Politics & Government

June 26, 2014

Wendy Davis marks filibuster with rally in Austin

The Fort Worth Democrat, trying to gain traction in the governor’s race, rallies supporters eager to recapture the defiant energy of last summer.

Democrat Wendy Davis celebrated the anniversary of her starmaking filibuster over Texas abortion restrictions by rallying supporters who are eager to recapture the defiant energy of last summer and reinvigorate her underdog campaign for governor.

The Fort Worth state senator drew backers to downtown Austin on Wednesday night for a reunion that was part pep rally and part fundraiser. Several sported pink tennis shoes like the ones Davis wore during her nearly 13-hour filibuster, which temporarily blocked passage of a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and propelled her gubernatorial run.

“Even as some believe that a year ago today was some kind of fluke and have since written us off, I will never write you off,” Davis said.

Davis touched on abortion rights only briefly this time around. But when she did, she drew loud cheers from a crowd that her campaign put at about 1,600.

Republicans and anti-abortion activists marked the anniversary with their own victory lap.

GOP leaders and supporters of the abortion law — known as House Bill 2 — returned to the Capitol decked out in the same shade of blue that clashed with orange-clad Democrats last year. They called Wednesday a day of “celebration,” even though the filibuster kept the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing the bill until two weeks later.

“I think it’s interesting that they would celebrate a failed filibuster attempt. But that’s certainly up to them,” said Abby Johnson, a former director at a Planned Parenthood clinic who’s now an anti-abortion advocate.

Conservatives often dismiss the filibuster as a political stunt that they say instigated an unruly mob. State troopers removed yelling women from the Senate gallery, and the noise and chaos in the chamber prevented Republicans from ratifying the bill before a midnight deadline.

At least 21 licensed abortion facilities have closed because of the law, leaving 20 open in the second-most-populous state, according to Whole Women’s Health, an abortion provider in Texas.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups have since emerged as major donors to Davis’ campaign.

“One year later, we come back together, and we’re all in. Know what we’re going to do to restore women’s rights and health in Texas? We’re going to do any damn thing it takes,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards.

Struggles ahead

A year ago, the filibuster looked like a seismic event for Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide office since 1994. The throngs of supporters who packed the Capitol were organized, vastly outnumbered their conservative opponents and rallied around a charismatic leader in Davis — all the political essentials Texas Democrats have lacked for two decades.

But the aftershocks have been fainter than what her party hoped.

Davis has struggled to gain ground on Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott despite her fundraising prowess and fame. This month, she shook things up and changed campaign managers, letting a fellow state lawmaker take the reins from a national Democratic operative with a record of winning big races.

Abbott’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday reaffirming his opposition to abortion.

Bea Ann Smith, a retired Austin judge who was at the event, acknowledged disappointment that Davis hasn’t closed the gap in the race but doesn’t think that talking more about abortion rights is the answer.

“I want her to have more broad, universal appeal,” Smith said.

On Friday night, when Davis headlines the Texas Democratic Convention in Dallas, she is expected to double down her message of improving public schools and weeding out cronyism.

“We will win,” Davis said.

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