Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.
The name “White” probably isn’t enough, but perhaps it will help Andrew.
He is the son of the late Gov. Mark White, who served from 1983 to 1987 and was known for education reforms and for losing his re-election bid for some of the more unpopular pieces of those reforms.
Andrew White hasn’t run for office before. In fact, his current bid for governor came to his mind at his father’s funeral last year. He says — in one of those phrases that tells you he’s absorbed some political skills, that he’s running because he’s interested in public service and not because he’s interested in political ambition.
But White’s name, while it has great history here, is not a dynastic label in Texas politics. This isn’t the Bushes — a family that in four generations produced a U.S. senator, a U.S. representative, two presidents, governors of two states and a Texas land commissioner.
Brand names, as George P. Bush can testify, mean a lot in politics. He signed up for his first race in 2014, putting his name on the ballot for commissioner of the state’s General Land Office. Just the name cleared the ballot of the most formidable contenders. People who wanted to be land commissioner on Monday were, by that Thursday, looking for other offices to seek.
White, a 45-year-old, says he and his father never even talked about the possibility of Andrew running for office. He’s now part of a crowd, with eight opponents in the Texas Democratic primary election that’s coming up on March 6. Look at this list: Adrian Ocegueda, Andrew White, Cedric Davis Sr., Grady Yarbrough, James Jolly Clark, Jeffrey Payne, Joe Mumbach, Lupe Valdez, and Tom Wakely.
In political terms, that’s a field of rookies.
Yarbrough has been on the ballot before, in unsuccessful bids for statewide office; he lost a general election race for Texas Railroad Commission in 2016 and a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 2012.
Valdez was Dallas County Sheriff until she resigned to make this race. She won four countywide elections in the state’s second-largest county.
If nothing else were to happen during this Democratic primary, those are the two names in the governor’s race that Texas voters — some of them, anyhow — are most likely to have seen.
More will happen during the primary, of course. Several of the remaining candidates are traveling, working crowds, and a couple even have money to spend on their races. But White and the others will have to wriggle through the other political noise to become known enough to enough voters to have a chance in March. Several members of the state’s congressional delegation have opponents, and eight of those congressional seats are empty, attracting hordes of wannabes who are clamoring for voter attention (the Republican primary in the 21st Congressional District alone has 18 candidates).
The Democrats, who looked for most of last year like a party that wouldn’t produce any statewide candidates for 2018, produced a mess of them after all: three for U.S. Senate, nine for governor, two for lieutenant governor, two for comptroller, two for land commissioner, and two for railroad commissioner. That’s a lot of people asking for a moment of Democratic voters’ time between now and the start of early voting on Feb. 20.
Valdez jumpstarted her candidacy with a Dallas rally on Sunday, focusing on “fake ideas” that she says dominate the legislative conversation in Austin and on anti-sanctuary cities legislation signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, which she said are hurting the state’s reputation.
During an onstage interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith on Thursday, White said he’s running on education. He’s opposed to publicly funded vouchers for private and home schools. He says Texas ranks 43rd nationally in education. He wants to shift the costs of public education from local to state taxpayers — off of property taxes and more toward state taxes and spending. One source of money, he says, would be the $800 million Texas is spending on border security every two years; White contends that’s a federal responsibility and that the state shouldn’t be paying for it.
He calls the current set of state officials “extremists.” That prompted Smith to ask him whether Gov. Greg Abbott, elected with a 20-percentage-point margin over Wendy Davis, a well-financed, well-known Democrat, is an extremist — or whether the voters of Texas are “extremists” and Abbott fairly represents what they want in a governor. White dodged that, saying that the electorate has shifted in the age of Trump and that the issues facing the state and the nation have prompted a political change.
He made some headlines talking to reporters after the interview with Smith, saying he wants to abolish the death penalty and that he would appoint death penalty opponents to the state’s parole board.
But his opening with voters isn’t a record of accomplishment in public office, like Valdez’s, or of wild business success or a sports career or whatever.
It’s a name — a good name, but not a household name. In that, he is like the other eight Democrats who want the nomination for governor, and who have just more than five weeks to overcome a formidable obstacle.