A day that changed everything

Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Those in control of the Texas Senate made a grave mistake on June 25, 2013.

Before a rapt audience, both inside the Capitol and out, they abandoned their traditional facade of civility and respect and revealed an ugly truth: If you don’t agree with them, you don’t matter.

State Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster wasn’t the first time they demonstrated such a raw abuse of power by ignoring rules and quashing dissent.

But this time, thousands of people watched as those in control grew petulant and impatient when they couldn’t get their way. It was all there for the people to see — in their own building.

I said then that the “unruly mob” was the Senate leadership, not the folks in the gallery who had watched quietly for almost 12 hours. Texans didn't believe it could ever be that bad. Now they knew.

That night was certainly a flash point. It was also a tipping point.

We realized — Texas realized — that when the people come together in an extraordinary way, they can make our state better. Texans learned that even when things look horrible — even when those in control are bullying and breaking the rules to win at all costs — we can stand up to them. We can stand up for ourselves and our mothers and daughters and loved ones. And we can win.

I still get a charge thinking about how many people were in the Capitol and how many were watching from all over the world. And I’m not alone. I’ve heard from people across the state that they are genuinely afraid of how this Legislature treats women. That fear has galvanized them.

To understand what has stirred that fear, here are some of our Republican leaders’ more egregious affronts to women in recent years:

  • In 2011, the Legislature slashed health care services for 147,000 women, cutting family planning funding by tens of millions of dollars and eliminating critical providers from the Women’s Health Program over nothing more than politics.
  • Gov. Rick Perry in 2013 vetoed a bill that was based on the utterly uncontroversial premise that women deserve as much pay as men for the same work.
  • And, of course, we can’t forget the overbearing and medically suspect elements of House Bill 2 from last summer aimed at chipping away at women’s ability to make their own decisions about their health and their bodies.

These aren’t isolated issues. These are political decisions that are part of a broader effort targeting Texas women.

But why?

To win primaries. To appeal to a tiny segment of this state’s voters, no matter the effects on millions of Texas women.

That strategy ignores one thing: When women show up at polls, they control elections. 

In the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, for example, unmarried women favored Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a 42-point margin in a race that McAuliffe won by less than 3 points.

Young women, single women and minority women generally lean Democratic. And on that night a year ago, Texas Republicans gave these Texas women a reason to show up at the polls and make their voices heard.

But it would be folly to presume that these passions are limited only to women or women’s rights. For decades, those in charge have imposed their will on this state. Outside of their political base, much of their agenda isn’t popular. 

Most Texans want honest budgets that are free of diversions and deception or deals cut in backrooms that benefit political cronies and donors. Texans want good public schools, reliable health care, tolerable commutes and sufficient water. Many Texans simply don’t see their priorities represented in Tea Party primaries or dogma-driven legislative sessions.

Instead, they see a stubborn refusal to address basic needs.

Before last year, it often felt like there wasn’t much we could do about it. But thanks to that remarkable night, we know that there are alternatives. It doesn’t have to be this way. Texas can do better. Texans have the power to make the state they love even greater. 

We just have to seize that power. When we do, history will look back on that night as just the beginning.

Kirk Watson

State senator, D-Austin