues and try to figure out who are the people leading us,” White says. “What kind of people are leading us? Are they people who are politically expedient, making short-sighted decisions? Are they people who are appealing to fringe elements of their party, the 200,000 to 300,000 fringe voters in their primary who represent less than 1 percent of the population of Texas, or are they willing to stand up and do what’s right?”
White says his favorite phrase is, “Do right and risk consequences,” the motto of Sam Houston. White’s father used that as part of a speech urging the Legislature to raise taxes during a 1986 financial crisis. Lawmakers raised taxes to prevent making drastic cuts to public schools, higher education, and social services, but it cost then-governor White his re-election bid.
“It worked out for the people of Texas. It didn’t work out for his career,” White says of his dad. “That’s the problem here. We have to have politicians who are willing to lose their job to do what’s right.”
The best example of that dearth, White says, is the so-called bathroom bill. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick forced a special session, Governor Greg Abbott put it on the agenda. Supporters of the bill, which ultimately died in the special session, said it would keep predatory men out of women’s restrooms, but it was largely seen as an attempt to discriminate against transgender individuals and as a political swipe at the LGBTQ community. Abbott and Patrick have not ruled out resurfacing the issue in any future special session or when the Legislature reconvenes in its 2019 regular session.
“The moderate Republicans are looking at their leaders and finding out they don’t represent their beliefs,” White says. “The old Republican party was pro-business and pro-jobs and ‘keep the government off my back.’ So what’s the bathroom bill? It’s an over-reaching government program to tell you that you need to bring your birth certificate into the bathroom. It might cause us to lose every Super Bowl, every national championship game—not to mention, how could Amazon consider a second headquarters in Texas if we’re having this argument right now? How many jobs do you lose? The sacrifice we would have to make over something that has zero data to support it is bizarre.”
White realizes that the Democratic party he wants to run under has not won a statewide race in twenty years, but he wants to move beyond party labels. “I’ve spent my career in business. I’m a very conservative Democrat, or I’m a moderate Republican or I don’t care what you call me,” he says. “It’s time to move beyond these simple labels . . . The issues are too complicated to limit to that just one team believes this and the other team believes that.”
Conservative Democrats left the party in the 1980s and ‘90s, but White believes current Republican leadership will make room for their return. “What we’re going to see is a switch back, a backlash,” White says. “The question is whether the Democratic party be able to accept them, or will it be too liberal to accept them. I’m right there in the middle as well. I’m hoping we’ll be a conservative party as well that the moderate Republicans will feel comfortable voting for.”
White, who is 45 and married with three children, rescued people when flood waters trapped them in their homes during Hurricane Harvey. White’s efforts were featured in national news stories, as well as Texas Monthly’s Voices From the Storm. White runs an investment firm called Sweat Equity Partners LP.
Within the next day or two, White plans to launch a Facebook page and AndrewWhite.com to solicit feedback, and he will make a decision in about a month whether to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Dallas gay bar owner Jeffrey Payne already has announced a run for the Democratic nomination and has pledged to put $2 million of his own money into the race. White says his decision will be based on the response he gets to his web sites.
“I don’t know what success looks like, but I definitely know what failure looks like,” White says. “If we hear crickets, I’ll go back to what I’m doing. I won’t waste my time if no one cares. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”