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Wendy Davis Filibuster Key Issue In Lieutenant Governor Debate

Shelley Kofler
GOP lieutenant governor candidates Dewhurst, Patrick, Patterson and Staples at Dallas debate hosted by Young Republicans.

Democrat Wendy Davis may be a candidate for governor, but Tuesday night in Dallas she became a central part of a debate among Republicans running for lieutenant governor.

Opponents trying to unseat incumbent David Dewhurst blame him for Davis gaining enough popularity to mount a campaign for governor.

The question that led to the dust up was about being pro-life. What would each of the candidates do in the next session to strengthen those policies in Texas?

Of the four candidates, all state office holders, only Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson offered specifics.

“We need to look at the end of life and make sure when those decisions are made they’re made by the family,” he said as he repeatedly urged voters to go to his website.

In addition to making sure the lives of seniors are not ended prematurely, Patterson called for legislation that would make it easier to adopt unwanted babies.  On abortion he said: let’s make the restrictions even tougher.

“I support continuing to press the envelope.  We have a 20-week ban now.  A first trimester ban would be the next step,” said Patterson.

In other words, Patterson wants to ban abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, even though a federal court blocked Arkansas’ 12-week ban and Texas’ current 20-week ban is also being tested.

The two other candidates challenging Dewhurst responded to the question by revisiting Sen. Wendy Davis’s filibuster that temporarily derailed the abortion bill. 

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples was the first to blame Dewhurst for allowing the filibuster to take place.

“It’s very unfortunate it came down to a special session to pass that because of failed leadership. That’s unfortunate that Wendy Davis, the most liberal state senator in Texas, now has a national following because of the way that happened,” said Staples. 

State Sen. Dan Patrick kicked the accusations up a notch.

“The filibuster that created Wendy Davis to be a rock star and put a target on Texas was created because we sent the bill out of the Senate without the ban on abortion at five months.  That was the lieutenant governor’s decision,” Patrick claimed. 

Patrick said pro-life forces lost time when Dewhurst couldn’t originally convince enough Republicans in the Senate to back the 20-week ban.  Patrick says waiting for the House to do that and send it back to the Senate gave Davis an opportunity to filibuster at the end of the session and to generate a protest that brought her national fame.

Dewhurst called Patrick’s recounting of events “revisionism” and said the Houston Senate offered no solutions at the time.  Dewhurst added that in the end lawmakers adopted the abortion ban as he knew they would.

“If you look at the scoreboard ladies and gentlemen it’s Wendy Davis zero, Life one,” said Dewhurst. 

“Wendy Davis is going to run for governor and she’s going to lose and she’s going to end up with a staff job in the Obama administration until it winds down,” Dewhurst predicted. 

But Patrick didn’t let it rest.  He said the filibuster gave Davis enough muscle to mount a gubernatorial campaign that the Republican nominee will have to counter.  Patrick says that will drain party coffers.

“This race (for governor) which will cost Texas, probably the Republican Party, $30-$40 million- it should never have happened,” said Patrick.

The abortion issue and the Davis blame-game are a recurring theme as the lieutenant governor candidates debate before GOP crowds at least once or twice a week.

A University of Texas –Texas Tribune Poll last month showed Dewhurst with 26 percent of the primary vote, double Patrick, his closest competitor.  But it also showed that nearly half the Republican voters surveyed didn’t know who they’d vote for. Which means this contest is still wide open and likely to produce a run-off race.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.