Lawmaker News

OPINION | Wendy Davis: Collins and Murkowski inspire the next generation of women in politics

Murkowski Collins
Getty Images
Murkowski Collins

At the conclusion of my first session in the Texas Senate, I was presented with a gift from three of my male colleagues: a mounted pair of bull testicles. The intended reference? That I had demonstrated my “cojones” as a senator.

If I could figure out how to split them in two, I would send them on to Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Because these two women are some of the most courageous politicians I have ever had the privilege to observe.

{mosads}As we think about what we need to get the country working again, I would urge you all to consider getting behind the election of women, more of whom are running than ever before. Emily’s List reports a staggering figure of more than 16,000 women reaching out to them expressing a desire to run for office, pummeling the previous record of just under 1,000.


Sen. John McCain (R- Ariz.) got a lot of well-deserved credit when he joined Collins and Murkowski in voting down their fellow Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And he certainly played the role of showman well with his dramatic approach to the Senate mic, raising his hands and turning them, thumbs-down, for the cameras and, therefore, all of us to see.

But it was Collins and Murkowski who caught and held my attention and admiration throughout the healthcare debate, joining brave Democratic senators who represent red states, each of them maintaining a steadfast commitment to what they thought was best for their constituents rather than their own personal and political well-being.

Observing them, I couldn’t help but be reminded of their roles during an earlier high-stakes moment that played out during 2013 when they and the other 18 women senators (two other Republicans and 16 Democrats) joined together and hatched a plan that saved the country from a government shutdown.

Back then, it was Collins who gained some much-deserved attention in her own high-impact moment as she approached the Senate mic and asked her “Democratic and Republican colleagues to come together.”

“We can do it,” she said. “We can legislate responsibly and in good faith.”

After a bi-partisan deal to avoid the shutdown was announced, it was McCain who noted that the leadership that got us there “was provided primarily from women in the Senate.”

Later, Time magazine ran a piece under the caption “Women are the only adults left in Washington.” It appears that this still holds true today.

It would be unfair of me not to acknowledge the courage that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) displayed in their unwavering support for the survival of the Affordable Care Act. Each of them is up for re-election in a state that Trump handily won.

But mostly I’m in awe of the women. Of women like Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) who are under serious threat in their deep red states where Trump won by 19 points and 36 points, respectively. And of course, Collins and Murkowski, both of whom received unprecedented pressure from the president himself. Murkowski was even threatened with loss of support for key economic development projects in her state if she didn’t line up to support the GOP’s healthcare plans. And still, she did not yield.

These women, Democrats and Republicans alike, demonstrate why it’s so important that we have women serving us in elected offices at every level of government. Today, only 21 percent of the Senate and only 19.1 percent of the House of Representatives are women, despite the fact that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population is female.

This, in spite of the fact that time and time again, women have demonstrated that they ARE the real grown-ups in the room. My observation is that women come to elected office more from a sense of service than of ego. And while this is also true of some men — in my personal electoral experience — it tends to be the women whose courage stands out and who are more likely to put principle above partisanship. As Murkowski said during the budget impasse of 2013, “Politics be damned.”

The question going forward is whether the actions of Collins and Murkowski will be punished or rewarded by voters. Their previous re-election bids would predict the latter. After the bi-partisan leadership that Murkowski and Collins portrayed in 2013, Collins was rewarded with her largest electoral victory yet, winning her fourth term in a landslide by 68 percent in 2014. She had no primary opponent. And Murkowski, who in 2010 had won her Senate seat as a write-in candidate after being defeated in the Republican primary by the tea party and Sarah Palin, went on to win the Republican primary in 2016 with a whopping 71.52 percent of the vote and the general election by a plurality of 44.3 percent against a Libertarian (that same tea party-backed guy who defeated her in the 2010 Republican primary), a Democrat and an Independent.

This electoral reward for courageous leadership plays out at the state level as well. Here in Texas, state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) the only Republican to vote against efforts to strip abortion rights from women in our state, handily won re-election after voting with the Democrats against the anti-abortion bill that I filibustered in 2013, with 70.95 percent of the vote in the 2014 Republican primary and 61.20 percent of the vote in the general.

After the demonstration of bi-partisan female leadership that broke the budget impasse of 2013, McCain quipped: “I am very proud that these women are stepping forward. Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”

Well, I’m proud so many are stepping forward to run. And I love imagining what we could accomplish if half or more of Congress were female. As I ponder that vision, it makes me want to rethink sending those bull testicles to Collins and Murkowski. After all, those are a symbol of male courage and I’m rather done with that. It’s the women who have taught us what courage really looks like. Maybe I’ll send them a bronzed high-heel or a pink tennis shoe instead.

Wendy Davis was the 2014 Democratic candidate for Texas governor. She previously served in the Texas Senate, where she held a 13-hour filibuster to block abortion restrictions. Davis is the founder of women’s advocacy organization Deeds Not Words.

 The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Alaska gubernatorial election Claire McCaskill Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin John McCain John McCain Jon Tester Lisa Murkowski Lisa Murkowski Political parties in the United States Republican Party Sarah Palin Susan Collins Susan Collins United States United States Senate election in Alaska Wendy Davis
See all Hill.TV See all Video