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Wendy Davis returns to Texas politics by running for U.S. House seat

Davis, who became a national figure after a 2013 filibuster against new abortion restrictions, is running against U.S. Rep. Chip Roy for an Austin-area seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — Former Texas Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, whose 2014 run for governor started with high hopes but ended in a crushing 20-point defeat, will run for the 21st District U.S. House seat in 2020 against freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy in the Austin suburbs.

She is the first high-profile Democrat to take on Roy, who finds himself on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 target list after winning the seat by less than 10,000 votes in 2018.

Wendy Davis

“I’ve learned I’m at my best when I’m fighting for people,” Davis said in a campaign video launching her campaign. “I’m running for Congress because people’s voices are still being silenced.”

Davis, 56, a Harvard-educated lawyer, shot to national fame in 2013 when, on the closing day of the Texas legislative session, she led a filibuster against a bill that would have imposed new restrictions on legal abortion, including a ban on elective abortions after 20 weeks.

While the filibuster succeeded in killing the bill, then-Gov. Rick Perry quickly called a special session, where the bill passed.

Davis, who wore pink sneakers during the filibuster, parlayed her notoriety into a race for governor the next year that galvanized Democratic activists around the country. She went on to lose to Republican Governor Greg Abbott by 20 points, carrying just 18 of the state’s 254 counties.

In the Texas Senate, she represented a Fort Worth district but later moved to the Austin area. The 21st District includes the southern suburbs of Austin, the northern suburbs of San Antonio and rural areas to the west.

Roy, 46, is a former federal prosecutor who before going to Congress worked for three of the most powerful figures in Texas GOP politics, Perry and U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Roy responded to Davis’s announcement on Twitter, saying that while her “radical & extreme views will no doubt excite the likes of Nancy Pelosi & other DC liberals,” he would “continue fighting for the hardworking families of #Tx21 & the commonsense values that make Texas everything Washington is not.”

Before Roy’s election in 2018, the 21st District seat had been held for 30 years by Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, who repeatedly won re-election by comfortable margins. After Smith retired, Roy kept the seat in GOP hands but by less than 3 points.

The seat is one of six Republican-held seats in Texas that Democrats are targeting next year.

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Southern Politics 2014: The Year In Review

2014 was a much better year for Republicans than for reality stars revamped as politicos

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smA congressman man caught kissing. Reality stars trying to remake themselves as politicians. A snowstorm that threatened to torpedo a sitting governor. A top U.S. House leader unceremoniously unseated in a primary. And a flap over a fan during a heated debate.

Those were just some of the strange and unlikely events in Southern politics in 2014, a year that ended with Republicans roaring through the region like Sherman in reverse. Here are some of the memorable moments:

Loose Lips Sink More Than Ships — Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, a married Christian conservative from northeast Louisiana, was caught on videotape passionately kissing a female staffer who was, ahem, not his wife. He refused to resign but decided not to run for re-election. Then, he changed his mind and ran again, with his wife’s vocal support. But his constituents were less forgiving than the missus, and he finished a distant fourth in the primary.

Snowmageddon — When a January snowstorm paralyzed metro Atlanta, Republican Governor Nathan Deal took the heat for a sluggish state response and his initial attempt to shift the blame elsewhere. But Democratic hopes that this snowy debacle might bury Deal had melted by November, when he was comfortably re-elected.

Taking Aim At Obamacare — Alabama Republican U.S. House candidate Will Brooke posted a YouTube video, entitled “Let’s Do Some Damage,” in which he fired bullets into a copy of the Obamacare bill. The gambit gained him a bit of attention, though, alas, not enough to win the primary in his Birmingham-area district.

Strange Bedfellows — Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani both waded into the Florida governor’s race this year, cutting ads for Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Rick Scott, respectively. However, their shoes were on the other feet in 2006, when Crist was a Republican (before becoming an independent and then a Democrat.) Back then, it was Crist who enjoyed Giuliani’s support, while Clinton backed his Democratic opponent.

Overheated Debate — Speaking of the Florida governor’s race, a televised debate between Crist and Scott came to an abrupt halt when Crist insisted on putting a small fan at his feet under the podium, in apparent violation of the debate rules. Scott first refused to take the stage until the fan was removed, but he eventually relented — after seven awkward minutes of scrambling by the debate moderators. In the end, Scott won a narrow victory.

Real Mean Politics — Three reality TV stars — American Idol Clay Aiken, former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and former South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel — all vied for political office this year. But political reality proved harsh, as all three lost badly. However, Aiken is turning his unsuccessful U.S. House campaign in North Carolina into — wait for it — a new reality show.

Biggest Upset — In an outcome that shocked the political world, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his Richmond-area seat to Dave Brat, a little known college professor who ran at Cantor as a Tea Party insurgent. Weep not for Cantor, though. He bounced back with a job on Wall Street.

Worst Campaign — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis tried to parlay her filibuster against a bill restricting abortions in the Lone Star State into the governor’s mansion. But a series of gaffes — including questions about the veracity of her rags-to-riches story as a single trailer-park mom made good — sunk her chances, and she lost by a staggering 20 points.

Weirdest Campaign Appearance — Matt Bevin, who was challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary in Kentucky, appeared at a rally hosted by a group that supports legalizing cockfighting. While insisting he didn’t condone cockfighting, Bevin didn’t help himself when he told a radio reporter that the Founder Fathers were “very actively involved” in the blood sport. Perhaps not surprisingly, McConnell won rather handily.

Best Don Quixote Impression — Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel — peeved that he was defeated in a GOP U.S. Senate runoff by crossover votes from Democrats and independents — launched a three-month court fight to overturn the result. Alas, his windmill tilting came to naught, and U.S. Senator Thad Cochran kept the seat.

Best Houdini Impression — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee faced voters for the first time since lurid details emerged from his bitter 2001 divorce during which he admitted a string of extra-marital affairs and — perhaps even more damaging for an avowed right-to-life lawmaker — encouraging his first wife to have two abortions. However, GOP voters in his district proved surprisingly forgiving, handing DesJarlais a narrow primary victory. He went on to win re-election in November.

If You Can’t Override, Indict — Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of power and coercion over his veto of a funding bill for an Austin prosecutor who refused his demand that she resign after being arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. A defiant Perry vowed to fight the charges, noting that in America, “we settle our political differences at the ballot box,” rather than in criminal court.

Double Dipper — Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul announced he would run for re-election in 2016, even as he is also considering a White House bid. One pesky little problem, though: Kentucky law doesn’t allow somebody to be on the ballot for two offices at once. Paul’s supporters are trying to find a way to work around that technicality.

Democrat Dam Breaks in Upper South — While the general election was grim for Democrats across the South, the news was especially depressing in Arkansas and West Virginia, which had been places where the party of Jackson was still competitive. In Arkansas, Republicans took all seven statewide constitutional offices and every congressional seat for the first time since Reconstruction. In West Virginia, the GOP took all three U.S. House seats and captured control of the state legislature for the first time since 1931.

“D” Is The New Scarlet Letter — Three sitting Southern Democratic U.S. senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — all went down to defeat, paving the way for Republicans to take control of the Senate. Republicans also took away an open seat in West Virginia that they hadn’t won since 1942.

Republican governors survive in Florida and Georgia

The GOP also takes away an open Democratic governorship in Arkansas

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states smELECTION CENTRAL (CFP) — The Republican firewall held at the gubernatorial level across the South in the November 4 midterm election, with the GOP keeping endangered seats in Florida and Georgia and taking away a Democrat-held seat in Arkansas.

Republicans will now hold 11 of the 14 governorships in Southern states.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist

In Florida, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist lost his bid to resurrect his political career in a battle with Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott won narrowly in the Sunshine State, 48 percent to 47 percent

Meanwhile, up in Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal easily fended off a challenge from State Senator Jason Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Deal took 53 percent, to 45 percent for Carter.

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson

In Arkansas, where Democratic Governor Mike Beebe was term-limited, former GOP U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson – making his fourth try for statewide office – defeated former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent.

In Texas, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott crushed Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who garnered national attention last year after filibustering a bill restricting abortion.

Abbott took 59 percent of the vote, to 29 percent for Davis. Republican candidates have now won the last six gubernatorial elections in the Lone Star State.

Elsewhere in the South, Republican incumbents won easy victories victories in Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Ten things to watch for in Tuesday’s election

U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governorships are on the ballot all across the South

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

(CFP) — As voters go to the polls on Tuesday, here are 10 things to watch for in races across the South:

Wsouthern states smill There Be A Peach State Runoff? — Georgia has a unique election law providing for a general election runoff if neither candidate gets an outright majority — a distinct possibility in a close race with a third-party candidate. Polls show that both the U.S. Senate race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn and the governor’s race between incumbent GOP Governor Nathan Deal and Democratic State Senator Jason Carter could be razor close. If that happens, a runoff in the governor’s race would be December 9, but the Senate race would not be settled until January 6.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu

Is Battle For Senate Control Headed To The Bayou? — Regardless what happens in Georgia, the in Louisiana between incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu and her GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, is certain to head to a runoff. If Republicans need the Louisiana seat to gain control of the Senate, the Pelican State could become the focus of the American political world until the December 6 runoff.

How Much Of A Drag Is Obama? — The president’s approval ratings are anemic across the South, and none of the major Democratic candidates have brought him into the region to campaign. Linking each and every Democrat to Obama (and Obamacare) has been part and parcel of just about every Republican campaign. Tuesday will determine whether Obama’s unpopularity was a millstone that drowned Democratic prospects.

Will Florida Voters Resurrect Crist?Charlie Crist’s political career looked to be all but over after a disastrous run for the U.S. Senate four years ago. But now he’s back — this time as a Democrat — and, if the polls are to be believed, within striking distance of the governor’s mansion once again. If Crist pulls it off, it will be a remarkable feat of political redemption.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

How Big Will Abbott Win? — There’s no question that Republican Greg Abbott will win the governor’s race in Texas over Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who ran a remarkably inept campaign. The only question is how badly Davis goes down. Democrats talked a good game earlier this year about turning Texas blue. Tuesday’s results could show how distant that dream really is.

Fallin And Haley On National Stage? — Both Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley are cruising to easy re-election wins, which could catapult them into the national conversation for 2016. Historically, being a governor has been the best way to become president, and perhaps one reason we haven’t had a female president is that no female governor has ever sought the White House. Tuesday’s results could start those kinds of conversations in Columbia and Oklahoma City.

Are Nunn And Graham Their Father’s Political Daughters? — Both Nunn, running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, and Gwen Graham, who is seeking a U.S. House seat in Florida, are scions of prominent Democratic political families making their political debuts. Both have run strong campaigns in areas that lean Republican. So Tuesday could be a night of political deja vu.

How Many Southern Senate Seats Can Democrats Keep? — Right now, the Democrats have only eight out of 28 seats. They seem certain to lose one of those, in West Virginia, and three others — Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina — are in jeopardy. So the party of Jackson that once strode strong across the South could be reduced to having less than 15 percent of region’s Senate seats.

Has Georgia Turned Purple? — If Democrats pull off wins in the U.S. Senate and governor’s races in Georgia, they will no doubt crow about changing political winds in the Peach State. Tuesday’s results will show if Georgia, like Virginia before it, is becoming less reliably Republican, which would no doubt encourage Democrats to try to put the state into play in 2016.

Can Rahall Survive in West Virginia? — When Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall was first elected to Congress, bellbottoms were still the rage. But after 38 years in Washington, he is fighting for his political life in a state where opposition to the Obama administration’s environmental policies is dragging down the Democratic brand. If Rahall goes, the state’s entire House delegation will be in GOP hands, a sea change in a state that a generation ago leaned Democratic.

Analysis: 2014 is a year of missed opportunity for Southern Democrats

Democrats across the region making little headway in overcoming Republican hegemony

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

This year, 10 GOP-held U.S. Senate seats are up for election across the South. Democrats mounted serious challenges to just two of them.

This year, seven Republican-held Southern governorships are on the ballot. Democrats mounted serious challenges in just two of those races as well.CFP Facebook Mugshot

Heading into this election, Republicans hold 108 of the 151 U.S. House seats in the South. Democrats put just six of them in play and could very well come away without gaining a single seat, while at least four of their own seats are in serious jeopardy.

With the exception of Georgia, where Democrats are making surprisingly strong runs for both U.S. Senator and governor, 2014 has been a year of miscues and might-have-beens for the party of Jackson.

For example, at the beginning of the year, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had shaky job approval numbers and looked like she might be vulnerable. Now, she’s poised to roll to re-election on Tuesday, which could put her in the national conversation in 2016.

Down in Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott’s rocky tenure in Tallahassee gave Democrats a golden opportunity, which they may have squandered by giving their nomination to the deeply flawed Charlie Crist.

A year ago in Texas, State Senator Wendy Davis was the darling of liberals everywhere, poised to lead Lone Star Democrats to the promised land after 20 years in the wilderness. Her inept campaign for governor has left those hopes in tatters, although it could be argued that a candidate best known for a full-throttled defense of abortion wasn’t that viable in a place like Texas to begin with.

In Florida earlier this year, Democrats failed to wrest the 13th District U.S. House seat — which Barack Obama carried twice — from Republicans during a special election, which left them with no chance to win it in the fall.

Florida 13 is one of three Republican-held House seats in the South that Obama carried in 2012. The GOP is poised to carry all three on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, there are five Democrat-held Southern House seats that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Republicans are making strong runs in all five.

So moribund is the Democratic Party in Alabama that it didn’t even field a candidate to run against Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. And in both Oklahoma and South Carolina, where both Senate seats are up this year, Democrats couldn’t muster a serious challenge in any of those four races.

Senate seats are likely to flip from Democratic to Republican hands in both West Virginia and Arkansas, with Democrat-held seats in both North Carolina and Louisiana in jeopardy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be beating back a Democratic challenge in Kentucky.

That leaves Georgia as the only bright spot for Democrats. Michelle Nunn has combined innate political talent with a strong campaign to make herself competitive in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since 1996.

However, if she can’t polish off David Perdue on Tuesday, the race will head to a January runoff — and runoffs can be nasty, brutish and unpredictable.

So here is the state of play, heading into Tuesday:

  • Republicans hold 20 of the 28 Southern Senate seats. That number will almost certainly rise.
  • Republicans hold 10 of 14 governorships. Given that the GOP will likely make a pick-up in Arkansas, the best Democrats can hope for is to go from four to five, if they take out incumbents in both Georgia and Florida — a tall order..
  • The GOP holds 108 of the 151 House seats. Odds are the Republican margin will increase slightly.

All in all, Republican hegemony is alive and well across the Southland.

Democrat Wendy Davis under fire for controversial ad in Texas governor’s race

Ad notes that her opponent, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, uses a wheelchair

texas mugFORT WORTH, Texas (CFP) — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis is defending a controversial new television ad noting that her Republican opponent in the governor’s race, Attorney General Greg Abbott, uses a wheelchair and accusing him of being unsympathetic to other accident victims.

State Senator Wendy Davis

State Senator Wendy Davis

Abbott was paralyzed after a 1984 accident in which a tree fell on him while jogging. He received a reported $10 million settlement.

During a campaign appearance in Fort Worth on October 13, Davis, the Democratic nominee for Texas’s top job, insisted that the ad points out Abbott’s “hypocrisy” in opposing efforts by other accident victims to seek redress in the courts, as he did.

“Greg Abbot has built a career kicking the ladder down behind him and denying to others the very same justice that he both deserved,” Davis said.

The Abbott campaign has dismissed Davis’s ad as “disgusting.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

“Senator Davis’s decision to double down on her severe error in judgment is shameful and shows that she is unfit to be governor,” the campaign said in a statement.

Davis, who trails Abbott by double digits in most polls, has faced an avalanche of media criticism — from both the left and the right — since the ad began airing October 10.

The ad begins, “A tree fell on Greg Abbott, who sued and got millions. Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims.”

The ad goes to criticize Abbott for arguing in court that an amputee wasn’t disabled because she had an artificial limb and for opposing a suit by a rape victim against a company that failed to do a background check on a sex offender.

The ad ends, “Greg Abbott. He’s not for us.”

Abbott has talked about his disability during the course of his campaign and even ran an ad showing voters how he rehabilitated himself by wheeling his chair up and down a parking garage.

View the Davis ad:

Texas governor’s candidate Wendy Davis says she would back 20-week abortion ban

Davis, who shot to national prominence for filibustering a 20-week abortion ban, now says she objected only to the way the law was written

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

texas mugDALLAS (CFP) — Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, now says she would support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks as long as the final decision were left up to mothers and their doctors, rather than under circumstances defined by the legislature.

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis

Last June, Davis garnered national attention by leading a more than 11-hour filibuster that delayed efforts by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to pass a bill that would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks.

That national attention helped fuel Davis’s entry into the governor’s race, where she is expected to face Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

But in an interview with the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News, published February 11, Davis said she could have supported the bill if it had been written differently.

“My concern, even in the way the 20-week ban was written in this particular bill, was that it didn’t give enough deference between a woman and her doctor making this difficult decision and instead tried to legislatively define what it was,” she told the paper.

She said less than 1 percent of abortions in Texas occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and most of those are in cases where the mother’s health was in danger or there were fetal abnormalities.

“I would line up with most people in Texas who would prefer that that’s not something that happens outside of those two arenas,” she said.

The bill that Davis filibustered also required abortion clinics to meet the same requirements as outpatient surgery centers and forced abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Davis also objected to both of those provisions.

Her filibuster ran out the clock on a special legislative session called by Governor Rick Perry. He promptly called another special session – which cost Texas taxpayers $800,000 – and the legislature passed the abortion restrictions, which are now being challenged in court.

After The Dallas Morning News reported Davis’s comments, her campaign insisted that what she said did not amount to a change in her position. But her comments lit up the message board on the newspaper’s Web site, where she was called “flip flop Barbie” and readers questioned the point of her filibuster.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

Abbott has made Davis’s filibuster an issue in conservative Texas, telling a crowd of anti-abortion activists in January that Davis is “partnering with Planned Parenthood to return Texas to late term abortion on demand.”

Abbott has been defending the new abortion restrictions in court.

Davis’s latest comments on abortion come as her campaign was fighting back against questions about the details of her life story she has told during the campaign.

Davis has highlighted her past as a divorced teenage mother who lived in a trailer before working her way through Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School. But in a January 18 story, The Morning News challenged some of those details:

  • Davis divorced at 21, not 19 as she has previously said, and lived in a trailer for only a few months after the divorce with her daughter, Amber, before moving into an apartment.
  • Three years later, she married for the second time, and her husband helped pay for the remainder of her education at TCU and law school at Harvard. Together, they had a second daughter, Dru.
  • She left her second husband, Jeff Davis, the day after the last payment was made on her student loans at Harvard, according to Jeff Davis.
  • When they divorced, Jeff Davis was granted custody of both daughters, and Wendy Davis was ordered to pay $1,200 in monthly child support.

After the story ran, Davis issued a statement clarifying some of the details of her life story. However, she defended overall impression left by her previous characterizations.

“The truth is that at age 19, I was a teenage mother living alone with my daughter in a trailer and struggling to keep us afloat on my way to a divorce,” she said. “And I knew then that I was going to have to work my way up and out of that life if I was going to give my daughter a better life and a better future, and that’s what I’ve done.”

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