We’re slouching toward the 2018 elections, and so far the race for Texas governor doesn’t look particularly competitive. After Democratic darling U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro downplayed recent reports that he is considering a run last week, the Democrats’ lineup looks extremely weak. Whoever the Democrats get behind, they’ll need to do it fast, because they already have a lot of catching up to do. When Abbott announced his re-election campaign in July, he already had $41 million waiting in his war chest.
Considering the fact that a Democrat hasn’t won a Texas gubernatorial race since before this writer was born, Greg Abbott is probably going to win. Handily, even. Still, even though no major Democratic candidate has announced, that doesn’t mean no one has entered the race against Abbott. It’s just that you haven’t heard of most of them. Let’s meet the people who have tossed their hat into the ring.
Editor’s note: We realize that there are more steps to actually filing a candidacy than saying you will run for governor.
Jeffrey Payne, the 49-year-old owner of a gay bar in Dallas, announced his candidacy in July. Payne is a Democrat with zero political experience but an extensive business background. According to D Magazine, Payne, who is openly gay, is pretty well known in Dallas’s LGBT community. One of his many business ventures is The Eagle, Dallas’s most popular leather bar. He was named Mr. Leather International in 2009. “I consider myself a good candidate, but I’m not sure why the Democrats were not able to—or have not been able to—find someone,” Payne told the Texas Tribune in July. “I’m running no matter who they find. This is a job I would take very seriously and would be number one on my list of things to do, but it’s not my career. I believe public service is something we should do where we’re not depending on that to supplement our living. We should all have careers outside of politics and serve out of a duty and love for our state.”
Tom Wakely also announced his candidacy in July. A San Antonio native who once served as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, and who also owned a wine bar and jazz club in Manzanillo, Mexico, Wakely is a self-described “Bernicrat,” according to his campaign website. The blog Brains and Eggs describes Wakely as “everything you’d expect in a seasoned white progressive populist,” and “Bernie Sanders with a cowboy hat.” He supports issues like raising the minimum wage in Texas to $15 an hour and the complete legalization of marijuana. “Our world, our country, our state, is facing the end of times—not in the biblical or religious sense, but in the sense that the world as we know it, the world we grew up in, will not be the world we leave to our children or grandchildren,” Wakely writes on his website. “Climate change and corporate control over pretty much every thing in Texas is the new reality. But if we act together, and if we act now, we can stop climate change and reign in the corporations. We can ensure that our children and our grandchildren will inherit not just a safer world but a better world… My campaign for Governor is about advocating for a progressive change in the Texas Democratic party and to removing Abbott, Patrick, and their tea party brethren from power.” Wakely challenged U.S. Representative Lamar Smith for District 21 in 2016, but got smoked at the polls, garnering just more than 36 percent of the vote to Smith’s 57 percent.
Kory Watkins is running as a libertarian. Unlike the previous two candidates, you may have actually heard of Watkins, a fedora-wearing gun enthusiast in North Texas. Although he once served as a Republican precinct chairman in Mansfield, Watkins is best known as the leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, a group with “a habit of startling people in Dallas-Fort Worth by turning up at public places like Target and Home Depot with AK-47s and various other serious weaponry,” Texas Monthly‘s Erica Greider wrote in 2015. Watkins was a thorn in the side of the Texas Legislature in 2015, when his group of armed buddies harassed several representatives until the House decided to approve installing panic buttons and ejecting hostile members of the public from their offices, according to the Houston Chronicle. A month later, Watkins posted a YouTube video appearing to threaten state lawmakers. “We should be demanding these people give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death,” Watkins says in the video, which has since been taken down. “Treason. Do you understand how serious this is, Texas?” Watkins was heavily criticized for the clip, and he later walked back his comments, claiming that he was not threatening anyone but instead simply trying to light a fire under peaceful lobbying efforts to repeal Texas firearms laws, according to the Dallas Morning News. Watkins also made a small ripple on the internet last October, when he donned a neon shirt bearing the hand-written slogan “Taxation is theft” and sat behind home plate during a televised Texas Rangers game. He also has a criminal record. When Watkins was seventeen, he and two other teenagers were caught by police with two fifteen-inch subwoofer speakers and 44 CDs stolen from a pickup in Keller, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and the case was wiped from his official record after he successfully completed probation. According to a Facebook page for Watkins’s campaign, he’s running for governor “to spread the message of Love, Freedom, and Innovation!”
As you may have guessed by his all-caps middle name, Republican candidate Larry SECEDE Kilgore is very much in favor of Texas seceding from the rest of the nation. He legally changed his middle name to SECEDE in 2012, and the biography on his campaign website refers to the 52-year-old Amarillo native not as “Larry” or “Kilgore,” but only as “SECEDE.” He’s no stranger to running for office, having unsuccessfully run for the U.S. Senate in 2008, and for governor in 2006 and in 2014. According to Ballotpedia, at one point Kilgore’s campaign motto was “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.” According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kilgore hasn’t shaved or cut his hair since the 2014 election loss (here’s what that looks like, in case you were curious). Aside from being about as pro-secession as humanly possible, Kilgore’s other stances are that abortion is murder, adulterers should be executed, welfare is socialism, and socialism goes against the teachings of the Bible. “I don’t plan on cutting my hair or beard until Texas has laws that can protect unborn children,” Kilgore told the Telegram in July. When a clean-shaven Kilgore appeared on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 2013, he likened Abraham Lincoln to Adolph Hitler. “Lincoln and Hitler are very similar, but most Americans aren’t aware of it,” Kilgore said. “Hitler was the one that killed six million Jews. Lincoln was the one that killed 600,000 Americans.” He also thinks Texas should secede, in case that wasn’t already clear.
Thor Harris announced his campaign for governor via Twitter in August (Warning: This eight second clip does manage to sneak in a NSFW word):
For what it’s worth, he immediately picked up an endorsement from Texas-based rock band Explosions in the Sky. Harris is an Austin-based artist and musician. His current band, Thor & Friends, is “intended as a vehicle for experimentation with the conceptual vocabulary of American Minimalism collaborating with a rotating cast of Austin-based musicians,” according to his website. It’s unclear what party Harris is running under. Equally unclear is what, exactly, he’d do if given the keys to the governor’s mansion. “Slightly higher taxes on petroleum industry and tax breaks for solar. Duh,” Harris wrote on Twitter the day after announcing his candidacy. He’s been pretty quiet about his gubernatorial aspirations since then.
Byron Bradford is running as an independent. According to his candidate profile, Bradford served 28 years in the U.S. Army, serving combat tours in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Tarleton State in 2004 and a master’s in business administration while stationed at Fort Bliss in 2009. “As your Independent candidate for Governor, my efforts will go toward bringing sustainable, long-term employment to the State, ensure the citizens of Texas feel safe in their communities and work hard toward reforming school funding,” Bradford writes on his campaign website. “I am prepared to work with an unbiased opinion to move Texas from good to great.”
That’s it so far. There’s still time for someone big to enter the race—Wendy Davis, the Democrats’ top dog in 2014, didn’t announce her campaign until October 2013—but it’s unclear at this point who, if anyone, will rise to the challenge.