Dallas business owner Jeffrey Payne spoke Saturday evening to voters in Denton about health care, fiscal responsibility and education as part of his campaign to become Texas governor in 2018.
Payne, 49, came to Denton not only to say that he's a “gay man that owns a nightclub and wears leather,” but also to convince people that he would be a front-runner in the Democratic primaries in March.
Payne's opponents in the primaries include Cedric Davis, a Garland ISD educator and Balch Springs' first black mayor; and Tom Wakely of San Antonio, who attempted last year to topple U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.
The winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary will head to the polls in November to challenge incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced his re-election campaign July 14 in San Antonio.
That same day, Payne filed his paperwork to run for office with the Texas secretary of state.
His official campaign kickoff was held earlier this month in Dallas, The Dallas Morning News reported.
“When I say this is grassroots, it doesn’t get more grassroots than what we’re doing,” Payne said to more than 20 people who gathered Saturday at Denton business Wine Squared.
Payne was born in Maine, was raised in the foster care system in Louisiana and relocated to Dallas after Hurricane Katrina. He is the sole owner of bar and dance club the Dallas Eagle and owns four other businesses. According to The News, Payne invested $2.5 million of his own money into his campaign.
On Saturday evening, he expressed his perspectives on topics of health care, education, fiscal responsibility and immigration, among others.
Jennifer Lane, a UNT music professor, had only recently heard of Payne and brought along her curiosity to the event.
“I’m here to learn,” Lane said, adding that hearing about “people’s rights” was one of her top priorities.
Payne stood as an advocate of “health care for all,” saying that “a healthy population is a productive population,” and ridiculed Texas' Republican politicians for being “more worried about who’s peeing next to you than providing you health care.” He said Texas’ current educational system is “quite honestly in shambles,” adding he hopes to get rid of the STAAR standardized tests entirely.
On finances, he said, "When it comes fiscal responsibility, if you can’t pay for it, you don’t do it.” And he advocated for support for unauthorized immigrants in Texas, especially those who would be protected by the proposed DREAM Act, adding he believes Texas needs such workers, especially in South Texas areas ravaged by recent hurricanes.
The event, presented by the Stonewall Democrats of Denton County, also hosted several other Democratic candidates for statewide offices. The hopeful candidates who spoke at the Denton wine bar under low-hanging string lights included Will Fisher and Michael Callaway, both of whom are Democratic contenders for House of Representatives District 26, currently held by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point. Also speaking were Democrats Michelle Beckley, a candidate for Texas House District 65, held by Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton; and Mat Pruneda, running for state House District 64 against incumbent Lynn Stucky, R-Denton.
At Saturday's event, all candidates expressed excitement in facing the upcoming political elections.
“It’s going to be tough,” Pruneda said. “We’re going to go through slings and arrows.”
Many attendees were hoping for success for the contending Democrats.
“[Payne] obviously cares about the people of Texas,” said Erich Deschepper, 18, a freshman studying political science at UNT and a member of the university's College Democrats. Deschepper said after the night’s speech, Payne secured his vote in November.
Others weren’t as convinced, but still expressed optimism.
“I think he’s inspiring,” said 21-year-old Jordan Villareal, president of the UNT College Democrats, adding that although Payne is “virtually unknown,” he “could get behind his vision.”
Payne said he knows the road ahead will be be tough, calling Texas a “non-voting state,” but embraced the challenge.
“We didn’t go into this thinking this would be a picnic,” Payne said. “It’s going to change next Nov. 6 when we all go to the polls and we all go out and vote.”
More information about Payne and his campaign can be found at www.jeffrey4texas.com.
The Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.