For the moment, at least, we’re inclined to stand by our early view that the idea of a Wendy Davis candidacy for governor is a stretch. She’s only one headline-grabbing filibuster into her second term in the Texas Senate, after all, and nothing in her resume screams that she’s ready to assume the state’s highest elective office. But here she is, commanding the mainstream and social media spotlight and setting Democratic hearts afire with hopes of reclaiming the office that Republicans corralled with the election of George W. Bush in 1994 and have occupied ever since.
And what does Davis do in her first high-profile political test since becoming the most talked-about Texas Democrat since Ann Richards? She takes dead aim at her potential Republican opponent, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, and bops him right between the eyes. If we were thinking that Davis might be overmatched in a gubernatorial race against Abbott, we obviously need to think again. Davis hasn’t even announced that she’s a candidate and she has already one-upped Abbott – who has announced – on an issue that should have had his name written all over it. The issue: the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging the pending merger between Fort Worth-based American Airlines and US Airways – a deal that is crucial to American’s emergence from bankruptcy and that would create the world’s biggest airline, with projected annual revenues of $40 billion.
Abbott is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for suing the federal government to prevent overreaching Washington politicians and bureaucrats from messing with Texas. But on this occasion Abbott inexplicably decided not to wage war on the feds but to align Texas with the Justice Department, five other states and the District of Columbia by joining the anti-merger lawsuit in direct opposition to the best interests of his own state and, for that matter, the nation. Davis, on the other hand, issued an unequivocal endorsement of the merger and called on Washington to reconsider its opposition. “This is about protecting Texas jobs and ensuring competition through the viability of a major player in the industry,” Davis said, responding to an inquiry by the Fort Worth Business Press and sounding for all the world like the pro-business Republican the attorney general is supposed to be. “The merger is the last critical piece to returning American Airlines as a strong competitor in the commercial airline marketplace. Allowing the merger plan to proceed would help preserve nearly 60,000 jobs worldwide, including those of thousands of hard-working Texans.” Not only did Davis come down on the right side of the issue, she shrewdly sidestepped the appearance of premature partisanship by avoiding any direct mention of Abbott, and she demonstrated her independence by taking on the Obama administration’s Justice Department. Abbott, meanwhile, lamely attempted to justify his position by claiming that the merger would reduce competition both nationally and in Texas and would result in higher prices for air travelers. That echoes the federal government’s position, and it’s malarkey. The truth is, the merger would benefit consumers, not hurt them. The Allied Pilots Association, the union representing American’s 10,000 pilots, summed it up in an open letter to Abbott published as a paid ad in The Dallas Morning News: “The merger with US Airways would enable American Airlines to address network and revenue deficiencies and exit Chapter 11restructuring on a level playing field with United and Delta. A reinvigorated American Airlines would then offer business and international travelers a viable alternative to those carriers, providing an important competitive counterbalance.” It’s not clear whether Abbott joined the anti-merger lawsuit because he naively bought a bill of goods from the Justice Department, or because he cynically decided that portraying himself as a consumers’ advocate attacking a pair of big, bad airlines would somehow help him politically. Either way, he was wrong. American Airlines is a major contributor to the Texas economy and will contribute even more if allowed to team up with US Airways as a powerful competitor against United, which previously merged with Continental Airlines, and Delta, which merged with Northwest. Throwing in with the federal government against a Texas business and all the Texans who depend on it is the sort of boneheaded play that can bury an election campaign. And Wendy Davis is standing by with a shovel.