By Alma Linda Manzanares
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, announced her bid for Texas governor earlier this evening at the Wiley G. Thomas Jr. Coliseum in Haltom City, where she received her high school diploma. Davis is the first Democrat to make an official bid for statewide office in 2014.
The Democratic Party hasn’t won statewide office since 1994, when Republican candidate George W. Bush defeated incumbent Governor Ann Richards. Currently, Attorney General Greg Abbott is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, likely making him Davis’ opponent.
Four days before her announcement, Davis called for more state investment in education so the Texas economy continues to stay strong in the future.
Davis spoke Sunday at the closing session of The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. Evan Smith, Tribune CEO and editor-in-chief, moderated the conversation before Davis took questions from the audience.
Since her 11-hour filibuster against abortion restrictions that made her a political celebrity, speculation surrounding her bid for governor has increased and was a driving point during Sunday’s interview.
Davis did not discuss the June filibuster, opting instead to focus on issues and concerns of low and middle class families.
She said families are worried about whether or not their children will have education, workforce and health care opportunities. “Are we creating the kind of climate to keep a healthy workforce and a vibrant economy?” Davis said. She said such issues are what people want their leaders to discuss.
Davis has a history of opposing cuts to education, though she ranked education third, after transportation and water, to maintaining a strong state economy.
In 2011, she blocked a conservative plan that would have cut education spending by about $4 billion. Although $3.4 billion was restored to schools in July, Davis said it is not nearly enough. “If we don’t start thinking more responsibly about investing in our most important investment we can make – our human capital – we’re going to see the impact of that in our economy,” she said.
Texas has enough revenue to meet all its needs, Davis said. The state’s budget is roughly $100 billion. Davis opposes raising sales and property taxes, but thinks the Texas Legislature needs to review the $35 billion in tax exemptions.
In terms of higher education, Davis said Texas has done well in maximizing the overlap between high school and college classrooms. She said more independent school districts are offering dual credit courses, which allows high school students to get as much as two years of college credit before graduating from high school. “It’s an innovative way of making higher ed possible without having to think about where’s the money going to come from,” Davis said.
She is also in favor of Gov. Rick Perry’s tuition freeze, which would guarantee no tuition increases for an incoming undergraduate’s four-year education. Davis said the state must consider such initiatives because tuition increases have risen since it was deregulated in 2003; and the ability to help with financial aid has declined since it has been constrained at the federal and state level.
“We’re pricing people out of the opportunity to grow through a college education and everyone deserves that if they want it,” she said.
Davis also criticized Perry for not investing in the future of the Texas economy. Perry has bragged about how Texas has created more jobs in the last 13 years, while he has been in office, than all 49 states combined.
Davis said part of the story not being told is how Texas is currently ranked 49 out of 51 states, including the District of Columbia, in what it’s investing in per-pupil education.
“You can’t simultaneously, I think, brag about the healthy economy that you have and compare it to the country as a whole … then, simultaneously, not own the fact that in spite of your healthy economy, you’re not investing in the future of what your state can and should be and you’re not investing in the future potential of the individuals that you represent in Texas,” Davis said.
She also criticized legislators for being more worried about their political careers and “the consequences of standing up and doing the right thing on behalf of the school children of Texas.”
“That’s a shame that we’ve gotten to a place where those perspectives have become more influential than looking down the long-term road of Texas and understanding that if we fail to come together and do the right thing for education and higher education, this wonderful story that we tell about the health and vibrancy of the Texas economy is likely to begin to crumble,” Davis said.
While Davis has received substantial support, the question remains whether donors will provide the resources needed for the Democratic candidate to turn Texas blue.
Davis has raised more than $1 million but needs $30-$40 million more to compete against Abbott, who has more than $20 million.
During her announcement today, Davis reinforced her support for state investment in education.
“Texas deserves a leader who understands that making education a priority creates good jobs for Texans and keeps Texas on top. Texas deserves a leader who will fight this fight for the future of Texas,” she said. “There are too many young people yearning to continue their own educational journeys are turned down for grants and loans because state leaders have turned a deaf ear to them and blocked their paths.”