The race for Texas Senate District 10, which includes major parts of Fort Worth, Arlington and Northeast Tarrant County, is the most closely watched Senate campaign in the state.
The winner will replace state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat who twice won in the Republican-leaning district and is now running for governor. Davis was thrust into the national spotlight last year with her 11-hour filibuster of a bill to limit abortions.
Two strong-willed women, with very different points of view on most issues, hope to take her place: Republican Konni Burton of Colleyville, a member of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party; and Democrat Libby Willis, a longtime neighborhood activist in Fort Worth.
Also running are Libertarian Gene Lord and the Green Party’s John Tunmire.
Willis says she is the “mainstream” candidate in the race, while painting her opponent as being part of a “fringe element.” Burton, on the other hand, declares that she represents the true voice of the people who are concerned about too much government intrusion and too much government spending.
The two split on how to solve the problems of education in the state. Burton calls for more school choice, including more district-wide transfer policies, open enrollment and charter schools. In an interview with the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, she specifically avoided endorsing vouchers, but said they should be part of the “conversation.”
Willis put the emphasis on school funding, which was cut $5.4 billion two legislative sessions ago with a restoration of some funds (but not all) last year. She would use some of the projected $8 billion state budget surplus for schools.
The two differ on the Texas Enterprise Fund, created to encourage new businesses and create jobs. A recent state audit showed the fund dispersed about $222 million to companies that didn’t even submit applications or make specific job creation agreements.
Burton says all “slush funds” should be “zeroed out” and let the free market determine winners and losers. Willis believes the state should get out of the current fund, but thinks there is a place for business incentive programs with the proper oversight. Burton, by the way, includes the Texas Commission on the Arts in her “slush funds” definition.
Regarding Proposition 1, a ballot initiative that would set aside some of the state’s oil and gas tax revenues (about $1.7 billion the first year) for roads and bridges, Willis is definitely in favor. Burton rejected opponents’ claims that she’s against it, but she insisted that issues like transportation and water resources are the kind that ought to be addressed within the general budget process rather than depending on propositions and the rainy-day fund savings account.
The two continue to clash over abortion. Burton says she’ll always “come down on the side of life,” and she did not include any exceptions. Willis says that is a decision that should be left to a woman, her family and her doctor.
Burton, who handily defeated former state Rep. Mark Shelton in the Republican primary, is a former wedding consultant and the mother of two adopted daughters.
She is a sincere candidate with strong conservative views. Although she says she can work with all people, it is not clear how well she would or could represent the diverse population of the district.
Willis, a neighborhood activist who has a long history of working to solve problems throughout the community, is a strong but moderate voice who could help restore a sense of bipartisanship to the Legislature’s upper chamber.
At the same time, with Republicans on the verge of having a supermajority in the Senate, a Democrat in the District 10 seat — as with Davis — could help ensure at least the semblance of a balance of power.
Willis’ widespread support from groups representing police, firefighters, teachers and doctors speaks to her ability to build coalitions.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Libby Willis in Senate District 10.