Wendy Davis (politician)
|Member of the Texas Senate|
from the 10th district
January 9, 2009 – January 13, 2015
|Preceded by||Kim Brimer|
|Succeeded by||Konni Burton|
|Member of the Fort Worth City Council|
from the 9th district
May 1, 1999 – January 8, 2008
|Preceded by||Cathy Hirt|
|Succeeded by||Joel Burns|
Wendy Jean Russell|
May 16, 1963
West Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S.
Republican (before 2006)|
Frank Underwood (m. 1982; div. 1984)|
Jeff Davis (m. 1987; div. 2005)
Tarrant County College|
Texas Christian University (BA)
Harvard University (JD)
Wendy Russell Davis (born Wendy Jean Russell; May 16, 1963) is an American lawyer and Democratic Party politician from Fort Worth, Texas. Davis represented District 10 in the Texas Senate from 2009 to 2015. She was previously on the Fort Worth City Council. She is now a public speaker and political commentator, as well as the founder of Deeds Not Words, a non-profit for engaging young women in politics.
On June 25, 2013, Davis held a thirteen-hour-long filibuster to block Senate Bill 5, a measure which included more restrictive abortion regulations for Texas. The filibuster played a major role in Senate Democrats' success in delaying passage of the bill beyond the midnight deadline for the end of the legislative session, though it ultimately passed in a second session. The filibuster brought Davis national attention, leading to speculation about a run for governor of Texas. She subsequently ran for governor of Texas in 2014, but lost to Republican Party nominee Greg Abbott, 59–38 percent.
- 1 Early life, education, and family
- 2 Law career
- 3 Political career
- 4 Political positions
- 5 Electoral history
- 6 Proposed television series
- 7 Published works
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Early life, education, and family
Wendy Davis was born Wendy Jean Russell in West Warwick, Rhode Island, the daughter of Virginia "Ginger" (née Stovall) and Jerry Russell. Her family moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1973, when she was 11 years old. At the time, Jerry worked at National Cash Register. When Wendy was 13, her parents divorced. Her father quit his job to pursue work in community theater, leading his child support payments to dry up. Her mother, who had a ninth grade education, supported her four children by working menial jobs, including one at a Braum's ice cream shop.
At 14 years of age, Wendy was selling newspaper subscriptions for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and working at an Orange Julius stand. When she was 17 and still in high school, she moved in with her boyfriend, construction worker Frank Underwood. In 1981, she graduated from Richland High School as a member of the National Honor Society. She married Underwood on January 24, 1982, and gave birth to her first daughter, Amber, later that year. When Wendy was 19, she and Underwood separated, and she continued to live in their mobile home with Amber. After several months, she moved in with her mother, and then eventually began living in her own apartment. Wendy filed for divorce from Underwood in December 1983, and it became official on May 22, 1984, when she was 21. She was given custody of Amber, with Underwood paying child support.
Davis attended University of Texas at Arlington for one semester, but had to stop attending for financial reasons. Meanwhile, her father had opened the European Sandwich Shop and Stage Door Deli in downtown Fort Worth, with his Stage West Theatre next door. While waiting tables at Stage West in 1983, she was introduced by her father to lawyer and former city councilman Jeffry R. Davis, who would become her second husband.
She also worked as a receptionist at a doctor's office, where a nurse gave her a brochure for Tarrant County College. She enrolled in their two-year paralegal program, attending from 1984 to 1986. She began dating Jeff Davis during this time. After Tarrant College, she enrolled at Texas Christian University (TCU) in 1986 on an academic scholarship and a Pell Grant. Wendy and Jeff married on May 30, 1987 after dating for "two or three years," and they settled in a historic home in the Mistletoe Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth. After the marriage, Jeff began to make significant financial contributions to Wendy's education. He would ultimately adopt her daughter, Amber. A second daughter, Dru, was born in September 1988. Davis underwent abortions for two later pregnancies, one due to an ectopic tubal pregnancy (whom she named "Lucas") and another due to the fetus suffering from Dandy-Walker syndrome (whom she named "Tate Elise").
In May 1990, Davis graduated from TCU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. That fall, she moved with her daughters to Lexington, Massachusetts, to attend Harvard Law School. This living situation proved untenable, and after four months her daughters returned to Texas to live with Jeff. Wendy's mother helped to care for them, and Wendy flew back regularly to visit her family for the remainder of her time at Harvard. While at Harvard, she volunteered at a legal clinic for the poor, where she helped AIDS patients write living wills and surviving partners with their legal rights. In May 1993, she earned her law degree cum laude, and she was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in November 1993.
In November 2003, Jeff and Wendy separated. When the divorce settlement was finalized in 2005, the former couple shared "joint conservatorship" over Dru, who primarily lived with her father in the family home. In the divorce settlement, Jeff was given the "right to designate the primary residence" of Dru, and Wendy agreed to pay $1,200 a month in child support. Both parents retained the right to decisions about Dru's other needs; Amber was a young adult in college at that time.
After graduating from law school, Davis was law clerk to U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer of the Northern District of Texas in Dallas from 1993 to 1994. In 1994, she joined the Fort Worth office of Haynes & Boone and practiced litigation there for about two years. In 1999, her husband, Jeff Davis started Safeco Title Co. of Fort Worth, Texas and she became part owner. The title company was sold to First American Title as part of their divorce decree. She continued to work at the Fort Worth branch of First American Title until 2009. Davis joined Cantey Hanger in an Of Counsel role in March 2010. Davis' of counsel relationship with Cantey Hanger ended on December 31, 2013. She partnered with Brian Newby to open Newby Davis, PLLC in March 2010. Her current practice includes federal and local governmental affairs, litigation, economic development, contract compliance and real estate matters.
During her time working for the title company Safeco, Wendy was paid an annual salary of $40,000 by her husband Jeff Davis, who told Robert Draper of the New York Times Magazine that he paid her the salary for her work for the city of Fort Worth as a council member, a job that paid little.
Davis first ran for the Fort Worth City Council in 1996, but was defeated by ninety votes. After her defeat, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, American Broadcasting Company, and the Disney Company, which at the time owned the Star-Telegram and ABC. The Texas Tribune stated that she alleged "that biased coverage led to her defeat and caused injury to her physical and mental health". Her claims were rejected by the Texas courts, based upon the Star-Telegram's First Amendment free speech grounds.
Subsequently, in 1999, Davis was elected to the Fort Worth City Council. During her nine-year tenure there, Davis focused on transportation, economic development, and neighborhood issues. She also worked on economic development projects, such as the Montgomery Plaza renovation, the Tower, Pier One and Radio Shack campuses.
While serving on the Fort Worth City Council, Davis voted in Republican primaries. Davis has said that she was then a Republican because she liked Republican Congresswoman Kay Granger of Fort Worth, and she wanted to vote on judicial nominees in Republican primaries. She voted in the Republican primaries in 1996, 1998 and 2006 and she has given $1,500 to Granger. Also, in April 1999, she gave $250 to former Republican President George W. Bush's first presidential campaign.
Davis represented Texas Senate, District 10, which includes portions of Tarrant County, Texas. In 2008, she defeated incumbent Republican Senator Kim Brimer for the seat, despite a legal challenge against her candidacy by the state Republican Party. Davis was re-elected in 2012, defeating a challenge from Mark M. Shelton, a Fort Worth pediatrician and Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, who was seeking the District 10 seat again in 2014. Davis was the Vice-Chair on the Senate Select Committee on Open Government. She was also a Member of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, the Senate Committee on Transportation, and the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. She had previously served on the Senate Committee for Education and as Vice-Chair on the Senate Committee on International Relations and Trade.
Davis was honored with awards and recognitions during her first term in the Texas Legislature, including the "Bold Woman Award" from Girls, Inc., "Freshman of the Year" from AARP, "Champion for Children Award" from the Equity Center, and "Texas Women's Health Champion Award" from the Texas Association of OB-GYNs. In 2009, Texas Monthly named her "Rookie of the Year". She was also chosen by the readers of Fort Worth Weekly as the "Best Servant of the People". In January 2012, Davis was listed among "12 State Legislators to Watch in 2012" by Governing Magazine and was mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide races.
Early in the 83rd Session, senators drew for terms in a post-redistricting, once-a-decade process. Davis drew a two-year term and was up for re-election in November 2014. In March 2013, she announced her intention to run for re-election to the Senate. On October 3, 2013, she changed her mind and announced a candidacy for Texas Governor instead of re-election to the State Senate.
On June 25, 2013, Davis performed a filibuster to block Senate Bill 5, a proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards that hospital-style surgical centers do, and mandate that a doctor who performs abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. She attempted to hold the floor until midnight, when the Senate's special session ended, after which it would no longer be able to vote on the measure. Following an 11-hour filibuster—ending three hours short of midnight—Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst ruled that Davis had gone off topic, forcing a vote on whether the filibuster could continue. Despite Republican efforts, parliamentary inquiries from Leticia R. Van de Putte and others as well as raucous cheering and yelling from the political activists gathered in the Capitol carried on through midnight and the close of the special session. Following the deadline, Republicans indicated that a vote had taken place and passed, while Democrats declared that the vote had taken place after midnight, making it void. Dewhurst later conceded that the bill was dead. The next day, Governor Rick Perry called for a second special session to allow for another attempt to pass the abortion restrictions, as well as to address other issues. The bill was eventually passed by both the House and the Senate in the July 2013 second special session, prompting one commentator to state that "Wendy Davis won the battle, but Rick Perry won the war." The bill was signed by Gov. Rick Perry on July 18, 2013.
The filibuster attracted national attention, including in The New York Times and The Washington Post. National fundraising by and speculation about a gubernatorial run for Davis also followed. She was encouraged to run by groups like Battleground Texas and EMILY's List.
Campaign for Governor of Texas
On October 3, 2013, Davis announced her intention to run for Governor of Texas in the 2014 election. On March 4, 2014, she won the Democratic nomination with 432,065 votes (79.1 percent), defeating her lone challenger, Reynaldo "Ray" Madrigal, who received 114,458 votes (20.9 percent). Davis was the first female nominee for Texas governor since Gov. Ann Richards was defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush. In the general election on November 4, 2014 she lost to Republican nominee Greg Abbott, the then-outgoing Texas Attorney General.
In January 2014, Wayne Slater, of the Dallas Morning News, reported that while the basic story in which Davis defined herself politically was true, the full story was "more complicated" and the short version Davis had been telling on the campaign trail "blurred" some facts. In particular, Slater noted Davis did not divorce until she was 21, not 19 as she had claimed, that she only lived in her family's mobile home for a few months after the divorce, and that she had been financially supported by Jeff Davis while at TCU and Harvard. Davis acknowledged the errors and said, "My language should be tighter. I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail." Amid the controversy, Davis' daughters each released letters in defense of their mother. Dru, Davis' younger daughter wrote, "I have been reading and hearing so many untrue things about my mom and I wanted to set the record straight."
In August 2014, Davis released her first campaign ad, titled "A Texas Story." The ad attacked her rival, Abbott, for a Texas Supreme Court decision where he dissented. Diane Reese in the Washington Post called the advertisement "character assassination and fear-mongering".
In October 2014, a Davis campaign ad was described by Aaron Blake of The Washington Post as "one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see." It attacks Abbott as being hypocritical for receiving monies from an accident which incapacitated him, and then, as attorney general, supporting litigation limits on such payments. Mother Jones called the ad "offensive and nasty". MSNBC stated that the advertisement is probably "a hail mary effort" because Davis is trailing Abbott by double digits in the polls.
In November 2014, Salon journalist Jenny Kutner reported that American Thinker writer Deborah C. Tyler came up with a last minute nickname for then gubernatorial candidate Davis, a "gynecist", a term Kutner felt was meant to be derogatory by Tyler, but according to Kutner, "actually sounds kind of awesome once she starts describing what it means: Gynecism promotes the political position that the primary and most essential power a female can hold is the control of her own sexual and genital functions."
On November 4, 2014, Davis lost the race to become governor by a landslide twenty percent margin. According to exit polls she only received 47% of the women voters in Texas. In reference to how well her campaign was run, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post stated that "Wendy Davis was, by any measure, a massive disappointment" by receiving less than 40 percent of the vote in Texas.
Upon examining Davis' voting record over her three terms in the Texas Senate, Mark P. Jones, the Chairman of the Department of Political Science at Rice University in Houston, concluded that Davis was the fourth most liberal senator out of the 31 state senators who served during at least two of the three terms during which Davis had served. Jones found that she was "significantly more liberal" than John Whitmire, Juan Hinojosa, Carlos Uresti, and Eddie Lucio, Jr., who represent the centrist wing of the Texas Senate Democrats, "significantly more conservative" than José R. Rodríguez, the most liberal Texas Senate Democrat, and "statistically indistinguishable" from the other six Texas Senate Democrats.
In 2009 and 2011, Davis voted against a bill that requires physicians to perform a sonogram on and provide other information to abortion patients prior to an abortion. In 2011, she would also vote against a bill that requires an ultrasound prior to an abortion.
On June 25, 2013, she held an eleven hour long filibuster to block Senate Bill 5, a measure which included more restrictive abortion regulations for Texas. The filibuster played a major role in Senate Democrats' efforts to delay passage of the bill beyond the midnight deadline for the end of the legislative session, though it ultimately passed in a second session. On August 5, 2013, when asked about what legal limits on abortion she would support, she replied, "You know, the Supreme Court has made that decision. And it’s one of the protected liberties under our Constitution. And I respect the constitutional protections that are in place today." In October 2013, campaign spokesman Bo Delp told Politifact by email it’s incorrect to say Davis opposes any limits. "Like most Texans, Sen. Davis opposes late-term abortions except when the life or health of the mother is endangered, in cases of rape or incest or in the case of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities," Delp said. Also in October 2013, EMILY's List endorsed Wendy Davis for governor in 2014.
On February 11, 2014, Davis said that she would have supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, if the law adequately deferred to a woman and her doctor. She said she found the ban on abortions after 20 weeks to be the “least objectionable” provision in the abortion bill she filibustered last year.
While on the Fort Worth City Council, Davis supported gun restrictions, including for gun shows at city facilities.
In 2011, she voted against a bill that authorizes concealed handgun permit holders to carry concealed handguns while on the campus of an institution of higher education.
In 2013, she voted for a bill establishing certain tax exemptions for firearms manufacturers, along with a bill that authorizes certain university students to transport a licensed handgun or ammunition in a locked motor vehicle on a college or university campus.
On February 6, 2014, she expressed support for a proposed open carry gun law in Texas, which was banned under Texas state law. The state senator from Fort Worth said such a law should allow private property owners to determine whether weapons could be openly carried on their property. She also said background checks and training requirements would "help ensure that only mentally stable, law-abiding citizens may carry, whether concealed or open." She later said that she believes municipalities should be able to decide whether the proposed open carry and existing concealed carry laws should be used in their limits. After losing the election, she said that she opposes open carry, and that "I made a quick decision on that with a very short conversation with my team and it wasn't really in keeping with what I think is the correct position on that issue".
In 2000, Davis voted for Fort Worth's nondiscrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation.
In 2011, she authored the only LGBT-inclusive version of anti-bullying legislation and co-sponsored youth suicide prevention legislation and lobbied to kill an anti-transgender marriage bill.
In 2013, she co-authored the Senate version of a statewide workplace nondiscrimination bill, co-authored inclusive insurance nondiscrimination legislation, and she was one of only two senators to voted against an anti-trans marriage bill.
In January 2014, Human Rights Campaign endorsed Wendy Davis for governor in 2014. On February 13, 2014, she expressed support for same-sex marriage and said that Attorney General Greg Abbott, her presumed general-election opponent in the race for governor, should stop defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
On February 11, 2014, Davis expressed support for decriminalizing cannabis. She said she would back legislation to decrease criminal provisions for possession of small amounts of cannabis and believes medical cannabis should be left to the voters.
Wendy Davis lost her first race for Fort Worth City Council in 1996, but after her election in 1999 she served a nine-year tenure in the Fort Worth City Council. Davis ran unopposed in the 2001 and 2005 general elections. Her Texas State Senate career began in 2008, when she unseated by a margin of two percentage points the Republican incumbent, Kim Brimer. She was reelected in 2012.
Wendy Davis electoral history
City council elections
State senate elections
2014 gubernatorial election
Proposed television series
In 2015, Davis began working as the executive co-producer of a proposed television series for NBC about a fictitious "female Democratic senator who, after losing the Texas governor's race, gets her world turned upside down." In the story line, the Davis character will join a law firm headed by an African-American Republican. Before she ran for governor in 2014, Davis had worked in a firm headed by black Republican Bryan Newby, who had been general counsel to then-Governor Rick Perry.
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DAVIS, WENDY; FORT WORTH, TX 76102; HOMEMAKER; 4/28/99; $250; Bush, George W (R)
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- Peggy Fikae, "TV show will imitate Wendy Davis' life: Former senator is executive co-producer. San Antonio Express-News, October 10, 2015, p. A3
- Official website
- Wendy Davis on Twitter
- Senator Wendy Davis: District 10 at The Senate of Texas
- Wendy Davis (politician) at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
- Profile at Vote Smart
- State Sen. Wendy Davis at The Texas Tribune
| Member of the Texas Senate
from the 10th district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Texas