LUBBOCK, Texas – Before you refer to him as the mayor of Lubbock, there’s another title Tray Payne would much more gladly prefer.

“There’s nothing better than being a girl dad,” said Payne. “You know, people ask did I keep trying so I could have a boy and I say absolutely not.”

It’s fair to assume that Payne’s four daughters never thought their dad would run for office and as you can expect, it’s been quite an adjustment for them.

“In the beginning, they were the most flustered and confused about what this means,” said Heidi, Payne’s wife of 22 years. “It all just worked itself out with them seeing it’s not that big of a deal.”

The 48-year-old attorney-turned-mayor pretty much feels the same way. Payne is not a big fan of recognition or pomp and circumstance, but is very proud of his humble upbringing in Post, about 45 minutes south of Lubbock.

“My dad had been in the Navy and worked in the oil field, My mom pushed him to go back to school under the GI bill and eventually became a pharmacist,” said Payne. “I teasingly would say I was one of the youngest drug dealers in Post because my dad would have us driving around on our bikes delivering prescriptions. It was the family business.”

Like his two older brothers, Payne attended Texas Tech University and graduated with an accounting degree in 1996.

“I put myself through school as a resident assistant, selling suits, and working in the oil field,” said Payne. “Did whatever to make ends meet.”

Payne says a yearning deep down inside to be of service to people led him to law school at the Oklahoma City University. It’s there where he would meet his future wife, Heidi.

“When we were first dating and I really got to know him, I said, ‘you should be in politics because you just have a gift for that’ but he always just brushed off the idea,” said Heidi.

Turns out, she was on to something.

The newlywed couple moved back to West Texas where Payne gets a job with the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office. In a few short years, he would become the the chief homicide prosecutor.

“It was a fascinating and incredible experience especially when you’re a young guy in your early 30s and now all of a sudden, you’re in charge of a homicide caseload,” said Payne. “There were some things that you just can’t fully wrap your mind around, especially some of the evil that we have and some of the horrible things that were going on in our city and in our county.”

After nearly a decade with the DA’s office, Payne decided to move into private practice. In 2009, he started his own law firm and currently still runs it full-time. He also represents the Texas Municipal Police Association.

“We deal with officer involved shootings, or if an officer is involved in an accident, a car wreck, or a high speed chase. If there’s something that could either be administrative or any criminal prosecution against them, then we’re typically called,” said Payne.

Payne says he understands the negative climate surrounding law enforcement believes in the need for true accountability.

“It’s a tough time to be a police officer. There’s an expectation and there should be high expectation on people who have that much power,” said Payne.

So with this well-respected legal career and a growing family, why choose politics? Payne says the COVID-19 pandemic gave him a lot of time to think.

“What do I wanna be known for when I’m done? Do I want to make a difference in my community? The answer was always yes,” said Payne. “I never really saw or ever had a calling for DC or Austin, so I felt I could make a difference in my backyard.”

One title Heidi Payne doesn’t prefer: First Lady of Lubbock.

“Every time my closest friends, or even people I really don’t know say that, I cringe for a second because I don’t know how to process it,” said Heidi. “But of course flattering. It’s an honor just to be beside Tray at any point. I’m so proud of him. But no, I don’t love attention in that way. I don’t know how to explain it. Seems a little too fancy.”

So how do the Paynes plan to juggle the next 22 months?

“We live on a calendar right now, so if it’s on the calendar, I’m gonna show up,” said Payne. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, it’s not that bad if you’re diligent in time management and I’m home almost every night.”

But when he does have a break, you’ll typically find Mayor Payne with his nose in a book.

“I read everything from self help books, sci-fi, fantasy novels, history and biographies,” said Payne.

“I mean he really is a nerd about the history stuff,” laughs Heidi.