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Then There's This: War on Wendy

The Davis narrative has been co-opted by a bunch of dudes

By Amy Smith, Fri., Jan. 24, 2014

Sen. Sylvia Garcia offers a supportive hug to Sen. Wendy Davis during the Legislature's abortion debate.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia offers a supportive hug to Sen. Wendy Davis during the Legislature's abortion debate.
Photo by Jana Birchum

With all due respect to Bill White and Chris Bell – you'll recall they unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rick Perry in 2010 and 2006, respectively – neither Democrat had a truly memorable personal story to share with voters. They didn't draw massive audiences to political rallies or speaking engagements, didn't attract a lot of national media buzz, and they didn't ignite passion and excitement among young female voters. In short, they were smart, affable, yet kind of boring professionals who, without question, would have been more capable governors than the person currently occupying the office.

Now that Dems finally have a candidate with fire in her belly, someone who connects with voters, who's worked hard to make something of herself, who's capable of raising serious money to compete with Attorney General Greg Abbott, Republicans are having a field day with a story that ran in the Dallas Morning News' Jan. 19 edition.

As anyone who follows statewide politics knows, DMN's senior political writer Wayne Slater reported that "facts have been blurred" in Davis' rags-to-riches narrative. Turns out she became a divorced mother at 21, not 19 (she was only separated at 19), and she only lived in a trailer for a few months as a single mom before moving to an apartment. Additionally, Davis' second husband, Jeff Davis, helped his wife through Harvard Law School by cashing in his 401k and taking out loans (as Wendy Davis herself has said before), and he had primary custody of Davis' two daughters after the couple divorced. Since the story's publication, political writers, pundits, and campaign aides have been quick to weigh in on a story that has become bigger than it really is. Some think the so-called scandal threatens to topple Davis' campaign and that it raises questions about her ability to tell the truth, or to get her facts straight.

Mansplaining

In a carefully crafted statement, Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsh said Davis "systematically, intentionally, and repeatedly deceived Texans for years about her background, yet she expects voters to indulge her fanciful narrative. If voters can't trust what Sen. Davis says, how can they trust her to lead?"

In an online post titled "The Problems of Wendy," Texas Monthly's Paul Burka expressed doubts that the Davis campaign "has the talent and the knowledge of state issues to take Abbott on." DMN columnist Tod Robberson predicted, "She's got some major damage control ahead of her ...." The paper took another shot Wednesday in a tsk-tsk editorial: "Texans want candidates for major office to step away from the window dressing and present their unvarnished selves to voters."

In all of these responses, another narrative appears to be emerging: Texas politics – from office holders, to political operatives, to reporters and pundits – is still very much a man's world. In a follow-up to the Davis story on Wednesday, the Texas Tribune did a roundup summary of press coverage under the intro: "The fallout continues ... on discrepancies in Wendy Davis' accounting of her early life." Only one extract from the roundup of stories – this one by Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg – seemed mildly sympathetic. She wrote: "The stories we get in politics are never pure. They're told either in the best light, or the worst, depending on which side is doing the telling. No, outright lies aren't acceptable. They're not a sign of good character. But there doesn't appear to be any evidence, yet, that lying was Davis' intention here."

It's Her Story, Not Theirs

One refreshing story in all this came from the Tribune's Jay Root (he's had a fair share of anti-Wendy allegations made against him in recent weeks), who sought a response from Davis campaign manager Karin Johan­son. She told Root she wasn't surprised by Republicans' attacks on Davis since the DMN story last Sunday. "Her story is not exaggerated. A single mother knows she's a single mother when she is living alone with a baby," Johanson told Root. "I think we're seeing people rally to her side, and I think there will be more of that and people seeing this for what it is. Her story is her story, and they're not taking it from her."

Annie's List, the Texas group with a solid record of recruiting women to run for office, also defended Davis, noting, "We have seen similar attacks launched against women candidates before."

Perhaps one positive outcome of the mainstream media and GOP hijacking of Davis' story would be the emergence of more women entering the field of political pontification.

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