Wendy Davis Filibuster: 13-Hour SB 5 Filibuster Accomplished Nothing


Wendy Davis made headlines this week with her filibuster against SB 5, a Texas bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and enacts stricter regulations for abortion providers, which would cause many of them to close. During the filibuster, Davis gained nearly 41,000 followers on Twitter, and national figures ranging from Barack Obama to Sarah Silverman tweeted their support for Davis using #standwithwendy.

Afterward, Davis appeared on Anderson Cooper and was called Texas’ newest political star by both local newspapers and national broadcast networks. Despite the attention, Davis’s filibuster was essentially pointless — SB 5 will become law and Davis's political career will be doomed by the attention.

Governor Perry has already called another special session of the Texas legislature, which will begin on July 1 and is expected to vote on a reintroduced version of SB 5. Davis’s filibuster was only effective because Democrats had successfully delayed SB 5 from getting to the floor of the Senate until the last day of the session, when a filibuster could run out the clock until the legislature adjourned. In the new session, the Senate will not be considering as many pieces of legislation and will be able to schedule the SB 5 vote much earlier. If the bill is voted on, it will certainly pass, as happened in the vote that was rendered moot by procedural issues related to the filibuster.

Beyond being irrelevant to the bill’s passage, Davis’ filibuster has doomed her career in elected office, and will further drag down the already embattled Texas Democratic Party, which hasn’t won a statewide election since 1990. Being able to energize the party faithful does not lead to winning elections for a minority party. Texas Democrats need to attract swing voters and moderate Republicans to have a chance at winning, and those voters are pro-life. Polling from the University of Texas shows that 62% of voters favor banning abortions after 20 weeks. Although SB 5 does address more than this, the prohibition at 20-weeks is the central part of the bill and is what Republicans will emphasize to voters.  

Sure, Davis will be able to raise lots of money with her new national profile. But this is a double-edged sword, since her opponent will be able to fundraise from a nationwide network of pro-life advocates excited about defeating a vocal pro-choice candidate. Additionally, campaign money faces severe diminishing returns in local elections, which are inexpensive to conduct and don’t rely on expensive television advertising campaigns the way major races do.  

The last time Davis ran for reelection she eked out a 51-49% win, a worrisome margin of victory for an incumbent. She likely survived by sticking to the playbook for an incumbent who isn’t ideologically aligned with their constituents — downplay the ideological divide and instead emphasize constituent services like helping people get benefits and bringing state grants to the district. When she runs for reelection again in 2014, Davis’s opponent will constantly remind voters about her pro-choice position, and the support of prominent liberals like Lena Dunham and Nancy Pelosi will be used to remind voters that Davis isn’t “one of us.”

Davis got plenty of media attention for her filibuster, but just as Tim Tebow can’t parlay celebrity status into being a starting quarterback, neither will Davis turn her social media following into a bright political future. Her efforts won’t go unrewarded though, as a telegenic liberal icon, Davis will surely get a job offer from MSNBC once she’s drummed out of politics. Life as a television pundit should suit her — results don’t matter, it's all just talk.