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Senator's Struggle Influences Votes


By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Austin, TX – On Friday State Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth got good news. The Lieutenant Governor has placed her on the education and transportation committees where she thinks she can make a difference for North Texas. Davis, a Democrat, recently talked to KERA's Shelley Kofler about the long struggle that has lead to the Senate, and how it will influence her decisions.

In Democrat Wendy Davis's state capitol office a constant stream of animated Fort Worth supporters are piling in.

It's the first day of the legislative session and they've driven several hundred miles to see their new state senator take the oath of office. Supporter Linda Anthus wants to make sure she gets a seating pass. They're disappearing fast.

Anthus: We rode on the chartered buses down here. We're glad we got a Democrat and a woman. I'm proud of her.

Pride also radiates through the small cluster of family and friends surrounding Davis in a private room. There is pride in her unrelenting, aggressive campaign that unseated incumbent Republican Kim Brimer. Pride in the petite blonde woman whose delicate sophistication gives little hint of the toughness, the grit, that has brought her so far. Davis tells her story as a way of explaining why at age 45 she's a Texas Senator.

Davis: My parents divorced when I was very young. I was raised by a single mom and my mom only has a lower school education she doesn't have a high school diploma.

Davis says her mother raised three children by working long hours at a Braum's ice cream parlor. At age 19 Davis was on a track to endure the same hardship. She was already married, divorced and a single parent.

Davis: I had two jobs I had full time job during the day and I waited tables at night. And I really struggled. I lived in a mobile home community in Southeast Fort Worth and understood what it meant to come home and have your lights turned off or your phone turned off because you just couldn't balance it all and keep it going.

Davis says she found her way out of poverty through education. She enrolled in Tarrant County Junior College's paralegal program, then earned a scholarship to Texas Christian University. After graduating first in her class she accepted an invitation to attend Harvard Law School. As she built a title company and took a seat on the Fort Worth City Council, Davis says never forgot what it was like to struggle.

Davis: I never left that behind me and it formed the basis of my desire to be in public service. It was always defining the votes I took on a local level and it will certainly define the votes I take at the state level. I won't ever be able to take a vote without understanding the financial impact to the people I represent.

During her first week in office Davis didn't take the floor to talk. She listened. She says she wanted to identify the Senate's leaders.

Since then she's filed a bill realigning election dates, and another that expands the use of special tax funds for roads in and out of new developments. She's also added her name to legislation calling for a statewide ban on smoking in public places. Even on day one her office was buzzing with those interested in possible regulations for natural gas drilling in Tarrant County's Barnett Shale.

But Davis says her primary policy goal will draw from an experience that allowed her to reach beyond her circumstances. Her priority is public education. She says Texas schools need more money.

Davis: Many of school districts have found they are sorely in need of greater resources. Unfortunately in an attempt to fix school finance we actually made it much worse for a lot of our districts because we froze them at 2006 levels. So many of the school districts in my Senate districts are suffering as they are statewide. As I spoke with my Democratic colleagues we agreed that has to be the most important issue we take up this session. I think probably the most important thing we are going to look at is allowing school districts to once again capture the increase in property valuations in the areas where they are.

Davis asked for an appointment to the Senate education committee, and got it. That means she'll have an opportunity to help shape school legislation before it's placed before the full Senate. When that finally goes to the floor for a vote Davis will likely do more than listen.

Davis: I do look forward to the first opportunity I have to take the microphone and give voice to the concerns f my constituents.