(Texas state Senator Wendy Davis | Source: Dallas Morning News)
It’s been a rough week for the Wendy Davis campaign. What began with a critical examination of her bio by Dallas Morning News senior political reporter Wayne Slater has become the story, keeping the Democratic senator’s gubernatorial campaign off-message and on the defensive since January 22.
Wayne is in a class of his own, one of the finest political reporters in the state. He doesn’t do smear pieces. Nor does he represent the editorial slant of the Morning News, which is far more enlightened than it was when he started there.
What he did was reveal that Davis’s broad brush account of her rise from working-class poverty in Fort Worth had elided a few details.
Davis has said she was divorced and moved into a trailer when she was 19. In fact, her first divorced was finalized when she 21. And while she did move into a trailer at age 19, she only lived there for a few months before moving into an apartment with her daughter.
This from Slater’s January 19 story:
The candidate’s compelling life story begins with 14-year-old Wendy Russell working to help support her single mother in Tarrant County. While still a teenager, Davis married, had a child and divorced, she has said.
“I had a baby. I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old,” she testified in a recent federal lawsuit over redistricting. “After I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth.”
Perjury? Intentionally trying to mislead?
Not hardly, as they say in the Great State.
Davis indeed separated at 19. Nor did she say she spent years in a trailer.
And what Slater got out of the divorce decree suggests the hard-bitten life Davis was living after at age 17: moving in with her a construction worker boyfriend, getting pregnant, having a child, then divorcing.
“Under terms of the divorce, he got a boat, the mobile home and the responsibility for the mortgage on it. She got a 3-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix, a 1972 Firebird and a 1967 Chevy pickup. Davis was 21.”
She also got custody of the couple’s daughter.
Most damaging is Slater’s reporting that the senator’s second husband Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years her senior, help pay her expenses while she attended Texas Christian University and Harvard Law.
“With the help of academic scholarships and student loans, Wendy not only became the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree but graduated first in her class and was accepted to Harvard Law School,” her website says.
In fact, Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(K) and took out a loan to help his wife through law school, which was not acknowledged in the campaign bio.
The two girls remained with Jeff Davis while Wendy was at Harvard.
Wendy Davis graduated from 1993, returned to Fort Worth to practice law, and worked with her husband at a title company he founded.
They divorced in 2003 and Mr. Davis got custody of their daughter, Dru, who was in the ninth grade. Wendy agreed to pay $1,200 I child support. The older daughter was in college.
Herein the real damage. An ambitious woman walking away from her daughter. Or so it has been played by the right-wing press, even if it’s not how her ex saw it.
“She did the right thing,” Mr. Davis told the Morning News. “She said, ‘I think you’re right; you’ll make a good, nurturing father. While I’ve been a good mother, it’s not a good time for me right now.’”
Not only did “Abortion Barbie had a Sugar Daddy Ken,” as Fox News’s red-meat-for-right-wingers pundit Erick Erickson tweeted. She abandoned her daughters to begin an ambitious ascent through the Fort Worth City Council and into the Texas Senate.
Unforgivable for a one of what Simone de Beauvior characterized as “the second sex.”
What a crock!
Who is to say the mother was the better parent at that moment? The girls are on the stump with her now, insisting their mother never missed a first day of school, parent conference or a school performance. And Davis has said she wanted her younger daughter to remain in the house where she grew up.
And this wasn’t Chappaquiddick, which to my recollection didn’t derail the career of an ambitious politician who had the advantage of gender (and of never having lived in a trailer). And what might David Vitter have brought home to his Christian family while he was entertaining himself in New Orleans brothels? Last I heard, Vitter represented Louisiana in the U.S. Senate and is gearing up to run for governor.
There was slipshod work by campaign staffers who should have vetted their candidate’s biography, and as Davis admitted, she should have been more careful with specific details of her life story. Manny Fernandez and Laurie Goodstein seem to get it right in a Page 1 story in today’s Times.
“In a state with a booming economy but simmering problems with its public schools and water infrastructure and high rates of poverty and people without health insurance, one of the central questions hanging over the race is how long, exactly, Ms. Davis lived in a trailer in Fort Worth as a single mother.”
Davis’s filibuster against a bill that would further restrict women’s reproductive rights—in a state that had already required a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion—wasn’t her first attempt to talk bad legislation to death.
As the clock ran out on the 2011 session, she successfully filibustered an education bill that would have added to the state’s “simmering problems with its public schools.”
At the time, Rick Perry was running for president and had decided to balance the state’s budget on the backs of public school children. So $4 billion was being cut from a public school budget in state that today ranks 42 in per-pupil spending.
On the final day of the regular session, Davis stood up and ran out the clock. It was a quixotic effort. Perry called the legislature back into session and huge Republican majorities in both chambers ensured that $4 billion was cut from the state’s public schools—with devastating effects. But there she was. Tennis shoes and a microphone in her hand.
Education Barbie killing time in an attempt to kill a dreadful piece of legislation.
Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator