Emergency room physician Donna Campbell surprised many political prognisticators when she managed to overtake her better-financed and better-known opponents to become the Republican nominee to represent Senate District 25.
Though she still faces a challenge from John Courage, a Democrat, Campbell has gone from being a long-shot candidate to the heavy favorite to win the seat held for two decades by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio. Wenworth lost to Campbell in the primary.
"I’ve got a steep learning curve," Campbell acknowledged in a recent interview with The Texas Tribune. She isn't alone — the Texas Senate is expecting an influx of new blood in 2013.
But Campbell has started to think about what she would like to do in office. She recently sat down with the Tribune to talk about which issues she would like to work on as well as some of the current hot topics from the upper chamber: Should Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appoint only Republican committee chairs? Should the Senate toss its traditional requirement that two-thirds of the members consent to bring up legislation?
The following is an edited video and transcript of the conversation.
TT: Will the Texas Senate have an experience gap next session?
Campbell: I think that may be a concern for folks, especially those who have been there a while. It’s kind of like, “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”
But actually with my successful election through November — with a win in November — along with the other new members of the Senate, we’re looking at having the most conservative Senate in Texas history. So if we’re wanting a more conservative government, then we’re going to have that. And it brings in reinforcement for some of the good senators that we have who needed the cavalry, if you will. So we’re coming in as strength for conservative government.
I think it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to it.
TT: Should Lt. Gov. Dewhurst appoint only Republican committee chairs?
Campbell: You know, I haven’t been there yet.
I do believe there’s a lot of wisdom in the Senate when you look at everybody’s years who have been there. I’ve got a steep learning curve — got to learn the process. I do have confidence in our lieutenant governor. He knows the senators, knows the committees and will choose wisely.
TT: Which issues would you like to work on?
Campbell: I bring a skill set for health care, but that’s going to be easier for me to see kind of as a peripheral issue, if you will. Important issues in our district are transportation, water, education and getting our budget under control.
TT: Do you support school vouchers?
Campbell: The big thing is we need to introduce competition to education. So let’s look to everything. Vouchers would help competition in that parents would have a choice of financial support.
If a child is locked into a ZIP code, for instance, if it’s a minority in an urban school locked into a ZIP code, and if they have some funding personally where the parent can choose, who is going to benefit? The child.
But not just the child. Parents get to choose, and as more schools would open up — private schools, charter schools, parochial schools — that now, they know some funding would be available, then there’s more opportunity for our teachers. We’ve got great teachers.
Vouchers is a way to at least open the door, start the conversation, get a discussion about competition. There’s also taxpayer savings grant that is a form — kind of a modification — that I think is equally good to take a look at.
TT: Should the Senate get rid of its “two-thirds” rule?
Campbell: Well, I know right now — and obviously, some of this stuff I need to have a little bit more knowledge about, and that comes with process and how things actually get brought into the Senate, come across my desk, how do I make a vote on that.
But, from what I’ve heard, the “21” rule seems to be more of an obstruction to trying to get good legislation passed. If good legislation comes out of the House, but we can't get it to the Senate floor, then we need to look at why.
And maybe just coming down, for instance, to 19 from 21. I think [state Sen.] Dan Patrick and maybe some others are proponents to at least bring the number down from 21 to 19. I think we could look at that. If the senators who have been there feel like that is an obstacle to getting good legislation passed, then we need to look at how it can get to more of us.
TT: What will be your approach to the budget?
Campbell: I would like to see a smaller, more efficient government. That will include spending, but I think to just have a blanket statement — “cut all spending” — would be a little bit cavalier for someone new to the Senate or, now, coming inside the bubble when I’ve been outside the bubble.
But even at home, you don’t cut a budget when you’ve got to cut spending and say everything gets cut. You do have to pick and choose. You prioritize spending and you decide what is a want and what is a need.
Need always trumps want.
TT: Any other specific items on your agenda?
Campbell: It’s fresh eyes. I don’t have a myopic view. I don’t have axes to grind or any specific agenda, except to bring in a good, conservative government. That’s what resonates in my district; that’s what they elected me for. And we have some serious problems, and it’s going to require some serious effort and tough choices, but I can make those. I can make an impact on the issues that affect my district as well as the state. And we’ve got the best state to live in the nation, and we’re going to keep it strong.