The Winners and Losers of the Great Texas Abortion Filibuster
If you were anywhere near a computer, a phone, or the Hill Country over the past 24 hours, you'll know that Texas witnessed one of the most memorable, remarkable displays of political will it's ever known. In lieu of allowing nearly 90 percent of the abortion clinics across the state to shutter, Sen. Wendy Davis stood in front of her colleagues, and in front of hundreds of thousands who watched alongside, to cover all the reasons Senate Bill 5 was an affront on both constitutional right and basic decencies.
And while the filibuster didn't technically run through its intended deadline -- a handful of short-sighted points of order derailed her speech just short of its intended 13 hours -- the move was, in the end, a success. Sen. Rodney Ellis helped Davis put on her back brace. Sens. Kirk Watson, Judith Zaffirini, and Leticia Van de Putte picked Davis up when she faltered. And, with ten minutes remaining until midnight, the crowd began a round of cheers that drowned any final attempts to all but ban access to abortion for millions of women.
Senate Bill 5 is dead. Abortion clinics remain available to the 13 million women in the state. And some have come out of the debate looking far better than others:
Wendy Davis: There are only so many words you can offer to capture the effort Davis offered on Tuesday. For anyone who had a chance to catch any of the 11-odd hours of her speech -- for anyone who saw her tears through the testimonials, or the fire through her soliloquy -- you witnessed the forging of a political brand. Through her sustained, inspired efforts, Davis has not simply helped shift national perceptions of Texans, but has instantly tossed herself to the fore of the Democratic pack in the gubernatorial race. A teenage mom, a Harvard Law grad, and a woman who just sacrificed herself so that others wouldn't have to? We'll see you in 17 months, senator.
Texas women: This may be a bit of a cop-out, but no demographic comes out of this abortion debacle looking as dedicated and responsive as the women of this state. There were millions of men who offered support alongside. And that's great -- we're not going anywhere. But the women of the state: Those were the ones organizing. Those were the ones rallying. Those were the ones who brought Davis forward, and who buried this bill where it belongs. This ruling belonged to the most powerful electorate the state suddenly knows. Ann Richards is smiling, wherever she may be. And you should be, as well.
Transparent government: As the clock ticked to midnight, and as the crowd in the rotunda turned its waves into a roar, Dewhurst realized his efforts at order were in vain. This cadre of supporters was not going to allow the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation to take effect. Huddling with his compatriots, going over tactics and procedure, Dewhurst's colleagues produced sound bytes of victory and claims of passage. They pointed to the document detailing the bill's movements. Everything had taken place before midnight. Everything in the bill was set for implementation.
But, wait! Look at the time-stamp on those documents. Look who's taken these screencaps of the original, and look at what's changed. And look at the data on the bottom of the live stream -- look at those hundreds of thousands who've just witnessed the midnight bell ring, without SB 5's passage. Get a sense of how many people just witnessed what took place. Because Dewhurst seemed to. Three hours later, after the whispers of Sen. Dan Patrick proved false, Dewhurst returned to reporters, realizing there was no way he could pull the wool over Texas's eyes. Realizing that people had watched their government at work. It's no coincidence that debate led the crowd to burst into the largest rendition of "The Eyes of Texas" you'll ever see.
Sens. Ellis, Watson, Zaffirini, and Van de Putte: These senators, in front of hundreds of thousands, carried Davis's mission when the chamber attempted to muzzle the message. Indeed, the highlight of the evening may not simply have been SB 5's defeat, but Van de Putte's now-famous line: "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?"
Texas men: While this began and ended as a debate over a woman's right to choose, innumerable men not simply offered support, but proved victorious alongside. Texas's men can now see the women they love so dearly obtain the health care they deserve, and can now have that much fairer of a discussion as it pertains to family planning and opportunity.
David Dewhurst: The lieutenant governor may have thought he'd bottomed out during last year's primary obliteration against Ted Cruz. After yesterday's sham show, though, a wide stretch of the state had a chance to see not simply his failure at leadership, but his choice to support some of the more despicable points of order brought forth in recent years. Sen. Tommy Williams complained that Davis was taking time to don a back brace. Sen. Donna Campbell somehow believed that a discussion of the state's invasive sonogram bill was off-topic, and that it was subsequently not germane. Dewhurst let both of these run. And then, when the crowd forced him to own up to his acrimony, he faltered. Sen. Patrick, the lieutenant governor's seat is yours for the taking in 2014.
The Texas GOP, and the White Male patriarchy: We're witnessing something. Not simply the correct, admirable usage of a filibuster, rather than the wet-pants maneuver that US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefers. No, this is something larger. We're witnessing an aging, white, and largely male power base -- the kind that has ruled Texas since Santa Anna departed and the Comanche were finally rolled back -- realizing that its position atop the podium is fading. We're witnessing the close-minded, Christianist pack that's long run the state finally noticing the demographic wave that is about to overtake them, full of Hispanics, and secularists, and open-armed Millennials who don't buy into their tropes of tradition, and who see through these geriatrics' dog-whistle, Anglo-Christian policies.
This White, Male patriarchy, the bastion of the Texas GOP, is finally coming to terms with the Texas of the near future. And they're trying to ram as much legislation as they possibly can before their majority falters. This base is entering its death throes. Texas is but a mirror of this national reality, and a presage, of the demographic turn. Measures like SB 5 are the final flailings of a base that realize its time is about to pass.
It's going to get worse before it gets better. Get ready for a ride.
Old Media : If you flipped on Fox News late last night, you witnessed a pair of gelled-hair hosts denying the realities of global warming. If you turned to MSNBC, you could see a panel hashing about Snowden. And if you found CNN late last night, you could learn -- in all seriousness -- how to perfect your cupcakes. This is the state of cable news, while one of the most important moments of American political theater unfurled below them.
But at least these news networks didn't have a chance to get their reportage wrong. At least they didn't repeat the Fox/CNN debacles of last year's Obamacare coverage. Apparently, however, the Associated Press and CBS decided that they would rely on the GOP whispers as final ruling in their stories. While confusion reigned following the midnight countdown, both outlets reported that SB 5 had, indeed, passed. Both were as incorrect as you could possibly be.
Meanwhile, the Texas Tribune was maintaining its feed of the goings-on in the Senate chamber. Reporters from the Press and the Dallas Observer were live-Tweeting the proceedings, interacting with colleagues and readers alike. And 180,000 people flipped off their televisions and flipped over to social media to watch everything unfurl. Patient. Ready to see for themselves how the evening went, while AP and CBS scrambled for any kind of truths. It won't be enough to bury Old Media's practices, but it's yet another nail in its coffin.
Julian Castro: Castro's place on the list comes only by default, as the San Antonio mayor had minimal involvement in last night's activities. However, with Davis's performance, Castro seems to have lost his position atop the Democratic horse-race for gubernatorial nomination. Perhaps a run at Sen. John Cornyn's seat next November?
Sen. Tommy Williams: Just two weeks ago, Texas Monthly placed Williams atop its "Best Legislators" list. A few days after that, Williams gathered accolades on all sides by calling out Patrick for the latter's political waffling on the state budget. Last night's performance, however, effectively killed any public capital he'd gained. Hours into her filibuster, Davis needed help applying a back brace. Ellis came to her aid. And Williams wouldn't have it.
His complaint was not simply as cheap as you'd imagine, but, as it was witnessed by front of hundreds of thousands, effectively painted Williams across the state as little more than an aging, white man bullying a woman attempting to stand for her rights. With one action, Williams became a microcosm of the state's GOP. And that's not a good thing.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.