Wendy Davis Hits the Campaign Trail

Candidate begins with “Listening Tour” of TX-21

Newly announced congressional candidate Wendy Davis began formally campaigning today at a coffeehouse “listening” session devoted to health care: Davis said she wants to hear “real people, in real communities, discussing their real problems.”

Wendy Davis (Photo by Michael King)

A back room of the Manchaca Road Austin Java was the setting of Davis’ first public event, with a half dozen TX-21 residents (and perhaps twice that many reporters and TV cameras). She spent nearly an hour listening to the Austinites talk about their health care experiences – including many details of insurance, anxiety, and cost – and then responding in turn to their difficulties and the potential policy responses.

The event was the first in Davis’ “Heart of Texas Listening Tour,” to proceed through TX-21 from Austin to San Antonio to Kerrville. “People feel like they don’t have a voice,” Davis said in a statement announcing the tour. “That’s why I’m running for Congress – to make Washington listen to and care about Texans.”

As she began, Davis recalled her own family experiences of overhearing her daughters talk with their friends as a parent’s window to their world. She said she was hoping for the same insight from the voters on her tour. Today’s session was devoted to health care, and Davis has scheduled stops in San Antonio and the Hill Country to take up other issues.

The health care stories from her mostly elderly informants were sometimes painful to hear: high insurance costs, rising drug costs, choices between food and medicine. A few of the people at the table were near tears, especially when they spoke of knowing friends and relatives who either faced financial disaster because of the costs of care or simply couldn’t afford it at all. One woman said that the real cost of her medication for multiple sclerosis had risen, over a five-year period, from $55,000 to $87,000 annually.

“And that’s with good insurance through my husband’s job – if it wasn’t for that, I simply couldn’t afford the medicine.”

Davis noted her disappointment that in the 2010 creation of the Affordable Care Act, two important aspects were left behind in the compromises: the lack of a patient “buy-in” to a Medicare-style, single-payer option, and the continuing inability of the government to negotiate on drug prices. She noted as well the ongoing Republican legal fight to undo the ACA altogether – led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – and insisted she would persist in the struggle to “defend the ACA.”

The conversation touched on familiar topics: insurance tied to employment undermining worker freedom; weakening of Medicaid making it more difficult for disabled patients to remain in their communities; the prospect of destitution over medical costs undermining everyone’s quality of life.

“People are afraid,” said one attendee. “If if we have healthier people, we’d have a better country,” said another. Summing up the conversation, Davis cited her own mother, now in her 80s after a lifetime of low-wage jobs. “Her Social Security check pays for rent, with a little left over. If she didn’t have children who can now take care of her, she’d be lost.”

“These are very real problems that need real solutions,” Davis concluded. “And we need to work together to find those solutions.”

Afterward, Davis spoke briefly to reporters about her campaign, for which she believes concerns like those expressed this morning will lead to higher Democratic turnout, “particularly in a state like Texas, where we have the highest percentage and the highest number of people without insurance. … The conversation around health care is everything.”

Although the specific elections weren’t mentioned, before challenging GOP incumbent Chip Roy, Davis faces a Democratic primary and former Llano County Democratic Party chair Jennie Lou Leeder. Leeder said this week that she’s remaining in the race and looking forward to a “robust primary.” She said she’ll rely on her deep family ties to the Hill Country to counter Davis’ national appeal and access to fundraising. (Also announced for the seat is independent Michael Felts.)

“I don’t believe that money wins elections,” said Leeder. “What will win this district is connecting with the constituents.” Nevertheless, Leeder faces a daunting task. Her federal campaign finance filings reflect about $11,000 raised, most of it already spent. The Davis campaign, by contrast, announced $250,000 raised in two days – most of it from Texas – following her Monday declaration.

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March 2020 Primary, Wendy Davis, Jenny Lou Leeder

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