On Tuesday afternoon, toward the end of recording an episode of the National Podcast of Texas, former state senator Wendy Davis detailed a strategy meeting she’d had a few days earlier with Rep. Joaquín Castro. Davis says she encouraged the Democratic congressman from San Antonio to challenge Republican incumbent John Cornyn in the 2020 U.S. Senate race, but she also confirmed that she’s considering a run herself, if Castro chooses not to seek the seat.
“I told him I will do everything I can to share resources and information, raise money, and help campaign for him if he decides to run, and I hope that he will,” says Davis, who ran for governor in 2014, losing to then-attorney general Greg Abbott. “I don’t know yet what his decision will be. And he’s being very thoughtful, of course, about coming to that decision.”
While she monitors the Senate race, Davis’s primary political focus continues to be Deeds Not Words, an advocacy organization she founded in 2016 to encourage young women to participate in politics through organizing, policy-making, and voting. The nonprofit’s missions include ending campus sexual assault, addressing Texas’s rape kit backlog, and supporting women’s reproductive rights. Davis believes that the success of women candidates in the 2018 midterms and the close race Beto O’Rourke ran against Sen. Ted Cruz might spur Republicans in the Texas legislature to be more open to compromises on the issues at the top of her organization’s agenda.
“Republicans are starting to understand that women are voting in much greater percentages than we had been before,” Davis says. “The 2018 midterm was certainly a wakeup call for them. Speaker Bonnen, speaking to a group not long ago, was talking about the fact that Republicans need to fix the problem that they have with women. So I’m hoping, if everyone is coming to work every day in the legislature right now understanding that that’s something they need to do, we’re going to see more bipartisanship.”
On the National Podcast of Texas, Davis discusses “the most pernicious” antiabortion bill filed in the 2019 Texas legislative session, reflects on what she learned from O’Rourke’s campaign, and measures her own growth as a leader and mentor. She also volunteers an account of a recent meeting with Sandra Bullock, who will portray Davis in Let Her Speak, a movie centered on the 2013 Texas Senate filibuster that first brought Davis national attention. Filming could begin later this year.
Some highlights (condensed and edited for clarity):
On the Texas Heartbeat Bill, which would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy
Most people don’t realize they are pregnant, or have the confirmation of a pregnancy, by then. If they do, maybe it’s a week prior. So it would leave women without the capacity to exercise their legal right to abortion. And, of course, that’s the point. I’m encouraged, though, that that bill won’t go very far because Speaker Bonnen referred it to a committee that is chaired by Representative Senfronia Thompson, who is a friend to women’s reproductive rights and who respects the existing constitutional right to access safe and legal abortion. So I feel good right now about where we stand. You never know, though, because I know as a legislator that sometimes, if I couldn’t get a bill through committee, the way I could circumvent that would be to add it as an amendment to something else. So we’re going have to stay really vigilant to see how these anti-abortion bills move through the legislature, even if they don’t see the light of day coming out of committee.
On the current state of play in Texas politics
The midterms were a wake-up call for Republican leaders in Texas. No question about that. And depending on how activated people are in 2020—I think they will be more so than they were in 2018—with President Trump on the ballot, they’ll probably see some further corrections. That’s probably when the real wakeup call is going to come for them. We’re only nine seats away right now from shifting the balance from Democratic minority to Democratic majority in the Texas House. And, of course, only one seat away from again regaining a minority block in the Texas Senate. So we’re talking about having some real power there again.
My advice to Beto was be your authentic self, don’t stack your campaign with pollsters and message managers, and to know in your heart what your message needs to be and what you believe the people in Texas need to hear. And, as long as you’re authentic, they will see that. And even if people don’t agree with you all the time, they will appreciate that you are a person they feel they can trust because you are true to your value. I, of course, cannot take credit for how beautifully he did that. But I’d like to think that he really did take that advice to heart. Because if there’s anything that we can say about his campaign, it was that he was true to his voice, his values. He brought forward a positive message that I think was a great counterbalance to what people feel is broken right now, not just in Texas but in this country. And I think we can expect to see him do the same if he enters the presidential stage. And I believe he will.
On what it will take to run again John Cornyn
When I ran against Greg Abbott, we had to spend an inordinate amount of money and energy trying to help voters in Texas understand who he was, what his values were, and why he would not be a good leader for this state. And it was tough to do because he had never taken a vote before. He’d never been a legislator, and helping [voters] to understand some of the things he had done as attorney general as indicative of what those values look like was hard. He still to this day enjoys the reputation as a pretty decent guy, as opposed to Dan Patrick, who people have very different feelings about. They’ve conducted themselves differently, though the votes and the policies that they support are identical. But it’s the way you conduct yourself that leaves that idea in the minds of voters. John Cornyn, I think, is the same. He’s been more mild in the way he conducts himself personally. However, the things that he’s done as a U.S. senator have been every bit as dangerous, if not more, as things that Ted Cruz has done. Whomever runs against him will have to include, as part of their message to voters, why he’s an unacceptable choice for them in 2020.
On Beto’s 2020 decision
I think the calculus that Beto is going through right now is deciding which race he has the fire in his belly for. His passion in that regard is really what’s going to drive his best effort. And I think that’s been part of his decision-making about where that effort would best be spent. He’s clearly riding a tremendous wave right now. When you’re at the crest of a wave like that, I’m sure he’s going through the calculus of feeling like he needs to see where that will take him. I know that that was a part of my decision-making in 2014 when I ran for governor. Coming out of the filibuster and the national recognition, name identification, and fundraising capacity that that provided for me, it turned out for me that that personal wave was not in alignment with what was happening with the electorate. It was a terrible year for Democrats all over the country. So I think, at this point, Beto is able to grab some lightning in both contexts—not only what’s happening with him personally, but also the climate. And that’s when magic happens.
There are some people that just have a talent for that, who have the kind of personality that engenders the kind of support that we saw Beto receive. Some of us have to learn that. And we learn it through our life experiences. They shape the things that we care about. They shape and deposit that fire in our belly. And then leading on those issues becomes just a logical consequence because you’re propelled to do it, even in the face of fear and even in the face, honestly, of knowing that personally it’s going to be really hard, and you’ll take a lot of grief and suffer a lot of pain. There are just some things that are worth doing. And that’s what I’m seeing, and I know we’re all seeing, happen across the country right now, where those folks who never believed they would be politically involved stepped up and ran for office in 2018. Many of them won, and they’re bringing these beautifully fresh perspectives and passions to their work that hadn’t been represented in the way that we’re seeing them now.
On Sandra Bullock’s Let Her Speak
I met with Sandra recently, and we had our first lengthy sit-down conversation, really getting to know each other. We went over my motivation and purpose behind the filibuster that day. And it looks like the filming will probably begin in the fall, with a release in 2020. It’s surreal. She’s so amazing. What I really have tried to convey to her and both to the executive producer Todd Black and the screenwriter Mario Correa is that I want our story to be one that is a reflection of the power of individuals, not anything that I specifically did. Because that’s really the story of the filibuster in Texas and why it became known as the “people’s filibuster.” It demonstrated what we are capable of, if we decide to show up, if we decide to own our own individual power and have the ability to rely on others to own theirs, so that we become a community of fighters and change-makers. And that’s the message that I hope it leaves with people and inspires them to believe: that sometimes the thing that matters most is just showing up.