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Senator Davis Takes Center Stage At Capitol


By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Austin, TX – Since her filibuster on Sunday, Senator Wendy Davis has become the most talked about person at the state capitol. But supporters and critics are not saying the same thing. KERA's Shelley Kofler takes a look at what the Fort Worth Democrat hopes to achieve and what she's risked by forcing a special legislative session.

Four days after Senator Wendy Davis filibustered a school funding bill the phones in her office were still ringing.

Davis' press secretary Tony Spangler opens up a file with emails.

Spangler: I think we've received about 700 emails to date.

Kofler: Thank you you're my hero. Congratulations, thanks. Go get 'em. Bravo for standing up for Texas students. So these emails by and large support her?

Spangler: They're almost unanimous.

Throughout the session Davis was among many Democrats who wanted to use the Rainy Day reserve fund or close tax exemptions so the state would not have to cut at least $4 billion in public education funding. But a republican majority rejected those options and taxes and republicans were winning most of the debates. So on the next to the last day of the session, when Davis rose to filibuster, it was a like David going up against Goliath.

Davis/May 29: Funding schools at $4 billion less as is proposed under this plan will mean the first time ever we are not going to fund population growth.

Her slingshot armed with passionate pronouncements Davis launched into the one-hour-fifteen-minute filibuster about public education. It kept the bill from passing before the midnight deadline.

An irritated Governor Rick Perry singled out Davis as he called for an immediate special session to tackle the school funding bill again.

Perry: We're back here expending extra dollars and taking people's time when we could have finished that work on Monday.

But what Perry saw as wasteful many democrats saw as gutsy. Representative Jessica Farrar of Houston is the House Democratic Leader.

Farrar: She's inspiring. Her courage and willingness to standup for the school children of Texas is admirable.

In a single day Davis fielded some 17 media interviews. And the spotlight continued to shine as she stood in front of Senate Democrats and lead a press conference on why she was still putting up a fight.

Davis: My most important job I consider is fighting for public education. All session long I have been fighting for that little guy, for the people back home. I'm very committed to that it truly is the reason I'm here.

Davis says she hopes lawmakers will reconsider additional school funding now that they have more time to weigh options.

But veteran political consultant and lobbyist Bill Miller says that's not likely. Plus, rules change during a special session and Senate Democrats no longer have the ability to block some republican maneuvers as they did during the regular session. Miller says Davis' filibuster may actually cause Democrats to lose ground if the Governor adds additional conservative issues to the special session.

Miller: She made a name for herself but I think the name that will live on is that she opened up the special session for republicans to do more damage to democratic issues. I don't think that's a good legacy.

Davis: The people back home hope we will come here and lead. They hope we won't be politicians and I've tried very hard not to do that. Being a state senator is wonderful. I love serving my community. But if there are political consequences to this so be it.

In the glare of newfound attention Davis says she's just trying to do what's right.

Email Shelley Kofler