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Texas Democrats’ Dilemma: If Not Mr. Leather, Then Whom?

texas capitol

WASHINGTON -- Democrat Jeffrey Payne, a successful Dallas businessman, promises to invest at least $2.5 million in a 2018 campaign for governor of Texas, but the state Democratic Party isn’t sure it wants him.

Payne was born in Maine and orphaned at the age of 3. He spent the next 12 years of his life in an orphanage before being bumped into the state’s foster care system.

His story is a classic Katrina to riches tale. Payne survived the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and left him with only the clothes on his back, two dogs and $2,000 in the bank.

For the past 12 years, he’s built a fortune in Dallas. Payne owns several businesses: a court reporting firm, a land holding company, a retail clothing outlet, and a property management company.

Payne is a self-made millionaire, who is married, and espouses the Democratic Party platform and is ready to invest his own money in his campaign.

Why wouldn’t the Democrats be falling all over themselves to embrace Jeffrey Payne?

Well, Payne does own one more business: the Dallas Eagle, a gay leather bar. He’s married to a guy named Sergio, and Jeffery won the title of Mr. Texas Leather and International Mr. Leather in 2009.

The Democratic Party’s official response to Payne’s campaign announcement was less than enthusiastic.

"The Texas Democratic Party is talking to a number of great leaders who are considering a run for governor, and we look forward to their announcements," communications director Tariq Thowfeek told the Washington Free Beacon. "Mr. Payne is one of those people.”

If not Payne, then who?

Texas Democrats haven’t been able to elect one of their own as governor since the 1990 election of Ann Richards. And a Democrat hasn’t won statewide office since 1994, the worst electoral losing streak in the nation.

PBS reported in August the possibility that the party wouldn’t even be able to find a “serious” candidate to run against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother congressman Joaquin Castro said last summer they weren’t interested in a 2018 gubernatorial bid. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) decided to go up against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) rather than run against Abbott.

Arthur Schechter, a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser, said he tried and failed to recruit a “well-known businessman” who was economically conservative but progressive on social issues.

Let’s repeat the question. If not Jeffrey Payne, then whom?

Tom Wakely from San Antonio, who is now the minister of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Wisconsin and the owner of a jazz club in Manzanillo, Mexico, describes himself as a “Berniecrat” and announced his candidacy in February.

“My campaign for Governor is about advocating for a progressive change in the Texas Democratic party and to removing Abbott, Patrick, and their tea party brethren from power,” Wakely wrote on his website.