BROWNSVILLE — It was late June when Wendy Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, rocketed to national prominence on the strength of a 11-hour filibuster of a bill being considered that would indirectly lead to closing abortion clinics across Texas.
The story of her physical feat, and choice of pink footwear, made her a national icon overnight and led to calls from her supporters for her to run for governor, a call she answered in October.
But while in Brownville Tuesday, Davis revealed her campaign for governor isn’t based on her abortion filibuster and brightly colored shoes.
Her campaign stop at the University of Texas at Brownsville centered on a lesser-known filibuster of hers: one she conducted in 2011 in opposition to a budget that tried to cut $4 billion from public education.
Education, she said, was crucial to the fulfillment of what she called Texas’ promise.
“If you work hard you can become anything you desire to be in a place like Texas,” she said. “That promise was one that my state delivered to me when I was young, but the promise today really has been broken.”
Recapping her border tour, which concludes today in the Upper Valley, Davis said she heard a familiar refrain from her stops in El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville about difficult choices among young people with their hearts set on college educations.
Davis championed education as the most viable pathway to rise above poverty, noting Brownsville’s ranking as the poorest city in the nation was cause for the state to rededicate itself to public education.
Davis, a Democrat, made distinctions between her plan and that of Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican frontrunner for governor, by pointing to the need for infrastructure investments for education, water projects and transportation, all of which she said are at odds with the jobs plan Abbott has been sharing during his campaign stops.
She also criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid in Texas, saying that move, which has been embraced by Abbott, makes Texas a donor state and saps the state of potential jobs.
“Let’s not forget that the Medicaid expansion money – a hundred billion dollars of which will return to Texas over the course of the next 10 years if we accept it — is our money that we paid,” she said, noting that not taking the money leaves the state to take care of the uninsured on its own, perhaps resulting in higher taxes in the future. “We know that we have an (opportunity) to cover 1.5 to 2 million people through that expanded coverage at no cost for the first three years and at a nominal cost after that. Bringing the money down makes good business sense for Texas.”
Davis said the expansion was expected to result in 100,000 to 200,000 new jobs annually in Texas, suggesting that it was inconsistent for Abbott to talk about growing jobs while turning away federal funds to expand Medicaid.
If elected, she said she would do what she could to bring Texas’ federal tax dollars back home.
Davis said her approach to job growth differs from the Republican plan just as her approach toward the goal of having zero abortions in Texas differs, characterizing herself as a reluctant participant in the abortion debate.
“The battle over reproductive rights and women’s health care that was waged on June 25 was not a battle I chose,” she said. “When I believe women’s health is in danger, I’m going to stand and fight to protect that.”
Davis said that battle had beginnings in 2011, when the reduction of funding for women’s health care led to a decrease in women’s health care access for more than 160,000 women – services that included family planning and sexual education along with abortions in some instances.
“This isn’t about protecting abortion. It’s about protecting women,” she said. “It’s about trusting women to make good decisions for themselves and empowering them with the tools to do that.”
Davis does not want to portray herself as a one-issue candidate, noting that her job on the campaign trail is to allow voters to see who she really is.
“(I’m) a woman who wants desperately for others who are coming up in poverty to receive the same kind of partnership from the state that I once received so that they too can become a part of the success of Texas,” she said.
Davis suggested that her views on abortion access do not mean she does not care about life.
“I am pro-life,” she said, borrowing from the label anti-abortion activists assign themselves. “I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry about their children’s future and their ability to provide for that future. I care about life and I have a record of fighting for people above all else.”
And through fighting payday lending, insurance abuses, and for education, health care and transparent use of the state’s Enterprise Fund, Davis said she hopes voters will see her record speaks for itself.