With all the strange and incredible things that happened in the Texas Capitol yesterday, there’s one point that’s gone almost unnoticed.
It was the biggest day for Texas Democrats in a generation–people did notice that part–and it could easily have never happened.
Within the past 24 hours or so, the state’s pending abortion bill, which supporters and opponents agreed would severely restrict access to abortion services in Texas, was killed—at least for now. The entire Texas Democratic Party has apparently been reanimated. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, as senators tried to figure out what they had just done—seriously—there were still hundreds of activists packed in the capitol, singing and cheering and, probably, pinching themselves.
And Texas’s long-suffering Democrats should be excited, because for the first time in years they appear to have a realistic shot at winning a statewide executive office in 2014. Wendy Davis, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth, vaulted to national attention yesterday over the course of a long filibuster that will go down in the state history books. She had been widely considered to be thinking about a run for governor before that, but her prospects were daunting: in a state the size of Texas, candidates generally need a lot of money and a lot of name recognition to win a top office. Davis, because of yesterday, suddenly has both–not to mention a lot to talk about on the trail. She is rapidly becoming the most powerful Democrat in the state since Governor Ann Richards, who was elected in 1990 and is the last woman or Democrat to hold that post.
But let’s begin at the beginning.
At hand was the old workhorse of the culture wars: abortion. On June 11th, Governor Rick Perry added that issue to the list of topics legislators could take up during the 30-day special session that would end June 25th, at midnight. (Per Texas law, the Lege can only deal with issues specified by the governor during a special session.)
The announcement was a blow to pro-choice Texans (who are the majority in Texas, as in most states). Several abortion restrictions had been proposed during the regular legislative session, which ran from January