`Let Her Speak:’ Inside the screenplay of the Wendy Davis (Sandra Bullock) biopic

Good Monday Austin:

That, above, would be from the title page of the 133-page screenplay by Mario Correa, an accomplished Chilean-born, Brooklyn-based playwright and television and film writer, about Wendy Davis and the abortion filibuster that made her famous, a script that came into my possession Friday and which I read over the weekend.

Giving me a look. 2013.

On Thursday, Variety  broke the news.

Sandra Bullock will star in the spec “Let Her Speak” as Texas senator Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in the Texas state house.

Todd Black and Jason Blumenthal are on board to produce through their Escape Artists banner.

At the time, Davis was a little known Democratic senator who soon became a national icon on the subject of abortion after filibustering for 11 hours in order to stall a bill, and ultimately delaying its passage beyond the midnight deadline for the end of the legislative session. The bill would have included more restrictive abortion regulations for Texas and would have closed all abortion clinics in the state. (note: Not quite, but almost.)

Mario Correa penned the spec.

The package will now be shopped to studios and should court several suitors over the next week.

The role seems right up Bullock’s alley and could be another awards play for the star who won her first Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy in the real-life story “The Blind Side.” She just wrapped production on Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” spinoff, “Ocean’s Eight,” and is about start filming on the Netflix movie “Bird Box.”

She is repped by CAA.

I would have read it on Friday, but I was busy writing a Sunday story about Texas Democrats’ search for a candidate to oppose Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election, with Davis leaving the door open a crack that she would do it if an appropriate other candidate did not step forward.

The script is a good read.

I must admit, it’s a kick to read a screenplay about a moment in history to which you were first-hand witness – with all the name players bearing their real names – and to see how it’s done.

The script is drawn from the public record, from Davis’ book ” –  Forgetting to be Afraid: A Memoir – published two months before the November 2014 gubernatorial election, and, no doubt, from conversations with Davis.

It is written from Davis’ point of view and is hagiographic in the extreme. If you don’t agree with Wendy Davis on abortion, this will not be the movie for you, though, considering the subject and  the state of American political polarization, that should not be surprising.

The film opens with a terrifying and disturbing scene from Davis’ childhood that she wrote about in her memoir. As I wrote in the Statesman when it came out two months before the November gubernatorial election:

The book is replete with details of a sometimes harrowing childhood, of a loving but philandering father and a cold but dutiful mother who, after the first of two breakups with her husband, placed the infant Wendy and two siblings in the trunk of their car in the family garage with the intention of turning on the engine and killing herself and her children. Only a fortuitous visit from a neighbor who talked and prayed with Davis’ mother broke the spell of despondency and spared their lives.

We cut from that nightmarish scene to Wendy Davis on an Austin running trail in the spring of 2013, that sets the tone for rest of the movie.

Davis is portrayed as a hero –  strong, brave, brilliant, determined, relentless, tireless. This is not one of those movies where they throw in a fault or foible, however  minor, to give the character a more realistic texture.

This is not flawed-character-as-reluctant hero. This is up by her bootstraps, against the odds, hell bent for leather heroine.

The only hint of an imperfection is when colleague and ally Kirk Watson suggests to her that maybe she possesses the slightest hint of holier-than-thou moral preening – like she alone among her Democratic peers has the right stuff to lead the battle against the forces of darkness. But, of course, in the view of the film, she is also right, and so maybe, like all the great ones since Joan of Arc, she comes on a little strong.

At the time of the June 25, 2013 filibuster, I had been in Austin six months and it was one of the most dramatic scenes I’ve witnessed in 40 years as a reporter.

As I wrote in a First Reading on the third anniversary of the filibuster:

The Texas Capitol was the center of the political universe, the building fairly shaking, throbbing, pulsing with tension and consequence, with Wendy Davis – and that terse bard of the Texas Senate, Mike Ward – seizing the Twitterverse by the neck and shaking it for all it’s worth, and the moribund corpse of the Texas Democratic Party, laid out cold on a slab, being thumped and electric-shocked back to life.

I had been up the night before writing an anticipatory First Reading so I had only had an hour or two of sleep before showing up in the Senate that morning, and never leaving until well after it culminated in a delirious moment of confusion/triumph/defeat that made Mr. Smith, and all the fuss made about him, seem quaintly understated.

As I wrote in the Statesman that Sunday:

By standing her ground on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours Tuesday against legislation that would severely restrict access to abortions in Texas, the petite Davis, in her now-celebrated rouge red Mizuno Wave Rider 16s, had provided downtrodden Texas Democrats with their best moment of the 21st century.

Overnight, Davis had raised the possibility that Democrats, against all odds, might mount a serious campaign for governor in 2014, scrambled Gov. Rick Perry’s political timetable, undermined Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s chances of re-election, and revised the politics of abortion in Texas by pushing final passage of Senate Bill 5 past its midnight deadline.

“That was the moment when the Democratic Party in Texas came alive,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the next day. “I was in the Texas Legislature for 10 years waiting for that moment. I never got it. It happened last night.”

This is the Wendy Davis that Wendy Davis and her campaign wanted to present to Texas voters when she ran for governor in 2014.

From Robert Draper’s February 2014 cover piece in the New York Times Magazine: Can Wendy Davis Have it All?

It did not take long for her and everyone else in the chamber to see that the usual permissiveness attendant to Texas filibusters — furtive sips of water, hard candy for sustenance, languid reading of the Bible, leaning against furniture, even a dash to the bathroom — would not apply to her. But as the hours wore on and the spectacle of the slight woman standing erect if dehydrated, and reading testimony from women who had gotten abortions, in a chamber full of glowering and mostly male Republicans spread across the Twitterverse, something began to tilt in her favor. At one point, opponents complained that she had violated the rules by getting off topic. At another, Rodney Ellis, a Democratic colleague, whispered, “The president just tweeted about you,” and Davis responded with an expletive of surprise. When the presiding Republican, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, ruled that she had three violations and ended her filibuster, pandemonium ensued, thus delaying a vote on the bill until just after midnight, when the session officially ended. Shortly after 3 a.m., Dewhurst reluctantly announced that Davis’s filibuster had prevailed and that S.B. 5 was dead. (The next month in a second special session, Gov. Rick Perry reintroduced the bill, and it passed.)

When she walked out to the Capitol steps, someone handed her a microphone, allowing her strained voice to be heard by the crowd of thousands who had gathered to greet her. She then decompressed in her office, after which she and Will Wynn walked together to her car — backs to the camera, savoring the semblance of privacy.

Overnight, a once-obscure state senator had become the Democrats’ most appealing new face. “I felt like she was Joan of Arc, standing up there for women all across the country,” (former Michigan Gov. Jennifer) Granholm said. Democrats in Washington were enrapt. When Davis visited the nation’s capital a few weeks later for a fund-raiser, Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen senators were there. Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based Democratic pollster who until recently worked for Davis, explained that even for Beltway insiders, “there has been a feeling of disappointment in Obama — the inspiration just isn’t there anymore — not to mention all of the dysfunction in Congress. Then these new voices emerge,” like Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “and Wendy, all speaking truth to power. They make Democrats feel inspired again.”

The cinematic possibilities of the moment were instantly obvious  and  the casting commenced almost at once.

I don’t think what I’m going to tell you about the screenplay requires any spoiler alerts. We all now how it ends.

But I think I can be of service by letting you know which roles require casting, and how the script treats each of those characters.

First things first.

The only reporter with a name and a real part is Laura Kamen. There is her cameraman, and another unnamed reporter, who gets to engage in some irrelevant reporter banter, but, otherwise Kamen’s it. I don’t think there is an actual reporter named Laura Kamen, and I don’t think she is based on anyone in particular, but I think Kamen is  a Jewish name, for what it’s worth.

So, sorry Johnathan, Evan, Steve. Not gonna happen.

The villain of the piece is Dan Patrick, then a senator, now lieutenant governor.

Here is how Dan Patrick is introduced in the film.

 

Well, I suppose he’s available. But not nice.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY DAN PATRICK: Dennis Quaid.

Patrick’s sidekick in the screenplay is Sen. Donna Campbell.

Here’s her intro.

Not nice.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY DONNA CAMPBELL: Holly Hunter.

The best line that I haven’t heard before is delivered by Dan Patrick (think Dennis Quaid) to Donna Campbell (think Holly Hunter) about eight hours into the filibuster.

The most interesting and demanding role is Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – because he is written as conflicted and is a character with shades of gray. Dewhurst in the script is  torn between his own fundamental decency and respect for the traditions of the Texas Senate and political reality, and, what in retrospect, was a wholly legitimate concern about a challenge from Dan Patrick.

Here is Dewhurst’s intro.

Ted Hebert is, as far as I know, a made up name. I think he’s probably a composite, or maybe he’s just made up. He’s the slick political adviser/chief of staff/consultant, who tells Dewhurst what he needs to do to keep his job and keep Patrick at bay.

For Hebert, a special session that includes abortion is a gift that will enable Dewhurst to show the Republican base that no matter that patrician persona, and his previous defeat in the 2012 Senate primary runoff at the hands of Cruz, Dewhurst has the right right stuff.

The base is represented by three made up characters.

The script offers a sympathetic view of Dewhurst. He is not just some hapless ditherer.  I would like to see them build his character a little more. If the movie is going to be ore than a polemic, it’s got to build on Dewhurst’s dilemma.

I like that.

But, MY CHOICE TO PLAY DAVID DEWHURST: Colin Firth

Why Colin Firth?

The stutter, and the empathy I think Firth would bring to the role. (They can make him up to look older than he is.)

From a story I wrote on the eve of Dewhurst’s May 2014 primary runoff loss to Patrick, coming after his defeat two years earlier in a runoff with Ted Cruz for U.S. Senate.

Dewhurst found himself being challenged for the Senate by, among others, Cruz, who would turn out to be a once-in-a-generation political talent — a championship debater at Princeton and former solicitor general for Texas who had argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. Dewhurst put $20 million of his own money into the campaign, spending a lot on attack ads that hurt him more than Cruz. Most crucial for Cruz, the campaign calendar was stretched by court battles over redistricting, giving him time to mount a campaign that forced a runoff, and he stampeded to victory in the midsummer runoff.

Now, in an awful deja vu for Dewhurst, he is facing, in Patrick, another natural talker — a former sports broadcaster who for years has made his name as a conservative talk radio host on a station he owns in Houston.

“It’s very frustrating for me,” Dewhurst said in an interview in his campaign office Monday, just before going over to the early voting trailer at the H-E-B at Oltorf Street and Congress Avenue to cast his ballot. “On any given day, I’m going to be a slower talker than Dan Patrick or Ted Cruz because my father was killed by a drunk driver when I was 3, and it must have been so traumatic because for a while I couldn’t speak and then I had a horrible stutter.”

“It was a long time before I started to get it under control,” Dewhurst said. “In ninth grade, I was president of the student council, and I would try to preside over meetings, but I couldn’t talk sometimes.”

The remnants of his speech problem are still well in evidence. He speaks slowly — more slowly if he’s tired — and very deliberately.

Campaign staffers have in the past urged him to just speak from the heart and not overthink everything he is about to say, but the desire to get things just so seems to have become a general habit of mind.

The other Democrats in the Senate get roles of varying size.

Watson plays Davis’ foil – a friend and ally but just lacking a little of her moxie until the close of the filibuster when he delivers in brilliant fashion.

The script makes it plain why Davis was chosen to make history.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY KIRK WATSON: Billy Bob Thornton.

You want someone with a little friendly tension with Wendy/Sandra. Someone who can puncture her sanctimony, appear a bit world weary but who rises to the occasion and sounds like he’s really from Texas.

There are a couple of other meaty roles.

Sonya Grogg, as Davis’ chief of staff, is the woman behind the woman. The script describes here as a “young Wendy in the making.”

Dr. Lisa Chang is the 28-year-old physician – I have no idea if that is her actual name – who fits Davis with the catheter that enables her to make it through the filibuster, which allows for no bathroom breaks. Only the catheter is too large and painfully cumbersome so Dr. Chang has to rush over through impossible Austin traffic and an impossible line to get into the Capitol, to fit Davis with a more appropriately-sized catheter moments before the filibuster begin.

I predict the catheter scenes will be Oscar bait.

And, by the way, it’s Donna Campbell, a physician, who realizes Davis is catheterized.

 

There’s also a nice part in Javier Costa, the wide-eyed 21-year-old intern who arrives in Davis’ office on Sine Die of the regular session and finds himself thrust into the middle of history and playing his own pivotal role when he is dispatched, deep in to the filibuster, to the local CVS to procure a back brace Davis needs if she is oil to make it to midnight. Against all odds, Costa gets the brace to Davis just in the nick of time, although Sen Rodney Ellis’ memorable assist to Davis in getting the brace on cost her one of the there strikes she was allowed, imperiling the filibuster.

Ellis’ part is good, but doesn’t take full advantage of his personality.

Senate Parliamentarian Karina Davis – no relation to Wendy – has a nice little part in the thick of the filibuster action.

There are also roles, in flashback, for Jeff Davis, Wendy’s second husband, and former Austin Mayor Will Wynn, who plays her sympathetic and supportive boyfriend. It’s the kind of part Sam Shepard could have played, but, lamentably, he’s dead.

There is also, of course, Leticia Van de Putte, who the script describes as “Latina, confident, big-boned.”

The filibuster created the Democratic ticket in 2014 – Davis for governor and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor, though, for whatever reason, Davis kept her distance from Van de Putte during the campaign, which was odd considering their triumphant moment of sisterhood at the close of the filibuster.

As I wrote in a First Reading just after the election:

The most self-defeating and inexplicable aspect of the whole Wendy Davis campaign was the failure to take advantage of the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

Davis and Van de Putte should have campaigned side-by-side across the state. They needed each other. Van de Putte needed the exposure, needed to let Texans know who she was and that, notwithstanding her married name, she was actually Hispanic. And Davis desperately needed the Van de Putte touch. Van de Putte is warm and approachable and spontaneous where Davis is cool and distant and canned. It was Van de Putte who, arriving late in the filibuster after burying her father, delivered the killer line – “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”- that threw the gallery into pandemonium and won the day for the Democrats.

And how does he screenplay handle that moment?

Very oddly.

Wait. What? Hold on.

In the script, Davis is delivering Van de Putte’s spontaneous, immortal line.

That’s just not right. They’ve got to fix that.

MY CHOICE TO PLAY LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE; Kathy Bates.

UPDATE:

https://twitter.com/andreagrimes/status/930546250679705600

In the script, as Davis, Kirk and the other Democrats celebrated after the filibuster, we see Rick Perry, in a silk bathrobe, over at the Governor’s Mansion, taking in the scene on TV, and talking to an aide on the phone.

That’s it. Perry could play himself. He’s got an equity card.

The Legislature passed the law in the next special session that Davis had filibustered, but three years later, the Supreme Court struck down the law.

But, for Davis and Texas Democrats, the political aftermath of the filibuster was a letdown.

A First Reading I wrote on the occasion of

Well, the adrenalin rush didn’t last, except maybe for Dan Patrick, who used the public flummoxing of David Dewhurst to launch a successful bid to remove and replace him. Davis’ gubernatorial campaign was a disaster. And somehow, when all the dust had settled, we had Sid Miller occupying the august office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner, once occupied by Jim Hightower and Rick Perry, and Ken Paxton succeeding Greg Abbott as attorney general.

From Robert Draper’s New York Times Magazine piece.

(T)he campaign had chosen as its lead narrative a heroic struggle of a different sort: that of a teenage, trailer-dwelling single mother, who, while raising two daughters, bootstrapped her way into Harvard Law School and soon, possibly, the governorship. On many levels, the story was politically exquisite. It connected the candidate and her devotion to issues like education in a personal rather than an ideological manner. It also sidestepped the divisive issue of abortion while framing her as the kind of hard-working mother to whom suburban women (a critical voting bloc) could relate. More broadly, as one of her Washington-based ad makers, Maura Dougherty, would tell me: “The bio connects her to Texans in a way that very few other things do. Her personal story makes her one of them.” Playing on the state’s self-reverence, the campaign titled the slick four-and-a-half-minute ad announcing her run for governor “A Texas Story.”

But it was also very much the story of a female politician — and was thus fraught with choices for which male candidates are seldom second-guessed by either voters or pundits. And, as it would develop two days after our drive around Fort Worth, the story was far from a tidy one.

In the movie, the tidy story makes a comeback and fits seamlessly with what led her to perform the Great Filibuster of 2013.

But, as I wrote in a First Reading  just after the 2014 eelection: O Pappy where art thou? What Wendy Davis could have learned from W. Lee O’Daniel:

Davis’ gubernatorial campaign peaked three months before it began, with her filibuster. From the moment she formally launched her campaign, it appeared to be an exercise in negative branding.

In other words, Davis ended up getting something less than the base Democratic vote. Not good. Jim Hogan, running for agriculture commissioner, did a great service by providing what amounted to a real-world control experiment. He raised no money. He did not campaign. He simply got his name on the ballot as the Democrat running against Sid Miller for agriculture commissioner and received 37 percent of the vote, two points less than Davis.

The 2014 election nationally had the lowest turnout in 72 years, since World War II, since Pappy O’Daniel roamed the campaign trail.

The starkest statistic of the Davis campaign is not the 20 percentage point margin by which she lost – vastly larger than former Houston Mayor Bill White’s 12.7 point loss four years ago to Gov Rick Perry – but how she lost it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott did not much improve on Perry’s performance – he received only 53,246 more votes than Perry out of a larger potential electorate. But Davis received 274,148 fewer votes than White, who has all the dynamism of Ferris Beuller’s high school economics teacher, and even though Davis would regularly remind voters at campaign appearance that her candidacy had generated more excitement than any Democratic candidate for governor in decades.

 

 

The screenplay ends, fittingly enough, with a call to action.

 

In the screenplay, that is followed by a note explaining what subsequently  happened to the people depicted in the movie.

One correction – Rodney Ellis is now a Harris County commissioner.

As for Davis’ vow to run again for office. We’ll see about that. Perhaps sooner than later.

But I got to figure being played by Sandra Bullock in a big-budget biopic has to be way better than being governor of Texas, and certainly far better than running for governor.

I admit I’m jealous.

If only there were a bankable star who could play me on the big screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, Wendy Davis Day was observed on a Monday

Good day Austin:

Memories
Like the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were

Oh, I’m sorry. I was lost in a reverie, recalling that day three years ago when I, only six months a reporter in Austin, a stranger in a strange land, found myself thrilled to be covering a truly exhilarating moment of genuine historical drama.

The Texas Capitol was the center of the political universe, the building fairly shaking, throbbing, pulsing with tension and consequence, with Wendy Davis – and that terse bard of the Texas Senate, Mike Ward – seizing the Twitterverse by the neck and shaking it for all it’s worth, and the moribund corpse of the Texas Democratic Party, laid out cold on a slab, being thumped and electric-shocked back to life.

I had been up the night before writing an anticipatory First Reading so I had only had an hour or two of sleep before showing up in the Senate that morning, and never leaving until well after it culminated in a delirious moment of confusion/triumph/defeat that made Mr. Smith, and all the fuss made about him, seem quaintly understated.

For that Sunday’s Statesman I wrote:

By standing her ground on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours Tuesday against legislation that would severely restrict access to abortions in Texas, the petite Davis, in her now-celebrated rouge red Mizuno Wave Rider 16s, had provided downtrodden Texas Democrats with their best moment of the 21st century.

Overnight, Davis had raised the possibility that Democrats, against all odds, might mount a serious campaign for governor in 2014, scrambled Gov. Rick Perry’s political timetable, undermined Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s chances of re-election, and revised the politics of abortion in Texas by pushing final passage of Senate Bill 5 past its midnight deadline.

“That was the moment when the Democratic Party in Texas came alive,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the next day. “I was in the Texas Legislature for 10 years waiting for that moment. I never got it. It happened last night.”

Castro made the remarks on “All In” with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, the cable TV network of Democratic hopes and dreams, which in the past week, has been wall-to-wall Wendy.

“In my political career – and this is my sixth regular legislative session and 10 or 12 specials – there is nothing that compares,” said Democratic consultant Jeff Rotkoff, who predicted it will leave a profound legacy, whether it’s the more immediate gratification of a Davis run for governor, or the longer term impact on a 15-year-old who tagged along with his or her mother Tuesday to the Capitol and experienced the life-changing exhilaration of the moment.

Even in the time of Twitter – Davis’ Twitter following went from 1,200 before she began talking Tuesday to more than 116,000 – the trending trajectory of Davis’ rise is extraordinary.

When Hayes asked her whether she planned to run for governor, Davis, who this spring had said she would stick to seeking re-election to her closely contested Senate seat, replied, “You know, I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t had aspirations.”

It would depend, she said, on whether the current adrenaline rush among Texas Democrats could be maintained. Davis said she thought it could be.

But Democrats, knowing that only a truly breakthrough candidate has any chance of success statewide in Texas, are caught between wanting her to leap, a la Barack Obama, into what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and fearing they might squander their new superstar, knowing that, with the state’s changing demography, time is on their side.

Well, the adrenalin rush didn’t last, except maybe for Dan Patrick, who used the public flummoxing of David Dewhurst to launch a successful bid to remove and replace him. Davis’ gubernatorial campaign was a disaster. And somehow, when all the dust had settled, we had Sid Miller occupying the august office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner, once occupied by Jim Hightower and Rick Perry, and Ken Paxton succeeding Greg Abbott as attorney general.

Technically, Saturday was Wendy Davis Day, marking the third anniversary of her famous filibuster of Republican effort to enact legislation restricting access to abortion in Texas.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.42.47 AM

 

But, like many holidays, Wendy Davis Day this year was actually observed on Monday, as the Supreme Court, with uncanny timing, struck down the abortion law that she had fought, and, for one brief shining moment, had briefly delayed.

She had ultimately lost, but now, in what is being termed the biggest Supreme Court decision on abortion of a generation, she has won.

She has been redeemed.

“This is the end of Wendy’s filibuster,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.

Some background on Miller, from the Whole Woman’s site:

My name is Amy Hagstrom Miller and I founded Whole Woman’s Health in 2003 with the mission to provide fabulous abortion care; which to me means excellent medicine for your body and mind, compassionate, supportive care for your mind and spirit. Our Whole Woman’s Health clinics provide abortion and gynecological care services. We are in the identity examination, stigma reduction, self-esteem boosting business as well. We understand that no one gets pregnant to have an abortion. We also understand that facing an unplanned pregnancy and choosing abortion involves all the big things in women’s lives – examination of identity, life, death, sex, religion, family. We are advocates for women, plain and simple, and we serve women and families with the best care possible during a difficult time in their lives.

And from ValerieTarico.com:

Amy Hagstrom Miller, who will face the Supreme Court next month in defense of her group of clinics, Whole Woman’s Health, is one of those Don’t-Mess-With-Texas women whose fight for rights has improved the lives of other women and families across America.

Hagstrom Miller is a mission-driven small business owner. At age 21, after graduating from Macalester College with degrees in religious and international studies, Hagstrom Miller accepted a job in a family planning clinic that faced hostile protests and regular threats of violence. She was motivated, she says, by her commitment to human rights and justice, a desire to be deeply present with women facing hard decisions and shaping their own futures with intention. Twenty-seven year later, Hagstrom Miller owns eight clinics in five states, many in hard-hit communities. Their name, Whole Woman’s Health, reflects her ongoing determination to treat abortion care as more than a medical procedure:

“This is the first victory we’ve had in decades,” Miller said Monday.

So, OK, Wendy Davis was not destined  to be the next Ann Richards.

But, with Monday’s Supreme Court decision, that failure receded between the twin triumphs of her filibuster and its ultimate affirmation by the highest court in the land.

Her place in history is secure, and her pink tennis shoes, now in storage, are destined for the Smithsonian or the National Women’s History Museum, or maybe Wendy Davis Land.

 

From Alex Ura’s story, Abortion Ruling a Vindication For Wendy Davis and ‘Unruly Mob’

“I understand Wendy Davis is running a victory lap,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday at a press conference in Houston.

Republicans are already gearing up for an “absolute onslaught of pro-life legislation” in the next session that begins in January. And House Bill 2 leaves behind reduced abortion access in a state of 5.4 million of reproductive age. Only 19 clinics remain, compared to more than 40 that operated in the state before the legislation passed.

But there’s little doubt that the filibuster and the organizing efforts that marked 2013 have led to increased awareness, particularly among younger Texans, of reproductive health issues, which were already a lightning rod for legislative and political drama.

“Although you’re not always going to see 5,000 people filling the Capitol, the seeds were planted in 2013, and it’s now spreading around the state,” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas.

Among the people spurred to action by Davis’ filibuster was Sadie Hernandez, a 21-year-old student organizer from the Rio Grande Valley who made her way to the Capitol that night.

Hernandez, inspired by Davis’ action, last year camped out in front of the governor’s mansion to protest a provision in the state budget that prevented Planned Parenthood from participating in the joint state-federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, which provides cancer screening for poor, uninsured women in Texas.

Dubbing her protest the “People’s Vote,” Hernandez was joined by many other protesters during her stint at the mansion, including Davis herself.

It was a full-circle moment for Hernandez, who wasn’t deeply involved in politics before Davis’ filibuster.

Now, not everyone joined in yesterday’s fanfare for the filibuster and the filibusterer.

Ken Herman comes to mind.

Brave and contrary and maybe the slightest bit cranky, Herman was sticking to his guns that the Davis filibuster, and the chaos that ensued, was both tragedy and farce.

From his column, posted yesterday almost as soon as the Supreme Court decision was announced:

Let’s be clear here. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Texas’ onerous abortion restriction law was a major victory for the politics — not the tactics — of the obnoxious protesters who screamed the Texas Senate into temporary shutdown three years ago.

In a ruling that agreed with the protesters’ protestations that the law went way too far, the high court threw out the statute that effectively closed some Texas abortion clinics by setting standards they could not meet.

But we err if we in any way view this as vindication or justification for the childish protest mounted by folks who didn’t seem to understand how our system works.

Those with the most votes win — at least temporarily — no matter how loud or long you yell to try to prevent the votes from being cast. Absolutely having the votes, of course, does not mean absolute power. A Constitution prevails and courts interpret the Constitution. That’s what happened Monday in the proper process — as opposed to the 2013 Senate gallery protest — available to those who believe they are aggrieved, even if they are in the minority.

I believed in 2013 that the Senate gallery protest was a low point in my more than 35 years of watching the Texas Legislature. The protesters were way out of line, then-GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst screwed up in letting it get out of hand and Democratic senators on the floor acted unconscionably in waving their arms to further rouse the rabble in the gallery.

And the screamers, it turned out, couldn’t have been more wrong in predicting their nonsense would be s a landmark turning point that would change the course of Texas political history.

Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, the performer of a vote-stalling filibuster — silly stunts of endurance not equally available to all senators — used the attention to launch her 2014 gubernatorial campaign amid Democratic optimism unseen in Texas in many years.

She, of course, wound up losing to Republican Greg Abbott by a wider margin than Democrat Bill White lost to Republican Rick Perry four years earlier. So much for Democratic optimism.

Anybody have a possible 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee with a chance of winning?

Well, as I recall, Ken didn’t like Mr. Smith’s filibuster any better, describing it as both “puerile and vexatious” (that’s how he wrote back then).

Statesman readers rewarded Ken’s forthright statement of principle on the filibuster with a succession of negative comments that might unnerve a lesser man.

A favorite, for its vivid imagery: “Herman is a slug spreading his slime on sour grapes.”

I suspect that Pillorying Herman will become a fixture of future Wendy Davis Day celebrations.

Back to my story in the immediate aftermath of the filibuster.

The fervor for abortion rights – so evident in the din created in the Senate gallery Tuesday night that proved instrumental in delaying final passage until just past midnight – was new.

“Historically, there’s been an emotion and energy gap,” observed Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. “The right-to-life people are always more motivated than the choice people. Last week that gap seemed to close.”

It is not that most Texans share Davis’ liberal views on abortion.

According to the UT/Tribune poll, 36 percent of Texans – including 59 percent of Democrats – agree that abortion should always be legal, and those numbers have, in fact, ebbed a bit since February.

The numbers of Texans who support an outright ban on abortion are even smaller – 16 percent of all Texans and 27 percent of Republicans – though those numbers are on the rise.

But, despite the emotion it provokes, only 2 percent of respondents in the survey consider it the most important problem facing the state.

In the days leading up to the filibuster, Democrats succeeded in framing the abortion legislation as tantamount to an effort to ban most abortions. Meanwhile, abortion opponents were largely absent from the debate because they didn’t want to do anything to slow a process that was heading in their desired direction.

“I don’t think that the Republican majority was at all effective in the arguments that this was an attempt to protect women and bring facilities up to speed,” Jillson said. “You can look right past that to the idea of their taking any opportunity to push the right-to-life agenda.”

“That’s why Dewhurst’s tweet was such a big tell,” said Jim Henson, who directs UT’s Texas Politics Project, referring to a tweet by Dewhurst for the bill that linked to a Planned Parenthood Web page predicting, “If SB 5 passes, it would essentially ban abortions statewide.”

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It was the first of several miscues for Dewhurst, with state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, grousing off the floor about four hours into the filibuster that it should be brought to a halt sooner rather than later.

“I just find it sad that there were people applauding Wendy Davis when she walked on the floor,” Patrick said. “So, we’re going to stand on our rulebook, our 25-year-old rule, and let a baby die a horrible death in the womb?”

Two days later, Patrick announced he was challenging Dewhurst’s re-election, joining a field that already included Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, in what promises to be a bitter GOP primary and another potential target of opportunity for Davis or another Democrat. (So far, no Democrat has indicated plans to run for any statewide office in 2014.)

We know how this all ends, sort of, but not entirely.

Yes, Wendy Davis is not governor. Yes, Dan Patrick is lieutenant governor.

But I think of what Jeff Rotkoff suggested in the immediate aftermath the filibuster.

It will leave a profound legacy, whether it’s the more immediate gratification of a Davis run for governor, or the longer term impact on a 15-year-old who tagged along with his or her mother Tuesday to the Capitol and experienced the life-changing exhilaration of the moment.

We don’t know how that ends. That 15 year old can vote this year, and, before long, run for office on his or her own.

And, I think the Davis filibuster, in which she read from countless wrenching personal accounts, had something to do with changing the nature of the debate about abortion in ways reflected in yesterday’s decision.

From SCOTUSblog – Symposium: Abortion rights come out of the shadow – by Jessica Pieklo, vice president of Law and the Courts at Rewire.

Nearly sixteen years to the day from the last Supreme Court ruling in support of abortion rights and it is Justice Stephen Breyer, again, leading the push back against state-level abortion restrictions. Only unlike his majority opinion in Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck as unconstitutional Nebraska’s so-called “partial birth abortion ban” and opens with a concession that the Court understands “the controversial nature of the [abortion] problem,” then practically apologizes for describing the details of the specific abortion procedure at issue, Monday’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt does just the opposite. It embraces, entirely, the reality that abortion is a fundamental right, a medical procedure that one in three women will need in their lifetime, and should not therefore be subject to the regulatory whims of anti-abortion lawmakers.

For abortion-rights advocates, the decision represents not just an important win, but signals an important rhetorical shift on the legal debate over abortion rights at a time when state-level restrictions threaten to render that right legal in name only.

At issue in this case were two provisions of HB 2, a Texas omnibus anti-abortion law passed in 2013 despite vigorous opposition including the “people’s protest” and an eleven-hour filibuster by then Texas state senator Wendy Davis. Those provisions required doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and also required abortion clinics to meet the same architectural standards as surgical centers, even if those clinics did not offer surgical abortions.

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Which is why it was important for abortion rights advocates that Monday’s decision not just strike down the Texas restrictions as unconstitutional, but do so in an opinion that dealt with abortion in a frank and unapologetic fashion while instructing the federal courts to do the same. “The statement [by the Fifth Circuit and advanced by the state of Texas] that legislatures, and not courts, must resolve questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with this Court’s case law,” wrote Breyer. “Instead, the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings.”

Those two sentences may not sound that remarkable — of course it is the job of the federal courts to weigh the evidence when there is a question of medical or scientific uncertainty — but in the context of the fight over abortion rights and access, those two sentences from Breyer are practically revolutionary.

Anti-abortion lawmakers have succeeded in advancing restriction after restriction in large part because of a cultural reluctance to speak frankly and openly about abortion, which includes pushing back against the suggestion that restricting access to abortion ever advances patient safety. As Texans felt the impact of HB 2, and as other states followed suit in enacting their own TRAP laws and more and more clinics closed, an amazing thing happened. People started sharing their abortion stories publicly and in ways designed specifically to affect not only the public debate over HB 2 but also the Court’s consideration of the claims against it. Doctors spoke out. Patients spoke out. Family members spoke out. For the first time in the Court’s history, female lawyers shared in detail with the Supreme Court their stories of how safe and legal abortion care made their careers, and their lives, possible.

Those stories were not apologetic over the need for an abortion. They did not shy away from the medical realities of abortion. Instead they affirmed the very core of abortion-rights jurisprudence from Roe v. Wade, which is that reproductive autonomy is a fundamental right and the right to choose is just that: An expression of that autonomy.

 

What’s next for Wendy Davis?

I doubt she’ll run for office again.

I think her future rests with Hillary Clinton and whoever runs MSNBC.

In the meantime she has started an organization, Deeds not Words.

There’s so much that needs to change—and so much red tape to navigate – it’s hard to know where to start. Believe us, we’ve been there. That’s why we, a group of passionate people led by Wendy Davis, created Deeds Not Words.

Deeds Not Words is your starting point for turning ideas about women’s equality into action. We’ll provide the tools you need to make changes in your community – like sample letters for legislators, toolkits, and a community where you can share stories and get advice.

Join us. Because we’re the #ChangeMakers.

OK. But I assume Deeds not Words is drawn from the rallying cry of The Women’s Social and Political Union, the leading militant organization campaigning for women’s suffrage in Great Britain from 1903-1917

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Here, from the British Parliament web site entry on Deeds not Words.

Imprisonment for their actions became an important tool for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and led to another important tactic, hunger striking.

Hunger strikes

The first hunger strike was undertaken by Marion Wallace-Dunlop in 1909 as a protest when she was not given political prisoner status in prison. She had been arrested for damaging a wall in St. Stephen’s Hall in the Houses of Parliament.

When imprisoned, suffragettes would go on hunger strike, leading to the authorities force-feeding women in prison, a dangerous and humiliating treatment which provided the suffragettes with powerful propaganda.

‘Cat and Mouse Act’

The Prisoners’ Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, also known as ‘The Cat and Mouse Act’ was passed in 1913. This permitted the early release of women who had become so ill as a result of their hunger strike that they were at risk of death but required that they return to prison when their health was better to continue their sentence.

The hunger strike/force feeding process then began all over again.

Conciliation Bill

In 1910, a Conciliation Bill was read in Parliament. The bill was written to extend voting rights to women but failed to become law. Following its failure there were violent clashes outside Parliament. There were further Conciliation Bills proposed in subsequent years but they failed to resolve the situation.

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison was particularly committed to ‘deeds not words’, notably hiding in the House of Commons on a number of occasions, including on Census night in April 1911 when she spent the night in a cupboard in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in order to state ‘House of Commons’ as her address on her census return.

She was imprisoned eight times for offences including assault and stone-throwing. Her final, and most dramatic, act was to step out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in June 1913. It is unclear whether she intended to commit suicide, but she died soon afterwards of her injuries.

I can only imagine what Sir Ken Herman would have done with that.

 

Ted Cruz on Colbert; Wendy Davis on MSNBC and in Rolling Stone

Ted Cruz was on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night.

It’s quite good and both come off well.

Here’s the full segment.

They open with the usual banter.

Colbert: Were you surprised the field got that crowded.

Cruz: There are another dozen coming.

In fact Stephen, are you going to announce tonight

That’s obviously a joke, but, as I wrote last week, in the age of Trump, Colbert might absolutely be the Democrats’ best pick.

Seriously.

To chants of “Stephen, Stephen,” Colbert said:

I ran for president fake twice. I  found that exhausting, to even to pretend to do that for three weeks.

Cruz said that he had explained to his seven-year-old daughter, Caroline, “You just have to surgically disconnect your shame sensor.”

Precocious, that Caroline. Like her father.

Cruz: It is relentless, but it is invigorating. I am like a kid in a candy store. I am having so much fun.

Colbert: Who is paying for the candy

That enabled Cruz to brag that he had raised more money in direct contributions to his campaign than any other Republican candidate – “over 175,000 contributions the first two quarters.”

“That’s invigorating,” Cruz said.

Colbert asked Cruz, “What do you make of, what’s the name, Donald Trump, he’s my guest tomorrow night. Any question you would like me to ask him?”

“Would he possibly consider donating $1 billion to our campaign?” Cruz told Colbert.

Colbert asked why voters in a general election should consider voting for a candidate as far right as Cruz.

There is one Republican who has a group of Democrats named after him,” Cruz said, referring to Reagan Democrats.

“Democrats didn’t come over because Reagan was the squishiest middle-of-the-road candidate,” said Cruz.

He cited the example of a woman who approached him in Charleston, S.C., said she had voted for Obama in 2008, didn’t vote in 2012, and planned to vote for Cruz in 2016.

“This woman have a name?” Colbert asked, poising pen over pad. “I just want to fact check that.”

Colbert and Cruz then launched into an extended, serious discussion of whether Cruz could be as flexible on issues as Reagan.

Colbert: Reagan raised taxes. Reagan actually had an amnesty program for illegal immigrants. Neither of those things would allow Reagan to be nominated today. So to what level can you truly emulate Ronald Reagan? Isn’t that form a period of time when he was willing to work with Tip O’Neill across the aisle to get stuff done. Isn’t that want more than anything else – not just principles but action.

Cruz: Well I’ll tell you, number one, as I travel the country, I haven’t seen anyone saying the thing we want of Republicans is to give in more to Barack Obama and the direction we’re going. I don’t hear that across the country.

Colbert: But are those aspects of Reagan something you could agree with? Raising taxes and amnesty for illegal immigrants? Could you agree with Reagan on those two things?

Cruz:  No of course not.

Colbert: Alright.

CruzBut Ronald Reagan also signed the largest tax cut in history. He reduced government regulations from Washington. And economic growth exploded. You know when Reagan came in – from 1978 to 1982, economic growth averaged less than one percent a year. here’s only one other four-year period where that’s true. It’s true from 2008 to 2012, and what Reagan did, he cut taxes, he cut regulations, he unchained small businesses and economic growth boomed, millions of people were lifted out of poverty into prosperity and the middle class.

Colbert: But when conditions changed in the country, he reversed his world’s largest tax cut and he raised taxes when revenues did not match the expectations. So it’s a matter of compromising. Will you be willing to compromise with the other side, because I would say it’s possible, it’s entirely possible that your plan might be the right one. If it turns out not to be the right one, would you be willing to compromise with the other side, change your mind and do something that the other side wants and not feel like you capitulated with the devil?

 

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Cruz: So my attitude …

Colbert: Is it possible, because you’re  religious man, you’re  religious man. And I, dabble. But would you believe that it’s important not to call the other side the devil?

Cruz: Absolutely, there’s nothing diabolical about you.

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Colbert:  What about your opponents politically? Are they diabolical?

Cruz: Of course not and, in fact, my response in politics when others throw rocks and insults, I don’t respond in kind. And in fact, when others …

Colbert: It’s true. You haven’t.

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Cruz: And that’s true of both Republicans and Democrats. When others attack me, I make a point of keeping the focus on substance, keeping the focus on how do we turn this country around. People are fed up. They want jobs and economic growth, and you know, you mentioned before, you said, “Cruz, you’re a very conservative guy,” and what I’m fighting are very simple principles – live within our means, stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids, follow the Constitution …

Colbert: And no gay marriage.

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Cruz: No, actually, let’s be precise. Under the Constitution …

Colbert: Yes.

Cruz: Marriage is a question for the state.

Colbert: It doesn’t mention marriage in the Constitution.

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Cruz: We have had a country for over 200 years …

Colbert: So you may be right, but it doesn’t mention marriage in the Constitution.

Cruz: And that’s exactly why it is a question for the states, because the Tenth Amendment says, if it doesn’t mention it, then it’s a question for the states. That’s in the Bill of Rights. Everything that is not mentioned, is left to the states. So, if you want to change the marriage laws …

Colbert: I’m asking what you want.

Cruz: I believe in democracy. I believe in democracy and I don’t think we should …

(At this point there is some hissing for the audience, and Colbert gestures for them to stop.)

Colbert: No, no, guys, guys, however you feel, he’s my guest so please don’t boo him.

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Cruz: I don’t think we should entrust governing our society to five unelected lawyers in Washington. Why would you possibly hand over the rights of 320 million Americans to five lawyers in Washington to say, “we’re going to decide the rule that govern you.” If you want to win an issue, win at the ballot box. Go to the ballot box. That’s the way the Constitution was designed.

Meanwhile, Wendy Davis was part of a panel on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell last night, defending Planned Parenthood, standing up for Hillary Clinton and suggested that the the Cruz-led strategy to defund Planned Parenthood even at risk of shutting down the government was “political demagoguery of the very worst and most dangerous kind.”

She said Republicans were trying to rewrite, on a national scale, “the exact chapter written in our history books” in Texas, in which, “over 150,000 real women lost the only health care they have.”

Politically, she said, Republicans were hurting themselves in a manner that would be hard to recover from.

She was also asked about recent comments on Muslims made by Republican presidential candidates.

Davis: What’s fascinating is that they seem not to have learned from the last presidential election, their exclusionary conversations created real problems for them.

David also did a Q-and-A for Rolling Stone with Lauren Kelly.

She said she’s launching a new “women’s equality initiative.”

Davis: It’s still in the planning stages. But when I came out of the gubernatorial campaign, I reflected on, “What do I want to do now?” because this is the first time in 16 years that I haven’t been in public office. Not being in office – not having my state senate seat – was much harder than losing that gubernatorial election, because I care so very much about these issues. I gave some thought to, “How do I continue to play a role?” And I just listened for a while, to my own inner voice and to what was happening around me, and I took note of the fact that I continue to have a real audience with young women – millennials in general, but particularly young women, who continue, regardless of where I am, to come up to me and say, “Thank you, please don’t give up, we need you to fight for us.” I paid attention to that, and decided I should use this platform that I have to engage millennials and hopefully to help them see the valuable role they have in the political process.

She said she hopes to run for office again:

Davis: I have no particular path in mind at this point. I am simply keeping myself open for opportunities that make sense.

And she had this to say about Carly Fiorina in the context of the campaign against Planned Parenthood:

Davis: It’s really fascinating to observe. It’s particularly interesting to see some of the follow-up editorial commentary about Carly Fiorina and her performance at the last debate. Did she shine in terms of being articulate and intelligent? Absolutely, and I applaud her for that. I love to see women take a national stage and do well. But she also completely betrayed the real issues and concerns of so many women in this country. We can agree to disagree on abortion. We all need to remember that it is constitutionally protected, just like Second Amendment gun rights are constitutionally protected, and yet it receives so much less support in the Republican Party as a whole. But for every one of those candidates, including Carly Fiorina, to adamantly support the idea of de-funding the non-abortion services of Planned Parenthood is an absolute betrayal to hundreds of thousands of women in this country who are going to be impacted by it.

 

Tall in the saddle: Will Hailer reflects on 20 months astride the Texas Democratic Party

Good morning Austin:

Will Hailer is a stand-up guy, and when he stands up, he is six-foot, eight-inches tall.

“It take a big man to do a big job,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party would say. It was Hinojosa who hired Hailer as executive director of the state party in May of 2013. As the bio put out by the party at the time described Hailer:

Will Hailer (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Will Hailer
(RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Will comes to Texas from Minnesota where he served as Campaign Manager and later District Director for Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-05). Will got his political start doing grassroots community organizing with the late Senator Paul Wellstone. He has been active in the campaigns of hundreds of Democratic candidates in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and Virginia. Will has fundraised for candidates in 25 states and is a veteran of recounts of Al Franken and Mark Dayton and has done caucus-organizing work for the Dean, Edwards, and Clinton campaigns as well as several gubernatorial and congressional candidates.

Hailer left the job at the end of last year, to move to Arlington, Virginia, and join BerlinRosen Public Affairs as a vice president in their campaign and creative services division. Last week, the party named Hailer’s successor, Crystal Kay Perkins:Crystal Perkins

A native of San Antonio, TX, and veteran of numerous statewide and local campaigns, Crystal Perkins returns to Texas after serving as the National Financial Director for Mark Schauer for Governor of Michigan. Crystal worked in numerous states for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and on campaigns in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan. She graduated from Texas State University.

On the eve of that announcement,I sat down with Hailer last week to talk about his 20-month tenure as executive director of the state party, which he is still advising during the transition.

Our conversation began as follows:

Q – Why did you decide to leave before your mission was accomplished?

A- Like George Bush I hung the Mission Accomplished banner too soon. It was three days before the election. We hung the banner after the Battleground/Jeremy Bird memo that everything was right in the world.

That is a very droll answer, very funny, a reference to what may have been the low point of last fall’s campaign (at least until the votes were counted) –  the election eve memo from Battleground Texas founder Jeremy Bird suggesting that the Wendy Davis campaign was in a “fight to the finish,” when every indication was that it was already finished. It made national headlines when Bird had to almost immediately send out a revised memo acknowledging he had got some of his numbers wrong.

From  Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post:

At a minimum, Battleground Texas — the data-driven operation founded by Obama campaign veterans — appears to have some trouble with numbers.

It suffered an embarrassment on Friday after it circulated a chest-thumping memo claiming that early-vote totals in the Lone Star State showed turnout running 36 percent ahead of the same period during the last governor’s race four years ago.

In the memo, Battleground Texas senior adviser Jeremy Bird, who was national field director of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, wrote:  “The early vote numbers this year are very encouraging for [gubernatorial nominee] Wendy Davis and the Democratic ticket – and all signs point to this being a fight to the finish.”

A few days later, Davis lost to Greg Abbott by 20 percentage points.

{I pause here to provide Will with an opportunity to critique what’s above. On reading it this morning, he wrote me:

I don’t think it is a fair characterization to say that the mission accomplished mention was about Jeremy Bird or the memo at all. More an internal joke/reflection about our hope to have spurred the demographic changes and buck the voting trends earlier than the several cycles we all showed up knowing it would take. Throughout the conversation I talked about the successes of Battleground’s work throughout this cycle. The millions of canvass attempts, the fact that everyone worked together on targets and prioritization of turf and that we were all using the system. The energy that was created this cycle started with Jeremy and Jenn and was rounded out by a great slate, great partners and thousands of volunteers. Battleground Texas, in my mind, is critical to the future efforts in Texas and an essential component to that work.}

(Meanwhile, for a critical in-depth look at what went wrong with Battleground Texas and its fraught future in Texas politics, read Christopher Hooks, Losing Ground, in the Texas Observer.)

Nonetheless, Hailer said, “Everything we set out to do as a state party except for statewide wins we were able to accomplish in 2014.”

Of course, that would make for an unwieldy banner. And it is easy to roll one’s eyes at a political operative who says that, aside from the part about winning, he did a great job.

But Hailer says, it’s true, and the Texas Democratic Party is in immeasurably better shape than it was when he arrived.

That includes raising money, dramatically staffing up, better coordinating Democratic efforts, and re-establishing the party’s credibility as a force to be reckoned with

“A huge goal was to make ourselves relevant to the conversation where we were able to put pressure on the Republicans and what they were advocating,” Hailer said.

Of the 2014 statewide campaign, he said, “There was a real excitement about Wendy and Leticia. The chair and I were certainly big proponents of it and we thought there was a real chance for them to win. I don’t really regret that we were kind of cheerleaders for that because there were pathways for those candidates to win and I thought we had a really, really strong ticket for the first time in a long time. But I think a lot of what the party was hoping to accomplish, and I thought other organizations too – Battleground Texas, the Texas Organizing Project – was pinned on the idea of wins and the reality is that Texas is going to take a couple of cycles in order to be able to move in a good direction.”

But, he said, “the thing that people are going to fail to realize is just how much was accomplished.”

Among the accomplishments, Hailer said, was getting rid of some of the dead wood of Democratic Party politics in Texas.

This cycle, he said, “folks who  did good work in Texas were rewarded for doing good work. Folks who  historically have done bad work in Texas, regional consultants that had never won or people who had made bad mail products weren’t really part of the equation any more.”

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the party fielded a staff of some 350 people, he said, compared to “15 maybe 20 people” in the past.

He said they succeeded in thwarting some of the Abbott’s campaign’s grander ambitions for the Rio Grande Valley.

“Abbott had set a goal to win Cameron County and get 45 percent in Hidalgo County. The state party and Battleground worked incredibly closely there and Abbott did not meet those goals in the valley.”

Hailer said that while the Bill White campaign boasted about knocking on the door or calling some 700,000 Texas voters in 2010, in 2014 the field effort led by Battleground Texas made more than 10 million contacts.

But Steve Munisteri, the Texas Republican Party chairman, has said those contacts were too indiscriminate and their tracking indicates it boomeranged in his party’s favor.

In a piece in Politico Magazine – How We Won Texas – Abbott adviser Dave Carney said their campaign’s watchwords were “measure outputs, not inputs.”

Munisteri is about to relinquish the reins of the state party and go to work for Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.

“I really like Steve,” said Hailer, who was often paired with Munisteri in media appearances. “I think he did a really good job. I think Republicans are going to be weaker without him as chair  I think the Republican Party really is dead in Texas, even though they are successful at winning elections.”

“What I mean by that, I think it’s really controlled by a group of mostly tea party folks and I think there are a few kind of establishment Republicans left, but the tea party is alive and well in Texas and controls the Republican Party, and I think if Texas had compulsory voting, if everybody in Texas had to vote, Texas would be a blue state, and I think at the end of the day, our failure was not to communicate a message that drove people out to vote, to take time off from the  second shift or stop by the voting location before they picked up their kids from soccer, or not watch the newest rendition of The Voice. You know, Texas is a place where voting opportunities are fairly open – minus voter ID –  but if you’re eligible and able to vote with an appropriate ID, you can vote for two weeks before. I know I voted at the grocery store two blocks from my house, so I think, there was kind of a message failure.”

But Hailer said the cracks in the Republican Party will become more apparent with Munisteri’s departure. “He’s very smart, he’s very good with numbers, he’s very good at looking at data and understanding the data and I think he put together a program that kept the far right from going too crazy. I think he ran a good shop here in Texas.”

Of the results in November, Hailer said, “It  was definitely a wave election and there are some times where there are things entirely outside your control. I do think to a decent extent – and I know that a lot of folks don’t like to say this publicly – but a lot of the anti-Democratic fervor is because we have a black president and I think it’s disappointing to see.”

He said he felt that President Obama especially hasn’t gotten enough credit for the nation’s economic rebound. “The president had inherited one of the worst economic times in history from George Bush and has really done a good job and I don’t think Democrats did a good job of talking about that.”

“Democrats failed in the South, and I don’t think it’s just Texas, but Democrats failed in to have an economically populist message that inspires people to go out and vote. If you’re working two or three jobs, if you’re a rural Texan who has seen  your wages slashed, you needed someone to come out and talk about your pocketbook and talk about how you are doing to make sure wages are going to continue to increase in Texas. I think that one of the unfortunate things about some of the economic growth we’ve seen from Rick Perry in Texas is that some of those jobs he has created are so low paid, you need two or three of them to earn a decent living.”

The party, Hailer said, needs to stress issues like the minimum wage, utility rates, property taxes. He said that polling the state party did immediately after the election “found that Democrats weren’t as strong as Republicans on pocketbook issues,” that even on once bedrock Democratic issues of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, “we weren’t as strong as Republicans, and that’s terrifying”

street_02
SABO’s Abortion Barbie street art

“We need to reset the Republican frame on Democrats.” He said that Republicans had succeeded in casting Davis as “abortion Barbie.”

“Republicans did a good job of making it seem like her agenda was a pro-abortion agenda. I think Republicans did  a really good job of putting Democrats in a social issues fame. I think for Democrats to be successful long term in the South we have to recapture that frame, and I don’t think that’s all that difficult. A lot of Texans,  they are very libertarian on these issues. They don’t want the government interfering in the bedroom. They  don’t want the government in their medical decisions.

“If we reset that frame, I think we’re going to end up being very successful.”

Hailer also said it would have been better for Davis if the state party or other groups outside her campaign proper, had shouldered more of the burden of running the negative ads against Abbott.

“I felt it was unfortunate that Wendy felt that all the negative ads had to come from her campaign. At the very end we did an attack on ad on Dan Patrick on behalf of Leticia Van de Putte’s campaign, and I think more of that coming not from the candidates would have been very helpful. In most states, the most   negative ads come from a party or outside organizations, and the most positive ads from the candidates. I also think Wendy didn’t define herself through paid communication early enough to contrast with the Republican frame of who she was. I would have loved to see an ad early on with Wendy and her two incredible daughters. There needed to be some positive framing, but when you start out several million dollars behind you had to make risky decisions and they probably made the best decision at the time that they could have made.”

(On the other hand, I’m not sure how much of an effort Davis made, or could have made, to escape the frame that was established by the filibuster that made her the star that she was. Consider the publication of her memoir last fall, which only served to bring the abortion issues back center stage.

Or this new video,  from her new gig.)

 

The Texas Democratic Party also had a difficult relationship with David Alameel, the party’s self-financed candidate for the U.S Senate.

As the Texas Monthly’s Erica Grieder reported here, Alameel ended his campaign with a flourish of criticism of the state party.

Hailer, in turned called Alameel the “Worst.Candidate.Ever.”

David Alameel at the Democratic State Convention
David Alameel at the Democratic State Convention

With a couple of months distance, Hailer said he respects Alameel’s willingness to put himself out there, and said that, “Alameel actually had a really strong message on economic issues.”

But he said, “I feel like Alameel was misled by his closest advisers. A lot of people in the primary made a lot of money off of David Alameel. He had two consultants specifically who each made more than $500,000 off of David Alameel. One was a county chair (Bexar County Chair Manuel Medina)  and one was a state rep (Yvonne Davis of Dallas),  and I think that was really unfortunate.”

For all his spending, Hailer said, Alameel still couldn’t win the party’s nomination without a runoff against a LaRouchie who was calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

“He was bad for the ticket,” Hailer said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hailer said he felt that first-time candidate Mike Collier, who ran for comptroller, was a superstar.

“Mike was the least politician political candidate I’ve ever seen but people were always just incredibly excited to see him,” Hailer said.  “I hope Mike Collier would run for governor in 2018. I know he’s not crazy enough to be talked into the idea because he’s a very rational, smart person, but Mike had a message that if we could box up and give it to candidates all across the South, we would be winning back state houses and governors’ mansions. I think Mike has a very strong, pro-business, pro-worker economic message. How he framed economic security was sometimes above everybody’s head in the room, but he was always able to bring it back down in a very simple way. He was approached by Republicans to run as a Republican. This was a guy who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. But he said, `I’m a Democrat, I believe in these core values and that’s where the Democratic Party is at.'”

Hailer, who is a consultant on Van de Putte’s campaign for mayor of San Antonio, said she too is a superstar, a natural campaigner done in by a woefully under-financed campaign for lieutenant governor.

Finally, asked about Rick Perry’s prospects as a presidential candidate, Hailer said, “Rick Perry has a better of chance of going to jail, though he may not go there because, (former Virginia Gov.) Bob McDonnell excepted, most folks don’t like putting politicians in jail.”

“I think Rick Perry’s rebranding of himself has failed miserably,” Hailer said. “He can travel across the world and talk to a lot of smart people but, to use my favorite Texas expression, he’s all hat and no cattle.”

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Gov. Abbott released this list of Grammy winners with Texas roots.

Texas 57th Annual GRAMMY® Award Winners:

  • Beyoncé (Houston)

Best R&B Performance for Drunk In Love (featuring Jay Z)

Best R&B Song for Drunk In Love

Best Surround Sound Album for Beyoncé

 

  • Miranda Lambert (Lindale)

Best Country Album for Platinum

 

  • St. Vincent (Dallas)

Best Alternative Music Album for St. Vincent

 

  • Johnny Winter (Beaumont)

Best Blues Album for Step Back

 

  • Dean Blackwood (Austin)

Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for The Rise & Fall Of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27) (with Susan Archie & Jack White)

 

  • Robert Glasper Experiment (Houston)

Best Traditional R&B Performance for Jesus Children (featuring Lalah Hathaway & Malcolm Jamal Warner)

 

  • Craig Hella Johnson, conductor Conspirare (Austin)

Best Choral Performance for The Sacred Spirit of Russia

 

  • Lecrae (Houston)

Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for Messengers (Featuring For King & Country)

 

  • Aaron W. Lindsey (Houston)

Best Gospel Performance/Song for No Greater Love (with Smokie Norful)

 

  • Pentatonix (Arlington)

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for Daft Punk

 

  • Flaco Jimenez (San Antonio)

Lifetime Achievement Award

 

 

And finally, this, form Michele Bachmann.

 

 

 

O Pappy where art thou? What Wendy Davis could have learned from W. Lee O’Daniel

And here is another opponent, W. Lee O’Daniel who flashed like a comet across the Texas political scene.

Lady Bird Johnson, narrating her home movie of the 1941 special election for the U.S. Senate, the only election LBJ ever lost.

"Pass the biscuits, Pappy," was the slogan of O'Daniel's Hillbilly Flour. Here, Governor O'Daniel enjoys some fried chicken and a glass of milk. (Texas State LIbrary and Archives)
“Pass the biscuits, Pappy,” was the slogan of O’Daniel’s Hillbilly Flour. Here, Governor O’Daniel enjoys some fried chicken and a glass of milk. (Texas State LIbrary and Archives)

Good morning Austin:

W. Lee O’Daniel was not just another opponent, as Lady Bird described him in her droll  narration. Three years earlier, out of nowhere and almost on a whim – or by popular demand – he ran for governor and was the runaway winner.

As the New York Times wrote in his obituary:

Uphold the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, pass the biscuits and industrialize Texas. With those three simple planks in his platform, and considerable bravura, Pappy O’Daniel stormed upon the national political scene in 1938 like Sam Houston winning the battle of San Jacinto.

In his 2004 photo book, Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy, Austin writer Bill Crawford put it this way:

Like a bottle rocket whistling against the North Texas sky, the arc of W. Lee “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” O’Daniel’s political career was startling, flashy, and brief. O’Daniel was a songwriting flour salesman who launched the career of country music legend Bob Willis. Within four years, O’Daniel won two elections for governor, and two for U.S. senator, defeating Lyndon Baines Johnson in Johnson’s first Senate race. O’Daniel was a Texas version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a media superstar who became an electoral terminator. What made Pappy’s ballot-box muscle even more amazing than Arnold’s was that he was an Ohio-born Republican sympathizer in an all-Democratic state who wasn’t even registered to vote when he launched his first political campaign.

A typical huge rally scene shows how Pappy O'Daniel drew rural crowds with color, excitement, and showmanship. (Texas State Library and Archives)
A typical huge rally scene shows how Pappy O’Daniel drew rural crowds with color, excitement, and showmanship. (Texas State Library and Archives)

When Pappy decided to turn for governor in 1938 as a way to sell more flour – a fact he proudly proclaimed throughout the campaign – the people of Texas voted for him in record numbers.

This photo captures something of the excitement that an O'Daniel rally brought to a small Texas town, in which hundreds turned out to see him in spite of rain. (Texas State Library and Archives)
This photo captures something of the excitement that an O’Daniel rally brought to a small Texas town, in which hundreds turned out to see him in spite of rain.
(Texas State Library and Archives)

More from Crawford:

If, as H.L. Mencken observed, American politics is a “carnival of buncombe,” then Pappy O’Daniel was one of its greatest carnies.

An estimated 250,000 people cheered Pappy’s cavalcade as he drove from Fort Worth to the capital city of Austin for his inauguration on January 17, 1939. On several occasions, schoolchildren ran out into the road, blocking traffic and forcing O’Daniel to say a few words to his supporters. The inauguration, described by the press as “the greatest fanfare and show of pomp ever witnessed in the state,” attracted a crowd of 100,000.

He was, Crawford writes, “the greatest vote getter in Texas history.”

In The Path to Power, Johnson biographer Robert Caro describes LBJ’s effort to compete with O’Daniel on his own terms.

O’Daniel had made good use of a band. For Johnson’s rallies , a six-man swing ensemble was chosen, by audition, from the best musicians in Houston and named The Patriots. To offset the appeal of O’Daniel’s Texas Rose, two hundred-eighty-five-pound Sophie Parker, “The Kate Smith of the South,” was hired, along with a thinner, notably shapely , country and western alto. Blackface comedians were hired as were dancing girls. Pete Smith and His Accordion, a fifteen-year-old champion harmonica player, and the best master of ceremonies in Texas, handsome, golden-voiced Harfield Weedin. Theses performers – together with a second musical organization, a twenty-four-man “big band,” which was used at the largest rallies – were dressed in red, white and blue.

And, Caro wrote of O’Daniel:

To his opponents’ charge that since he had no platform, he had no reason for running, he replied that there was indeed a reason; the reason he said was them. The principal reason he was running, he said, was to throw them – the “professional politicians” – out of Austin.

This theme touched a deep chord in government-hating Texas, where distrust of politicians had been heightened by the dichotomy between the state’s new-found and rapidly growing natural wealth and the poverty of its government.

There was a moment in late June of 2013 when it seemed that Wendy Davis, swept along by forces beyond anyone’s control, seemed to the have Pappy potential.

As the Texas Observer’s Christopher Hooks wrote in Slate right after the filibuster:

Texas politics favors the theatrical. “Pappy” O’Daniel, the flour-milling Depression-era governor, won his position on the strength of his Western swing band. Texas Democrats idolize Ann Richards, the wise-cracking, tough-talking former governor and the last Democrat to hold the position. She was liberal, and she was a winner. Her ghost has totemic importance for Texas Democrats. For whatever reason-whether it be the state’s historically ingrained imbalances of party power, or an emphasis on individualism that outstrips that of most other parts of the country-showmanship is virtually a requirement for political office.

Pappy O'Daniel and the Hillbilly Boys. For all his failings politically and personally, Pappy O'Daniel was undeniably an important figure in the development of Western Swing. Because of his talent for publicity and his business acumen, the Light Crust Doughboys and the Hillbilly Boys became nationally recognized as among the most talented and innovative of all the Western Swing bands. While the musicians would remember O'Daniel as unfair, selfish, and ruthless in his dealings with them, they also gave him credit for bringing the joyful Texas sound to a national audience. (Texas State Library and Archives)
Pappy O’Daniel and the Hillbilly Boys. For all his failings politically and personally, Pappy O’Daniel was undeniably an important figure in the development of Western Swing. Because of his talent for publicity and his business acumen, the Light Crust Doughboys and the Hillbilly Boys became nationally recognized as among the most talented and innovative of all the Western Swing bands. While the musicians would remember O’Daniel as unfair, selfish, and ruthless in his dealings with them, they also gave him credit for bringing the joyful Texas sound to a national audience.
(Texas State Library and Archives)

So when state Sen. Wendy Davis took to the Texas Senate floor Tuesday in pink tennis shoes for what would become a 10-hour talking filibuster to try to derail one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the country, she was drawing on a lengthy political tradition. But as the day went on – as the level of national attention grew, from President Obama to Judy Blume to the nearly 200,000 people who watched online as the midnight deadline loomed -i t became clear that something was happening that was bigger than the bill itself. It was also something of a séance. And though Ann Richards’ memory was summoned, the day animated a body much more moribund: the state Democratic Party of Texas

Wendy the Valliant.
Wendy the Valliant.

It was an extraordinary, historic moment, a Hollywood moment with a star from central casting, inspiriting and exhilarating Democrats in Texas and across the nation. Davis really had no choice but to seize a once-in-a-lifetime moment and run for governor. But, it would turn out, Davis didn’t have Pappy’s staying power. If O’Daniel’s trajectory was, as Lady Bird would have it, that of a comet, Davis proved to be a shooting star.

 

IMG_2907
Early promise
Parking lot. Yellow Jacket Social Club.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now that the 2014 gubernatorial election is behind us, it is safe to acknowledge that, even before the 2014 election turned into a Democratic rout nationally, the outcome was never very much in doubt and that the respective campaigns – and all the attendant coverage – had very little impact on the outcome. The mutual vanity of consultants and political reporters is that they are consequential in the outcomes of political campaigns. The difference is that the consultants are better remunerated for their self-regard.

 

From Rice University political scientist John Alford:

The prediction for this midterm 9 months out was Rs up 10-15 in the US House, Rs take control of US Senate, Rs win all Texas statewides.  It’s a second midterm, and the Democratic President is unpopular – bad year for Democrats.  The economy is good, but 30-year-old political science research shows that while a bad economy hurts the party of the president, a good economy doesn’t help – i.e. the impact of economic conditions on midterm elections is asymmetric.  A purely structural explanation and widely predicted before the primaries, based entirely on research that is mostly 30-40 years old.  That’s exactly what happened, but the pundits still feel the need to explain why it was a bad year based on the specific candidates, issues, strategies, etc.  I listened to an NPR post-election show with several senior political commentators and the show started with a very brief acknowledgement of the fact that this was destined to be a bad year for Democrats based solely on structural factors.  After that came extensive analysis from these smart, experienced, and deeply informed folks and I don’t think a single thing they said was actually empirically true.

And here from FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten over the weekend, under the headline, Wendy Davis’s Campaign Was Bad, But That Probably Didn’t Matter:

To the surprise of few non-partisans with the slightest bit of electoral awareness, Democrat Wendy Davis lost the Texas gubernatorial election to Republican Greg Abbott. Davis, as I wrote on multiple occasions, had basically no chance of winning because Texas voters are deeply conservative. Still, campaign memos leaked this week to the Texas Tribune suggest that Davis’s campaign manager ignored advice from consultants in the early part of 2014, leading to a campaign that was “far worse than it should have been.”

So was Davis’s campaign really that bad? Statistically speaking, she definitely lost support over the course of the election cycle, though it’s not entirely clear how much of a difference that loss made in the final result.

Davis was always trailing Abbott in the polls. But the longer she was on the campaign trail, the worse she did.

 

enten-datalab-wendydavis-1

Davis’ gubernatorial campaign peaked three months before it began, with her filibuster. From the moment she formally launched her campaign, it appeared to be an exercise in negative branding. Again from FiveThirtyEight:

 

enten-datalab-wendy-davis-2

In other words, Davis ended up getting something less than the base Democratic vote. Not good. Jim Hogan, running for agriculture commissioner, did a great service by providing what amounted to a real-world control experiment. He raised no money. He did not campaign. He simply got his name on the ballot as the Democrat running against Sid Miller for agriculture commissioner and received 37 percent of the vote, two points less than Davis.

The 2014 election nationally had the lowest turnout in 72 years, since World War II, since Pappy O’Daniel roamed the campaign trail.

The starkest statistic of the Davis campaign is not the 20 percentage point margin by which she lost – vastly larger than former Houston Mayor Bill White’s 12.7 point loss four years ago to Gov Rick Perry – but how she lost it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott did not much improve on Perry’s performance – he received only 53,246 more votes than Perry out of a larger potential electorate. But Davis received 274,148 fewer votes than White, who has all the dynamism of Ferris Beuller’s high school economics teacher, and even though Davis would regularly remind voters at campaign appearance that her candidacy had generated more excitement than any Democratic candidate for governor in decades.

Ben Stein played Ferris Bueller's economics teacher.
Ben Stein played Ferris Beuller’s economics teacher.

The reason that the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas are catching so much grief is not so much the dismal outcome, but that they raised hopes that this year might be at least a smidge different for Democrats.

But what I begrudge the Davis campaign – and election 2014 more generally – is what a grim and joyless affair it was. I think Wendy Davis should have looked at the fact that she had almost no chance of winning as liberating, rather than daunting.

I suspect one of the reasons so few people vote is because campaigns are so damn boring. Who said that the pageant of democracy had to be so deadly dull. I think one of the failures of the Davis campaign was that, despite the strength of her Texas story, she never sold it.

Instead of just talking about her family’s roots in Muleshoe, out past Lubbock on the New Mexico line, she should have walked – or ridden on horseback – there.

She could have started in the Rio Grande Valley. Walking from McAllen to Muleshoe is 614 miles. From Muleshoe back to Fort Worth is 327 miles. With a little side trip here and here, that’s 1,000 miles. She could have promoted it with, “A thousand mile journey begins with a single step,” and “She stood for you, now walk with her.” (And if people complained that she shouldn’t be employing all these standing and walking images in a campaign against a man in a wheelchair – well, too bad.)

She could have raised money by having people sponsor her by the mile, without ever having to leave Texas.

At the end of each day she could have raffled off the shoes she wore that day, and called it (and I know I’m stealing this, but I don’t know from whom) “a women’s right to shoes.”

And walking a thousand miles? That is totally doable. It’s been done, by politicians, to great effect.

Lawton Chiles first won election to the U.S. Senate on the strength of a 91-day hike from the top of Florida to the bottom. From Chiles’ obit in the Washington Post

Washington first saw Gov. Chiles as a politician who came out of nowhere–actually, out of Lakeland, Fla.–to win a Senate seat by hiking 1,033 miles from the panhandle town of Century down to the Florida Keys. Dressed in khakis, he walked the state for three months, shaking every hand in sight and filling nine thick notebooks with the thoughts of voters he met along the way. Some quipped that he hugged the middle of that road, rarely making anything like a controversial statement or taking a surprising stand.

He’s not the only politician to walk his way into office. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander credits his 1,000-mile walk across Tennessee for getting him elected governor in 1978.

Davis could have stayed at the homes of supporters all along the way, a la Jimmy Carter.

As Jeff Greenfield recalled:

Making a virtue out of necessity, Carter’s financially challenged campaign drew attention to the candidate’s humility. He stayed at the homes of supporters, where he made his own bed; shared rooms with aides at low-cost motels; and carried his own garment bag.

Or, she could have found that trailer she briefly lived in as a young women, or a reasonable facsimile, and had it dragged along behind her, staying it in each night. If JFK gave supporters coveted PT 109 pins, Davis could have provided donors with tiny trailer replica pins – hard plastic for $25 contributors, tin for $100, silver for $1,000, gold for $10,000, and diamond encrusted for $100,000 or more.

And – here is where she could have really taken a page from Pappy’s playbook – every few nights on the road, have a tent revival meeting. Before setting out, she could have had auditions for Wendy Davis and her Light Crust Doughgals all across the state, a la American Idol, – in  Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Port Arthur (a bow to Janis Joplin), Brownsville, Laredo, El Paso and Amarillo.

She should have challenged Abbott to debates all across the state, and when he refused, she could have debated an empty wheelchair, a la Clint Eastwood at the 2012 Republican National Convention. (Oh, you say, you can’t possibly use an empty wheelchair in the campaign. Well, the Davis campaign proved that, in fact, you can, though it’s not clear to what effect.)

Instead of just saying she was for open carry, and having folks on both sides of the issue mock her, she could have made “anything you can do I can do better” shooting contests a part of her tent shows. Annie’s List is fine, but what about Annie Oakley’s List?

And instead of whining about Greg Abbott campaigning with Ted Nugent, what about pitching a Ted Nugent-Lena Dunham cage match. OK, maybe that’s not a good idea.

But Davis could have good use of the rest of the underfunded and relatively unknown statewide ticket. Former El Paso Mayor John Cook actually played guitar and sang Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down at the Democratic State Convention in Dallas, so he clearly would have been game. Comptroller candidate Mike Collier could have wowed the crowd with his dry CPA wit, three-piece suit and chalkboard math demonstrating Republican’s budgetary hijinks. Attorney General candidate Sam Houston could have done his impression of, well, Sam Houston.

And Leticia Van de Putte?

The most self-defeating and inexplicable aspect of the whole Wendy Davis campaign was the failure to take advantage of the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

Davis and Van de Putte should have campaigned side-by-side across the state. They needed each other. Van de Putte needed the exposure, needed to let Texans know who she was and that, notwithstanding her married name, she was actually Hispanic. And Davis desperately needed the Van de Putte touch. Van de Putte is warm and approachable and spontaneous where Davis is cool and distant and canned. It was Van de Putte who, arriving late in the filibuster after burying her father, delivered the killer line – “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”- that threw the gallery into pandemonium and won the day for the Democrats.

In my imagination, Van de Putte would arrive at the tent meetings with Little Joe y La Familia, or another crack Tejano ensemble. When Van de Putte announced she was running for lieutenant governor, she said “I want to be your lieutenant governor because Mama ain’t happy — because Texas, we can do better.”

I envision that becoming a call and response with the tent show crowds.

Sometimes she would start it: “Mama Ain’t Happy!”

And the crowd would roar back: “We can do better!”

Another time some exuberant soul in the crowd might start it, shouting toward the stage, “Mama Ain’t Happy!,” and Van de Putte would answer, “We can do better!”

The revivals would end with Davis and Van de Putte raising each other’s arms in a bicultural sisterhood-is-powerful tableau.

Instead, they were only rarely on the same stage together. Why? One theory is that Davis didn’t want to be upstaged, as she was when the two appeared, one after the other, at the Democratic State Convention. And that’s about the only theory I’ve heard.

Davis needed to establish her Texas bona fides. She didn’t need to make them up. They were real. But first she undermined her story by overstating it. Then her campaign never ran a positive bio ad. And, finally, down the stretch, she released, “Forgetting to be Afraid: A Memoir,” which generated headlines about her two terminated pregnancies and her depressed mother’s placing little Wendy and her two siblings in the trunk of their car with the intention of turning on the engine and killing hersel and them. Yikes.

When she went on Good Morning America to talk about her book, it was not to advance her campaign to transform Texas. It was to deliver, “Pink Sneaker Mom’s Dramatic Revelations.”

 

 

On Good Morning America talking about her memoir.
On Good Morning America talking about her memoir.

 

It is true that nothing Davis might have done would have made much of a difference. But still, what a missed opportunity.

From John Alford at Rice:

I think that when you know from the start that you are going to lose and lose big, then it’s all about the ride.  There must be something between the minimalist Danish furniture campaign that Hogan ran and the deadly serious baroque opera that Davis starred in.  The results of the two campaigns are only separated by a couple tiny percentage points, and in between lies the likely result of a hell of statewide moving cocktail party of the soul.  The one thing that both the Davis and Hogan campaigns shared is that they were no damn fun.  It’s a short life and boring is unforgivable.

I close with Lady Bird’s home movie on the 1941 campaign. It is well worth watching, and her narration really is terrific.

Here she is, for example, on Pappy’s use of music.

And this is his band. A famous word about it was he used to when he’d come to a question that he didn’t know quite how to get into he’d say, “Strike up a piece!” And here comes “Strike up a piece, Leon!” 

And her commentary concludes with this:

 The last sequence of the film is lost. It was just about my favorite, lost somewhere in the last 20 years, and 20 or more moves. It was Lyndon in a ruffled seersucker suit, but a very jaunty smile and a jaunty walk, going out to catch a plane to return to Washington in July of 1941. About a month later he cast the vote in the House of Representatives to keep the draft at the urgin of Speaker Sam Rayburn. The vote won by a margin of one. But it was alright that we lost. Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time. Sometimes it seasons you and strengthens you and gives you an opportunity to learn. But I’ll always remember the campaign of 1941 as just about my favorite campaign. 

The only campaign that LBJ ever lost was, Lady Bird said, “just about my favorite campaign.” You got to hand it to Pappy.

 

 

 

Listen: On ad wars in the Texas governor’s race and the politics of Ebola

American-Statesman chief political writer Jonathan Tilove speaks with KUT’s David Brown of the Texas Standard about this week in Texas politics. From ad wars in the governor race to the politics of Ebola, Tilove breaks down the winners and losers. Listen below.