By Kevin Wilson
DUMAS, Texas — As a child, Wendy Davis spent summers in Muleshoe with her grandparents, and got her driving lessons on a small farm road leading to Littlefield.
Now, Davis is traveling farm roads, state roads and interstates across Texas hoping they lead her to Austin for a four-year term as governor.
Davis, the Democratic nominee in the open Texas governor’s race, spoke briefly about her time in Muleshoe and mostly on education policy as a guest speaker Friday at the Panhandle Press Association’s 104th annual convention in Dumas.
Davis, 50, is trying to be the first woman and the first Democrat elected to the office since Ann Richards in 1990. She faces Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee and the current Texas attorney general.
The Fort Worth native gained national attention for an 11-hour filibuster against further restrictions on abortions in the state, helping Democrats at least temporarily defeat the bill. The bill later passed in a second session.
Addressing a crowd of about 30 people, mostly small-town newspaper reporters throughout Texas, at the Window on the Plains Museum, Davis said in the last two legislative sessions that companies have expressed concerns over a shrinking pool of skilled workers.
Davis sees a key cause as an education system she calls “status quo” that doesn’t do enough early on and forces students in later years to pick their poison of not having a college degree or dealing with crushing student loan debt.
“Education is a promise we make to our kids; public education is a promise we make to each other and the generations that follow,” said Davis, who noted the state’s funding formula for education is the same as when her daughter Amber, now 31, was in elementary school. “That’s a status quo we cannot afford to maintain.”
Davis said full-day kindergarten is a worthwhile investment, and believes it should be accessible to all 4-year-olds in the state. College students, she added, would be well-served by the state with initiatives offering loan forgiveness and jobs in the state.
When asked about the role of standardized testing, Davis noted she voted against Common Core testing. She said in many cases Texas’ own standards exceed Common Core. She also said teachers are best as teachers instead of test administrators.
“We have always been a state of builders and doers and leaders,” Davis said. “We can’t do it overnight, we can’t do it in one legislative session, but we can get our priorities right.”
She remembered spending summers in Muleshoe as an 8-, 9- and 10-year-old, and later summers in Littlefield and Oklahoma when her grandmother, Lela Stovall, moved. She remembered her uncle Jack Stovall working at the Piggly Wiggly and her grandfather, Nealy Stovall, working at the grain mill until he had a stroke.
“I learned how to drive there,” Davis said. “I was 12. Don’t tell anybody, I say as I’m speaking to a room full of reporters. Uncle Jack let me drive his car on FM 54 between Littlefield and Muleshoe. There’s not much you can do wrong on a straightaway road like that.”