Davis, Democrats look to renew energy on filibuster anniversary

AUSTIN -- It was the filibuster heard round the nation, and one that ended with opponents of sweeping and controversial restrictions on abortion shouting down lawmakers and shutting down the legislative process.

The filibuster begun by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) on the morning of June 25, 2013 would stretch for 11 hours. Davis remained standing through another two hours of procedural wrangling, before the night ended in shouting from the gallery so deafening lawmakers were unable to vote on the bill.

The filibuster drew thousands to the Texas Capitol and catapulted state Sen. Wendy Davis to overnight celebrity. After months of frenzied speculation and calls from party leaders, Davis announced her campaign for governor in October to an exuberant audience in her hometown of Fort Worth.

Now eight months later, Davis remains behind in the latest polling by double digits. The most recent survey by the University of Texans and the Texas Tribune showed Davis 12 percentage points behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

On Wednesday, Davis' campaign hosted an event with Democratic supporters at Austin's Palmer Events Center focused on the filibuster's anniversary, a critical rallying point for those who hope to see the energy expressed by Democrats last June carry through to the statewide general elections this November.

"It was a huge moment. And the question the Democrats are confronting and facing for the next four months is: Is that a movement?" said Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey

"Is it something bigger than just a moment? Was it the kind of thing that they're going to look back on and say, 'This is where what we're doing really got its start?' Or are they going to look back on it and say, 'You remember that one night?'"

"I absolutely think it's a movement," said Cecile Richards, herself the daughter of Gov. Ann Richards, the last Democrat to hold the office in twenty years. The national president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and an outspoken Davis supporter, Richards says the energy she witnessed that night hasn't faded.

"What we're seeing is, and again this is what we've seen at Planned Parenthood, are thousands more activists," said Richards. "Thousands more folks involved in the election, thousands more folks wanting to volunteer. To me, Texas is going to change. That's sort of the constant, and I believe it started there. It started a year ago."

The legislation ultimately passed in a subsequent special session of the Texas Legislature called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, and supporters of House Bill 2 gathered at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday to commemorate its passage had a different take.

"I think though it has been a positive movement actually for the pro-life community and those that are fighting for the sanctity of human life," said Abby Johnson, an activist and former Planned Parenthood clinic director. "Because I think it showed people how one moment can change the life of a bill. One moment can change the life of people."

Of course the filibuster's true longterm impact may take longer than one election to determine.

"There was so much energy that night that the Democrats looked at it -- and frankly the Republicans looked at it also -- and said, 'Wow what was that? Is that lightning still in the bottle?'" said Ramsey. "And that's what we're going to find out this year and next year and the year after."


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