News Column

Wendy Davis Hits D.C. Fundraising Trail

July 26, 2013
finance legislation

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, swept through Washington on Thursday with a high-dollar breakfast fundraiser in the morning, and a lower-budget affair in the evening, amid indications that she isn't considering a run for lieutenant governor as an alternative to a run for governor or re-election to the state Senate.

Matt Angle, founder of the Democratic Lone Star Project, which conducted a Twitter town hall with Davis between fundraisers, said speculation that Davis might find the lieutenant governor's office a more inviting target actually misses the point. If Davis were to be elected to preside over a mostly Republican Senate, that majority could use Senate rules to strip the lieutenant governor's office of much of the power that would make it worth holding.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said that while a Republican Senate couldn't entirely neuter the lieutenant governor's office were Davis elected, it could strip the lieutenant governor of the power to make committee assignments and set the Senate agenda, and remove the Senate's two-thirds rule.

"They can't gut it completely, but they can certainly downgrade the power of the office," Jones said. Practically speaking, that could leave Senate Democrats weaker than they would be with a Republican lieutenant governor and the two-thirds rule still in place, he said. Under that rule, the 31-member Senate needs 21 votes to bring up legislation for debate, and that has given the chamber's 12 Democrats the power to block bills they don't like.

Angle, whose younger brother, J.D. Angle, has been Davis' top political consultant for years, also offered some sobering estimates on how much money Davis would have to raise to run a competitive campaign for statewide office in Texas. Angle said she would need $35 million to $40 million, with outside groups pouring in an additional $15 million to $20 million to support the effort, money that Matt Angle said would need to come mostly from Texas-based organizations.

Davis rocketed to national attention in the wake of her filibuster a month ago blocking legislation to restrict abortion in Texas. The legislation was subsequently passed in a second special session of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry. Senate Democrats were able to block abortion legislation during the regular session, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst decided to operate without the two-thirds rule during the special sessions.

Davis raised a little under a million dollars in the last two weeks of June, leaving her with a little more than $1 million in the bank.

Jones said the problem Davis faces in raising money for a statewide race is that Texas is so big and expensive, and the odds of success so long, that national Democratic money is more likely to go to help the party in tight U.S. Senate races in 2014 in a half-dozen other states.

"You've got Senate races in Iowa, Montana, West Virginia, Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana, and it's cheaper to fund all those races than run a single campaign in Texas," Jones said.

Davis' $500-a-person breakfast fundraiser -- which drew more than 75 people, including U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. -- was at Johnny's Half Shell on Capitol Hill, and the evening event was at Local 16, a bar and restaurant on U Street. There, a mostly younger mob of a few hundred supporters, many with Texas roots, gathered to hear Davis, who was introduced by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, say that, "Republican state leaders have been in power so long and have become so destructively partisan that their priorities no longer have anything to do with Texas families."

They had, she said, lost touch with "a deeply held Texas value."

"Texans own the right to make personal decisions for themselves," she said, suggesting to the crowd that it is "our collective mission" to reclaim Texas.

Matt Angle said Davis would probably make a decision about what office to run for in the next few weeks, but might not announce her decision that quickly.

Davis is due back in Washington to speak at a National Press Club luncheon on Aug. 5 on "the political climate in Texas and Washington and her future plans."

Davis' success in winning and holding the Fort Worth seat has been a point of pride for Texas Democrats. Davis has called it the only true swing district in the state Senate. She would have to surrender the seat if she were to pursue statewide office.

Kinky Friedman, who has been considering another run for governor and was in Washington earlier in the week to see his sister, Marcie, said he admires Davis and would like to meet with her. He suggested that she would have a better shot at winning the lieutenant governor race, and that they might make a good team. He fashions himself a Harry Truman Democrat, if Truman backed legalizing marijuana and casino gambling. However, Democratic leaders remember that Friedman's independent campaign for governor in 2006 undermined the Democratic nominee, Chris Bell. Angle said Friedman isn't a "serious" figure.

Meanwhile, Davis' absence from Austin briefly brought the Senate to an ugly standstill Thursday.

A routine motion to excuse her "on matters of important business" drew objections from Republican Sens. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Donna Campbell of San Antonio and Dan Patrick of Houston. Aren't such motions generally submitted in writing? Nelson asked.

After Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, asked a series of questions making it clear they aren't, and in fact never draw objections under Senate tradition, the three senators dropped their objections.

The tone of Davis' half-hour Twitter town hall was, of course, very different, and the questions weren't particularly challenging.

Among them: "What song best describes your kicking-ass-and-taking-names awesomeness?"

Her answer: "Tom Petty's 'I Won't Back Down.'"

___

(c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

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Source: Copyright Austin American-Statesman (TX) 2013


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