Filibustering Days Over, Wendy Davis Faces a Big Decision

As Rick Perry steps down, Texas Democrats are counting on the woman in pink sneakers

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Bob Daemmrich / Corbis

State senator Wendy Davis late in the evening during her filibuster of an antiabortion bill at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on June 26, 2013

Correction appended: July 10, 2013

She is now simply Wendy. As the leader of a last-minute fight against a rigid antiabortion bill, the filibustering, pink-sneaker-shod, Harvard Law School–trained, hardscrabble Texas-raised state senator Wendy Davis became a nationally celebrated champion of women’s rights. And for long-suffering Texas Democrats, her sudden stardom raises hopes that she could be the one to break Republican’s 14-year choke hold on statewide offices.

But politics is more drama than musical. As Governor Rick Perry announced his plans to step down after his term — freeing him to prepare for the 2016 presidential race — the Texas legislature moved like a Greek chorus this week to approve the abortion bill, which is expected to pass. And so, with an extended session leaving no chance that a filibuster would work, Wendy climbed aboard an orange bus emblazoned with the slogan “Stand with Texas women” and headed off on a four-city tour of Texas, organized by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, daughter of the state’s last great Democratic star, the late Governor Ann Richards.

(MORE: Can Anyone Stop Rick Perry in 2016?)

With her signature big, sassy platinum hairdo, Ann was the last Texas Democrat on a first-name basis with voters. Ann and Wendy both built their political foundations as popular local officeholders, but the state has seen tectonic shifts since Ann first ran for state treasurer in 1982. Back then, Texas politics was split between progressives and conservative Democrats. The shorthanded Republicans, so the joke went, met in a phone booth. Which is not to say that Democrats didn’t run to the right. When Ann ran for governor in 1990, all three Democratic candidates ran right, touting their capital punishment bona fides. “You’d have thought they were all running for state executioner,” wrote satirist Molly Ivins, a fan and friend of Ann’s. “Saturday Night Live did a satirical skit on the primary in which the candidates wore black hoods and carried axes.”

(MORE: Meet the Woman Behind the Texas Abortion Filibuster)

Texas has grown more conservative since, and current Democratic strategists have been keen to describe Wendy as “mainstream” and “centrist,” pointing out she has brought moderate Republicans to her side. Indeed, “Wendy Davis” signs shared the front lawns of many Fort Worth homes with those for Mitt Romney in 2012. But it is abortion rights that has propelled her forward, attracting some moderate Republican women, but that “is not a good issue for Democrats” aiming to energize Hispanic voters who are vital to a Democratic takeover, says Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones. “She has revived a moribund party, given Democrats a sense of enthusiasm and optimism, but whether that can be transformed to success at the polls is another question.”

(MORE: Rick Perry Says Former Teen Mother Wendy Davis ‘Hasn’t Learned From Her Own Example’)

Perry’s decision insures a frantic game of political dominos, with Republicans scrambling for position and desperate Democrats eager to seize a sliver of opportunity. Cries of “Run, Wendy, run” echo through the crowds and from partisans beyond Texas, but veteran statehouse observers advise caution.

Wendy faces a crucial decision, says Sherri Greenberg, professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and former Democratic state legislator. Will she be a “sacrificial lamb” and run for governor or will she seek re-election in 2014 to her pivotal state-senate seat? Turning Texas blue will take at least a decade, Greenberg says, and depends on effective grass-roots organizing and candidate bench building, internal disruption in the GOP and the demographic march toward a Hispanic-dominated state.

(MORE: Rick Perry Rules Out Fourth Term, Future Uncertain)

The latter puts Wendy in competition with another rising Democratic star, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, widely viewed as a likely 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Should she opt to take one for her party in 2014, losing badly as recent Democratic hopefuls have, it may make it harder for Castro to raise enough money from dispirited Democratic donors in 2018, Jones says. No matter what she does, Wendy is assured of raising far more money and facing far greater scrutiny.

MORE: Wendy Davis’s Filibustering Mizuno Sneakers Getting Great Reviews on Amazon

An earlier version of this story misstated the color of the “Stand with Texas women” bus. It is orange, not red. Also, Professor Greenberg’s first name was misspelled. It is Sherri, not Sheri.

23 comments
mkueber001
mkueber001

Hilary, it's surprising how most of your readers concluded that this was an article on abortion.  I read it as an article on Wendy Davis's political prospects.  I'm not familiar with your political bent, but two items in your article suggest a strong liberal bias:

1.  You said that "Ann was on a first-name basis with the voters," and Texas "has heaved right since Richards left office in 1995."  Although Ann Richards may be an icon to you, the fact is that she served only one term as governor before being unceremoniously crushed by George W. Bush (53-46) in 1994.  You make it sound like she had nothing to do with the heaving, and almost imply that it wouldn't have happened on her watch. 

2.  You said that "Davis has some moderate credibility," but you support that by saying, "in 2012 her yard signs in her Fort Worth district share lawn space with those for Mitt Romney."  What the hell does that mean?  The only thing I can guess/deduce from that is that Mitt Romney carried her district.  If she has some moderate positions, tell us what they are?   

lw103148
lw103148

No one in their right mind would think of killing an unborn baby in its 20th week. At this term the baby is fully formed and is aware of pain.Other areas, Europe for example, allow no abortions after 13 weeks. If there are fewer places to conveniently practice birth control, abortion clinics, maby these women would be more responsible in there , do what I want to do actions. This is not a womens rights issue. It is a moral issue about an unborn child with RIGHTS TO LIFE. Thank God For Texas.

houstoncargirl
houstoncargirl like.author.displayName 1 Like

I wish you, and people like you, could get it, don76550.  Just because someone is pro choice does NOT mean that they are pro abortion. You are voting to allow the government to make a decision for an individual when that decision should be between a woman, a man and their doctor. I would not get an abortion, but I'll be damned if I'll let the GOVERNMENT make that decision for me. You should be afraid. Very afraid.

don76550
don76550

@houstoncargirl you are so full of crap.  If you not pro abortion then you would not advocate murder.  You are a vile and reprehensible inhuman being.  I indeed do "get it."  You get some kind of perverse gratification over the murder of babies and you are too much of a coward to admit it.

CH81
CH81

It's not only the fact that they are moving it back to 20 weeks, it's the fact that it would close almost every abortion clinic in the state, which is a de facto way of making an abortion very difficult for someone to get.  They are also trying to push this law through while they still have the majority partisanship.  

lw103148
lw103148

Explain to me the moral or legal position of killing an unborn baby which this baby is at 20 weeks.

don76550
don76550

@CH81 No clinic would have to close if they merely met the standards.  Do you advocate the same lack of standards for other medical facilities as well, or only for Kermit Gosnell murder mills?

don76550
don76550

The baby killer in pink shoes will soon find out Texas voters do not get the same erotic gratification over the premeditated murder of babies she does.  "Reprodcutive rights" my foot, she still has the right to pollute the gene pool by procreating.  What she is fighting for is the murder of innocent babies.  "Choice?"  Did the baby have any voice in choosing to be a murder victim?  Wendy should be thankful her mother didn't share her murderous views or she might have been left in a trash can in an abortion mill.  Funny how all those psychopaths clamoring for baby murder are already here.

DisesteemofDon
DisesteemofDon

@don76550WOW. You are one messed up reactionary wacko. Oh my! You are calling people mean names! Gosh. I feel so bad about myself and my beliefs because you called me a 'premeditated murderer of babies', and a 'psychopath', and 'a vile and reprehensible inhuman being'. Whah. Boo on you and your emotionally regressive twaddle (look it up, it means crap). How dare you put your moralistic bull$*!7 on me and my choices in life. Just because you think its wrong doesn't mean that it is. Sorry to tell you but the world, morals, GOD, etc, don't care about you and your "beliefs". If you really want to make a difference in our world do something positive for it. Try advocating for acceptance and appreciation of differences instead of cramming zealot ideology down people's throats that disagree with you. Oh that's right that would mean being a responsible, effective member of society and spewing your vitriolic hate is some much more satisfying. Shmoe.

gritsforbreakfast
gritsforbreakfast

Dems need her more in that senate seat than they need a sacrificial lamb running for governor. By far.

mphnkns
mphnkns

Why is it that journalists have lost the correct use of the English language? "Whether...or NOT" not merely "whether."

gritsforbreakfast
gritsforbreakfast like.author.displayName 1 Like

@mphnkns 1) whether is perfectly acceptable in that context (the "or not" is implied), and 2) it was a quote; should the writer put words in the mouth of her source to placate the grammar nazis?

czsommers
czsommers like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

Texas will be "blue" well before 10 years have passed. The GOP is too busy trying to legislate peoples' sex lives and ignoring the real issues. Texas will vote for a Democrat for president in 2016, and the Senate & House seats will follow shortly after.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@czsommers

"Texas will vote for a Democrat for president in 2016, and the Senate & House seats will follow shortly after."

 want to bet on that? it's all well and good to be optimistic but let's get real


notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

@czsommers Gerrymandering has ensured that the R's will keep the state forever.  I see 0 chance of it becoming blue.   D's cannot undo the gerrymandering until they win.  Its like a traffic rotary that you cannot get out of.

vstillwell
vstillwell like.author.displayName 1 Like

Why is that abortion is the only thing that gets Democrats energized? Frankly, waiting until after 20 weeks to get an abortion is just plain cruel. I think most European countries ban abortion after 12 weeks. Democrats are always using other industrialized nations as a yard stick to rate our country by. Well, most industrialized nations say that waiting longer than 12 weeks to get an abortion is against the law. I detest the Republican Party as it is constituted today, but the Democrats leave a lot to be desired. 

Padmore
Padmore

@vstillwell You are correct in saying that some European countries are more strict, although not all and this is only in comparison to the very liberal USA abortion law. Where you are wrong is the 12 weeks mark, there is simply no standard, each country has a different set of rules and time limit based on completely different reasons. The UK for example uses the same 24 week limit that the USA does, it was brought down from 28 in 1990 and there have been some attempts to reduce it to 22 more recently.  France though only allows it up to 12 weeks. In short, try not to make such broad statements about 'European countries', it is a whole continent, packed with many varying countries who have taken different approaches to nearly everything including abortion. 

czsommers
czsommers like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@vstillwell you are wrong on so many points. Democrats have rallied strongly for immigration reform, gay marriage, women's health issues, banking reform, lowering student loan rates, voting rights, minority rights, etc.... And we do not blindly follow Europe's laws. Only the GOP screams about European so-called "socialism". Science determines that a fetus is not viable until after the 24th week. That's what Roe v Wade is based on. Check your European abortion facts a little more closely.

lw103148
lw103148

You are wrong a baby is viable in 21 weeks. Roe v Wade used conveniently manufactured stats in their findings. But lets use your abortionist mentality stats. Would you kill a baby at 23 weeks just days before it could be born and have the same chance at life as you. I suggest you get some psychological counciling. And Europe is no abortions after 13 weeks. Libtards always change the facts to suit there cause for that day.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Absolutely 0% chance of Wendy Davis winning the Texas governorship.  The state is too conservative, and she is too left-of-center politically to make it.

roknsteve
roknsteve like.author.displayName 1 Like

@mrbomb13 Blah, blah, blah, yack, yack, yack, ya, ya, ya. 

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@roknsteve

 blah blah blah, yack yack yack, ya, ya, ya

look mom, i can be condescending too

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