FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Beto O’Rourke produced the biggest splash in Texas Democratic politics when he officially jumped into the race for governor after months of speculation, but he’s not the party’s only candidate running for the state’s top elected position.
Deirdre Gilbert, who lives in Fort Bend County, launched her own campaign this summer for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, an announcement met with far less fanfare than O’Rourke’s. The Houston native has never held elected office nor possesses the statewide name recognition or fundraising firepower that the former El Paso congressman has upon entering the race. However, she’d like to defy what some might see as a long-shot bid to become the first Black woman to serve as governor of Texas — or any other state in the U.S.
“I’m not running because I’m a Black woman,” Gilbert said. “I’m running because I believe it’s time for a change, and I believe I can give Texas something they need, and I’m talking about the human side of politics.”
During an interview Monday with KXAN, Gilbert discussed how she has a more independent streak when it comes to politics and some of her views. She said her daughter’s death in 2011 made her start more closely considering a candidate’s character, qualifications and ability to follow through on promises before she’d vote for them. She suggested that may not necessarily mean always voting for the Democrat on the ballot.
“Everybody was a Democrat in the family. That’s all we talked, and I’m going to say that was like a bandwagon effect,” Gilbert said. “Now, I make my choices not based on whether or not you’re a Republican or a Democrat, but based on your qualifications, whether or not you’re going to be ethical and whether or not you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.”
Gilbert expressed skepticism about mandating the COVID-19 vaccine and shared concern that people refusing to get the shot may lose their jobs, which may in turn harm their mental health.
“We as a government can find those other options, that we can find legal remedies that are not so punitive,” Gilbert said. “Give the community a chance to heal. Give the community a chance to thrive because we have all been sitting in the house for almost two years, and that’s very rough on a person mentally. Then to say, I’m going to do this, or I’m going to take this, and I’m not going to let you do this — it can really start a mass destruction. I think that we ought to come up with options. We’ve got to come up with plans, and I think that our government in the very beginning did not do what they should have done. That was to plan and to plan everything appropriately.”
When asked further about the COVID-19 vaccine, Gilbert would not share if she’s vaccinated, saying that information is too private to divulge. She also said it’s “a question that I don’t like to answer.”
“Right now, I think asking people that [question] really starts something between two people. You know, it’s a fight, and I’ve seen it where somebody might say they do or somebody may say they don’t, and that’s a dangerous situation to put somebody in,” Gilbert said.
“Either I’m going to be attacked because I didn’t say something, or I’m going to be attacked because I did say something,” she added. “What we have to understand, as the governor of the state of Texas, that I work for all people, not just people that have been, what, vaccinated or not vaccinated, but as a governor, we should be trying to figure out how to treat and help both sides of the fence, not just one.”
‘We have another candidate that’s running for governor’
Before announcing her candidacy for governor, Gilbert had experience owning her own business and running a nonprofit. She owned a janitorial services business before she had a daughter with special needs. Gilbert said she then spent 26 years as a teacher. She later created the National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association after her daughter died from what she called “medical error.” That tragedy coupled with the inability to hold a doctor accountable, she said, also made her realize how important it is to have the right people in positions of power.
“We have some laws; we have some bills; we have rules; we have regulations that seemed to change for those that are in power, at that whim. It’s sort of like we change them when we feel like it to suit us, but it’s not anything that’s going to help and protect people. I think that this is what the governor does,” Gilbert said. “The governor has the power of the pen. The governor can make you or break you, and it’s time for people, for us, to look at those bills and make sure that those laws and bills are conducive and that they’re not going to hurt or harm people of Texas.”
Gilbert also explained the other issues she’ll champion in her campaign include expanding health care, addressing the state’s education system and simply vying for visibility for her candidacy. She said she will keep reminding people that O’Rourke is not the only Democratic candidate in the race even though he’s garnered much more attention than she has at this point.
“Put me out there to say we got another candidate, and that’s all I’m looking for. We have another candidate that’s running for governor of the state of Texas, and her name is Deirdre Gilbert,” she said.
“You probably would have probably told me to go home and just shut the door and say, ‘No, no, no, I’m not running for office.’ But I opened the door. I see a peek, and I believe that the state of Texas is looking for something different. That’s why I’m going to continue this race.”
Gilbert laid out where she sees weaknesses in Gov. Abbott’s reelection effort in Texas. She argued that his response to February’s deadly winter storm, the power grid issues that ensued and how he handled COVID-19 may make him more vulnerable with winning over voters next year.
“If the conversation is that he is not as popular as he thinks he is, then that little bit of sunshine, I believe that people can see that there’s someone else out there, other than what they’ve seen in the past,” Gilbert said. “Just maybe she has a chance.”