Davis stakes out middle ground, shifts topic


CHRIS TOMLINSON, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis promised Tuesday to veto a state income tax to pay for public schools and expand where people may carry handguns, while her campaign attempted to move past allegations she misled people while telling her life story.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth also reiterated her refusal to discuss the volatile end to her second marriage to Jeff Davis, which led to allegations of infidelity and a temporary restraining order against her.

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“What I committed to my daughters when I started this journey was that I would not revisit a very difficult time in our life which was that period,” Davis said. “I am not going to revisit that for the purposes of this campaign, not today, not in the future of the campaign. I would just remind you that there are always two sides to every story in a divorce.”

Davis is the only credible candidate for the Democratic nomination for Texas governor in the March 4 primary. Her likely Republican opponent is Attorney General Greg Abbott, following Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to retire. No Democrat has won statewide office since 1994, but Davis gained national support following a 13-hour filibuster to block passage of new abortion restrictions.

One of the critical issues facing the next governor is a judge’s verdict that Texas’ system to finance public schools is unfair and insufficient. District Judge John Dietz opened a second phase of the trial Tuesday to hear new evidence that could sway how he writes his final opinion.

Democrats often blame the state’s reliance on volatile and unequal property taxes for the poor performance of Texas students, and some party leaders have called for a state income tax instead. Davis said she, along with all Republican candidates, would oppose such a solution.

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“I absolutely believe that if we look at these decades-old corporate tax loopholes we are going to find that there are some that really don’t make sense for us anymore,” Davis said, promising to find funding without damaging economic growth.

The Republican-controlled Legislature cut per-student funding for public education in 2011, a budget that Davis filibustered, forcing a special session when it eventually passed. Davis called on Abbott, who represents Texas in the lawsuit brought by 600 school districts, to settle the case rather than appeal the spending cuts to the Texas Supreme Court.

“It’s his job as our attorney to say, ‘Hey guys, the majority of you who made this decision, you got it wrong, and you are abrogating your constitutional responsibility to the school children of Texas, and I’m recommending to you that you settle this case,'” Davis said.

Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said “Davis continues to focus on the past and wants the courts to decide public policy issues rather than the Legislature.”

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“Greg Abbott’s goal is fixed firmly on the future,” he added. “As Governor, he will lead a transformation in education that will get Texas schools out of the courts and empower teachers, principals and parents to provide a better education for our children.”

While Democrats elsewhere have called for tighter gun laws, Davis said she owns a handgun for protection, plans to obtain a concealed handgun license and supports legislation that allows workers to keep guns in their vehicles at work.

“I think I have been pretty strong in supporting the expansion of the rights of gun ownership,” she said.

Davis and her campaign hope to put behind them accusations that she misled the public about being a single teen mom and working her way through college and eventually into Harvard Law School. Among the discrepancies: were she said she was divorced at 19 when she was only separated, that she lived in a trailer home when it was only for a few months and that she worked her way through law school when her second husband, a former Fort Worth City Council member and attorney, cashed in a retirement account to help pay for it.

“It’s always been my perspective that my marriage ended when the separation began,” she said.

Davis said she entered politics “to give purpose to the experiences that I’ve had in my life.”

“I had the experiences to understand the struggles that people were facing in the community that I represented,” she said of her stint on the Fort Worth City Council. “But I also had the benefit of this incredible education that helped me to do well in that role, to be analytical about the issues we were facing, to be thoughtful in listening to all sides. Nothing teaches you the benefit of both sides of an argument like the experience I had at Harvard Law School.”