After months of being out of the spotlight, Wendy Davis is back.
The former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, known nationwide for her 2013 filibuster against new abortion restrictions, is sparking speculation and garnering media attention as she alludes to a new initiative to promote gender equality that she hopes to soon unveil.
Davis told the Star-Telegram Tuesday that she’s not ready to detail her initiative, because it’s still in the planning stages, but she has said she hopes to bring more women’s voices into the political discussion.
“I hope to garner a cohesive force of women who can advance gender equality in a myriad of ways … and pull together women from all walks of life, all generations, all races, to use our power at the ballot box and elsewhere to drive change,” the former Fort Worth state senator told the Odessa American this week.
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“There are too many women right now who are staying out of the conversation, and if we joined it collectively, we could drive the conversation,” said Davis, who lost her bid to become Texas’ 48th governor to Republican Greg Abbott.
Former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Maxwell said Davis’ initiative is still evolving.
But he believes it could include efforts to both develop more female leaders nationwide — and fight for women’s issues such as access to healthcare, reproductive rights and equal pay.
“I think it’s particularly timely given Hillary Clinton’s campaign where clearly women’s rights will be a key issue,” he said.
Critics say Davis is the wrong person to lead such an effort.
“Wendy Davis made a huge mistake in going out on the forefront of abortion,” said Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum and former chair of the Republican Party of Texas. “Then she tried to capitalize on that, even running for governor in the greatest state in the country.
“Now it’s laughable to me that she thinks she can lead on anything and be heard, … since she has destroyed any respectable image people have of her.”
Davis, a former Fort Worth city councilwoman, served in the Texas Senate from 2009-2015.
There was a phenomenal reaction to her 2013 filibuster, against tighter abortion restrictions in Texas.
Throngs of Texans showed up at the Capitol — so many that they couldn’t all fit into the pink granite building and spilled out onto the lawn — and countless more tuned in on YouTube, live streams and social media.
Without taking a break to eat, drink or go to the restroom, Davis spoke for more than 11 hours on June 25 against a bill geared to tighten restrictions on abortion in Texas.
Davis and her fellow Democrats prevailed that night after a so-called people’s filibuster — people in the gallery yelled, screamed and made so much noise that senators couldn’t hear one another — prevented the Senate from passing the proposal.
Opponents of the bill lost a few weeks later, after the Republican-led Legislature was called back for another special session and quickly approved the measure.
‘The right stuff’
Davis ran a high profile gubernatorial campaign against Abbott, ultimately losing by more than 20 percentage points, or nearly 1 million votes, after months of media scrutiny on issues ranging from errors in her biography to campaign mismanagement.
Despite her gubernatorial loss, Davis remains a national political figure, said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
That should give her the clout to promote an effort such as her gender equality initiative.
“When I travel nationally, people know who Wendy Davis is and they want to talk about her,” he said. “Her filibuster did resonate with people. … She will try to capitalize on that.”
Former City Councilwoman Becky Haskin said she understands Davis’ initiative is to get women more involved.
“She is the ideal person for this,” she said. “She’s got the right stuff.
“We haven’t heard the last of her and she’ll be doing great things for years.”
‘We will be heard’
Davis spoke about gender politics at Princeton University earlier this year when she gave her first speech since losing the gubernatorial race.
She touched on her life story — growing up with a single mother, becoming a teenage mom herself, struggling to pay bills and keep the electricity on — and how she was determined to succeed.
She said she was fortunate to have childcare, transportation, flexible work hours and access to an affordable community college education that put her on the path to ultimately gaining a law degree from Harvard University.
“There are so many women today who cannot tell the same story,” Davis told the crowd in February.
She said that’s because women now don’t have as many ladders to help them out of the “well of poverty” because of changing public policies.
“We find ourselves fighting old fights and in many instances losing ground. But why?” she asked. “Because women’s reproductive rights and other issues important to women’s equality have been hijacked by a far right agenda using those issues as a wedge, a means to an end.”
She said the country needs to unite behind women’s choices and women’s rights — and women’s equality.
“Let’s stand together and testify for each other for our shared ideals,” she said. “And when we do, we will be heard.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610