Left-by-South-West: The Return of Democrat Politics in Texas

This summer, Texas legislator Wendy Davis, clad in pink sneakers, staged an 11-hour filibuster that successfully blocked Republican efforts to greatly restrict abortion policy.[1] The filibuster delayed the passing of House Bill 2, and successfully launched Davis to political fame, both within the state and across the country. Incumbent Rick Perry will not seek re-election in the Texas gubernatorial election next year, and Attorney General Greg Abbott is the front-runner to succeed him. Davis too sees the governor’s seat as within her reach. The increasing Hispanic and female vote and the efforts of organizations such as Battleground Texas, will be what ultimately has the ability to elevate Davis to this position. Although recent polls show that Abbott leads Davis by six percent, Davis is posing the biggest threat to the Texas Republican Party since Ann Richards governed the state in the early 1990s.[2]

Feminists across the state rejoice in Davis’ decision to run. After leading the Democratic opposition to what many have called the “War on Women”[3] this summer, she has greatly expanded her fan base. This support is coming at a time in which women are not proportionally represented in Congress.[4] Although Wendy Davis is a hero within the Democratic Party, it’s understood that an easy victory is improbable. The Ft-Worth Telegram, based in Davis’s Senate district, wrote that Democrats see Davis’ election as an unlikely uphill battle.[5] In one of the most heavily Republican controlled states in the nation, any Democrat is bound to face a handful of challenges and an abundance of opposition. However, not everybody is anticipating a loss. Wendy Davis said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. earlier this year that in order for Democrats to win, “people have to run.” With her newly-found fame, not only is she running, but she is also running with name recognition.[6] In a state where demographics are changing, and progressive thinking is gaining momentum; it seems that if anyone has a chance, it’s Davis. According to Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a highly recognized political research organization, “Wendy Davis has the ability to build the type of coalition that a Democrat has to build to win in Texas.”

Abbott

Although Davis has been widely applauded by feminists and progressives, this fan base from her summer celebrity-status can’t earn her the approval of Texas’s largely conservative population. Greg Abbott publicly thanked a Twitter user for calling Davis a “retard Barbie”[7], only later apologizing after many began to criticize the unprofessional campaign strategy he was embracing. Abbott officially declared that “Texas is not ready to go down the pathway of this ultra, Washington, D.C., California-style liberalism that Wendy Davis represents.”[8] In addition to the many conservative politicians who have voiced strong opposition,
socially conservative activist organizations have also publicly denounced the Davis campaign. The leading anti-abortion group, Texas Right to Life, launched a vicious advertising campaign in both English and Spanish that aims to manipulate information to depict Davis in a very negative light.[8]

However, Jim Henson, a pollster for the University of Texas/Texas Tribune gubernatorial race, noted that Texans are “so used to see[ing] the Republican gubernatorial candidate running from a position of incumbency.”[9] This has resulted in Abbott being less recognized among the Texan population, while Davis is still widely known because of her filibuster fame this summer. Since Rick Perry held the Republican nomination in the past three elections, Abbott is not commonly regarded as a household name.[10] This has highlighted that Davis is more well-known than Abbott. It has exhibited that Davis’s supporters are arguably more informed, and are not succumbing to blind partisanship to the same extent.

Talk of Texas turning blue began long before Wendy Davis entered the race for governor. With Texas encompassing 1,241 of the 1,933 miles of the US-Mexican border[11], the Hispanic population has grown exponentially in the last decade.[12]“Democrats who dream of turning Texas blue hook their hopes to the growing Hispanic population. But that reality is at least a decade away.”[13] Even though they’re growing as a sizeable portion of the population, because of the low voter turnout among Hispanics, this immigration boom has had little political impact. “Hispanics have only cast 20 percent of total votes cast in statewide elections. That’s got to go up toward 30 percent before the Democrats can get competitive.”[14] This is the case for a number of reasons; low voter turnout in the state and the newest Voter ID Law are two of the biggest reasons. In an attempt to rein voter fraud, the latest controversial Voter ID Law has made it more difficult for minorities who don’t possess state issued identification to vote. Although this legislation is being challenged by the Justice Department, this will make it more difficult for Davis to rely on Hispanic votes to get her elected to the governor’s seat.[15]

Battleground Texas, through its efforts to register voters, with the aim of turning Texas into a battleground state, is working with the Hispanic population to increase Davis’ chances.[16] In San Antonio, for example, where Battleground Texas has a large member base and Hispanics account for well over half of the population, many are becoming increasingly politically engaged, partially thanks to Battleground efforts. According to Vic Verma, a Battleground volunteer, “What we’re working at is continuing to make progress, to a point where every election in this state at the very least is considered competitive.”[17] The organization publicly supports Davis’ campaign, by scheduling events and politically informing the public.[18] This speaks directly to the driving force which could result in a Democratic governor. Other organizations such as Planned Parenthood have endorsed Davis and have become increasingly politically active to make their dream a reality. Planned Parenthood has primarily been involved in their lawsuit filed against the state of Texas, challenging the constitutionality of the same abortion bill Davis filibustered for.[19]This has caused more uproar among Texan women, who according to Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, “have never fought harder.”[20] This increasing negative attention that Republican legislators are receiving could also lead to more support for Davis.

On the eve of October 3, 2013, during the official declaration of her entry into the gubernatorial race, Wendy Davis roused her crowd of supporters by reflecting on her own struggles; starting off as a poor single mother and single-handedly making her way to a seat in the Texas Senate. “Where you start has nothing to do with how far you can come,” Davis said. “In Austin today, our current leadership thinks that promises are something you just make to the people who write the big checks.”[21] Although her story is certainly unique, this empowering mentality is crucial in the state that leads the country in minimum-wage workers. By reflecting on her own experiences, Davis noted that although the odds are not in her favor, this does not determine how far she can go. With enough activism and organizational support reaching the Hispanic population, along with Davis’s persistence as demonstrated by her filibuster, Texas could very well be electing a Democratic governor in 2014.

Hannah Lifshutz
International Affairs & Political Science ‘17

The Author with Wendy Davis. Photograph © Hannah Lifshutz
The Author with Wendy Davis. Photograph © Hannah Lifshutz

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Bassett, Laura Texas FilibusterBy Wend Davis Shut Down By Republicans As Pandemonium Erupts (The Huffington Pos 2013)
[2]Fernandez, Manny Texas’ Davis Is Expected to Enter Race for Governor (New York Times 2013)
[3]Tinsley, Anna Wendy Davis to announce gubernatorial decision Oct. 3 (Fort Worth Star Telegram 2013)
[4]Hayes, Danny Why Wendy Davis’s announcement is a big deal (The Washington Post 2013)
[5]Tinsley, Anna Wendy Davis to announce gubernatorial decision Oct. 3 (Fort Worth Star Telegram 2013)
[6]Angle, Matt qtd in Wendy Davis formally jumps into Texas governor’s race Camia, Catalina (USA Today Oct. 3 2013)
[7]Fikac, Peggy. “Wendy Davis, Greg Abbott file and come out swinging.” Chron [Austin] 9 11 2013, n. pag. Web.
[8]Jones, Allie Pro-Life Groups Have Attack Ads Ready to Go for Wendy Davis’ Campaign Launch (The Atlantic Wire October 3, 2013)
[9]Edwards-Levy, Ariel. “Wendy Davis Trails By Single Digits In Texas Governor’s Race.” Huffington Post 4 11 2013
[10]Edwards-Levy, Ariel. “Wendy Davis Trails By Single Digits In Texas Governor’s Race.” Huffington Post 4 11 2013
[11]Beaver, Janice. United States . Congressional Research Service. U.S. International Borders: Brief Facts. Congress, 2006. Web. <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS21729.pdf>.
[12]Hambry, Peter. “8 glimmers of hope for Wendy Davis in her bid for governor of Texas.” CNN 4 10 2013, n. pag. Web.
[13]Hylton, Hilary Wendy Davis Laces Up Her Running (for Governor) Shoes (TIME Magazine 2013)
[14]PBS Newshour, Could Texas Turn Blue? Democrats and Republicans Both See Lone Star Opportunity (PBS Newshour 2013)
[15]Yeager, Holly Justice Department sues Texas over voter ID law (The Washington Post 2013)
[16]Callahan, Lauren. “The Blue Movement: Battleground Texas striving to turn Texas elections competitive.”KLTV [Tyler] 06 11 2013,
[17]See 19
[18]Fikac, Peggy. “Slugging It Out for the Women’s Vote.” San Antonio Express News [San Antonio] 23 10 2013, n. pag. Web.
[19]Sutton, Joe. “Texas abortion law challenged in Planned Parenthood lawsuit.” CNN 27 10 2013
[20]Carmon, Irin. “Planned Parenthood takes Texas abortion laws to court.” MSNBC 27 9 2013
[21]Fernandez , Manny . “Wendy Davis Enters Race for Texas Governor With a Shorter Speech.” New York Times [Halthom City ] 03 10 2013 , A12. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.

 

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