Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
On Tuesday, Texas Republicans and Democrats will choose the candidates they want on the ballot in November. The primary election includes several races for statewide office, including commissioner of agriculture, land commissioner — and governor.
On the Republican side, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott is easily expected to best his two challengers, Barbara Krueger and SECEDE Kilgore. But on the Democratic side, the race is far more intense. Nine people are fighting to be the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Find out about them:
You’ve probably already heard about the two presumed top candidates: former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houston businessman Andrew White. Here’s an introduction to the other Democrats in the running.
Grady Yarbrough is a former school teacher from Flint, Texas.
KUT Austin’s Mose Buchele caught up with him on the campaign trail last week. Yarbrough was campaigning in Rockwall County, and he told Buchele he just really enjoys driving around the state and meeting voters.
This is his sixth run for statewide office. He’s run twice as a Republican and four times as a Democrat, for everything from land commissioner to U.S. senator.
“Win, lose or draw, I still enjoy participating,” Yarbrough says.
In 2012, he made it to the Democratic primary runoff for the Senate. Last year, he won the Democratic nomination for railroad commissioner.
Not a bad track record for a guy who many Democratic officials don’t want running. His detractors say he’s a spoiler candidate who pulls votes because his name sounds like two other famous Texas politicos: Ralph and Don Yarbrough.
“When they say that, I just roll up my sleeves and work a little bit harder and work a little bit later at night and do the best with what I can,” Yarbrough says.
Like in previous years, Yarbrough asserts he hasn’t raised any money to run. But, for such an unorthodox campaign, his platform sounds pretty similar to other Democrats. He’d like to expand Medicaid and boost funding for education — ideas he says he’s getting out by driving around, talking to voters face to face, and enjoying every minute of it.
Like Yarbrough, Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne has been out meeting voters too, but with one unexpected result: puppies. Eleven of them.
“You heard that right. I have 11 rescue puppies,” he told the crowd at a candidate forum in Tarrant County last month. “My husband, Sergio, keeps picking them up while we’re on the road. I hate to see how many we have on Nov. 6.”
Puppies aside, Payne says he’s courting Democrats, independents, even lifelong Republicans.
“They are tired. And when I say they are tired, they are tired and, well, ticked off. They have all said, ‘This is not the party we signed up for,'” Payne says. He’s pitching himself as someone who can offer all Texans “common sense and business sense.”
If you know anything about him already, it’s probably that he owns a popular gay bar in Dallas. But he also grew up in an orphanage in Louisiana, and didn’t move to Texas until 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.
“I came here with $2,000 in my pocket and just two dogs at the time. Since then, I now have five businesses and three nonprofits. Texas has been good to me.”
As for his top issues, he tells voters they’re all his top issues.
“But if you’re gonna force me to three,” Payne explains, “It’s education, it’s health care and it’s women’s rights.”
Payne’s a strong supporter of abortion rights and affordable health care. In schools, he proposes moving standardized testing to the start of classes, then letting teachers use the school year to help kids close gaps in their education.
He closed his remarks at the Tarrant County forum with this:
“Last thing: For those of you who Google me, you will find that I like to wear leather. And I like to ride my bike.”
Payne was named International Mr. Leather in 2009. While that may seem out of character for a gubernatorial candidate, Payne likes to remind folks the last governor to don leather and hop on a motorcycle was Ann Richards.
Joe Mumbach of Houston is a self-employed audio-video technician. The 68 year-old says there have been many unsuccessful efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade under the banner of “right to life.”
“First of all, Republicans are not pro-life. They’ve been singing that song for 20 years now, but they’re not pro-life, they’re pro-birth. And after that, you’re on your own,” he told voters at a recent candidate forum.
Mumbach is hoping Democrats will join in a new kind of effort, affirming a woman’s right to choose while offering support and resources to help her choose life. The former Beaumont restaurant owner says that includes promoting quality public education and basic health care access.
“A real pro-life person is going to recognize that there is life after birth, and they’re going to oppose capital punishment, most wars, widespread poverty and ignorance.”
But Mumbach isn’t running on just one issue.
“We need to raise the minimum wage to $15. It hasn’t been raised for 10 years now.”
Mumbach also wants marijuana legalized and taxed. And he’s hoping his campaign attracts the Trump supporters he’s met on the campaign trail, specifically those who’ve told him they’re fed up with government inaction.
El Paso native Adrian Ocegueda is a former policy advisor for the mayor of El Paso. He currently works for a private equity firm in Dallas. He says his experience in the public and private sectors would serve him well as governor.
At a recent candidate forum, Ocegueda told voters they’d been given a false choice “between being practical or our Democratic principles.” Ocegueda believes he can represent both.
Ocegueda is running on a platform of big structural change instead of short-term solutions. He says raising wages might seem like a simple solution to help workers. But, he claims the stock market just dropped because wages went up — and that’s a problem.
“Where are our pensions, our firemen and police and teacher pensions, invested in? Well, they’re invested in that same stock market.”
Ocegueda also says there’s one thing uniting many voters.
“Whether your battle cry is ‘resistance’ or ‘build a wall,’ there is some evidence that we’re all on the same side in terms of economic insecurity.”
The evidence? Trump is calling on Mexico to pay for a border wall.
“If Warren Buffet decided that he didn’t get along with his neighbors, he would simply say, ‘I’m going to build a wall.’ He wouldn’t necessarily have his neighbors pay for it. So, what that tells you is there’s economic insecurity on both sides of the aisle.”
Ocegueda says that’s an opportunity to reach across the aisle and start fixing those structural issues.
Tom Wakely is a 64-year-old San Antonio native and an Air Force veteran. He has spent a most of his career as a labor union and community organizer.
“I’ve put 28,000 miles on my vehicle. I’ve talked to people all over the state,” he told Texas Public Radio’s Joey Palacios.
Wakely and his wife now run a private care hospice out of their house.
“We bring people into our home – no more than three at a time – we take care of them until they pass, and then bring someone else in. We’ve been doing that for about eight years now.”
While this is his first time running for a statewide office, he’s no political novice. In 2016, he won the Democratic primary for Texas’ 21st Congressional District, but he lost the general election to Lamar Smith. Now, running for governor, he says he has two fights head of him.
“I’m running against the Texas Democratic Party establishment, which they hate me for that. Then, I’m also running in a primary election to face Abbott.”
Wakely thinks the Texas Democratic Party has sold out to large corporations and it isn’t paying attention to the working poor.
“And until the Texas Democratic Party starts talking to them, we’re never going to win an election,” he adds. His campaign slogan: He’s running to the left. That includes embracing progressive policies.
“I mean we’ve got to start talking about repealing the state’s right to work laws; we need to rebuild the labor union movement.”
Other issues Wakely is running on: raising the minimum wage, banning fracking and scrapping the business franchise tax in favor of a business income tax.
Cedric Davis Sr.
Cedric Davis Sr. is the former mayor of Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas. Politically, he says he was an early bloomer.
“My mom was a former precinct chair and precinct judge and school board trustee. So, at age 11, I was already involved in politics.”
By 14, Davis already made up his mind to run for the state’s highest office.
“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, I couldn’t dream to be president, but I said, ‘Well I want to be the first African-American Governor of Texas,’ and God knows I’ve been on that road and that journey, and I built up a resume all the way up until May, and I said I would do it before 55.”
Right now, he’s 51, and currently a teacher for a dual credit collegiate high school program at Garland ISD. He teaches law enforcement, criminal justice and forensics — subjects he knows about from his experience as the Wilmer-Hutchins ISD police chief.
If elected, Davis says his priorities would be school finance reform, expanding Medicaid and improving Texas’ infrastructure, especially for flood control in Houston and the coastal bend.
James Jolly Clark
James Jolly Clark is a businessman from Austin. That much is known, though he’s remained elusive in the lead up to the primary. If you try to find his campaign website or search for him online, you won’t really find much.
However, the 77-year-old Clark did speak at a Democratic gubernatorial forum in San Angelo earlier this year. There, he told the crowd his friends convinced him to run for governor and that he filed at the last minute.
His plan for Texas?
“The first thing we have to do is get rid of the radical, fanatical, extreme far-right wing, religiously bigoted, tea-bagging jackass Republicans that are flushing the state down the toilet.”
Incendiary comments aside, Clark says education is one of his key focuses. He wants to start teachers off at $40,000 a year and supports longer school days and standard uniforms.
When it comes to the environment, Clark proposed building seven desalination plants along the Gulf of Mexico to bring in water for use on ranches and as drinking water.
Mose Buchele, Mallory Falk, Krystina Martinez, Ed Mayberry, Carlos E. Morales and Joey Palacios contributed to this story, which was produced as part of the Texas Station Collaborative, an initiative that connects the newsrooms of Texas’ four largest public radio stations: KERA in North Texas, KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and Houston Public Media.