Wendy Davis’ tone defiant again as Democrats meet

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrat Wendy Davis is out to rejuvenate her run for Texas governor by reviving the message that followed her nearly 13-hour filibuster a year ago: Despite what it looks like, the fight isn’t over.

“We will win” — that’s the vow Davis is carrying into the Texas Democratic Convention that begins Thursday in Dallas, where party delegates and frustrated supporters will arrive eager to find momentum that has been elusive against heavily favored Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

With doubt growing about Davis’ chances in November, the Fort Worth state senator delivered an impassioned speech Wednesday night in Austin on the anniversary of her star-making filibuster, which temporarily blocked sweeping new abortion restrictions in Texas and delighted Democrats nationwide.

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She harnessed the defiance she commanded in a rowdy Senate chamber last summer and returned to abortion to blast Republicans “who think they know better than a woman, her family, her doctor and her God.” That fired up the crowd and was likely welcomed by supporters who’ve complained about her campaign lacking the fiery tone and willingness to broach the issue of abortion.

“Even as some believe that a year ago today was some kind of fluke and have since written us off, I will never write you off,” Davis said.

Davis now turns to headline a state Democratic convention that is otherwise short on star power or big issues to confront, unlike the Texas GOP Convention earlier this month. Giving Davis and lieutenant governor candidate Leticia Van de Putte another prominent stage will instead be the party’s biggest order of business.

Republicans and anti-abortion activists on Wednesday marked the anniversary of the Davis filibuster with their own victory lap.

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GOP leaders and supporters of the abortion law — known as HB2 — returned to the Capitol decked in the same shade of blue that clashed with orange-clad Democrats last year. They called Wednesday a day of “celebration,” even though Davis’ filibuster prevented the Republican-controlled Legislature from passing the bill until two weeks later.

“I think it’s interesting that they would celebrate a failed filibuster attempt. But that’s certainly up to them,” said Abby Johnson, a former director at a Planned Parenthood clinic who’s now an anti-abortion advocate.

Abbott’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday reaffirming his opposition to abortion.

Conservatives often dismiss the filibuster as a political stunt that they say instigated an unruly mob. State troopers removed women who were yelling from the Senate gallery, as the noise and chaos in the chamber prevented Republicans from ratifying the bill before a midnight deadline.

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HB2 also requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers and mandates that doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic.

At least 21 licensed abortion facilities have closed because of the law, leaving 20 open in the second most-populous state in the U.S., according to Whole Women’s Health, an abortion provider in Texas.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups have since emerged as major donors to Davis’ campaign.

“One year later, we come back together, and we’re all in. Know what we’re going to do restore women’s rights and health in Texas? We’re going to do any damn thing it takes,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.

A year ago, the filibuster looked like a seismic event for Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide office since 1994. The throngs of supporters who packed the Capitol were organized, vastly outnumbered their conservative opponents and rallied around a charismatic leader in Davis — all the political essentials Texas Democrats have lacked for two decades.

But the aftershocks have been fainter than what her party hoped.

Davis has struggled to gain ground on Abbott despite her fundraising prowess and fame. Earlier this month she shook things up and changed campaign managers, letting a fellow state lawmaker take the reins from a national Democratic operative with a record of winning big races.