Two candidates hoping to replace Wendy Davis in the Texas Senate sharply clashed Friday on one of the key issues Fort Worth’s senator is known for — abortion.
Republican Konni Burton and Democrat Libby Willis, in their first exchange of the campaign, drew immediate contrasts with each other, particularly on the controversial issue that has been at the forefront of Texas politics since Davis last year waged a more than 11-hour filibuster against more abortion restrictions.
They were asked where they stand on abortion in cases of rape or incest.
“I believe it should be available,” said Willis, a longtime Fort Worth community activist during a taping that will air at 9 a.m. Sunday on WFAA/Channel 8’s Inside Texas Politics. “It is a very private decision that women and their doctors have to make.”
“This is about life,” said Burton, a Colleyville conservative activist with Tea Party ties, during the taping. “This is about a right. A right is different than a law.
“It is our God-given right — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” she said. “I will always protect the right to life.”
Burton and Willis are deep into the most hotly contested, most watched legislative race statewide — the fight for Senate District 10, a highly coveted Senate seat that has garnered national attention since Davis, a Democrat, first claimed it in 2008.
Davis is now in the race for Texas governor, against Republican Texas Attorney Greg Abbott, Libertarian Kathie Glass and the Green Party’s Brandon Parmer.
Also in the SD 10 race are Libertarian Gene Lord and Green Party candidate John Tunmire of Fort Worth.
Early voting for the Nov. 4 general election runs from Oct. 20-31. The last day to register to vote in the election is Oct. 6.
This is the race to watch, say political observers, who predict it will be one of the costliest races in Texas as Republicans and Democrats send money to Burton and Willis, hoping to help claim the so-called swing district for their own party.
Many stress that this race isn’t just about one party claiming one seat in the Texas Senate. It’s also about the ideological balance of power in the Legislature’s upper chamber.
If Burton wins, the GOP will move closer to a supermajority in the Senate, essentially removing Texas Democrats’ last line of defense in the Legislature
On Friday, the two touched on a variety of issues during an 11-minute exchange where they both noted that they have opposing opinions.
At one point, after Willis said she knew where Burton stands on various issues, Burton noted that her opponent doesn’t speak for her. “We don’t know each other,” she said. “She doesn’t know me.”
Burton said she has been involved in the grassroots level of politics for years and she’s learned through block walking and talking to voters that “people are tired of the same old, same old in Texas politics.
“They want to be heard,” she said. “I’m listening to the concerns of voters.”
Willis said she believes her opponent “really answers to the Tea Party.” At the same time, Willis said she doesn’t answer to Barack Obama, Wendy Davis, the Texas Democratic Party or others.
“I’m running because people in District 10 want people to go to Austin, find solutions, get things done,” Willis said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
State enterprise fund
Both candidates said they oppose the Texas Enterprise Fund, an economic incentive program supported by Gov. Rick Perry that drew headlines this week in the wake of a state audit, as it exists today.
The report showed that many who received financial rewards often weren’t monitored to make sure they created the types or number of jobs proposed. And many recipients of funds from the program were chosen outside regular channels. The report by the state auditor suggests that Perry’s office was sloppy or misleading in updating the legislature and others on how the program was conducted.
Willis said changes have to be made to the program to make it work.
“We have got to get rid of this fund as we know it today,” Willis said. “We need to get rid of this program because it’s broken.”
Said Burton: “The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. … We need to rely on the free market.”
District 10 — which includes Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and Colleyville — was considered fairly safe ground for Republicans until Davis bested state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, in 2008.
In 2012, Davis narrowly beat former state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, in her re-election bid.
Political strategists now say the district could go either way in the next election.
The GOP has long hoped to claim the district to move closer to a supermajority and essentially remove Democrats’ ability to stop any proposal in the Legislature.
A long-standing Senate rule calls for two-thirds of the 31-member Senate, or 21 senators, to agree before a bill can reach the floor for debate. Republicans hold 19 seats. A victory in this race would inch them closer to their goal.