SAN ANTONIO — State Sen. Wendy Davis said Monday that she hoped the nondiscrimination ordinance recently passed by the city of San Antonio, which offered new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, would become "commonplace" throughout Texas.
That stance provided a stark contrast with Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican many expect to be her opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Abbott had threatened to file a federal lawsuit over the ordinance and said it could lead to discrimination against people who publicly oppose gay marriage. His office later cited a change in the language of the ordinance as the reason for not going forward with a lawsuit.
Davis was asked about the ordinance during a town hall-style question-and-answer session with employees of Rackspace, a fast-growing high tech company in San Antonio. The senator, a Democrat who became a candidate for governor last week, said she had worked on a similar measure when she was on the Fort Worth City Council and would like to see other cities follow suit.
The San Antonio ordinance, which went into effect immediately after it was passed last month, prevents local businesses from discriminating against lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender residents. It also prevents public officials from discriminating against LGBT people in their professional duties and protects city employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Those who are awarded city contracts are prohibited from discriminating against LGBT people.
“I hope that it becomes something that is commonplace,” Davis said. “I look forward to a Texas where we see that in every city in the state.” Later, speaking to reporters, Davis said it’s “important that people be treated equally in the workplace, plain and simple.”
In a written statement, Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said that as a general rule, employers provide "equal opportunities for job seekers" and usually don't ask about sexual orientation. But he signaled that Abbott remained troubled by the type of nondiscrimination measure San Antonio adopted.
"Greg Abbott believes that private companies should make employment decisions consistent with the laws of the United States and Texas, and in the best interests of their customers and shareholders," Hirsch said. "However, both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions protect faith-based organizations from being coerced into employing persons in a way that would require them to violate their faith."
Davis was in San Antonio to drum up support for her nascent campaign for governor and to pick up the endorsement of Mayor Julián Castro, a fellow Democrat, who introduced her at the Rackspace event. Davis cited the internet hosting and data storage company, which received a $22 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant, as a model for public-private partnerships. And in doing so, she gave support to an effort that began in the office of GOP Gov. Rick Perry.
Davis said she saw it as the “best kind of investment we can make outside the investments we make in the education arena.”
“Obviously this is an incredible success story where the private partner held up to their end of the bargain in terms of the number of jobs that were created,” Davis said.
Davis’ praise of the program drew a quick rebuke from the governor’s office. Perry adviser Mark Miner pointed out that Davis, during the debate over education cuts in the 2011 budget, at one point proposed an amendment that would have wiped out funding for both the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund, a related economic development tool used to lure jobs and investment in the state.
“While we appreciate Wendy Davis highlighting Governor's Perry's job creation record, the truth is, if she were governor there wouldn't be companies like Rackspace for her to visit,’’ Miner said. “Less than a week as a candidate and she is already flip-flopping.”
Also during the visit Monday, Davis spoke about her support for reforms that would offer citizenship to many undocumented immigrants.
“I think we need to work on making sure that we have a path for people to more quickly become citizens of this great country who want to be here working and supporting their families and contributing to our economy,” she said.
Davis reiterated her support for legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses — highlighting another area of disagreement with Abbott. The attorney general wants to keep a provision in current law that requires Texas drivers to be legal residents of the state.
Davis said it was “an issue of public safety.” Estimates show Texas has more than 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, and many of them drive without licenses.
“I think anyone who is on the road driving an automobile should have a license and should be insured,” Davis said.