As Act II of the Wendy Davis show returns to the Capitol, the Democratic state senator has become an instant national star thanks to her filibuster against the Republicans’ abortion legislation last week. When Governor Perry got personal with Davis—”She was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters”—Davis responded that Perry was “bullying women to step up the political ladder” and had showed “disregard for the fact that we all own our personal history.” Davis recognized Perry’s statement for what it was: a gift to the Democrats.
Now that Davis is a star in the making, Democrats would be wise to lower expectations for what comes next for her and her party. All of the problems Democrats have had in Texas over the past decade and a half still haunt them: their failure to win a single statewide race; their precipitous decline in numbers in the state House of Representatives (most notably their disaster in the 2010 elections). The Democratic brand in Texas is badly damaged, and it will take years to repair. A big blow to Democrats was the passage of major tort reform legislation in 2003, which had the effect of making it difficult for plaintiff’s lawyers, the backbone of the party’s fundraising base, to prosper in their profession. If Davis were to make a run for higher office in the election cycle that begins in 2014, Democrats would have to raise something like $50 million to fund the race. They can’t do it. To put it another way, they can’t fund both a major statewide race and improve the number of seats they hold in the Legislature. Their bench is thin; it mostly consists of U.S. House members Marc Veasey, Pete Gallego, and Joaquin Castro and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.
There are other prominent Democrats, such as Paul Hobby, who have run before, but the state is far more Republican than it was when Hobby ran for comptroller in 1998. The Castros are savvy politicians, but until Hispanics begin to vote in greater numbers, their prospects remain limited. Democrats have made some dent into the Anglo vote that dominates state elections, but the Democratic caucus in both houses of the Legislature is still primarily minority, which means that the party hasn’t been able to make inroads among the state’s plurality faction: Anglo Republicans.
As for the second special session, everyone knows the ending of this story line. The Republicans will be more savvy this time, and they will make it more difficult for Democrats to throw sand in the gears. The bill will eventually pass, but not until after some bitter debate. And then 2014 really does begin in earnest.
AP Photo | Eric Gay