Early voting in Texas’ primary elections begins Feb. 20, and the Democratic candidates for governor are making their rounds across the state.
Six candidates debated in San Antonio on Tuesday about school finance, healthcare and economic development. There are nine Democrats running, including a former sheriff, a former suburban mayor and a business owner. At San Antonio’s main library, about 200 people gathered to hear the debate.
One of the questions Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina asked was about healthcare: “Healthcare is a major concern to all Texas. Where do you stand on the Affordable Care Act?”
Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne answered first. He owns five businesses, including a gay nightclub. Payne said the ACA needs repairing.
“We tweak it. We make it better. You come out with a program like the ACA, of course it’s going to have to be tweaked. We knew that going in. It wasn’t going to be perfect but instead the Republicans just want to scrap it and put more people on the uninsured list,” he said, adding that he leans more toward Medicare for all or single payer system.
Joe Mumbach is a self-employed audio-video technician who was raised as a Republican but became a Democrat in the 1960s. He says the current healthcare system is beyond repair.
“There’s no hope for it anymore. I think what the need to do is join the rest of the civilized world. We're the only country in the civilized world that does not offer universal healthcare to its citizens,” Mumbach said.
Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was one of the first prominent contenders to join the governor’s race. When asked about how to bring more jobs to South Texas, she said the state needs to focus on obtaining jobs that pay livable wages.
Referring to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, she said, “Currently one of the ways Abbott brings jobs to Texas is we have a low minimum wage so come in so you can pay your folks less.
“To me that says we’re bringing in the jobs on the backs and the cost of the poor.”
Andrew White of Houston — the son of former Texas governor Mark White — said any attempt to move the needle on jobs in Texas has to involve energy.
“Alternative energy or traditional energy, either way, we need to expand in our alternative fuels and our investment in those technologies,” he said. “Texas needs to lead in the technology, and that takes a governor who will lead in that.”
Cedric Davis is the former mayor of Balch Springs, a suburb of Dallas with about 24,000 people. When asked about criminal justice reforms, Davis said non-violent offenders should receive training to help them find jobs after they're released from jail.
“If you’re a non-violent offender — like someone selling marijuana or something like that — gets five years, … let’s train them so when they come out we can have them go to work,” he said.
Tom Wakely of San Antonio, who provides hospice care to patients in his home, is also a candidate. Wakely considers himself a progressive populist. On criminal justice, he advocates for removing the death penalty, decriminalizing marijuana and helping students who may fall into crime.
“We need to break that school to prison pipeline — right now we have a zero tolerance policy in schools we need to change that to more of a restorative justice type of system,” he said.
With many Democratic candidates, it’s likely the Democratic race for governor will end in a runoff after the March 6 primary.
Joey Palacios can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules