When Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis took the stage at the Hilton Anatole on May 2, she wasn't far from home. But the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful knew that didn't guarantee a friendly crowd.
"I come from Fort Worth, and I happen to love Dallas as well," Davis said, drawing laughter from an audience of about 100 at the Dallas Friday Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Before Davis took the stage, group president Rena Pederson made a point of sharing that she'd also extended a speaking invitation to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor.
"I wish we could work without partisan labels next to our name, because we could get a lot more done," Davis said.
Distinguished guests at the luncheon included former Dallas city manager Mary Suhm, former state legislator and current Dallas attorney Steve Wolens, distinguished journalist Lee Cullum, and KERA president and CEO Mary Anne Alhadeff.
Davis thanked the Dallas Friday Group, which counts many Republicans among its members, for offering her a chance to speak.
"I hope everyone in the state will do what you are doing and give each side an audience," Davis said. "I wish we could work without partisan labels next to our name, because we could get a lot more done."
The senator spoke of her ability to "forge compromise" and her experience in economic development. "Texas is the Texas Miracle because we have been a low-tax and a reasonably regulated state. To continue to be the miracle, we need to continue that."
Davis said the biggest challenges facing Texas today are transportation, water conservation and education. She warned against being "penny wise and pound foolish" with our legislation, saying Texas is "dramatically under investing" in transportation and "slipping backwards" in water conservation and education.
Davis said the increasing number of high school dropouts is an alarming trend that Texas can't sustain. "It should be of great concern to every one of us — Republican and Democrat alike."
Although Davis mostly steered away from controversial topics, she didn't avoid them altogether. Alluding to her famous filibuster of the bill to restrict abortions, Davis put the focus back on education.
"You may not know about my first filibuster. In 2011, I tried to stop a $5.5 billion cut in education," Davis said. When the bill passed, it caused many public schools to lay off teachers and shut down programs such as all-day pre-kindergarten.
"I'm a girl who came from a place of poverty to where I am now because I had an education that helped me achieve it," said Davis, who also took up the mantle of Medicaid expansion in her short speech. "Texas has the opportunity to get $100 billion of our federal tax money back into the economy, but only if we say yes."
Davis characterized the decision not to expand Medicaid as "essentially paying taxes twice," because the federal money earmarked for Texas healthcare would instead go to other states like California or New York. "We need to use good sense and put politics behind us," Davis said as she implored the crowd to support expansion.
Although Davis' appearances in everything from Vogue to New York Times Magazine are something most politicians would covet, in the end the Fort Worth senator tried to take the focus off her well-known public persona and back to the issues.
"It's not a choice between two people but between two very different paths we will take as a state," she said.