With Davis at top, statewide ballot more inviting for Democrats


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on October 7, 2013 at 6:27 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 7 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- State Sen. Wendy Davis' (D-Fort Worth) entry into the race for governor has Democrats feeling optimistic for the first time in years. 

"She's a tough lady. She's going to run a heck of a campaign," North Richland Hills resident Kelvin Dilks told KVUE at Davis' formal campaign launch Thursday in the Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City. That optimism isn't confined to supporters. 

Launching his campaign for state comptroller Monday, retired businessman Mike Collier is the first Democrat to join Davis on the statewide ballot. Collier, who most recently worked as chief financial officer for Layline Petroleum, said Davis' entrance into the 2014 contest was an important part of his decision to run for the job as guardian of the state's finances.
"She will energize a get out the vote effort. She will energize a donor base. I think that she'll be very good in terms of the voter turnout," said Collier. "Then the job that I will play is to move amongst Independents and businessmen and women of all persuasions to help them see that they really ought to have somebody who's a Democrat, who's independent, who has a financial background, not an aspiration for a higher position to come into that role, and that's going to be my contribution."
Like Davis, Collier accuses Republicans of being out of touch on the issue of education. He points to the inaccurate revenue forecast provided by then and current Texas Comptroller Susan Combs as a key factor that led to the sharp cuts to public schools enacted by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature in 2011.
"I think the revenue forecast which informs the legislature as to how much they can spend has a real impact on policy," said Collier. "I think if you look at the cuts that we made in education back in the 82nd Legislature, which were vary painful, I've got friends that are teachers, we all know, we were stunned that we'd make such cuts."
The Republican candidates for comptroller include state Rep. Harvey Hildebran (R-Kerrville) and state Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), both of whom are well known within Capitol circles. Hildebran served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, while Hegar most recently served as Senate sponsor guiding the controversial anti-abortion legislation filibustered by Davis.
"They're legislators. I'm not. They're Republicans. I'm a Democrat. They're attorneys, and I'm a financial guy," said Collier, who admits his decision to run as a Democrat raised a few eyebrows among his colleagues within the business community. At the same time he says many in the business community are growing frustrated with aspects of Republican politics. "There's a real concern in the business community that the party they used to look to for the reasonable point of view, the good government point of view, they're seeing everything but that."
Citing John Sharp as the model of an effective comptroller, Collier says his focus would be on returning to the task of eliminating duplication and waste within state agencies. A new ad accompanying Collier's campaign announcement portrays the former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a financial "watchdog" and chastises current Capitol leadership as a "circus." Collier also offers an answer for those who say his race, like Davis' race, is unwinnable.
"Ultimately Texas will be a competitive political environment," said Collier. "I think that's inevitable, so the question is, is it this cycle or is it some future cycle? I don't know, but I think that the odds are very good. I think it actually could be this cycle."
During the filibuster that propelled Davis to fame, it was state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) who asked the question that brought the Senate gallery to its feet. "At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues," she said. The line caused the gallery to burst into the final, deafening outburst that derailed Republicans' attempts to vote. 
Urged by many to run for lieutenant governor, Van de Putte told reporters at a San Antonio watch party for the Davis announcement that a decision could come within the next 10 days to two weeks.
"Now that Wendy has announced, I'll be looking at the analytics and the pathway to there and then having a real strong discussion with my family," said Van de Putte. "It's a lot to put them through." 
"It's a time of both opportunity and hazard for the Democrats," said Texas Politics Project Director and University of Texas professor James R. Henson, who cautions that fielding the right candidates will be the key for Democrats. 
"On one hand, you may have quality candidates that didn't feel like they could quite make it on their own, but are good and could jump into the race and overall help populate the Democratic ticket in a positive way," said Henson. "But you also have the danger of seeing free riders." 
As Democrats wait and see who else decides to enter the fray, it appears the general election in 2014 is finally beginning to take shape.

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