This is Part 1 in a series about the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race, The Battle for Texas.
On Tuesday, March 4, all eyes in America were focused on one state: Texas. People across the state cast ballots for their party’s primary election, leading to some very interesting results from both the Republicans and the Democrats. The current governor, Republican Rick Perry, is stepping down, leaving the Governor’s Mansion in Austin completely open. (As a disclosure, I personally align with the Democratic Party, and I very much hope to see the Democratic Party win this November.)
The beginning of the battle for Texas really begins in June, when State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) launched a dramatic 11-hour filibuster to block extremely restrictive abortion restrictions in a special session called by the governor that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and impose unnecessarily stricter regulations on abortion clinics and doctors who perform abortions, closing all but 5 abortion clinics. To stop House Bill 2, she had to speak continuously until midnight.
By Texas filibuster rules, she had to stay completely on topic, couldn’t eat, drink, or use the restroom, and not lean on any desk or chair. After three strikes—first for referencing the Planned Parenthood budget, second for having a fellow senator help adjust her back brace, third for referencing the Texas sonogram law—her filibuster was abruptly ended at 10pm. As the Republicans in the chamber hurried to pass the bill, Democrats challenged lieutenant governor David Dewhurst’s ruling that Davis violated Texas filibuster rules, culminating in State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) slamming her male colleagues and a 15-minute “people’s filibuster” where a packed gallery delayed the vote to stop the bill’s passage.
Governor Rick Perry immediately called a second special session to pass the abortion restrictions, and after making its way to the Supreme Court, a 5-4 decision to not interfere with Texas’ abortion bill allowed the state legislature to set the bill into effect. The last rural abortion clinic closed within the past week.
For a brief video recap of the filibuster (with footage of the filibuster itself):
Neither Wendy Davis nor Leticia Van de Putte are new to the stage. Wendy Davis’ other successful filibuster blocked over $5 billion in education cuts, but Gov. Perry ordered another special session to pass the cuts anyway. However, Davis found herself as an enemy to Republicans, yet the conservative Tarrant County voters reelected her again in 2012.
Despite the HB2 passing in a second session called by Governor Rick Perry, the June filibuster reinvigorated Texas Democrats who haven’t won a statewide election since 1994. Texas has been considered a bastion for conservatives for a very long time, and Texas’ 38 electoral votes are normally guaranteed to go to the Republican Party in the same way California’s 55 electoral votes will go to the Democratic Party. However, Texas Democrats hope to change that, starting with putting Democratic politicians in Austin, the capital of Texas. And when Democrats saw an opportunity with Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, a powerful duo Texas Democrats haven’t seen in years, they urged them to run.
Meet Wendy Davis: Governor Hopeful
One of Wendy Davis’ most compelling aspects is her personal narrative, one that influences all of her major decisions as a state politician. Raised by a single mother, she worked after school at the age of 14 to help support her mom and siblings. By the age of 19, she was also a single mom who spent time living in a trailer park with her daughter, working two jobs trying to make enough money to survive. She enrolled herself in community college and transferred to Texas Christian University after two years using the help of student loans, scholarships, and state and federal grants. She became the first person in her family to earn a college degree, graduated at the top of her class, and went on to Harvard Law School.
Wendy Davis has always considered education as a major issue for Texas. Currently, Texas falls $3000 below the national average on spending per student, ranking it at a lowly 49 out of 50 despite having one of the largest economies in the nation. When $5.4 billion in education cuts were proposed to be passed in a special session, it’s understandable to see why someone like Senator Davis would be vehemently opposed and willing to talk the bill to death for over an hour.
In the famous abortion filibuster, Senator Davis used her personal story as a reason why she opposed such heavy abortion restrictions that would make terminating a pregnancy exponentially harder for the people who needed it the most. Because of the sonogram law and the 24-hour waiting period after it plus the lack of any abortion facilities in the western half of Texas after the passage of the bill, the people who’d be in the most need of an abortion would not have access to one and would spend more time trying to raise the funds necessary to get the procedure as well as pay for travel and a place to stay between the sonogram and abortion. And in the weeks it takes to do that, the woman may hit the 20-week limit—forcing desperate women to turn to desperate measures such as unsafe abortions.
As someone who experienced what it was like to be a single mother who used education to pick herself up by her proverbial bootstraps, it makes perfect why someone like Wendy Davis would oppose education cuts and strict abortion restrictions. She wants to make sure every Texan has the opportunity to get an affordable education, and that no Texan woman will be forced to carry a pregnancy against her own will.
Leticia Van de Putte: Farmaceutica, Madre, Senadora
Senator Leticia Van de Putte hails from San Antonio, the seventh-most populous city in the United States and second-most populous city in Texas. San Antonio is predominantly Hispanic—63.2 percent of the city is of Hispanic origin—and a Democratic bastion in the state of Texas, making up one of the five Democratic cities of Texas—El Paso, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, all cities that have voted Democratic in 2010 and 2012 and have mayors tied to the Democratic Party. (The Rio Grande Valley in the southern tip of the state is also reliably Democratic.) While Texas Democrats easily hold all the major cities of Texas, it’s the rural and suburban areas that the Texas Republicans win. But back to Van de Putte.
Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist, senator, small business owner, and mother of six (and grandmother of six), graduated from the University of Texas at Austin College for Pharmacy and was a Kellogg Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. After a seat was left vacant in a heavily-Hispanic, lower middle class district of San Antonio, she decided to run against the five men who also wanted the seat. This one action spearheaded her many legislative actions and successes in the Texas state legislature, including helping to write and sponsor Texas’ version of the DREAM act. Every time her name appears on a ballot, she wins with numbers ranging normally from the mid-80s to a full 100 percent, and she hopes to repeat her success in the incredibly-tough election this November where she is at a huge underdog.
Van de Putte stresses that she is a sixth-generation Tejana who has not lost touch to her roots, touting that she still lives in the same neighborhoods as her constituents. She holds her pro-business ideals in high regards, using examples of South Texan Republicans who support her lieutenant governor campaign because of these ideals. Speaking at Mi Tierra, Senator Van de Putte emphasized two major themes of her campaign: education and equality.
Her stance on women’s issues, health issues, and immigration are particularly strong. As a healthcare professional, Senator Van de Putte would like to expand Medicaid in Texas, something Governor Rick Perry has refused to do and that President Barack Obama has personally called Texas out on. She supports increased family planning services and an end to all abortions in the state by making them unnecessary, not by cutting off access. She has blasted Perry for vetoing a bill that would ensure women in Texas are paid equally, a bill written by Wendy Davis. While she and Wendy Davis support LGBT rights including the right to marry, she wants to end discrimination in the workplace before dealing with the unconstitutionality of the gay marriage ban in Texas (which is currently going through the courts). And finally, she wants to make sure Texas fixes its broken education system, one that hasn’t accepted the national Common Core Standards—45 out of 50 states have adopted it, plus Minnesota which accepted the English portions—and battles over whether “creationism,” the unscientific belief that God created the world in seven (technically six) days as laid out in the Book of Genesis, is included in its science textbooks. (Even worse is that both Republican lieutenant governor candidates in the runoff have embraced the teaching of creationism in public schools.)
An Uphill Battle
The Texas Democrats are hoping to mobilize the many unregistered Hispanic voters in the state, a demographic that leans Democratic in Texas (but not by as much as in other states). With Tea Party Republican extremists like Dan Patrick poised to run against Leticia Van de Putte, Democrats hope to capitalize on Dan Patrick’s racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric to win the Hispanic vote.
A major issue surrounding the key voting demographics needed by Texas Democrats in order to win (white, suburban women and Hispanics) is the issue of voter ID. After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and allowed for the disenfranchisement of women, student, and minority voters (all groups that vote Democratic), Texas forced photo IDs to be shown before voting. This unconstitutional law makes it difficult for certain groups, especially poorer Hispanics in southern Texas, who don’t have easy access to an accepted form of photo ID because of time constraints, money issues, and/or transportation problems. For example, students can’t use student IDs to vote, and the distance to travel to get an ID for people in south Texas can be quite far.
Also, the strict law even required the names on the ID and voter registration form to be exact matches; because of small incongruities (Gregory vs. Greg), neither gubernatorial candidate would have been able to cast a ballot for themselves! Thankfully, an amendment (passed, once again, by Wendy Davis) makes it so that if the name is close enough, you can still have your vote counted. The United States Justice Department is suing the state of Texas for this law, and despite requests from the Justice Department and Texas to postpone the trial until 2015, the judge kept the date as September 2 so that it could be dealt with prior to the election.
The issue of abortion also comes up as a wedge issue for Hispanics in the state, as most Hispanics are generally opposed to abortion due to their Roman Catholic faith. Because the filibuster that catapulted Wendy Davis to fame was her abortion one and not her education one, there is no possible way to divorce herself from the issue of abortion, especially when big groups like Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List are rallying behind her. Van de Putte, also a practicing Roman Catholic, does not see abortion as an issue for Hispanic voters, a sentiment supported by research from the Latina Institute. However, Wendy Davis’ significant losses in her primary in border states against a very unknown competitor who didn’t raise a single cent bring that view into question, as her opponent was a pro-life, Hispanic man (more on that in a future post).
“[Latinos] understand that these are very personal and private decisions. They also understand that the four guys that are running for this position make no exceptions for rape and incest, none.” — Sen. Leticia Van de Putte to MSNBC
Naturally, Wendy Davis has come under attack from many pro-life groups. However, she has come under the most attention for her reported “flip-flop” on abortion by saying she would support a limited 20-week abortion ban that would “give enough deference” to women. Conservative opponents weren’t fooled and parts of her liberal base were alienated, but supporters claimed that her view only fell in line with the majority of Americans—the idea that late-term abortions should never be used as birth control and only in cases of rape or incest (Texas Republicans wanted no exceptions).
Most notably, Wendy Davis came under fire for flubbing details about her personal life story. At the age of 19, she was not divorced, but rather separated. She lived in a mobile home with her daughter for “only” a few months before moving into an apartment. Her second husband helped raise Wendy’s first daughter and the couple’s new daughter while she was at Harvard, and he also helped pay for her education. He was granted custody of both children, and Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support. Texas Republicans used this to question how well Wendy Davis did on her own and how much she relied on her now ex-husband for help.
The irony is that the conservatives around the country fail to see how sexist, misogynistic, and hypocritical they are by attacking her. If she was a man, there would be no controversy. There would be no newspaper covers with her face on it asking if she can “have it all,” and there would be no issues with her choosing a career over a stay-at-home mom life. Any 19-year-old woman who finds herself single and pregnant could have easily chosen a much faster and easier path to moving on with her life: abortion. Yet the same people who vehemently oppose abortion continue to judge a woman who has fought against the odds—even if she got help. The same people who claim she couldn’t do it all on her own continue to do everything they can to cut off any sort of government aids and social safety nets for people who need help, people like younger Wendy Davis.
While the Wendy Davis campaign has picked up again and started firing more shots at her opponents—gubernatorial candidate (and current attorney general) Greg Abbott and the unchosen lieutenant governor candidate (either Tea Party-favorite Dan Patrick or current lt. gov. David Dewhurst)—the rough winter Wendy Davis had has hurt her significantly in a race where she has no room for error. She is currently down by a whopping 11 points against Greg Abbott in a February University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, despite being only 6 points behind in early November. However, the February poll doesn’t take into account one of the largest attacks on the Texas Republican campaign: an issue over Ted Nugent.