DALLAS — Reflecting an apparent sharpening of Democratic focus on Texas, Anne Holton, wife of Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, held back-to-back events Tuesday in Dallas, hearing out Texans' concerns on education and child care.
A former judge and Virginia secretary of education, Holton plugged Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a bipartisan problem-solver well equipped to address both issues. She also said her husband, a U.S. senator, has already had cooperative overtures from Republican colleagues, perhaps put off by bombastic GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“He’s had a number of fellow senators come up to him — not just Democrats, but Republicans who remember working with her ... in the Senate — and said, ‘We can work with Hillary,'" Holton said. "Maybe folks will be ready — we’re all ready for Hillary — but ready to work with Hillary and help her lead the nation forward, that maybe we can turn a corner."
"Ultimately she’s a get-things-done person," Holton added. "If we can get her elected and get good majorities to support her, I’m optimistic we can move some things."
Holton's swing through North Texas, which included two fundraisers, marked the Democratic ticket's second visit to Texas during the general election. Kaine made a two-day trip to Texas last month for three fundraisers and a volunteer thank-you event in Austin, where he suggested he and Clinton are serious about contending in solidly Republican Texas.
Politics, however, hardly came up at Holton's two public events, a roundtable on education with educators and students, then a discussion about child welfare with state lawmakers. Holton was mostly deferential during the talks, soliciting Texas-specific input from participants as she imparted lessons from her Virginia service.
At the first event, most concerns focused on school funding in Texas, a perennial issue dating back to the Legislature's decision in 2011 to cut $5 billion from public education. Holton shook her head in disbelief as she was told of the cuts and asked how Texans have felt the impact.
"We're forced as a 160,000-student school system to do crazy things," Dallas ISD Trustee Miguel Solis said, citing the $1.6 billion bond package Dallas voters approved last year. "That's where we're at right now. It's pretty far-fetched."
Holton seemed most interested in students' individual stories of how they were making it through college, promising they would be helped by Clinton's proposals to ease the cost of higher education. One, a full-time student at a Dallas community college, said she is paying for her education out of her savings account while working "part time" at a bank — 39 hours a week.
At the second event, which focused on child welfare, Holton relied on her experience as a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge in Richmond. Texas' foster-care system is currently undergoing a major overhaul after a federal judge ruled last year that it was "broken, and it has been that way for decades."
On stage with a group of lawmakers including Dallas-area state Reps. Toni Rose and Helen Giddings, Holton said it is important for reform to be data-driven, and she agreed with the legislators that the judiciary should play an active role.
"In my courtroom, we kept the tissue boxes right there on the bench and we were using them over sad stories," Holton said, "but also over some amazing, happy stories when people made things right for kids who needed them."
Holton's trip to Texas came the same day a new poll renewed Democratic hopes that the state is more competitive than usual this election cycle. The Washington Post/SurveyMonkey survey found the race between Clinton and Trump virtually tied in the Lone Star State, the tightest margin yet in otherwise scant public polling in Texas.
She made a reference to Texas' political landscape at the start of the first event, when one of the roundtable participants welcomed her to Dallas, "the bluest city in the state."
"State's getting bluer by the second!" Holton playfully responded.
Politics surfaced once more at the second event, where an audience member asked if she could be persuaded to run for her husband's Senate should he go to the White House. She called the question "very sweet" but said she was not interested.
Fundraising was the original purpose of Holton's trip. She was scheduled to attend events in the afternoon in Dallas and the evening in Colleyville, with tickets for each fundraiser ranging from $250 to $5,000.
Invitations show the Dallas event was being hosted by Regina Montoya, a lawyer and one of Clinton's top bundlers in Texas, as well as Montoya's husband, former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins. Holton was set to be feted at the Colleyville fundraiser by Dr. Robert Stephenson and Emily Stephenson.
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