|PHARR, November 10 - Wendy Davis, Texas Senator from Ft. Worth visited south Texas November 5th and 6th, 2013.
She hit the ground early, working to be the next governor of Texas. She needs lots of south Texas votes. It is a complex area to cover. The Rio Grande Valley is over one hundred miles long, spanning territory from the Gulf of Mexico to the western hills of Starr County. Dozens of volunteers met to call voters for Wendy this past Thursday in Hidalgo County.
She arrived after an exhausting all-Valley tour to thank them and to speak to the people. It is grueling and expensive to campaign here. It is important to see and be seen—as many times as possible. As President Johnson opined, there is the need to “press the flesh.”
The planning and execution are daunting. There were flaws but I was impressed by that effort to date. It is significant, given the growing influence of the Mexican American vote, her State deputy director is female and Mexican American. Rio Grande Valley inhabitants are predominantly Mexican American. The candidate, her staff and supporters fit well.
Another young, enthusiastic Mexican American, Daniel Lucio, is local deputy field director of Battleground Texas, helping Wendy (all seem to be on a first name basis with her) to try to “turn Texas blue” or at least purple. They do not want to wait five or ten years until the ethnic demographics are solidly on their side. They reason “Sí, se puede” — Ahora! Now!
It was significant her stop in Mission was with educational leaders. That is her leading mantra: education on the individual level as a way out of poverty and education on the macro level as a major economic stimulus to the Texas economy. She faults Governor Perry (and by extension the likely Republican nominee, Greg Abbott) and the Republican Party for drastically cutting four billion out of education, key to the Valley’s growth.
Davis calls for enhancement of support for education at all levels. She touts funding for K-12 and full day pre-K. After the draconian cuts came predictable negative consequences: larger classes; losses to the state economy; 25,000 public school teachers leaving the state; a crippling of the state’s “human capital.”
Wendy is not a one (or two) issue candidate. Aside from her famous, brave defense for women’s health and reproductive rights, she notes Perry’s failure to accept Medicaid expansion. Not only does this leave fewer Texans without health insurance, but Texans’ tax money leaves the state to support other states. If her policies should prevail, Texas could bring back federal monies to which it is entitled.
Davis’ message resonated with the workers at Poncho’s “México Nuevo” Restaurant in Pharr. The murals of famous políticos and artists on the walls looked down on their cultural descendants (to include us Anglos, if and when we realize we are included) and seemed to approve. They might have been calling out “sí, se puede” from the walls. The live music and the stimulating smells of fajitas and salsa filled the air. The mood was festive and upbeat. Rarely have I seen such numbers and such enthusiasm so early in a campaign.
The crowd included ranchers, farmers, oil field workers, políticos (candidate for Judge, 92nd District Court, Rey Ortiz, and others,) students and educators. Professor Bill Carter of South Texas College brought at least a dozen volunteer students to help with calling. Some of them had helped with “get out the vote” calls for the bond for STC. They said “gracias,” to the voters, especially “gracias a Diós” for Starr County, which seemed to “get it” in that recent election.
Wendy Davis supporters are not easily discouraged. But they are not naïve. There were some understandably cynical questions about funding the campaign itself. Many assume Republicans always have more money. But Wendy’s staff assured the doubters (including me) there would be ample support. They claim donations are coming in sufficient amounts, both from within and from without the state. lf so, it seems other national leaders see the importance of “turning Texas blue.”
That prospect has supporters salivating, a bit giddy. One partisan (middle age, professional Anglo) thinks Wendy is the “perfect” candidate to lead that charge. Why? Because “of who she is.” So, who is she? Her poised appearance, her fashionable, feminine demeanor might be deceiving. Behind her charm is more than sufficient experience. She was City Council member in cattle town Fort Worth. She was educated at Texas Christian. She is a Harvard Law School graduate. She has been a hard-working Texas Senator. And she is a captivating speaker.
In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas Wendy Davis creatively, single-handedly turned pro-life into a broader theme. She combined concepts of pro-life with those of pro-choice, pro-education and pro-health. Supporters won’t forget the famous filibuster in the Texas capitol, defending women’s’ rights. Some see, in that David vs. Goliath act of defiance as it captured the national media, an attempt to defend, not just women, but justice itself.
Most men’s’ wives and mothers are women. Most people’s sisters and daughters, aunts and grandmothers are women. Most men understand this. They feel it is time to support the 52 percent majority—women. They believe know they have in Wendy a fighter and leader in this universal quest. It would be fitting, a symbol of future political reality, if south Texas were to lead the state in achieving this progressive goal, win or lose the election.
Post-Script: Not all observers had the positive impression I had. Sandra Sánchez, for The Monitor (McAllen, November 8, 2013), wrote a long hatchet job about the event entitled “Not Ready for Prime Time.” Gratuitously petulant, the writer decided the Davis’ appearance in the Valley was “not polished or well-handled.”
She even blasted the ambience of Poncho’s restaurant itself, sniffing “it was stuffy and moldy.” Perhaps Sánchez did not realize it was not a public rally; it was a work session. And, yes, it was held in a straw-covered palalpa removed from the restaurant area. Perhaps it was not up-scale enough for the writer. But was the snippy tone necessary?
Regarding serious issues: It seems disingenuous to argue Davis “didn’t take the Valley seriously.” What of the opposition’s policies? Is closing health clinics for women, proposed by Perry and Abbott, a sane, safe option? Seriously? Was the Sánchez argument even made in good faith? What explains her petty column? The conservative bias of the Libertarian owners/editors? Maybe. The one-issue compulsion of Ms Sánchez? Possibly.
Perhaps her anger was directed at the Davis press representative whom she did not feel was courteous to her? Or was her peevishness due to being “herded into a dark area of the hut?” But there was no need to expand the diatribe to Wendy Davis herself. Sánchez’ feigned “high expectations” were revealed as non-existent as she alleged Wendy “prattled on” with “repetitive shallow non-statements.”
How discourteous and unprofessional. Such vindictiveness indicates it will be a hard-fought campaign. Expect ad hominem attacks on the Democratic candidate by some in the media as well as Republicans, afraid to lose their strangle-hold on Texas. It is a shame quibbles about the campaign should overshadow real differences between the main candidates and main issues: women’s rights, educational quality, economic advancement for the Valley and state.
Sorry, if those themes are “repetitive.” One simply asks: which party and candidate are pro-health, pro-choice and pro-a better life for all? It’s a no-brainer for those paying attention. Perhaps the Republican machine is slicker—money and experience help. Perhaps they will continue to dominate Texas politics; they now control every federal and state office.
But for policies that will help south Texas and its people - the poor, the middle class, most Mexican Americans, women - most voters of south Texas will stand by Wendy. She represents all of them. So, se puede ganar? Can she win? Big money will bet on Republicans. But Wendy Davis is the best chance the Democratic Party has had in years.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.