Texas women leaders address gender in politics at Texas Tribune Festival

Gracie Awalt

Only two women sit on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court, only three of the 10 major universities in Texas are led by women and women only hold a fifth of the seats in the Texas Legislature, according to Texas Tribune reporter Alexa Ura.

To change this, female leaders from across the state are encouraging women to take a greater interest in government, including running for office themselves instead of waiting for someone else.

Some of these leaders met Friday to speak on panels at the Texas Tribune Festival highlighting the gender disparity women experience in leadership positions and the influence of Latina women in politics today.  

In light of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing yesterday and this week’s allegation against Texas Sen. Charles Schwertner for sending a sexually explicit text message and image to a UT student, former state Sen. Wendy Davis said in the "Gender, Power and Leadership" panel that she thought the #MeToo movement had better addressed the issue of sexual assault in this country.

“I am raging because I thought we had gotten further than we are,” Davis said. “I thought this time it would be different, and yet here we are. I feel committed more now than ever before to check white male privilege and making sure I can do everything I can. We’re not where we need to be, but we have the power to get there.”

Davis said she was disappointed in the Senate’s response to the Schwertner allegations and said she has not heard a single senator advocating for a process to hold him accountable.

“If we can’t show a better response to the experiences of young women in our state government, then we have a lot of work to do to make sure we are going to elect people that are going to behave differently than that in the future,” Davis said.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman said in her experience as the first Latina elected to statewide office, having equal gender and ethnicity representation adds to institutional fairness.

“I don’t want anyone to vote for me because I am a woman,” Guzman said. “I don't want anyone to vote for me because of my ethnicity. I want you to vote for me because I am the most qualified for this job.”

Another panel called "The Latina Moment" addressed better ethnic representation in politics in the context of Latinas in Texas. Veronica Escobar, Democratic candidate for Texas’ 16th Congressional District, said although it is harder for women to run for Congress compared to men, it’s even harder for a woman of color to do the same.

“When you run for Congress, you need time and you need money,” Escobar said. “Most women are busy raising children or working hard to claim a place in their profession that they have fought hard for. To jump in a race that is uncertain, you’re giving up a lot.”

Cristina Tzintzún, founder and executive director of Jolt Texas, said her nonprofit organization focuses on issues affecting the Latino community. She said they encourage young Latinas to vote and that once more vote in the next election cycle, it will be a shock to the political system of the entire country.

“We change Texas by telling our story and demanding that our story is as equally Texan and American as anybody else,” Tzintzún said. “Changing Texas is not going to be one election cycle, and harnessing the power of millions of young people in the state is a long-term commitment process. We believe as Latinas we don't have to hide our culture to be accepted.”