Lupe Valdez Prepares to Face Greg Abbott in Texas: ‘This Election Is Not Going to Be Bought’

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Lupe Valdez made history on Tuesday night by becoming the first Latina and the first openly gay person to win a major party’s nomination for governor in Texas, narrowly defeating Andrew White, a Houston businessman, in the Democratic primary runoff.

“I’m extremely honored,” Ms. Valdez said on Wednesday, adding that she had been up since 4 a.m. responding to congratulatory texts and emails, followed by a three-mile walk with her dogs.

“I guess I was a little full of energy,” she said.

Ms. Valdez, 70, a former Dallas County sheriff, will face off against Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican incumbent with a $41 million war chest, who is expected to win in November. It has been nearly 30 years since Texas voters elected a Democrat as governor.

“This election is not going to be bought,” Ms. Valdez said. “Everywhere we go there is so much energy and so much enthusiasm, because people are ready for a change.”

In her acceptance speech on Tuesday night, she said she was weary of “constantly hearing, ‘This is going to be such an uphill battle.’”

“Please,” she added, “tell me when I didn’t have an uphill battle.”

Ms. Valdez joins a growing group of women — many of them Democrats — who have won primaries this year.

She grew up in what she described as the poorest neighborhood in San Antonio, the daughter of migrant workers and youngest of eight children.

She thrived, she said, because of public education, military training — she served as a captain in the Army — and access to health care.

Ms. Valdez attended what is now Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., where she supported herself with odd jobs. She joined the Army Reserves after graduating and eventually became a county jail guard, then a federal agent. She earned her master’s degree in criminology from the University of Texas at Arlington.

In 2004, Ms. Valdez became the first woman elected sheriff of Dallas County. She was re-elected three times, serving from 2005 to 2017.

During the campaign for governor, The Dallas Morning News criticized Ms. Valdez for not being forthcoming with the public “concerning jail escapes and deaths of individuals while in custody” and said “she seemed frequently out of touch with the importance of these and other management issues.”

The newspaper endorsed her opponent, Mr. White — whose father served as governor during the 1980s — because he had “a significantly deeper command of key issues.”

“I have a history with The Dallas Morning News,” Ms. Valdez said, without elaborating. “We just continue to work hard and go out and talk to the people and listen to their concerns.”

Ms. Valdez said during her acceptance speech that she was “sick and tired” of politicians with the attitude “I got mine, too bad about you.”

When asked on Wednesday what her priorities are as she heads into the general election, Ms. Valdez said she wanted to focus on “kitchen table issues that keep folks up at night.”

“Our children have to be able to compete with the global economy and Texas is the 40th in education in the states,” Ms. Valdez said. “And of course, there’s health care. One in six Texans don’t have health care. We’re the most uninsured state in the U.S.”

The first Hispanic person to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Texas was Representative Henry B. Gonzalez, who ran in 1958 and lost. It would be more than four decades before the businessman Tony Sanchez won the Democratic primary in 2002, becoming the first Hispanic nominee for governor in the state.

Like Ms. Valdez, he too faced a formidable opponent, in his case the incumbent Rick Perry, who was re-elected in what The New York Times described at the time as “one of the nastiest and most expensive races in the country.”

Texas has never had an openly gay nominee for governor, until now.

Ms. Valdez has long been open about her sexuality and her relationship with her partner, Lindsay Browning, a chiropractor.

When asked how long they have been together, Ms. Valdez said: “Not long enough. Only five years.”

They have been trying to find the time to get married, Ms. Valdez said, but “I don’t think it’s going to happen before November.”

On Tuesday, while thanking her supporters, Ms. Valdez mentioned “my darling sweetheart Lindsay” — an acknowledgment that brought cheers and applause.

“Together we’re going to make it happen,” Ms. Valdez said. “A stronger and fairer Texas. A tolerant and diverse Texas. A Texas where the everyday person has a voice and a fair shot, just as I did.”

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