Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis announced her candidacy to become the Governor of Texas Thursday, on the same stage where she received her high school diploma.
Davis was greeted by a crowd of screaming supporters as she announced her candidacy. Davis rose to prominence in June when she staged an 11-hour filibuster against a bill that would severely restrict abortion access for Texas women. The restrictions eventually passed despite her opposition, but Davis — and her pink sneakers — had already become a star.
Davis didn’t mention her controversial abortion filibuster in her announcement speech. Instead, she referenced an earlier, career-defining filibuster from May 2011, which helped to block a bill that would cut $4 billion from public school education. Her commitment to education as an engine of mobility was the major theme of her announcement speech.
“Texas deserves a leader who understands that making education a priority creates good jobs for Texans and keeps Texans on top,” she said. “Texans deserve a leader who will fight this fight for our future.”
The Senator described her own beginnings as a 19-year old single mother living in a trailer with her daughter, struggling to pay the power bill. She worked at a doctor’s office during the day and waited tables at night, but she managed to go to community college and, ultimately, Harvard Law School. ”I’m not sharing that story because it’s unique or special, I’m sharing it because it’s not,” she said. ”My whole life I’ve seen Texans create promising tomorrows for themselves. But I’m worried that the journey I made is a lot steeper for young people today.”
“Texas is more than a state, Texas has always been a promise,” she said. “The promise that where you start has nothing to do with how far you can come. But in Austin today, our current leadership thinks that promises are something you make to people who write you big checks.”
“Texans deserve better than failed leaders who dole out favors to friends and cronies behind closed doors,” she said. ”We’ve waited far too long for a governor who believes that quid pro quo shouldn’t be the status quo.”
She attacked the defunding of grants and loans that allowed Texans to go to college and the budget cuts that threaten the public education system. “Our future is brightest when it’s lit by everyone’s star,” she said.
But Wendy Davis is in for a tough fight.
Despite her rhetoric, Davis may be toeing a fine line on the education issue. As TIME’s Hilary Hylton pointed out last week, a recent poll in the Texas Tribune shows that many voters, especially African Americans and Hispanics, prefer a school choice policy the Teachers’ Union opposes. Davis will have to count on many of these votes, but the Teachers’ Union is a major political force in the Democratic party.
Issues aside, Davis is also fighting an uphill battle against her presumptive opponent, Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott. The GOP will likely outspend Davis (Abbott already has $20 million,) and Texas’s straight-ticket ballot policy means that the whole ticket is up for grabs. This means that Davis and her team will not only have to fight Abbott, but a whole slew of other well-funded, well-connected Republican nominees.
Some Texans are so sure of Abbott’s victory that he appears on the cover of the latest Texas Monthly, holding a shotgun, under a headline that says “The Gov*” accompanied a tiny footnote that says (*barring an unlikely occurrence.)
If the regular politics look bleak for Davis, the sexual politics of this election may work in her favor. Judith Warner wrote in TIME earlier this week that the fact that Davis is a lightening rod for misogynist comments may actually help her campaign. Republican name calling (like “Abortion Barbie”) makes the GOP look sexist, and galvanizes female voters to stay engaged in the “War on Women” that electrified the 2012 election.
But Davis’s supporters seem undeterred by the tough campaign ahead. By the end of Davis’s speech, the crowd had begun to chant “We Will Keep Going,” a phrase she repeated over and over.
“Until our state is a lot less lone and a lot more star,” she said. “We will keep going.”