Who Is Lupe Valdez, The Dallas County Sheriff Running As A Democrat For Texas Governor?

Here’s a closer look at Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the Democrat who announced Wednesday she’s running for Texas governor in 2018

Former Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez her announces run as a Democratic candidate for governor at the Texas Democratic Party headquarters in Austin on Dec. 6, 2017.

Lupe Valdez has resigned from her longtime post as Dallas County sheriff to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018. Valdez is the highest-profile Democrat in what’s sure to be an uphill battle. But that's nothing new for her.

After signing her official filing papers Wednesday, Valdez stood at a podium at the Texas Democrats' headquarters in Austin, and said, “I'm stepping up, estoy obligada, for Texas, for everyone's fair shot to get ahead. I'm in.”

Valdez said that she’s experienced the struggle many Texans face making ends meet and that she's proof that education opens doors.

"Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state. But for far too long, hard-working Texans have been left behind, kept out, and frankly, attacked for who they are, where they come from, and who they love."

Here’s a closer look at Valdez, the first openly gay, Hispanic sheriff in the country — and the Democratic party’s highest-profile contender for the state’s top slot.

Childhood and education

Valdez was born in San Antonio in 1947, one of eight children in a family of migrant farm workers. She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Southern Nazarene University — a liberal arts college in Bethany, Oklahoma — before receiving a master's in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Criminal justice career

After attaining the rank of captain in the U.S. Army, Valdez went on to work as a federal agent for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and, later, the Department of Homeland Security, focusing on fraud and drug cases for almost 30 years before being elected sheriff of Dallas County, the state's second most populous county.

Dallas County sheriff

Valdez is currently serving her fourth term as Dallas County sheriff, and she drew national headlines when she was first elected in 2004 as the nation’s first openly gay Hispanic sheriff. Her office oversees the second largest county jail in Texas.

In 2015, Valdez got crosswise with Abbott when she announced her department would decide whether to turn over undocumented offenders to federal immigration authorities on a case-by-case basis. That move prompted Abbott to warn Valdez in a letter that Texas sheriffs who did not cooperate with federal “detainers” would face losing state grant money. The debate resurfaced in 2017, and was ultimately the driving force behind the anti-"sanctuary cities" and immigration enforcement bill Abbott signed into law earlier this year.

Valdez’s office has also faced criticism over an alleged lack of transparency around prisoner deaths and injuries. After the brutal death of a prisoner at the county jail in December 2016, the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board knocked the sheriff for “pitiful reasoning” and being slow to recognize the severity of the incident.

From sheriff to gubernatorial candidate

Valdez announced her campaign for governor in Austin on Wednesday, telling reporters that she had submitted her resignation as sheriff.

Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that Valdez is required under the Texas Constitution to continue serving in her capacity until a successor is sworn in. County commissioners are scheduled to meet Dec. 19 to name Valdez’s replacement.

Once that happens, she will officially join the other six Democrats who have already launched bids for the party's gubernatorial nomination. Andrew White, son of late Gov. Mark White, is expected to throw his hat into the ring — marking the eighth Democrat to enter the race — on Thursday in Houston.


Lupe Valdez at the Annie’s List luncheon in Dallas last month.

‘Nobody had ever heard of me’

Valdez spent a dozen years as Dallas County Sheriff. In a StoryCorps interview from 2014, she said she knew when she decided to run for sheriff back in 2004 that she was coming in as an outsider.

"Nobody had ever heard of me. There'd never been a minority run for sheriff. There'd never been a female run for sheriff," she said. "And all of a sudden I come up: minority, Hispanic, lesbian."

Not only was she looking to become the first out Latina lesbian in the country to become sheriff, she was doing it as a political unknown. An Army veteran, she spent decades in federal law enforcement jobs before launching her political career. But, this was not the first time she'd faced tough odds.

"I'm the eighth child of migrant workers," Valdez said in the interview. "I'm one of the few that got to go to school in my family because in the 50s, if you were a migrant worker, you didn't get to go to school. You just worked."

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez fools around with her friend, Claudio Taffer, before going inside the StoryCorps MobileBooth in 2014.

Once in office, Valdez cleaned up a jail system that was in disarray, and took over a department with lagging morale. During her time in office, she's also seen her political star rise.

In an address to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last year, Valdez talked about bridging divides. We have to start listening to each other, she said. That's why she says she sends her deputies to events celebrating Dallas County's diverse communities.

"Ramadan, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, Pride, Veterans Parade, Irish festivals. You name it, we show up," she said. "And some of my officers are uncomfortable at first. But the only way to serve your community is to know your community."

Democrats have their candidate

With her announcement, Texas Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief, according to University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. He says they'd been sweating the fact that they didn't have a strong candidate at the top of the ticket.

"No. 1, it solves the problem of who's going to run," he said. "No. 2, it gives them a type of candidate who's going to activate the sleeping electorate – younger people, Latinos, liberal Democrats – to come out and vote, and that doesn't typically happen in a midterm election."

Winning the seat will be tough. Gov. Greg Abbott — the man whose seat she wants — is popular, he's an incumbent, and he's a Republican in a state that hasn't elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.

Gov. Greg Abbott addresses the crowd attending a prayer vigil on Nov. 8 for the victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting.

By contrast, Valdez, 70, is not well known across the state. Rottinghaus says she's best known for her high-profile tussle with Abbott over the state's tough new ban on sanctuary cities. That might help with progressives, he says, but not with the rest of the electorate.

"So my guess is if there is any name ID, it's probably pretty negative for most people, and certainly negative for any Republicans or leaning-conservative independents," Rottinghaus said.

What she’d need to compete

Money is also a challenge: Abbott, 60, is a strong fundraiser who's sitting on a big pile of campaign cash – more than $40 million. Democrats have struggled with fundraising in the past.

Cal Jillson from Southern Methodist University says Wendy Davis spent about $40 million in her race against Abbott – and she lost by 20 points.

"So Lupe Valdez doesn't necessarily need $40 million, but she needs millions – tens of millions – and she needs a compelling message that she and the Democratic party can push," Jillson said. "It's got to start with education; it's got to include health care and jobs."

Of course, before she can face off with Abbott, Valdez has got to win the Democratic primary, which will almost definitely include another high-profile candidate. Andrew White, the businessman son of former governor Mark White, is scheduled to announce his election bid soon.


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