[Mark Glover is Contributing Editor Alpine. Click here to visit Trans-Pecos Science Moment for more of his thoughts on the Big Bend.]
Marfa – Texas Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Bill White sent one of his top envoys to west Texas last week. Dressed in blue jeans, but far from a laid-back campaigner, Rice University junior Elena White gestured with her hands to get the point across as she sat on the sofa at the Paisano Hotel last Friday.
“I’m more of an idealist then my father, but he gets things done,” she said.
That’s the message the White campaign is sending out and with an 18 billion dollar budget short fall this fiscal year, getting things done with less may be a crucial element for the future of Texas.
“I’m concerned about the future as many young people are and that’s why I’m out here,” she said.
Her father, the Harvard educated 56 year old former Caspian Sea oil exploration entrepreneur, who served as Deputy Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton and was a 3 term mayor of Houston, is hoping to convince not only Texas democrats but moderate Republicans that his conservative fiscal policies will be the right path for an oil rich state that suddenly finds itself in the hole.
“We believe the Kay Bailey Hutchison followers in the Republican Party will find my dad the best choice for Governor in the November elections,” White said.
Elena is the middle child in the White family of five. Her big brother, Will, studied philosophy and is now a teacher. Her little brother, Stephen, is attending Texas A&M. Her mother, Andrea, is a novelist and active in the Houston volunteer community. Elena studies Environmental Economics.
“I’d like to be part of the clean energy business in Texas,” she said, framing the concept with a calculated movement of her hands. “It is most urgent to cut pollution in our state.”
White ran on a “Cut the Pollution” platform on his third term as Mayor of Houston.
“Because of my dad’s policies, benzene pollution was down 89% during his final term,” Elena said.
But the American Lung Association still places Houston as the fifth most ozone polluted city in the country, followed by Dallas-Ft Worth in the No.7 position.
Recently the Obama administration suggested that Texas is too lenient in the pollution permitting process and according to the New York Times, Dallas based EPA regional director Al Armendariz “took the unprecedented step of barring Texas from issuing an operating permit to a refinery in Corpus Christi.”
“The state of Texas is not doing their job,” Elena said. “They haven’t said ‘no’ to the polluters.”
Governor Perry countered the federal intrusion by stating, “Washington just isn’t happy unless they have total control of everything,” a well-greased slogan that some say will serve the governor well if he runs for the 2012 presidency.
“Yes, he’s denied he’s running for the presidency, but they all do until they are,” Elena said.
She scoots closer to the edge of the sofa and steers the interview toward other projects her father accomplished while mayor.
“He synchronized the traffic lights in downtown – instantly improved the quality of life, easily done and cheap. There were over a thousand city council votes during his tenure. None were split down party lines. He’s non-partisan and people appreciate his business-like approach,” Elena said.
“The city of Houston was the largest purchaser of clean energy in the nation and one very cool project that he initiated was the low income housing energy reduction program, where in some cases people actually sold energy back to the grid,” she said.
Living at the White home in Houston means piling in one of the family’s three hybrid cars on Sunday mornings to drive to church, where Bill White occasionally teaches Sunday school.
“He’s a very religious man,” Elena said.
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Bill White invited the refugees to Houston.
“It was the right thing to do,” Elena said. “He rallied the people of Houston. There were over 10,000 volunteers at the Astrodome. The food for the refugees came from the Jewish and Muslim communities of Houston. Dad camped out at the Emergency Relief Center – I didn’t see him for two weeks.”
“My parents taught us by example,” she leaned back, and tossed her head swinging her pony tail. “They both left lucrative jobs to pursue public service. They both spoke fluent Spanish and made sure we did too. And they made knowledge a priority. We visited book stores regularly and were allowed to freely roam.”
Like her dad, Elena thinks business might be her path after college.
“I’d like to work with non-profits, come up with some matrix – collaborate, make them more efficient,” she said.
She talks about a stock market for socially innovative businesses, about micro-financing in the third world and elaborates on the need for two bottom lines; profit/loss and social impact. She uses a company called Tom’s Shoes as a model, where for each pair of shoes sold, the company sends one pair of shoes free to countries like Ethiopia where parasites worm into the bare feet of poor children causing disease.
“Solutions,” Elena said. “That’s something my dad is also very good at.”
The last solution the democrats had for the governor’s post in Texas was Ann Richards in 1992.
“She like my father was trailing at this point in the campaign,” Elena said. “But things happen.”