by Mary Tuma
State Sen. Wendy Davis, who helped catapult the state’s anti-abortion law into the national spotlight with her highly publicized 11-hour filibuster on the Senate floor this summer, formally announced she’ll campaign for governor of Texas.
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis: The next governor? Photo by Mary Tuma
Much anticipated and largely expected, Davis’ announcement took place at a symbolic venue, the Wylie G. Thomas Coliseum near Fort Worth, the same spot she received her high school diploma. Davis recounted her struggle as a low-income, teenage single mother living in a trailer, with college as a distant dream. Her life took a turn when a co-worker handed her a booklet about a paralegal program at the local community college. From there, Davis moved to Texas Christian University and eventually gradated from Harvard with honors.
The success story played into her speech, “With the right kind of leadership, the great state of Texas will keep its sacred promise that where you start has nothing to do with how far you can go.” Alluding to her own evolution, the former Forth Worth city council member said, “We’re here because we want every child to have a world-class education to take them anywhere they want to go, so that success and opportunity is within reach of every single Texan, and no one in this great state is ever forced to dream smaller instead of bigger.” But due to failed statewide policies that have increased college tuition, created burdens to access loans and grants and limited choices for working families, the barrier to escape circumstances like hers are much “steeper” now, said Davis.
Davis criticized the current state leadership’s pay-to-play strategy, saying "Texans deserve better than failed leaders who dole out favors to friends and cronies behind closed doors. Texas has waited too long for a governor who knows that quid pro quo shouldn’t be the status quo.”
Serving on the Texas Senate since 2008, Davis is no stranger to the filibuster, her first one sought to restore $3 billion in education funding stripped away from the state budget. Aside from her recent moves to block restrictive abortion legislation, Davis’ role in protecting women’s health also comes in the form of her effort to reduce a sizable backlog of untested DNA evidence in rape kits.
The concluding remarks of her speech:
"As long as we can make our great state even greater, we will keep going. Until the families who are burning the candle at both end can finally make ends meet, we will keep going. Until the amazing health care advances being pioneered in this state reach everyone who needs them, we will keep going. Until every child from Longview to Lubbock to McAllen to Mesquite makes it to a stage like this, and gets their diploma, and knows that nothing will wash out the road to their future dreams, we will keep going. Until the corridors of power are the corridors of the people, until problem-solving trumps partisanship, until our state is “a lot less lone and a lot more star,” we will keep going. As long as we can make this great state even greater, we will keep going. Because with the right kind of leadership, the great state of Texas will keep its sacred promise that where you start has nothing to do with how far you can go. God bless you all. God bless Texas."
Davis at the "Stand with Texas Women Rally" in San Antonio. Photo by Mary Tuma
Early polls conducted by statewide nonprofit Texas Lyceum show Davis eight percentage points behind Republican rival Attorney General Greg Abbott, who made his bid for governor public at an event in San Antonio in July. But it’s premature to get into the horse race. If there’s anything certain about Texas politics, it’s that it can be surprising at times. Take, for instance, a recent article in the Texas Observer by former Gov. Ann Richards’ campaign advisor, who drew similar parallels between Davis and Richards– both have shared in being underfunded, Democrats, and pro-choice feminists in a conservative Republican-leaning state who sparked attention after inspiring speeches (in Davis’ case, an epic filibuster) and both have been considered ‘long shots.’ In the end, disrespect toward women and financial skeletons in her opponents’ closet, aided Richards’ in securing a victory.
And Davis brings with her a facet that worked to Richards’ advantage as well– a voting base of moderate suburban women increasingly disenchanted with the extremism of the GOP and Tea Party. Davis ignited a grassroots movement of pro-choice Texans (many of them women), cultivating a veritable army of willing and able voters who could potentially help. According to the poll released this week, right now the real winner is “don’t know” who leads the way with 50 percent of the hypothetical vote. While surely an uphill battle, with 51 percent of women still undecided, the race could also end in another parallel to Richards’ hard fought campaign– an unexpected win.