Attacks on candidates’ personal stories keep Texas from moving forward


Erika Rich

Senator Wendy Davis pauses during her speech to supporters of Texas womens' rights, who gathered at the capitol Monday morning as a reaction to the second special session.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, state Sen. Wendy Davis took to task critics who have, as of late, questioned the veracity of details in her rags-to-riches personal story, including the date of her first divorce, the amount of time she spent in a trailer park and the extent of her ex-husband’s financial support as she pursued her education. 

“Throughout this campaign, I’ve shared [my] story – not because it’s unique, but because it isn’t,” Davis wrote in an email to supporters. “The story of my life is also the story of millions of single mothers who feel alone in the world, millions of young dreamers searching for their chance to become something more than what they were born into, millions of families all across Texas who would sacrifice everything to give their children a better future. It’s those stories – your stories – that drive my campaign.” 

The ultimate problem with Davis’ story, however, isn’t that aspects of it might not be completely truthful, or that it isn’t compelling — it is, even once you’ve corrected for certain factual errors. It’s that the campaign materials of both Davis and her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, are essentially nothing more than a narrative that ends in the present moment rather than one that extends into the future with concrete policy goals and a clear vision for the state. Sure, a story about detailed public policy plans may not be riveting, but it has a place in interviews with the press and on the candidates’ campaign websites, if perhaps not in speeches or email blasts. And yet you’d be hard pressed to find these sorts of details in either candidate’s vast public personas, which remain as thin as the magazine covers that bear their images. 

There’s a reason we have time to spend debating the exact age Wendy Davis was when she first got divorced: The candidates haven’t given us much else to talk about. 

Veteran political commentator Paul Burka said as much in a Texas Monthly article published Tuesday. “How would I describe the status of Texas politics right now? In a word, irrelevant,” Burka wrote. “By this I mean that there is no discernible interest in developing an agenda that could move the state forward.” 

The fault lies on both sides of the aisle. On the Democratic side, when Wendy Davis’ campaign manager, Karin Johanson, was asked by the Texas Tribune to “boil down Wendy Davis’ message to a paragraph,” she responded, “I’m for the regular guy. I mean I think that’s pretty basic. There are all kinds of things that can shoot out from that, but — for the little guy. I think they think of her as brave and principled. I mean, I think that’s what happened with the filibuster, that people thought she stood up for 13 hours and that she was a principled person.” 

“Basic” is one way to describe it. Vague is another. But of course, in the classic fashion of an adviser whose race it is to lose, the Abbott campaign manager refused to give an interview at all.