Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, famous for her 12-hour filibuster attempt against an anti-abortion rights bill, speaks at a fundraiser, Thursday, July 25, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Dave Montgomery Fort Worth Business Press Austin Correspondent
WASHINGTON – State Sen. Wendy Davis said Monday she is possibly two weeks away from a decision on her political future and is considering only two options – running for governor or seeking re-election to her Tarrant County senatorial district.
Responding to questions after a speech at the National Press Club, the Fort Worth Democrat emphatically waved off speculation that she might consider another statewide office such as lieutenant governor. “I can say with absolutely certainty that I will run for one of two offices: either my state Senate seat or…governor,” Davis said during a question-and-answer session following the speech.
In a brief press conference afterward, when asked about her timetable for making a decision, Davis responded: “Hopefully in just the next couple of weeks.” Davis’ luncheon appearance at the 105-year-old press club received a standing ovation and placed her on a national stage, exemplifying her expanding political star power following her 11-hour Senate filibuster against a Republican-backed abortion bill. Asked if she plans to run for governor, Davis replied that “a lot of people are asking me that question lately” and added, “I am working very hard to decide what my next steps will be.”
“I do think that in Texas people feel like we need a change from the very fractured, very partisan leadership we are seeing (in state government) right now,” she said. Davis has been widely touted as Texas Democrats’ best hope to put the party back in control of the governor’s mansion after being on the outside for nearly two decades. Republican Gov. Rick Perry, the state’s longest serving governor, has been in office for a dozen years and Republican Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott is considered a strong frontrunner to succeed him. “If she ran it would be the marquee race in the entire country,” said former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost, a lawyer who formerly represented Fort Worth and Dallas and now lives in suburban Virginia. In a speech that included the likely themes of a gubernatorial campaign, Davis declared that Texans have grown weary of Republican policies and said she is prepared to help them find their “voice” in turning their state in a new direction. “Every Texan deserves a voice. Every voice matters,” she said. “And every Texan needs to know that the future belongs to all of us. And that we have a role to play in shaping it.”
Davis assailed Republican leaders for “doing serious damage to the lives and opportunities of the very Texans they claim to represent,” saying that Texas has the lowest percentage of high school graduates and the highest percentage of uninsured children. A quarter of Texas children live in poverty, she said. She also said that Republicans “brag about our low unemployment” but are “crippling the future of our workforce by slashing funding for education.”
And, in an apparent reference to Perry’s job-recruitment missions outside of Texas, Davis said that Texas Republicans “travel to states as far away as California to try to lure businesses without realizing that if they don’t strengthen our community college system and make higher education more affordable, they’ll be forced to import brain power too.” Davis said the throngs of Texans who rallied behind her filibuster are part of an emerging “force” that will have “a lot to say about the shape the future of Texas takes.” The target of Davis’ filibuster, a volatile abortion bill, ultimately passed in a second special legislative session and was signed into law but Davis has remained at the center of attention as a leading advocate of women’s health and a fierce critic of Republican policies in Texas. Her appearance made her part of a long parade of National Press Club speakers who have included world leaders, members of Congress, Hollywood celebrities and captains of industry. Located just a few blocks from the White House, the club has been visited by every president since Theodore Roosevelt. Other speakers have included Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat and the Dalai Lama. Davis’ appearance as a state legislator may have been unprecedented, said National Press Club President Angela Greiling Keane, a District of Columbia reporter for Bloomberg News. Keane said club officials searched the archives and found no records that a state lawmaker had previously addressed the club.
“I don’t believe we’ve ever had one,” said Keane. “It’s extremely unusual for us to invite a state legislator to be a luncheon speaker.” Davis was chosen, said Keane, because “she’s interesting, she’s newsworthy and she’s made a national name for herself.” Keane said in advance of the luncheon that NPC officials were hoping Davis would “make news,” possibly by declaring her entry into the governor’s race. Her possible intentions about a governor’s race were the topic of more than 50 emailed questions submitted in advance of the speech, Keane said. Davis used the speech to largely introduce herself to a non-Texas audience. She outlined her legislative priorities and recalled the personal struggles she endured as a young single mother who went on to graduate from Harvard law school and ultimately become a Fort Worth city council member and a state senator. “Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined that I would one day be here in Washington, D.C. standing in front of you,” she said. “Anyone who believes everything is bigger in Texas never saw the trailer my daughter and I lived in.”
“I was always on the brink of a financial disaster – a flat tire meant having to choose a belonging to hock at a pawn shop,” Davis recalled. She also told of standing at the checkout counter “trying to decide what I would have to put back.” A supportive Texas contingent was on hand for the event. Her invited head table and podium guests included Fort Worth businessman Bobby Patton, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a rising star among Texas’ Hispanics. Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, Precinct Five Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, also were present. Admirers also approached her at a VIP reception before the speech to introduce themselves or ask for photographs with the Texas senator. One questioner asked about Davis’ plans for the rouge-red running shoes that she wore during the filibuster. Davis said that she still uses them to run but will eventually set them aside as a permanent keepsake. “They’ll be a memory I will treasure forever,” she said.