Wendy Davis

Remarks at National Press Club - Aug. 5, 2013

Wendy Davis
August 05, 2013— Washington, D.C.
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Thank you. Thank you all so much for having me here today and thank you Angela for inviting me to be here. It really is a pleasure to be in such an esteemed group of people. Now, I have to tell you that people get a little bit nervous when I approach a podium these days. I'm sure that you all know what happened on June 25th in the Texas legislature. But in case you were one of the few people who was not live streaming it, I thought that I would just repeat the entire thing for you today. So y'all need to just get comfortable.

In seriousness, I am so honored, and I am so grateful that you are interested in hearing more from me. I'm constantly reminded what a privilege it is to have a voice, a voice in a decision that affects everyone's lives and their future. Though I mean voice figuratively, my initial understanding of the power of voice, was actually quite literal.

When I was a young girl, my family tried to spend as much time as we could with my grandparents. They lived in the panhandle of Texas, in a small city called Muleshoe. My grandfather made his living his entire life as a tenant farmer, and when he was in his mid-sixties, Née Stovall suffered a massive stroke. From that point forward, he lived the rest of his live in a nursing home. He was partially paralyzed, and he had a very, very difficult time forming words because of his paralysis.

When my mom and my siblings and I would pile into my mom's old hatchback Volkswagen, and drive to Muleshoe to visit him, we would pick him up at the nursing home, and keep him in his home, for the weekend with us. At some point on several of those occasions, my grandfather would beckon me into the kitchen. I would sit with him at their old table, you know the ones that have the silver band that goes around the side? He would bring a piece of paper out, point very determinedly at it, and I knew my task. He would dictate to me a letter that he hoped to communicate to a friend.

As you can imagine, he's sitting there in his wheelchair, me with my tiny legs stuck to the plastic chairs in the kitchen on a hot summer day, it was a lot of hard work. It was slow, and it could be very, very difficult. It was challenging not just for him, but challenging for me as well. And invariably on those occasions, my grandfather would start crying. Which meant that I would start crying too. It's a very hard lesson for a 9 year old to witness the despair in her grandfather's face. The experience drove home a very powerful lesion for me, the importance of having a voice, how painful it is to lose it, and how important it is to speak up for those who can't speak for themselves, and to be true to what they would say if they could.

Many of you heard my name for the first time last month, when as Allison said, in the last hours of the Texas Legislative session, the partisans in power, attempted to pass not just an abortion bill, but a bill that would block healthcare access to tens of thousands of women across the state of Texas. In the process, these partisan lawmakers were seeking to rob Texas women of their voice. Because when women showed up at the capitol to testify, and they showed up by the thousands, many of them were turned away, and they were unable to give voice to an issue that had a very real impact on their lives.

Before I took the floor that morning for the longest 13 hours of my life, I worked with my staff to track down testimony that had been submitted in committee hearing but had not been read. During the next hours, I had read every single one of their stories out loud. These were real people, with very, very personal stories to tell. Many of whom had never, ever given voice to their story before, to another human being.

At first my staff was worried that I was reading them just a little too fast, because 13 hours, as you can imagine, is a long time to fill. Amazingly throughout the day, as word spread through the capitol about what was happening, our email started filling up with stories that were coming in from women, and men, all over the state of Texas.

In fact, by the time that day was over, we had received over 16,000 personal stories. 16,000 people who were hungering to be heard. I have to tell you that at some point in the day I stopped worrying about running out of time, or worrying about running out of stories and instead started worrying about running out of time. When I stood up at my desk that day though, I had no doubt that filibustering the bill was the right thing to do. But I had no idea that it would trigger such an overwhelmingly positive response around the country.

Across the state, and of course across the country, there was an outpouring of support for Texas women. The most remarkable thing about it is that stories that otherwise never would have been told, were suddenly national news. The voices that we heard in support of my filibuster that night, are not the ones that we normally hear amplified across the state of Texas. I think a lot of people who live outside our state are surprised that they even exist. Texans know, that the voices in our state that shout the loudest, haven't always been the ones that speak for everyone. That night, the nation was introduced to a force within our state. A force that is going to have a lot to say about the shape that the future of Texas is going to take. The shape that America takes.

As the second biggest state, and the country's second largest economy, we have an outsized influence on the direction of the nation. Many Americans already see Texas as the gateway to a better life. We are the nation's number one destination for internal migration. The reason, as any Texan will tell you, is that we have a lot to be proud of.

There's our very diverse and fast growing economy, our abundant natural and energy resources, our long coastline, our low unemployment, and our low cost of living. Just as importantly, there is our fervent belief that a better tomorrow for ourselves and our children, is just within our reach.

My whole life I have seen Texans create those tomorrows for themselves, and their families. I've seen them raise themselves up by their bootstraps, and by their sling backs, and in my case, by pink running shoes. Texans work hard, and we believe hard work should pay off. The majority of Texans know that our state is stronger when it makes investments in its people that help them reach their full potential. Yes, Texans know that there are areas where we can, and we must do better.

One out of every 10 public school students in the United States, goes to school in Texas. Yet, we produce the lowest percentage of High School graduates in the entire country. One fourth of our children, one fourth, live in poverty. Though we like to brag about our economy in the state of Texas, we have the highest number of children living without insurance. That's obviously nothing to brag about.

But like I said, we do have a lot to be proud of. We're joined today by a few of those Texas leaders, who not only know we can do better, but are helping to make Texas better. We have some of them in our audience today. We have our county commissioner Roy Brooks. I'm thrilled to be joined by one of our faith community leaders and also a school board trustee, Pastor Michael Evans. My incredible, beautiful sister in the Texas Senate, Leticia Van de Putte, who was the one who asked finally at about 10:30 that night, at what point would it take for a woman's voice to be heard in the Texas senate. Former Congressman, Martian Frost. City Councilman Joel Burns, who represents a city council, my old city council district in Fort Worth. Justice of the peace, Sergio De Leon.

At the head table, we have some amazing people with us today. You've been introduced a little bit to them. Bobby Patton is a local business leader and he truly defines what it means to be a Texas success story, and a true pioneering entrepreneur. Harris County Sherriff, Adrian Garcia, and my very, very dear friend and senate colleague, Rodney Ellis.

You may remember that during the afternoon of the filibuster, Senator Ellis helped me with a back brace on the Senate floor. I think it's very safe to say that from this point forward, Texas women know that Senator Ellis has our back. These leaders, these amazing leaders are part of the growing movement to build a state that is more star, and less lone. While they're willing to talk about how great Texas is, they're also ready to talk about how it can be even greater.

The majority of Texans are ready to start that conversation. They're voices are too often drowned out by the shouts of people in power, who provoke division. Who hope that shouting will distract from real solutions. They're doing serious damage to the lives and opportunities of the Texans that they claim to represent.

They brag about our low unemployment, while at the same time slashing and dramatically underfunding public education. They travel to states as far away as California and New York, trying to lure business to Texas, while at the same time, ignoring the needs in our community college and our higher education system, to make sure that opportunities are available to all of our young Texans. Soon, we know the consequence of that. Will be that ultimately we will have to travel to other states to import brain power too.

They're not being true to what people in Texas are actually saying. People that they claim to represent. It would be just as if I pretended to be listening to what my grandfather had to say, and writing down whatever I felt. You all know the saying, and some of you may know the Vern Gosdin song, This Ain't My First Rodeo. As Allison said, this was not my first filibuster. In 2011, I took a stand against a partisan plan to strip 5.4 billion dollars from our already very underfunded public school system. I don't know if you are aware of this, after that budget cut went into place, Texas became 49th out of 51, counting D.C., in what it's investing in the future of the school children, in this country.

I wanted to filibuster because it helped to put us into a special session where teachers and parents finally had an opportunity to come to the capitol and be heard. And it was very, very important to me that their voices be part of our conversation.

And here's why, because I've seen firsthand that education is absolutely a pathway from poverty. Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined standing in front of you. Standing in Washington D.C, for a group of people like you. Back then, my life looked so very different, in fact it looked a lot like my mom's life. My mom has a 6th grade education, and after my parents divorced, she had no husband, no financial security, and 4 children to raise. Every meal that our mother put on our table, was a struggle for her.

By the time I was 19, I was already married and divorced and raising a young daughter myself, living in poverty and facing the same challenges and hardships that I'd seen my mother face. Anyone who believes that everything is bigger in Texas, did not see the trailer that my young daughter and I lived in.

I was always on the brink of a financial disaster back then. A flat tire on my car meant having to choose a belonging to pawn at my local pawn shop. Often at the grocery store, I would stand at the checkout counter, and I would have to choose what I was going to put back. Of course, the baby food for my daughter Amber was non-negotiable, so often for me it was ninety-nine cent Tostito's Pizzas, which I would cut into quarters, and make last for four meals. Experiences like that can absolutely narrow your vision, can crush your optimism. For me it came down to a simple calculation. If I really wanted to make a better life for Amber, I had a responsibility to improve my own. So it was with a heart full of love for her, that I started that journey.

At the time I was working as a receptionist for a pediatrician. Even though my paycheck was small, it was worth it to work there, I had no health insurance, but my daughter had free medical care, and she had medicine, and she had free formula. One day at work one of the nurses came in and dropped a pamphlet on my desk for Tarrant County Community College. When I opened that pamphlet, it opened a door for me.

I had always thought of college as something that belonged to someone else. That day, I began to believe that perhaps it could belong to me too. The state of Texas helped, by making it affordable, even for a single working mom like me. In addition to going to school, I still worked full time, and I waited tables four nights a week, and while it wasn't easy, in the Texas that I grew up in, it was possible.

When I transferred to Texas Christian University, I received academic and financial needs scholarships that covered the cost of my tuition. Today, students that are facing the same challenges that I once faced, are unfortunately not able to receive that same kind of assistance from our state. There is so much greater need, so many qualified students in need, who simply can't get that help because there's not enough to go around.

There were other things that made my future possible too. When I needed basic healthcare services, I had a women's healthcare clinic very close to where I lived. For those next few years, that's where I received the entirety of my healthcare. Today, of course, in Texas, partisan legislation, on top of years of severe budget cuts, has cut that access from tens of thousands of women, across the state. Each of them has lost the only healthcare they have ever known.

Regardless of your politics, I think everyone would agree that is just bad policy. Because I was able to go to college and law school, I was able to be a part of starting a couple of small businesses. To become part of contributing back to the economy of my state. That's how it works, and I want so very much to make sure that more people have the chance to do that. So the challenges that I've taken on as a legislator, are really about 2 things, a path, and a voice. Thought I've been characterized by our governor, and some others in the legislator as a bit of a problem, my record is really about trying to find solutions.

I started my politics on the floor of city council, and in Texas, we do not run for local office with a party affiliation next to our name. As a consequence, we don't govern with one either. I got in the habit of working on issues that aren't considered natural for democrats. From Shell Gas drilling, to transportation planning, to serving as the chair of our cities economic development committee, and fostering a great deal of economic development through private, and public partnerships.

I was determined that I was going to take that mentality to Austin. In fact, it's one of the reasons that I ran for the state senate. The district I represent actually wasn't drawn for a democrat. But the people I represent are a lot more interested in seeing problems solved, than they are in partisan labels. They know how seriously I take bringing their voice to Austin, and how willing I am to work with anyone to get things done.

One thing you should know about the Texas capitol is we don't have to cross an isle to work across party lines. Because there really is no isle. Instead, when we want to work, and when I want to work with one of my republican colleagues, I simply scoot my chair across the senate floor, and we begin. For example, in the last legislative session, I worked with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to pass equal pay for equal work legislation.

Even though there were republican law makers who were willing to work with me to see this injustice made right, Governor Perry, in what was an overtly partisan move, vetoed that bill. That not only undercuts the potential of Texas women, it also makes Texas a less attractive place to do business. And Texas families are paying the price. Having been there, I understand how precious those few dollars can be. How very much of a difference they can make.

That's why another one of my very big passions has been consumer reform. If you've ever had to go to a pawn shop, or a payday lender in Texas, and I have, you know that Texas is the wild, Wild West when it comes to the predatory lending industry. The state turns its head, as this industry siphons precious dollars from local economies, and traps hard working families into a vicious cycle of debt that they cannot escape.

I've worked closely with an unlikely coalition of folks to try and address this issue. From the Christian Life Commission, to the AARP, to the Defense Department, because of the fact that so many military members are subjected to those practices. I've also worked to make sure that state agencies operate with oversight, transparency, and a commitment to being effective stewards of taxpayer dollars. In Texas, some of those elected officials have turned those state agencies into cash cows and favor factories to further their own interests and to reward their donors.

For all the rhetoric, and I know we all hear it, about big government and small government. Texans want, what I think everyone wants. They just want to see good government. I've continued to take on issues that people don't always associate with Democrats. These problems don't have a party affiliation, and their solutions shouldn't either.

I've championed the needs of returning veterans, veterans like Richard. After returning from Iraq, Richard, like many suffering from the stress of war, found himself in the criminal justice system. Senator Van de Putte and I helped to create Veterans Courts, to recognize Veterans Service and their unique needs. And to prioritize treatment, and counseling for them. We wanted these veterans back on their feet, and back in our job force.

I've also been a strong advocate for transportation and water infrastructure, to grow our economy. When the natural gas industry needed a way to transport gas and waste fluids from fracking sites, I helped transport that valuable gas, and the wastewater through pipelines, in our states' rights of way.

I've fought to help rape victims like Christie, make sure that the state is getting sexual predators off the street, by testing every rape kit on an evidence room shelf. It's of course a very important way to make our communities safer, and to provide victims and their families the comfort of knowing that their attackers will be prosecuted.

Those are just a few examples of how it is to find common ground. So I want to leave you with this. I will seek common ground, because we all must. But sometimes, you have to take a stand on sacred ground. Liberty, the freedom to choose what your future will hold. In the past few weeks I've had so many young women tell me how much it meant to them to see me stand up for them. And to be standing alongside them.

After the filibuster I've had more than a few come to me and simply cry. What I see in their tears, are not tears of defeat, instead it's their understanding, that even if for only a short while, their voices, as much as mine, made a difference in the landscape of what was happening in the state of Texas.

They were feeling the empowerment of discovering. The moment of realization that they had a voice. It's a powerful feeling, I know because I remember the first moment that I discovered my own. You may think that moment came when I walked across the stage at Harvard Law School, to accept my diploma. Or you may think it came when I raised my hand for the first time to be sworn into public office. But actually, it happened when I was standing in front of a bookshelf, at Tarrant County Community College, holding what was to be my very first college book.

I will never forget the feeling of that book in my hands. It was an incredible and overpowering moment, it was father than anyone in my family had ever gotten. It was farther than I had ever hoped for myself. I know how proud my mother was, because I know how proud I was of my girls on their first day of college. Every Texan deserves that moment. Every Texan deserves a voice. Every Texan needs to know that the future belongs to all of us, and we can all play a role in shaping it. The leaders who capture this spirit, will be the ones who write the next chapter in Texas story, in America's story. As I learned sitting at the kitchen table with my grandfather, the task may not be quick, and it may not be easy, but it's important, it's essential. And together, it can be done. Thank you very, very much.