With a focus on healthcare access, workers' rights, and education, the state's first Latina Sheriff aims to continue her career of milestones as governor of Texas.
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In the Texas political sphere Lupe Valdez has become synonymous with“groundbreaking.” In 2004, she was elected Dallas County Sheriff, the only Latina Sheriff in the country, one of the few openly LGBTQ Americans serving in public office, as well as the first openly gay Sheriff in Texas. In 2018, Valdez is looking to make history again—by running for governor of Texas
Valdez is the daughter of migrant farm workers. She put herself through college to receive her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Southern Nazarene University, and later received a Master’s in Criminology from UT-Arlington. Valdez went on to become a federal agent, investigating fraud and money laundering. From there, she rose in the ranks to become a senior agent with the Department of Homeland Security in 2002.
In her early career, Valdez was not openly gay, but by 2004, when she ran for Dallas County Sheriff, she did so as an out lesbian. The first time Valdez ran for Sheriff, she won by a small margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, a major feat for someone who wasn’t expected to win against an incumbent Republican Sheriff. As the years progressed, her popularity grew, and she held the position from 2005 to 2017.
Now at 70 years old, Valdez is taking on Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch Republican who beat Democrat hopeful Wendy Davis in 2014 and has since been pushing harmful agendas and legislation such as sanctuary city bans, an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” adoption bill, and has threatened Texas women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
Abbott isn’t Valdez’s only competition in the governor’s race, as she is set to run against Democrat candidate Andrew White, a Houston businessman whose father was Texas Governor Mark White. Some are unsure if Valdez can rise above White’s position as a legacy, the additional funds he has received, and his appeal to rural white voters.
While Abbott and White are serious contenders, Valdez may have a lot more to bring to the table. She’s expected to draw more Hispanic voters to the polls, a strong base that has yet to maximize their political power in Texas. In theory, she appeals to other people of color, Texas’ growing LGBTQ population, women voters, and other marginalized groups in and out of the Democratic party.
Valdez, who has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, holds more progressive stances than those of the Trump-backed Republican party and some of the more conservative Democratic candidates. In terms of healthcare, Valdez writes on her website: “I am committed to adopting the Medicaid expansion, passing paid family and sick leave, providing state mental health facilities the funding they need, stopping the attacks on women’s healthcare, and ending the medical deserts in urban and rural Texas.”
Her stance against fear-tactic legislation like that of the anti-transgender policy that Abbott tried to drum up in 2017, and ultimately failed, is clear among her issues.“While politicians in Austin debate cruel and divisive legislation like the show-me-your-papers and bathroom bills, the Texas economic brand is suffering. No one, not the parents of bullied students nor Texas business leaders, should have to beg politicians at the Capitol to do the right thing. This nonsense has got to stop,” she wrote.
If elected governor, Valdez hopes to give free community college access to everyone, raise the minimum wage, and work toward equal pay. She’s also focused on providing clean water to rural communities and improving the infrastructure of Texas with high-speed rail opportunities and new public transit options within cities. There are many in Texas who don’t expect Valdez or any other Democratic nominee to win against Abbott. Some argue that his hold in the white, rural communities is too strong and that Red Texas will always be Red Texas. Others claim that this governor’s race is not reaching the media light it needs to and is currently being overshadowed by the Beto O’Rourke versus Ted Cruz race for Senate—an equally important race for Texans to pay attention to. But if Democrats’ defeat of Alabama’s Roy Moore is any indication, uphill battles can be won.
Valdez has big dreams for Texas, saying to an Austin crowd as she announced her run for governor: “Together, we need to build something new—a new Texas. Opportunity should be as big as the Texas sky.”
To young and old Latinx voters, it’s the first time in a long time that they have had someone running for governor who looks like them. With national politics currently debating the fate of Dreamers, Valdez’s support of the children of undocumented immigrants could win over many Latinx voters.
“Dreamers and their parents must be able to achieve their goals in the land that they’ve always considered their country,” she said. “We must educate to elevate.”
For many constituents in the Lone Star State, Valdez offers something they haven’t seen since Wendy Davis: hope. For law enforcement of Texas, Valdez is one of their own, and has proved time and again as a federal agent and Dallas County Sheriff that she can handle tough situations like properly staffing jails and improving the care of mentally ill inmates. For women, the poor and working class, and LGBTQ Texans, Valdez is someone to look up to. She rose above the limits of her migrant farm working class, put herself through college by working multiple jobs, created a successful career, and is currently living a happy life with her girlfriend, a chiropractor in Dallas.
Whether she wins or not, Valdez will most likely start changing the conversations among Texans, inspiring more women and women of color to vote for candidates who represent their values and to even run for office themselves.
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