At sixty, Mike Collier has twice been a Democratic candidate for statewide office in Texas. In 2014, making his first foray into elective politics, the certified public accountant, who had been a Republican, ran for comptroller as a Democrat against Glenn Hegar and lost by more than twenty percentage points. In 2018, he came within five points of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the strongest performance by a Democrat running for the seat since 1998, when Comptroller John Sharp lost to future governor Rick Perry by fewer than two points. In April, Collier announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to consider another run at Patrick. He’s now done exploring.
On Monday, Collier is officially launching his candidacy and a statewide campaign swing with 45 events in 26 days. The tour, in his 2018 Ford F-150 pickup truck, will take him through the state’s largest counties—Dallas and Houston’s Harris—and among its smallest—Foard, located on the rolling plains just east of the base of the Panhandle, and Throckmorton, midway between Wichita Falls and Abilene. There will be a roundtable with ranchers and a wind farm visit in West Texas, neighborhood parties in the Rio Grande Valley, and a listening tour that will take him to Black churches in East Texas. In 2018, when Beto O’Rourke challenged Ted Cruz for senator and captured the headlines, Collier, with his business background and unassuming manner, was the Democratic’s top performer in rural Texas, where the party is weakest.
But before he can get his rematch with Patrick, Collier will have to get past Matthew Dowd, a former chief strategist for George W. Bush who stole a lot of attention Wednesday with his announcement that he will run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat. While Dowd is clearly a flashier presence, Collier, who has the sizzle of a CPA, has been plowing this ground for years now. He promises to bring business sense and an auditor’s rectitude to problems such as reining in property taxes, fully funding public schools, job creation, and “fixing the damn grid.”
The filing deadline for Democrats closes in December. Whoever in the party prevails in the primary will have an uphill battle challenging Patrick, who had more than $23 million in his campaign account according to his July filings. By contrast, Collier, who bragged about raising more than $1 million in his exploratory phase, has $200,000 in the bank, while Dowd is starting from scratch.
Collier spoke with Texas Monthly about why he’s running again. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
TM: This is your third run for statewide office. Why are you doing it?
MC: The motivation to run for lieutenant governor now is precisely the same as 2018. I’m very passionate about Texas. We have a lot of problems that our political leaders aren’t solving. I’m very passionate about democracy. And I think a competitive Democratic party in Texas would be very good on so many levels for democracy. And I feel like I owe it to myself and the people that have helped me because we came so close in ’18.
You know the expression, a football team never loses the game, they just run out of time? When we looked at the data after 2018, I concluded, I think quite rightly, that if I just had more time and more money I could have won. The reason why I say that is that we were adding votes, and we could see in our polling internal work that I was closing the gap with each passing day. And when we get to Election Day I came as close as any Democratic challenger has come to that position since the nineties. I rounded up 3.8 million votes, Patrick rounded up 4.2 million votes, so he gets to be lieutenant governor, but I was closing that gap with each passing day.
TM: Why do you think you did better than other Democrats in rural counties?
MC: What I learned in 2018 is that if you go even into deep red country—which, by the way, Dan Patrick never goes into deep red territory, he takes those voters for granted—and you have an informed point of view and experience in communicating with voters, and you got lots and lots of surrogates, friends, and allies to help you get your message out, then you find there’s an awful lot of people in Texas who stop thinking of Mike Collier versus Dan Patrick as a partisan contest. They may begin thinking of it as “which one of these two is going to solve these problems that are affecting me and my family and that we’re worried about.” And they end up saying, “I think Mike’s the guy. I heard from him. I like his point of view on property taxes, public education, fixing the damn grid, water infrastructure, etc.”
I think many, many Texans—I would even venture to say most Texans—would prefer there not be all this partisan anxiety. Everywhere I go, people say to me, “This is really refreshing,” because I think they’re just exhausted by partisanship, and they like talking about the issues. You’ll have high-end political consultants who think it’s all about whipping up a frenzy and turning out the base. They don’t know what they’re doing. What people want to hear about in today’s world, they want to hear about how you can solve problems.
TM: If you are to win, the Senate would almost certainly still be majority Republican. Do you have a strategy for how you would leverage power in the chamber under those circumstances?
MC: I predict that if I’m elected lieutenant governor and presiding over a Senate that is dominated by Republicans, that many of those Republicans will be relieved. In setting the agenda, we’re going to work on the problems that are on Texans’ minds, and Republicans know that we need to fix the damn grid and they know that we need to solve the property tax problem. They have had a lieutenant governor controlling with an iron fist, not allowing them to serve their constituents. And I think they’ll be quite relieved. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a bed of roses for me. It is going to be quite an interesting challenge.
TM: Were you surprised when Matt Dowd entered the race? Had he talked to you about it or did you see it coming?
MC: I first heard about him [thinking about running] when I read it in Texas Monthly. You expect people entering the primary. I’ve never questioned that there would be somebody entering the primary, I’ve done the work. I’ve been all around the state. I have a network and infrastructure, I’ve got friends and I’ve got allies, and I’ve got people cheering me on, and I’ve done the work. And so, I don’t mind a primary.
It doesn’t change what I’m doing at all. And I have another thirteen perfectly good months [before the general election]. I’m just going to stay on course.
TM: But, as a practical matter, Matt Dowd has made his career as a political strategist and analyst. He has ten times as many Twitter followers as you do. He is on cable TV all the time. It’s like he has a walk-in closet in Wimberley that leads directly to the MSNBC studio. How do you compete with that?
MC: What matters is how people feel about you when you show up, and you shake their hand, and you get to know them and talk about the issues in the state. I don’t think you win on Twitter. You don’t win on MSNBC. You win by talking to Texans, and having them know you and having them trust you, and you have a network and they respond to you and they cast votes for you.
TM: Now that you’ve got a contested race, is there any possibility you would slide over and run for comptroller again?
MC: No. My passion for doing this is multifold, but here are the component parts. One, I love this state, the people in it. We’ve got problems, we need to work on solving those problems; it ain’t going to be the Texas miracle forever if we don’t solve these problems. The lieutenant governor position is the one in which I can have the most significant influence.
Two, I’m very passionate about democracy, and the lieutenant governor has a lot of influence on how we deal with such things as voting and redistricting and all the other aspects of making sure that we have a truly representative democracy in Texas.
And then finally, I am very passionate about the fact that Democrats are the guardians of our individual liberties and constitutional rights. And we have seen that Dan Patrick has assaulted our individual liberties and constitutional rights, whether it’s the right to vote, whether it’s a woman’s right to control her destiny in her own body, whether it’s trans kids’ right to live the way their Creator made them, and even the right to free speech, interfering with what teachers can teach in the schools. The lieutenant governor has outsized influence on all of those things. And that’s what animates my ambition.
TM: In the general election, how much does it matter who else is on the ticket?
MC: Well, I’m hoping Beto runs for governor.
TM: Because of how he campaigned in 2018?
MC: I thought he did a magnificent job. I performed better than all the other Democrats in rural Texas, 171 counties. He performed better than all the other Democrats in the urban counties. And so it’s very easy for me to see that if you have a couple of guys that trust each other, know each other, talk regularly, that we can optimize in both rural and urban, I think it’s very good for our prospects.
TM: If history is a guide, this could be a bad year for Texas Democrats in the second year with a Democrat in the White House. According to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, President Biden’s numbers in Texas are looking pretty grim. Voters in Texas gave him a 32 percent job approval rating, with 61 percent disapproving, a 24-point net drop since June.
MC: When I endorsed Joe Biden and fought for him, I was not thinking about what the long-term political implications for me were. I felt like it was the right thing to do. And then when he got elected, I didn’t say, “well, I better sit this one out now for lieutenant governor because we all know what it means when the president’s in the White House.” No, the day after he got elected, I called the folks that I knew to congratulate them and say, “I don’t want to join the administration, I want a rematch.”
As for Joe Biden’s popularity and success, I believe when we’re sitting here and it’s time for folks to vote, he’ll be a popular president. I mean these are hard problems to solve. They take time. I have faith in him. I always have. I’m doubling and tripling down on the president that I got behind. That’s just how I am.
TM: Even Democratic state senators are loath to publicly cross Dan Patrick. Do you expect them to campaign for you if you are the nominee?
MC: They may or they may not. Obviously I’ll take all the help I can get, but at the end of the day, in politics you’ve got to do it for yourself. I’ve got to put my back into it. One of the reasons why Democrats have not won statewide is because nobody stays on it. What has normally happened over the last thirty years is you become a candidate, having never run statewide. And then you put everything you’ve got into it for two years and make mistakes and have a beginning of a network and skill set, and then when you’re defeated, you just go away. And then the next crowd starts over. And I’ve known from the very beginning that this is a large and complex state, and it’s going to take perhaps years to win. And so I have built up that network. I have that infrastructure. I now have to execute. It’s on me. I would welcome all the help I can get and I’m friends with many of the Democratic senators. But I’ve got to do this work.