Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced her candidacy for governor on Wednesday morning at Texas Democratic Party headquarters in Austin, promising a new direction for the state. Valdez is the highest-profile Democrat to join the race.
“For far too long, hardworking Texans have been left behind, kept out, and, frankly, attacked for who they are, where they come from, and who they love,” Valdez said at the press conference announcing her candidacy. “Texans and Texas businesses are begging for a return of common sense.”
During her brief announcement speech, Valdez telegraphed a few of the issues she plans to run on, including more pragmatic government, immigration, and LGBT rights (Valdez is openly gay). In her announcement, she made special mention of the Dreamers—the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to America when they were children. The Trump administration has announced that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protected Dreamers from deportation, will end in March 2018. “For the Dreamers, if this isn’t their country, they don’t have a country,” Valdez declared.
The daughter of migrant farm workers, Valdez grew up in San Antonio and served as a captain in the U.S. Army before entering law enforcement—working in county and federal prisons, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Homeland Security—before being elected Dallas County sheriff in 2004. Valdez, the U.S.’s only female hispanic sheriff, has been reelected three times, most recently in 2016. Because she has three years left in her current term, Valdez was forced under state law to resign as sheriff to run for governor.
Valdez is the sixth Democrat to throw her hat in the ring. Perhaps her most prominent opponent is Andrew White, son of former Texas governor Mark White, who is set to announce his candidacy on Thursday. The other candidates in the crowded field are Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, Dallas investment adviser Adrian Ocegueda, Houston businessman Joe Mumbach, former Balch Springs mayor Cedric Davis, former congressional candidate Tom Wakely, and former railroad commissioner candidate Grady Yarbrough.
Still, Valdez is widely considered the favorite. “The party leadership has been trying to recruit a known-quantity Latino candidate to run for governor because of the belief that having a Latina in the marquee race will aid the party in ramping up Latino turnout, as well as winning a larger share of the Latino vote,” says Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones noted that an “ideal candidate” would be someone with more name recognition, such as Julián or Joaquin Castro, but that Valdez “is a second-best option.” “She’s an acceptable plan B,” Jones says.
Liberal activists in the state like Ed Espinoza, the executive director of Progress Texas, cheered Valdez’s announcement. “She’s an incredible voice on law enforcement and immigration,” Espinoza says. “Not a lot of people would pick up the task that she’s picking up.”
That task, if she secures the nomination, would be improving on Wendy Davis’s 20-point defeat in the 2014 governor’s race against Greg Abbott. State Democratic leaders hope that Valdez’s heritage—she peppered her announcement speech with Spanish phrases, and took questions from reporters in both Spanish and English—will improve turnout among the state’s large and growing Latino population.
Valdez’s presence on the ticket may help down-ballot Democrats by increasing turnout, but defeating Abbott and his $40 million war chest is another matter. “It is a daunting prospect to go from sheriff of Dallas County to governor of the state of Texas,” says Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. “You’re starting literally from scratch in building name recognition, a volunteer base, a fundraising network.”
Valdez would face a steep uphill battle against Abbott. But then again, who would have imagined a generation ago that a gay Latina would become a four-term sheriff presiding over the state’s second-largest county? “Growing up, we always had faith,” Valdez said Wednesday morning. “Siempre tuvimos fe.”