Lesbian candidate for Texas governor Lupe Valdez rejected anti-transgender bathroom legislation — once a priority for anti-LGBT Gov. Greg Abbott — as “fear-mongering” in a debate Friday night with her opponent.
During the debate at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, KSAT-TV anchor Steve Spriester asked Abbott whether he’d sign a bill barring transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
Abbott, the Republican incumbent, initially dodged and talked about his priorities, including cutting property taxes, job creation and arresting gang members, eliminating gun violence in schools and taking care of Hurricane Harvey victims.
“That is going to be my agenda this coming session. Period,” Abbott said.
Pressed by Spriester on whether the anti-trans bathroom would be on the agenda, Abbott replied, “Not on my agenda.”
Arguably Abbott’s assertion anti-trans legislation isn’t a priority for him marks a slight change in position for the governor, who last year called for a special session of the Texas legislature to pass anti-trans legislation.
But when asked if he’d sign such a measure should it came to his desk, Abbott hedged.
“I won’t sign hypothetical bills,” Abbott said. “All I can tell you is what my agenda is, which I did, and what I’m going to be focused on during the session.”
Valdez, a Democratic candidate and the first openly gay person to run for governor in Texas with a major party nomination, took the opportunity of her time to respond to denounce the anti-trans legislation.
“He listed gang members and several other things, and I’m almost wondering does that mean that transgenders are gang members because that’s what he was going after,” Valdez said. “There is a continual fear-mongering, and I don’t believe in laws that start out with fear. We need to stop the fear-mongering in our laws and get down to what really matters to all Texans: To have an equality life, to have an equal and fair opportunity in this state instead of just dealing with people that you don’t agree with.”
Although anti-LGBT forces last year sought to pass an anti-trans bathroom bill in Texas, the measure was defeated in the state legislature following outcry from the business community and LGBT advocates. Abbott called for a special session of legislature solely for the passing the legislation to give the measure new life, but it still didn’t succeed. Major businesses — including IBM, which has a large presence in Texas — opposed the legislation.
In a seeming attempt to justify the anti-trans legislation, Abbott responded by talking about the importance of safety, which has been a talking point for proponents of bathroom bills.
“All Texans want to make sure that they and their families are safe,” Abbott said. “One reason I talk about safety tonight is because I talk about safety every day.”
Concerns laws against discrimination enabling sexual predators has proven unfounded based on the lack of problems in jurisdictions with such laws on the books, including 20 states and D.C.
The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, made public a study that found after passage of these laws, there were actually fewer incidents of privacy and safety violations than in places without gender-identity inclusive public accommodations laws.
Abbott then pivoted to law enforcement organizations that have endorsed him for re-election, asserting they support because they know he’ll “work with law enforcement to keep Texas safe.”
Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, conceded these organizations endorsed him, but attributed that to her sher tenure as sheriff, when she said “took on the good ‘ol boys” and made changes.
“Not everybody was happy, and yes, they have a habit of endorsing the incumbent, but the governor holds the purse, and he holds it with a vengeance,” Valdez said. “I personally know about that, so why wouldn’t they endorse him?”
Despite the expected Democratic “blue” wave in November, Abbott enjoys a healthy lead over Valdez in the polls. Last month, a Quinnipiac poll found Abbott has a 19-point advantage and leads Valdez 58-39.