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Gubernatorial speculation: Mike Villarreal and Bill White

A few days back, BOR had a post about who was on deck for 2014, and the first two candidates they speculated about for Governor were two I had not talked about here before, State Rep. Mike Villarreal and 2010 candidate and former Houston Mayor Bill White. (They also listed State Sen. Kirk Watson, but in the comments it was noted that Watson drew a two-year term, meaning he’d have to choose between running for Governor and running for re-election. Having to make that choice in 2010 was one reason why Watson didn’t run for Governor then, so I doubt things would be different this time around.) That post led Express News columnist Gilbert Garcia to ask Villarreal about it.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

Over his 13 years in the Lege, Villarreal has never made a secret of his hunger for higher office, but he’s been one of many youngish Bexar County Democrats hamstrung by the party’s electoral bottleneck: patiently waiting for a coveted seat to open up or hoping they can wait out the state’s long-expected shift from Republican to Democratic.

In 2009, Villarreal contemplated a run for state comptroller, and he regularly thinks about the governor’s office. He said he was “tickled” by the Burnt Orange Report assessment but harbors questions about whether the timing is right for him. Nonetheless, you get the clear sense that he’s open to the idea.

“It’s hard not to think about it when you believe the guy who currently holds the office isn’t doing a respectable job,” said Villarreal, a smooth, articulate product of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

It’s equally hard to overstate the challenge that will await next year’s Democratic nominee for governor.

The entry fee for any credible, competitive general election run against Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott, another likely GOP gubernatorial contender, looks to be at least $25 million. It’s a figure requiring a statewide network of deep-pocketed support that would be difficult for Villarreal — or most other Democratic hopefuls — to put together.

Also, next year’s Democratic nominee will need to inspire extremely high turnout levels, particularly among the 1 million Texas minority voters who turned out in 2008 but stayed home for the GOP tsunami of 2010.

Villarreal would be in the tough position of introducing himself to the great majority of Texas voters, who haven’t necessarily followed his aggressive crusades to beef up public education funding or reform the state’s standardized testing system.

A Villarreal gubernatorial battle plan would likely involve a five-year, two-cycle effort. That means accepting a near-sure defeat in 2014, with the thought that he can position himself at the front of the line in 2018, when the state’s growing Latino population theoretically starts to kick in for Democrats.

The fundraising challenge is real and it’s daunting, especially for someone who starts with a low profile as a State Rep – just ask Rick Noriega about that. Villarreal has $111K cash on hand as of January, which isn’t bad for a State Rep but doesn’t even amount to pocket change for a gubernatorial campaign. The one advantage that Villarreal would have over Noriega is that in a state race you’re not limited by federal campaign laws, meaning you can get bigger donations from individuals. But it’s still very hard work to raise the kind of money needed just to introduce yourself to millions of voters around the state, and if you don’t have a clear path to it, it’s damn near impossible. This is one reason why I’ve talked about folks like Henry Cisneros and Cecile Richards, who already have national profiles, and Rodney Ellis and Wendy Davis, who start out in a much stronger position to raise the needed resources. (Julian Castro also fits in there, but he’s ruled himself out for next year.) I think highly of Rep. Villarreal and I have no doubt that he has a ton of potential for bigger things, but it’s hard to see how he could make it work next year. Waiting for a future opportunity has got to be the better strategy for him.

As for Bill White, he’s maintained a very low profile since his 2010 loss to Perry. I’m sure that PPP poll has come to his attention, snd of course there is a Draft Bill White For Governor Facebook page, because why wouldn’t there be? Despite the wipeout of 2010, White drew enough crossover votes from Perry to make it clear that he could have won in a less hostile environment. He’d have more work to do against Greg Abbott, but Lord knows there’s no lack of material to work with, even without all the embarrassing “Oops!” moments. However, all this appears to be an academic exercise:

White ruled himself out of running for statewide office next year, when Perry and U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, are up for re-election.

That would seem to rule out a repeat candidacy, though I will note that this came from a story in which White was being critical of Perry and his job creation policies. The urge is still there, whether he wants to feed it or not. Be that as it may, I think we need to keep looking.

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