Fort Worth senator tells Texas voters she’s ready to be governor, while Joel Burns begins discussions about going after her Senate seat
HALTOM CITY — State Sen. Wendy Davis finally confirmed Thursday what millions of Texans have hoped and wished for: that she’s running for governor.
Amid hundreds of supporters at the Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City, where she graduated from high school, Davis said she’d seek the Democratic nomination.
“Today we start a new journey together,” she told the crowd. “We can make our great state even greater.”
Davis, 50, said when she walked across that stage 32 years ago, she never thought she’d be on it again announcing her bid for governor. She said the opportunities afforded her to attend college and make something of herself should be a promise all Texans can expect.
“With the right kind of leadership, the great state of Texas will keep its promise, that no matter where you start, no matter how you start, that place has nothing to do with how far you can go,” Davis said.
The news was hardly a surprise.
Davis has remained in the national spotlight after she shot to political stardom over the summer with her 12-hour filibuster on an abortion bill, becoming the Democratic favorite to replace Gov. Rick Perry in the governor’s mansion in 2014. Perry is not seeking re-election.
But Davis is not new to controversial stances. In 2011, her filibuster on education cuts forced a special session and made her a Democratic hero.
That same session she authored an LGBT-inclusive version of an anti-bullying bill. The LGBT protections were removed before passage.
Chuck Smith, executive director of statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, welcomed Davis’ announcement.
“Wendy Davis has been an ally and a supporter of pro-equality legislation throughout her career in the Texas Senate,” Smith said. “The reality is that LGBT-specific pro-equality legislation will never become law in Texas until we have a governor who will sign it into law.”
Her public support for LGBT issues goes back to her time on the Fort Worth City Council, where she voted in favor of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance in 2000. She later appointed openly gay Councilman Joel Burns to the Zoning Commission. Burns went on to win her council seat after she stepped down to run for the Senate in 2007.
Burns is the favorite to replace Davis again for her District 10 seat. Burns said Thursday that while he’s considered running for her seat, he would consider it more seriously in the coming weeks.
“I will be talking with my family, constituents and with Tarrant County business and community leaders over the coming days and weeks about our future together and how we can best keep strong representation for Tarrant County neighborhoods while moving Texas forward,” Burns wrote in an email to Dallas Voice.
Any Democrat will have an uphill battle in the Republican-leaning district. Republicans have lined up to take a shot at reclaiming Davis’ Senate seat for Republicans after Kim Brimer lost to her in 2008.
For Davis, not a newcomer to a challenge, will have to ramp up her fundraising in a red state that hasn’t seen a Democratic governor since Ann Richards, almost a quarter century ago.
Davis’ biggest opponent will be Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s running as the Republican favorite. She raised $1 million in a few weeks after her summer filibuster, but Abbott has more than $20 million in the bank.
Abbott released a statement after Davis finished her speech, welcoming her to the race and looking forward to “presenting the clear differences and debating the important issues that will preserve the economic miracle in Texas.”
A poll released this week by Texas Lyceum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group, shows half of voters haven’t decided whether to support Davis or Abbott. Of the voters who’ve made up their minds, Abbott leads Davis by 29 percent to 21 percent.
Still, political leaders believe she can raise the funds and connect with voters to bring out Democratic support for a win in 2014.
“Not only is she the right candidate, but she’s the candidate to lead us to a victory,” Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats President Felipe Guttierez said.
As a longtime LGBT champion, Davis’ entry into the race will only heighten the LGBT community’s presence in the political arena.
“We know we have a true advocate for LGBT folks in Texas with Wendy,” Guttierez said.
Abbott has tirelessly fought against the LGBT community from his recent threats to file a lawsuit against San Antonio for its nondiscrimination ordinance to challenging two gay divorce cases now before the Texas Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, no Democratic hopefuls have come forward for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, has been mentioned as the top contender to join Davis. Van de Putte is also an LGBT ally and has been mum on whether she’d join Davis on the Democratic ticket, only saying she’d think about it after Davis decides.
While Democrats await future political announcements in the wake of Davis’ formal bid, her candidacy only means that more LGBT-friendly candidates will eye statewide office.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 4, 2013.