Valdez, campaigning for governor, defends record as sheriff

Democrat Lupe Valdez, campaigning for governor in San Antonio, defended her record as Dallas County Sheriff, said Gov. Greg Abbott's 2015 swipe at her on sanctuary cities hadn't changed a thing and said a Democratic rival needs to "make up his mind" on where he stands on abortion rights.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez speaks at a law enforcement panel discussion of Senate Bill 4, the so-called Sanctuary Cities Bill, in Austin on Feb. 15, 2017.  Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

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SAN ANTONIO — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez on Friday defended her tenure as Dallas County sheriff, holding firm against criticism of her office's transparency and a 2015 showdown with Gov. Greg Abbott over immigration policy.

Speaking with reporters at a campaign event, Valdez, who was sheriff from 2005 until she resigned to run for governor late last year, said she thought there was "more than enough transparency as long as the law allowed" while she had the job. She has faced scrutiny over her handling of inmate deaths at the Dallas County jail, but she insisted she had been diligent, letting investigations develop before releasing information that could jeopardize them.

"What I will always do is be as transparent as is possible at the moment," Valdez said, alluding to those who have pushed her for greater transparency. "At some time or another, they got all the information they wanted — they just didn’t get it when they wanted it. And I couldn’t give it to them. It's about, I’d rather do things right than quickly — much, much rather do it right than quickly." 

Asked about inmate escapes under her watch, Valdez downplayed the number as a small fraction of the total population at the Dallas County lockup, the seventh largest in the country.

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“Any escape is an escape, but according to the numbers, that is not a major concern,” she said, adding that she would rather focus on more important issues such as supporting inmates with mental illness.

Valdez also said she had no regrets about the 2015 spat with Abbott, the Republican she is now running to unseat. Valdez landed in Abbott's crosshairs after announcing she would soften her approach to detaining undocumented immigrants booked into her jails, an episode that served as a prelude to Abbott's successful push for a "sanctuary cities" ban last year. 

Valdez was defiant Friday when asked about the aftermath of Abbott's wrath.

"Nothing changed," she said, adding that she sought to send Abbott a letter at the time explaining why he was wrong, but county attorneys would not let her do it. "If he wants to believe that I stood down for him, let him believe that. I’m still standing up."

Valdez is one of nine Democrats vying to take on Abbott, who is seeking a second term. One of her more prominent primary rivals is Andrew White, son of late Gov. Mark White, who has described himself as "personally pro-life" but respectful of a woman's right to choose — a posture that has made some Democrats uneasy.

"I’m not about to tear another candidate, especially a Democrat," Valdez said when asked about White's abortion position. "But he needs to make up his mind. That’s all there is to it. First he’s one thing, then he’s another. Let him make up his mind."

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"I know where I stand. What’s important is where I’m at," she added, summing up her abortion view as, "I’m not about to tell you what to do with your body, so why should I tell other people?"

Valdez spoke with reporters toward the end of a meet-and-greet at a beer garden. In brief remarks to the crowd of 70 or so that had gathered, she continued to denounce Abbott and other Texas Republicans for focusing on the wrong things at the Capitol — including the 2017 "bathroom bill" that drew strong opposition from the business community.

"No business should have to beg the governor to do the right thing," she said, referring to the groups of CEOs that had written to Abbott to try to stop the ultimately unsuccessful legislation. 

Valdez's stop in San Antonio was the first on a statewide tour that is scheduled to take her to the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday, back to San Antonio on Monday and to Houston on Tuesday. It is her first major swing through the state since kicking off her campaign Sunday in Dallas.