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Jeffrey Payne’s run against Governor Greg Abbott

Picture courtesy of the @JeffreyforTexas Facebook page.

Jeffrey Payne was standing in an elevator in San Angelo, Texas when a woman got in and read the nametag that read, “Your next governor,” she said, “You know where you are right?”

San Angelo is in deep red country. The county, Tom Green County, named after a Confederate general, has steadily voted red since Nixon’s first election.

Payne said that he knew where he was, and she replied, “I can’t believe you’re here, but, the fact that you came here, you got my vote.”

Payne is one of 10 Democratic candidates running for governor against incumbent Greg Abbott. The saturated Democratic competition will be difficult to overcome, especially since most of the runners are relatively unknown with little to no political experience. But he was one of the first Democrat challengers to file for the race, filing on the same day as Abbott in early July. He quickly drew attention because if elected, Payne would be the first openly gay (and married) governor of Texas.

Payne is a native of Maine but grew up in New Orleans in foster care, but after hurricane Katrina, he moved to Dallas in 2005.

“I came here with nothing, I had my two dogs and $2000 dollars in the bank, a car I had to buy and no job,” Payne said.

His neighbor noticed that he did not have basic furniture, she gave him a bed and called another neighbor who gave him a set of drawers.

“No one ever asked me when I got here, are you Republican or Democrat, are you Independent or Green Party?”

A little over a decade later, Payne owns five businesses and has announced his candidacy for governor. Since then he has visited more than 35 counties and stopped in over 50 cities.

“I have the passion for it, I have the skillset for it and I have the urge to do it,” Payne said. “I didn’t enter at the 11th hour, I didn’t have the party convince me to do it. Being brought up in an orphanage, in a foster care, it was always drilled into my head that it’s not what you get out of life it’s what you give back.”

Payne is running as a fiscally conservative but socially liberal Democrat and says his business experience will help him if elected governor.

“If you pass a bill where you are going to spend money, you better decide how you are going to pay for it. You just can’t go in the hole,” Payne said.

One of his first actions as governor would be to accept the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion money to bring health care options to the state that has the highest rate of uninsured individuals in the country.

“Education is in shambles, we need to close loopholes on big business paying their fair share on property tax, and start funding schools the way we need to fund them,” Payne said. “And tell them (lawmakers) do not send me this voucher system crap, and you can quote me on the word crap because that is what it is.”

Payne also wants to legalize recreational marijuana. He says that Texans are missing out on a large economic advantage that would come with a regulated and taxed drug like alcohol. Payne said the state would also save money by not sending more people to jail or tying up the court system.

On immigration, Payne wants to make a pathway to citizenship. He feels that trying to send everyone who is undocumented out of the United States is both “fiscally impossible and physically impossible as well.”

But running as a Democrat, even a fiscally conservative one, Payne has a rough road ahead. Abbott has never lost an election and is popular with the Republican party. Not to mention the governor’s sizable $41 million war chest.

Texas has also not elected a Democrat for governor since 1994, and the last Democrat who against Abbott was Wendy Davis who lost by 20 percent.

When asked why is he running for the governor position and not a smaller position which might be easier to win and less expensive, Payne said that he was simply happy with most of his representatives.

“I’m happy with everybody, I wouldn’t want to run against anybody who is doing a good job,” Payne said.

Payne also must contend with 10 other Democratic nominees, and Payne feels that the Texas Democratic party has not done much to support his campaign. So far, the official twitter has mentioned Payne once, and their Facebook has not mentioned him at all.

Payne said that when he announced his candidacy the party said they would contact him in a week. Four months passed without that next call or, what Payne feels, an acknowledgment of his campaign.

“The Democratic Party is looking for a savior. It hasn’t worked in 24 years. They need to think outside the box,” Payne said. “For some reason, they don’t want me as their nominee.”

One of the businesses that Payne owns is the Dallas Eagle, a leather/Levi gay bar, and Payne has also won the International Mr. Leather in 2009. Payne feels that the Democrats do not want him as their nominee because of these aspects of him.

Payne wants them to instead focus on the fact that that through his title as International Mr. Leather, he traveled the world raising money for the less fortunate and believes that Texans will respond to his philanthropic work.

“I know it will be brought up, but I believe that people have the common sense, and I trust the people of Texas to have common sense, to look beyond that, and look beyond how it’s going to be used against me,” Payne said.

In his experience, people who attended his rallies didn’t care about his sexuality, marriage or his bar. He used to introduce himself at events with those three points but stopped because they wanted to talk policy.

“Shirley, who was probably in her late 60’s, in a very red (Republican) county, raises her hand and says, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but no one gives a shit about that,” Payne said. “She goes, “We don’t care, what are you going to do about education?”

Growing up as an openly gay man in the 80’s and 90’s, Payne said he has heard everything that could be said about him.

Early voting starts on Feb. 20 and the voting for the primaries are on March 5. So Payne has a little more than two months to get his name out there. Currently, the Democratic party is favoring Lupe Valdez, Dallas County Sheriff, and Andrew White, the late son of Governor Mark White, for the position.

But Payne feels that since has been on the road since early July he has the upper hand among Texas voters.

“You gotta give back when you can, and this is just another way of giving back to a state that truly was there for me when I moved here after the hurricane,” Payne said.

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Christian Vasquez, Web Editor
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Jeffrey Payne’s run against Governor Greg Abbott