Wendy Davis' Filibuster Won't Make Texas a Blue State


On Thursday I wrote a piece criticizing Texas Representative Wendy Davis' (D) filibuster, arguing that it was unable to stop Texas from imposing strict abortion regulations and, contrary to conventional wisdom, was actually detrimental to the future of the Democratic Party in Texas. The piece was unsurprisingly controversial, eliciting over 50 comments and a rebuttal piece by Jessica Huseman.

My critics make three arguments: Texas is rapidly becoming a competitive state for Democrats; Davis' actions have galvanized pro-choice Texans who will lead the Democratic Party to future electoral victories; and that it doesn't matter if Davis' actions were successful because filibustering the bill was simply the right thing to do. These arguments are unsupported by evidence and are mostly products of their authors' wishful thinking.

Even when Texas was reliably Democrat, it elected conservative Democrats committed to Christian values and fiscal frugality. Only three authentic liberals have ever been elected to high office in Texas: James Allred was elected Governor during the Great Depression, Ralph Yarborough served three terms as a United States Senator, and Ann Richards was elected Governor in 1990, but lost reelection to George W. Bush. While Lyndon Johnson would be one of the most liberal Presidents of the 20th century, he was elected from Texas as a mortal enemy of labor unions, racial integration, and the Soviet Union.

Today, Texas is a red state and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. The Republican Party holds every statewide elected office and controls both chambers of the state legislator. Since 1990, the Democrats haven't won any of the major statewide elections – president, governor, or senator – and have lost every statewide election since 2000.

Democrats aren't going to change this anytime soon. Although Texas Democrats, and many of the comments on my previous post, like to talk about the growing amount of Hispanic voters, that won't be enough to make Texas a competitive state. Hispanics in Texas are more Republican than the national average, with almost 40% voting for Rick Perry in the 2010 election. As NY Times' Nate Silver explained in a recent piece, Republicans are projected to win Texas 55-45% in the 2016 election despite the projected 900,000-person increase in Hispanic voters.

Wendy Davis did galvanize pro-choice Texans with her filibuster, but in a majority pro-life state like Texas, that's a political blunder. If Wendy Davis ran for governor, it would make abortion the major issue, which would be a disaster in a state where a Democrat needs to win votes from pro-life independents and moderate Republicans. One of the major reasons that Anne Richards lost to George Bush was that Bush emphasized her support for abortion. Wendy Davis' opponent will do the same thing, reminding Texans that she filibustered a bill that 62% of them support. Disagreeing with almost two-thirds of the electorate over an emotionally cultural issue is not the way to become governor.

As for Davis' actions, being "heroic" relies on a naïve vision of how government works. If Davis wanted to simply give speeches, she could have become an activist at Planned Parenthood.  

Legislators should be judged on their ability to actually affect the law, and Davis' filibuster hasn't done that. SB 5 will become law in the special session that Governor Perry has called, and pro-choice forces in Texas will be harmed in the long-run because it will be harder for them to blur the distinctions between them and pro-life candidates. When Republicans win even more seats in the state legislature by focusing on how Texas Democrats are "out of touch" on abortion, that will be Wendy Davis' fault, and the real legacy of her filibuster.