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Education and abortion rights are the key to democratizing the state

The key to a democratic government in Texas is to protect the public education system from education vouchers and to fight for women's reproductive rights, representatives of the state Democratic Party said at their party convention in El Paso over the weekend.

Several prominent party leaders spoke at the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Paso del Norte Hotel on Saturday as the three-day 2024 Texas Democratic Party Convention came to a close. More than 300 Texas Democrats attended the breakfast.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, speaks during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention in El Paso, Texas, at the Paso Del Norte Hotel on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, speaks during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention in El Paso, Texas, at the Paso Del Norte Hotel on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

“In many ways, this election is about fighting for our democracy,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso. “It's about taking back control of rampant gun violence. It's about defeating fascism and totalitarianism. It's really about fighting for our hard-won rights. This country has pushed women to the brink, and we must respond.”

The Lady Bird Breakfast, named in honor of former First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, is designed to spotlight Democratic leaders and issues affecting women and families across the state. The panel discussion focused on education and reproductive rights.

More: “Apathy is deadly”: Gun violence is at the heart of the 2024 Texas Democratic Convention

Speakers at Saturday morning's event included Escobar, former U.S. Deputy Air Force Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones, Texas House candidates Aicha Davis, Kristian Carranza and Lauren Ashley Simmons, and Asian American Democrats of Texas President Nabila Mansoor.

Democrats in Texas prepare for fight over school vouchers

Texas Republicans' attempts to pass school vouchers that would allow parents to send their children to private schools using taxpayer money are an attack on the public school system, panelists said.

“Everyone knows that public education is under serious attack and is being used as a bargaining tool,” said Davis, who for the Texas House of Representatives to represent the Dallas metropolitan area. “Leading Republicans in Texas have shown how loyal they are to their party, not their community.”

Davis is also a member of the Texas State Board of Education.

The public schools have produced some of the best minds in the country, said Carranza, who is running for the San Antonio metropolitan area in the state House of Representatives.

Panelist Kristian Carranza speaks during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention in El Paso, Texas at the Paso Del Norte Hotel on Saturday, June 8, 2024.Panelist Kristian Carranza speaks during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention in El Paso, Texas at the Paso Del Norte Hotel on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

Panelist Kristian Carranza speaks during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention in El Paso, Texas at the Paso Del Norte Hotel on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

“I am proud of San Antonio Public Schools,” Carranza said. “I know I would not be who I am today if it weren't for public schools and the support they provide to our communities. San Antonio is a working-class community and in the past year we have had to close several elementary schools.”

“The people in our community, the women in our community, the families in our community view schools not only as an educational institution, but as a social safety net. I'm talking about before-school programs, after-school programs, summer school programs, meal programs. When we talk about closing our public schools, we're also talking about social safety nets.”

Instead of issuing education vouchers, Texas lawmakers should push for greater funding for public schools and increased teacher salaries, panelists said.

More: At the Texas Democratic convention in El Paso, Beto O'Rourke sees “energy” emerging ahead of the elections

“Our governor (Greg Abbott) has been on tour like Taylor Swift for a year, visiting one private school after another to market education vouchers,” said Simmons, who is running for the greater Houston area in the Texas House of Representatives. “Then suddenly – and HISD (Houston Independent School District) is not perfect, but HISD was a B-rated district at the time – suddenly it gets taken over by TEA (Texas Education Agency) and we're sitting with a principal who was CEO of a charter school network. We're talking about the destruction and dismantling of public education. HISD is the canary in the coal mine.

“Let me be clear: What they are doing to HISD is happening across Texas. … We have to protect our school districts for the students and teachers and for our community. We cannot lose.”

Defence of reproduction rights

Democrats also raised alarm about Texas' strict laws restricting abortion and reproductive rights, the panelist said.

The abortion ban in Texas only allows doctors to terminate a pregnancy if the life of the pregnant patient is in danger or the patient could suffer a significant impairment of an important bodily function. The bans make no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or fatal fetal diagnoses.

“One in three American women of childbearing age lives in a state that has a ban on abortion, a total ban,” Escobar said. “We know Republicans are not going to give up on this. This is not about one in three women. This is about controlling 100% of women in America.”

“It's about taking away not only our reproductive freedom, but our access to contraception, our access to IVF (in vitro fertilization) and we don't know what else is on their list of horrors when it comes to making women second-class citizens.”

The panelists will be introduced during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention on Saturday, June 8, 2024, at the Paso Del Norte Hotel in El Paso, Texas.The panelists will be introduced during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention on Saturday, June 8, 2024, at the Paso Del Norte Hotel in El Paso, Texas.

The panelists will be introduced during the Lady Bird Breakfast at the Texas Democratic National Convention on Saturday, June 8, 2024, at the Paso Del Norte Hotel in El Paso, Texas.

Decisions about women's health are made by a male-dominated Texas legislature, Carranza said.

“Everyone is aware that 70% of the Texas legislature is made up of men,” Carranza said. “There is an urgent need to elect more women.”

More: “This moment is ours”: Beto O'Rourke opens the 2024 Texas Democratic Convention in El Paso

For Texas and the United States to achieve what is best for the state and the country, all voices must be heard, Jones said, adding that a majority of Americans and Texans “overwhelmingly support abortion access.”

“I know that American leadership is essential and that we are strongest and most effective when everyone on the team can contribute to their full potential. And yes, that means women must be able to make decisions about their own bodies,” Jones said.

This article originally appeared in the El Paso Times: Will Texas go blue? Democrats say education and abortion rights are key

Anna Harden

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