Texas Politics

New Tarrant senator makes a statement with her footwear

Texas state Sen. Konni Burton wears a pair of boots with the words "Stand For Life" printed on them during her swearing-in ceremony at the opening of the 84th Texas Legislature Tuesday, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera)
Texas state Sen. Konni Burton wears a pair of boots with the words "Stand For Life" printed on them during her swearing-in ceremony at the opening of the 84th Texas Legislature Tuesday, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ralph Barrera) AP

Her predecessor gained political stardom in a pair of pink Mizuno running shoes. When Konni Burton strode onto the floor of the Texas Senate on Tuesday, she was wearing a pair of black cowboy boots emblazoned with “Stand for Life.”

The former Tea Party leader, a stauch abortion foe, took office as the new senator from Tarrant County’s Senate District 10, using her choice of footwear to draw a striking contrast with former Sen. Wendy Davis, who wore the running shoes when she staged a 13-hour filibuster against a GOP-led abortion bill in June 2013.

“No more pink shoe drama for SD 10!” Burton declared on Facebook a few hours before joining the rest of 31-member Senate in taking the oath of office on the opening day of the 84th Legislature.

Wasting no time in displaying her disdain for excessive government spending, Burton also made her first Senate vote a “no” as she joined two other Republican freshman senators in opposing a proposed increase in Senate staff salaries and in-state travel.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” she told reporters. “My first vote was not going to be to increase staff budget. It just wasn’t going to happen.”

A host of dignitaries, including Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, joined senators and family members in the Senate chamber on the Capitol’s second floor for an opening-day session that lasted just under two hours and was largely devoted to ceremony and the swearing-in of the latest class of senators.

It was also laced with emotion as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s presiding officer, delivered a farewell speech to close out a 12-year political career that includes three terms as lieutenant governor. Incoming Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who defeated Dewhurst in a runoff, will be inaugurated next week along with Abbott.

“I think we made Texas better,” Dewhurst told his colleagues, calling his service in the Senate “the biggest honor in my lifetime” other than his wife “saying yes.”

Dewhurst opened the address by saying he planned to “blow my image for being formal, ” explaining that he was so touched by senators’ tributes that he lost a contact lens.

“To all my fellow Texans, I’d like to say thank you,” he said. “I’m humbled by the faith you put in me for the last 12 years. It is an honor to serve and it is our honor to serve you.”

Senators delivered another round of accolades as they nominated and unanimously elected Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as president pro tem, a seniority-based post that is third in line to the governor and presides over the Senate whenever the lieutenant governor is out. The choice is inevitably part of a “governor for the day” tradition when the president pro tem stands serves temporarily as the state’s leader when the governor and lieutenant governor are both out of state.

Burton’s rise

Burton was accompanied by her husband, Phil Burton, her two college-age daughters and her son-in-law as she mingled with supporters at a mid-morning reception in her office on the ground floor before going upstairs to the Senate chamber when the session convened shortly after noon. She smiled broadly as she stood on the Senate floor with other senators while Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht administered the oath of office.

Burton defeated Democrat Libby Willis in the November election to claim the District 10 Senate seat, which Davis, a former Fort Worth councilwoman, won in 2008 by beating Republican incumbent Kim Brimer.

After gaining nationwide attention with her filibuster against the abortion bill, Davis opted against seeking re-election for the Senate and jumped into the governor’s race, ultimately suffering a bruising defeat by Abbott. In campaigning to become Davis’ successor and sporting a powerful endorsement from Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Burton cast herself as a polar opposite from the Democratic senator, portraying Davis as an Obama liberal and strongly denouncing her high-profile support of abortion.

Burton is one of eight new Republicans in the Senate who are expected to tilt the already conservative GOP-controlled Senate even further to the right. “I think she’s going to be an excellent senator,” Dewhurst said in a brief interview. “She’s bright, hardworking and a real conservative.

Burton cast her first vote against Senate Resolution 1, which would increase monthly staff salaries and instate travel for each Senate office from $38,000 to $40,000. Also voting against the resolution were new Republican Sens. Van Taylor of Plano and Bob Hall, a retired businessman from Van Zandt County.

Burton said she purposely wore the ”Stand for Life” boots to make a strong statement on where she stands on abortion in contrast to her predecessor. “Absolutely. I will defend life. I wanted to get that message out. I thought it was very important. It’s a new day in the district.”