Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis drew a large crowd, decked in orange, to the Palmer Events Center in Austin yesterday evening, on the anniversary of her eleven-hour filibuster against a bill that sought to tighten restrictions on abortions in Texas. From a policy perspective, the filibuster had mixed results: Davis and the Senate Democrats succeeded in delaying a vote until after the midnight deadline, so the bill died–but it was quickly revived, and passed, after Governor Rick Perry called a second special session. In political terms, though, the filibuster was a coup for Davis. It hugely boosted her name identification among Texans and her fundraising capacity around the country. In October, when Davis announced that she would run for governor, Democrats had high hopes.
A year later, polls show Republican nominee Greg Abbott leading the race by a wide margin. And so Davis used the anniversary to rally the Democratic base—but also, perhaps, to reassure her supporters that whatever the outcome in November, their efforts have not been for nothing. For much of her campaign, Davis has avoided focusing on abortion while struggling to gain ground among moderate voters. Last night, although she left her pink sneakers at home, she spoke just as fervently on the subject as she did one year ago.
“We speak up and we fight back to take our state away from politicians like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick who think that they know better than a woman, her family, her doctor, and her God,” she said.
Davis criticized Abbott for opposing abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and she blamed Republicans in general for denying Texas women access to birth control and cancer screenings in their quest to limit abortions. Since the bill passed during the second special session, she noted, more than a dozen clinics that provided abortions have been shut down.
But those facilities, she argued, aren’t the only thing at stake. She referred to Texas Republican leaders as an “old insider network” and accused them of for exploiting veterans, laying off teachers, and overcrowding Texas classrooms. “As much as we filibustered to fight for reproductive rights and healthcare for women, we filibustered to fight against an abusive power by political insiders who look out for themselves and their allies instead of hard working Texans,” she said.
Davis’ colleague Leticia Van de Putte, now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, also spoke at the event, as did state senator Kirk Watson, state representative Senfronia Thompson, and Cecile Richards, the president ofthe Planned Parenthood Federation of America (and daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards). The crowd greeted each speaker with name-chanting and cheering, and the speakers offered nostalgic accounts from the day of the filibuster, as well as fighting words for the future.“We’re all in,” Richards said, and vowed to do “any damn thing it takes” to restore reproductive rights in Texas.
None of them talked about the polls, or mentioned any of the turbulence in Davis’s campaign, which saw some staff turnover earlier this month. But the candidate herself, encouraging her supporters, seemed to acknowledge the long odds. “You inspired me to believe in something that I had almost forgotten,” Davis said. “That even in tough times, that even if you eventually lose the battle, there is freedom in the fight.”