Standing under the high ceilings and tree-branch light fixtures of a characteristically quirky Austin co-working space, Andrew White billed himself on Tuesday morning as a governor who thinks like an entrepreneur.
And he unveiled his entrepreneur’s approach to job growth in Texas: a new sign promoting fuel from Texas to be required at the 10,000 gas stations across the state and a fleet of self-driving vehicles to be funded in part by the increased revenue he says those signs would bring.
White’s most immediate hurdle in his campaign to become governor of Texas is a May 22 runoff against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who took 43 percent of the vote to his 27 percent in last month’s crowded Democratic primary. But as he nears the halfway point in that campaign, White seemed much more focused on the opponent he hopes to face in November: incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
The linchpin in his plan to defeat Abbott: a proposal he rolled out Tuesday to create 1 million jobs by promoting gas that was drilled in Texas and using revenue from those sales to invest in a statewide system of mass transportation.
“Twenty-two-year career politicians like Gov. Abbott aren’t entrepreneurs,” White told a small crowd of reporters. “This is what a governor who is an entrepreneur does.”
Standing before a large black and white mock-up of the sign he’d propose to add at gas stations around the state, White argued that Texans “from the ranch hands to the soccer moms” would opt for the gasoline with a higher percentage of oil that was originally drilled in Texas. His “made in Texas” oil sign policy, he said, would make it easy for consumers to know what they’re buying. And selling an estimated 10 to 15 percent more Texas-originated oil would create jobs in the oil industry, as well as in indirectly related industries, including “logistics, medicine, retail, lodging and professional services,” according to his plan.
“If you’re going to buy gas, might as well buy from Texas,” he said.
Convincing the federal government to adopt a similar system of signage would more than double the jobs estimate, White said.
Using funds generated from that venture, as well as a proposed $1 billion from the Rainy Day Fund — the state’s savings account, which currently holds about $10 billion — White proposed creating an on-demand statewide system of self-driving, electric passenger vehicles Texans could take everywhere from Austin to Abilene. Such a system, he said, would solve Texas’ major traffic problems.
“More flexible than rail or bus lines, self-driving is within reach,” White said. “But we have to reach for it.”
Touting his career as an entrepreneur — and even borrowing a favorite line from late Apple CEO Steve Jobs — White insisted three times Tuesday that “Texas is too big for small thinking.”
The Houston businessman dinged Abbott for a recent nine-day trade mission through India — “If we had the right governor, we could find those jobs right here” — and for what he called an “extremist social agenda” that scares off businesses.
Abbott, who has amassed a war chest of over $43 million, will be a huge favorite over whichever Democrat wins May’s runoff election. Abbott’s biggest concern might come from the surge of Democratic enthusiasm for Beto O'Rourke, a Democratic El Paso congressman taking on Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this fall. White said Tuesday he expects O’Rourke’s impressive fundraising totals will “absolutely” help the rest of the Democratic ticket.
White made just one brief mention of his Democratic opponent, capitalizing on criticisms of Valdez’s campaign as disorganized and poorly funded.
“We must pick the candidate who can raise money and build a team, the candidate who understands complicated policy and can articulate his vision for the future,” White said.
Valdez's campaign responded later Tuesday.
"Texans have had enough of silver bullets and politicians making grand promises," said Bill Romjue, Valdez's campaign manager, in a Tuesday afternoon statement. "Right now, Texas families need leaders who know the best way to spur our economy is to focus on improving the lives of Texas workers — that is no small thing."
The runoff has been relatively quiet so far, with some friction last month over a potential Democratic debate between the candidates. Both are set to appear April 25 at an event for Harris and Fort Bend County Democratic runoff candidates, but it’s not clear whether that will take the form of a debate.