For young progressives and Democrats everywhere, last Wednesday was a watershed moment. A little known, Austin based Democratic state Senator, Wendy Davis, attempted to filibuster a GOP sponsored bill that would ban abortions in the state after 20 weeks (except in cases of rape, incest or health of the mother) and make abortion clinics meet stricter health standards or be closed. Davis, who appeared at the capitol in pink tennis shoes, valiantly spoke for 11 hours before she was called out on a rules violation. What ensued could only be called bedlam and helped by a raucous, progressive crowd and fellow Democratic Senators the clock ran out on the bill.
In response Rick Perry laid down the gauntlet to his colleagues across the aisle. Speaking at a ‘Right to Life Convention Perry said, “Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.”
Davis responded to Perry by saying, “Rick Perry’s statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds. They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view. Our governor should reflect our Texas values. Sadly, Gov. Perry fails that test.” But do Rick Perry’s words and stance on the issue not reflect the views of Texans? Hint, they actually do.
In fact, outside the young and progressive bastion of Austin the GOP legislature’s and Perry’s stance are quite popular. Before the bill was to become law a Texas Tribune poll found that 62% of Texans, cutting across ethnicity and ideology, supported a ban on late-term abortions. They also supported the bill as it stood and had no problem with making abortion clinics meet stricter health standards.
It is certainly understandable that Davis reflects a progressive viewpoint. After all, her district is evenly split between the left and right and she has won in 2010 and 2012 by narrow margins, likely helped by progressive turnout. But in both of her races social issues were not debated. Come 2014 it could be a different story, especially if her future GOP challenger plays up to swing voters how she opposed a bill a majority of not just the state but the national public supports.
Davis’s actions, as well as the actions of her fellow senators, show why Texas Democrats are irrelevant in state politics. Even in a state that is rapidly diversifying Democrats win less of the Hispanic and white vote than they do nationwide. Case in point. In 2010 Rick Perry won 38% of the Hispanic vote and there is some evidence to show exit polls underestimated his support. Hispanics have shown a tendency to be economically liberal on fiscal issues but unlike their Democratic Asian and African-American counterparts they are conservative on the issues of abortion and gay marriage.
Democrats may scratch their heads and wonder why states such as Texas and Georgia have yet to move into their column and the answer may be able to be found in Davis’s actions. Sure, the Austin crowd loved it and the progressive base across the country twittered her name to death. Her Facebook page before Wednesday had about thirty thousand likes. By Thursday it had over one-hundred thousand. But it is notable how little of the commentary of her actions came from Texas. You would think if the state public supported her actions they would make it known. Maybe they made something else known with their silence.
Social issues are the reason many political analysts say the GOP has lost states like Oregon, WA state and New Jersey with largely white suburban populations. But less documented is that it has likely helped or at least not hurt the party in the South. If Texas is any test case it appears that voters still deeply care about the issue of abortion and “women’s health.” They just have a different view on it than Davis and Austin voters who seem to think it is a civil right.
Now correct me if I am wrong but if Davis and her partisan allies are really concerned about the unborn (as they claim they are) and women’s health does it not make sense to make abortion clinics meet strong health safety standards? I will let you decide the answer to that question.