This has, perhaps, made the Texas GOP susceptible to political overreach, and that unpreparedness was front and center during the last few days of the session. The bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, proved woefully uninformed when she suggested that rape kits allowed women to “get cleaned out,” eliminating the possibility of pregnancy, drawing widespread national mockery. Eventually she refused to answer questions about the bill before the House.
Many factors slowed SB5’s progression, but it was Davis who seized the chance to take the floor on the last day, and she who got the lion’s share of attention and credit. After more than 10 hours, during which she read witness testimony from women who opposed the bill, Republicans in the Senate cut her off, citing arcane legislative rules that may have been improperly applied. With nearly 200,000 people watching on one livestream, Davis remained standing, silent, while her fellow Democrats attempted to tie a Gordian knot of parliamentary delaying tactics so convoluted it might not be unwound for the hour remaining in the session.
But Senate Republicans sliced through them, ignoring motions and inquiries from the floor. With 15 minutes to go till midnight, Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, who had arrived in the chamber fresh from her father’s funeral in south Texas, asked the chair: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
That was all the prompting the packed gallery needed to erupt. A solid wall of sound drowned out the final events of the night, confusing even the senators on the floor. A vote was held, but the clerk’s records reflected that the vote had concluded after midnight—past the constitutional deadline. An attempt was made to alter the timestamps—it’s unclear by whom—but the Senate eventually relented. It took several hours for Dewhurst to admit the vote failed.
Given that the bill was supported by overwhelming majorities in both chambers, it was a spectacular symbolic victory for the pro-choice side. After the vote concluded, Davis appeared in the capitol rotunda with some of the thousands of pro-choice protesters. Standing there with her was Cecile Richards—the president of Planned Parenthood, and, as it happens, Ann Richards’ daughter. Richards and Planned Parenthood proved instrumental in helping to encourage the public turnout, and the victory was in many ways hers to share with Davis.
Gov. Ann Richards’ official portrait, which oversaw the protests in the frequently crowded rotunda, became a source of fascination for the pro-choice demonstrators. Some tweeted pictures of their daughters in front of the portrait, and others imagined her running commentary from the afterlife. In the Taiwanese animation of the filibuster, Ann Richards appears as a green, floating ghost that hovers over Davis’ podium.
“Ann Richards is still the hero of the party,” says Guerra, the Democratic strategist. “She’s the standard by which we compare future governors to. I think Wendy Davis meets that test easily. And it’s about creating a link between the women of the state, mothers and daughters. That’s almost a sacred thing.”
Matt Mackowiak, a conservative strategist who expressed his frustration with Republicans for giving Davis the space “to become a star,” throws some cold water on Davis’ anointment. Texas, he says, is still an overwhelmingly pro-life state. While the filibuster may have drilled a wellspring of support from the state’s liberal base, it was over an issue that doesn’t build broad political support.
“She seized this moment. You’ve got to give her credit for that,” he said. “But do I think this is going to fundamentally change politics in Texas? I don’t.” Still, he cedes, the situation has “created a viable statewide candidate in Wendy Davis.”
Guerra, though, points to Davis’ experience in her state Senate district, where she fended off a tough Republican challenge in a district that voted against Obama by no small margin, and her past advocacy on behalf of funds for public education, which has been cut dramatically in recent years.
“In the 2012 election in Fort Worth,” she said “we saw a lot of Anglo women who voted for Romney but were willing to jump the ticket and vote for Davis. That’s an incredible strength. Republicans in this state will go to seemingly any length to alienate women voters. The best thing they can do now is keep their mouth shut. But I don’t see any indication they’re going to do that.”
Now that Gov. Perry’s put abortion back on the call for a new special session, it doesn’t seem likely. Meanwhile, in more liberal climes, Ann, the Broadway play about Ann Richards’ life, is set to have for a final curtain call on June 30. With the possibility of a new standard bearer in the Democratic Party, maybe the old governor can finally get some rest.