Can a Democratic candidate, with a strong gun-sense platform and an even stronger history as a women’s choice champion, win a Congressional seat in a state like Texas, from a district that has not elected anything but Republicans dating back to 1979? Former State Senator Wendy Davis is hoping to prove she can do just that.
As Davis tells her story, she comes from humble beginnings, raised by a single mom who had nothing more than a ninth grade education. Davis, finding herself pregnant at nineteen, wanted more for both herself and her child and enrolled in a local community college. From there, she would go on to attend Texas Christian University, with the help of family and scholarships, and ultimately be accepted to and graduate from Harvard Law School.
Davis sat on the Ft. Worth City Council, before successfully running for a state Senate seat in Texas’s SD-10, a diverse area of suburbs just outside of Ft. Worth. Davis held this office through a second election. During her time as state Senator, she served on a multitude of committees, including those involved in veteran’s affairs and infrastructure.
Arguably the most notable moment during her time in the state legislature came in June of 2013 when Davis gained national attention for her now-famous, marathon filibuster in the Texas Senate. Clad in her signature pink running shoes, Davis held the Senate floor for nearly thirteen hours, while fighting against the anti-abortion bill, SB5, that would force the majority of the state’s abortion clinics to permanently shut their doors. While Davis aimed to hold the floor until midnight and run out the clock on the legislative session, she came up just short of that goal, and the measure ultimately passed. The move, however, solidified her reputation as a champion for women’s choice, a complicated persona to have in a state like Texas.
After all, there is a certain type of dichotomy that exists in politics, specifically, the politics of being female and liberal, in a very red state. In the days and weeks following the “Filibuster Heard ‘Round the State,” it was painful for liberal women to watch as a bold move toward women’s rights was shut down, minimized, and ultimately, eviscerated by the anti-choice brigade.
On one hand, Texas had an intelligent, well-educated, powerful woman standing up and loudly defending the rights and autonomy of every woman in the state. On the other, the internet comments were rife with misogynistic vitriol and thinly veiled threats. When the old standards like “baby killer” and “burn in Hell” no longer sufficed, Davis was unceremoniously dubbed “Abortion Barbie” by those most incensed by her show in the capitol.
It was a shattering reminder to all the women watching, who were hoping that Davis would be the catalyst that could turn the tide in this bloody red state. When a woman speaks her mind, when she stands up for herself and her sisters, when her voice becomes too strong or forceful or powerful for the likes of weak-minded men, they will stop at nothing to stomp out the flame she has sparked. They will put her back in her place. Perhaps one must live immersed in such an environment to understand how a successful, Harvard-educated, sitting State Senator could be diminished to such a point. When her blonde hair and pink shoes and fierce defense of women’s rights were all turned to fodder for misogynists, liberal women in Texas gave a nearly audible, collective defeatist sigh. Will we ever break through what has become arguably the most difficult barrier erected by the one issue voter movement? If a fighter as resilient as Wendy Davis can be brought down by those who stand in defiant opposition of the rights of women, what hope is there for the rest of us?
True to her unbreakable spirit, however, Davis was not done with Texas. Davis used the filibuster moment as a springboard into her next venture and took on Republican Greg Abbot in the race for Texas Governor. For every vote secured by her filibuster fame, however, she lost several more to the terrifyingly effective character attacks and anti-choice rhetoric. Davis ended up losing by a rather wide margin of nearly twenty points. However, she refused to go quietly into political retirement. For the last six years, Davis has spent her time as a political commentator, staying active in state and national politics. Davis released a book in 2014, Forgetting to Be Afraid, and formed the nonprofit, Deeds Not Words, in 2016. A tireless advocate, she proved to be, indeed.
Davis has now set her sights on the U.S. Congress by way of Texas’s twenty-first congressional district, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio, a seat currently held by first-time Republican Congressman Chip Roy. The former state senator is running on a solid progressive platform including common-sense gun reform, health care access, LGBTQIA equality, climate change initiatives and more. If Davis is to win the hearts, and more importantly votes, of Texas constituents, she will need to be seen as a champion for quite a bit more than women’s health care, a divisive hot button issue, particularly among more devoutly religious voters.
In her fight to secure her initiatives in gun reform legislation, such as universal background checks, a ban on military-style assault weapons, and bans on high capacity magazines, Davis has teamed up with well-known gun safety advocate Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a leader in gun violence prevention. Among liberal voters in the state this alliance is warmly welcomed. For those harboring unfounded fears of the erosion of second amendment rights, the partnership between Davis and Watts may prove to do more harm than good.
Davis’s voting history is as consistent as it is progressive. Throughout her time on both the Ft. Worth City Council and in the Texas Senate, Davis has voted repeatedly in favor of gun reform, LGBT equality measures, and women’s health care choice, among others. Her history seems to align well with the name of her own nonprofit: Davis shows who she is with her deeds, and not just her words.
While the district has not gone for a Democrat in decades, there is certainly hope for the congressional candidate. The gap between Republican incumbents and the Democrats who challenge them has continued to draw narrower in the last several election cycles, from a nearly forty-point landslide at its height, to a mere ten-point divide presently. Aside from the shift in political viewpoints within the district, Davis outpaces her opponent in both name recognition and fundraising. The once sure-fire Republican seat is now being listed as a toss-up by Cook Political Report.
In a few weeks we’ll know whether Wendy Davis has convinced Texan voters to reject the GOP’s grip on women’s choice, health care and common-sense gun laws. If any Democrat is going to take this seat after 40 years of Republican entrenchment, that person will surely need tenacity, determination and grit. And perhaps an old comfortable pair of pink running shoes wouldn’t hurt either.
Photo courtesy campaign Facebook page.
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