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Wendy Davis: A Texas Senator's Humble Beginnings

Bill Zeeble

From Austin to Hollywood to the White House, Wendy Davis had the political world riveted Tuesday night with her marathon filibuster of bill that would have given Texas one of the toughest abortion laws in the nation. Turns out the 50-year-old Democrat is no stranger to political, and life, battles.

This isn’t Wendy Davis’ first rodeo. Two years ago, the state senator took the stand to block a budget deal that would have cut $4 billion from public schools.

“All session long, I have been fighting for that little guy, for the people back home," Davis said in a 2011 interview with KERA. "I’m committed to that. It truly is the reason I’m here.”

Her hourlong stand in 2011 was just a warm up for last night’s 10-hours-plus marathon. This time, she came prepared. Pink running shoes and back brace included. In Fort Worth, Davis is known as a tenacious fighter – Bud Kennedy of the Star Telegram says that's partly because redistricting left Davis with a large majority of Republicans in her district, elections have been tooth and nail.

“It’s been a four-year job just to stay in office another four years," Kennedy says, "and I think the 12 hours of Wendy on the ropes is a metaphor of what we’ve seen of her throughout her career.”

And her life. Davis was raised by a single mother who worked long hours at a Braum’s ice cream parlor to make ends meet. At age 19, it looked like she was on track to follow that same path.

“I worked two jobs, I had a fulltime job during the day and I waited tables at night," Davis told KERA's Shelley Kofler. "I really struggled, I lived in a mobile home community in southeast Fort Worth and understood what it meant to come home and have your lights turned off or your phone turned off because you just couldn’t balance it all and keep it going.”

While raising a child on her own, Davis managed to return to school, and became the first person in her family to graduate from college. After Texas Christian University, she was off to Harvard Law before making her way back to Fort Worth.  

There, she served nine years on City Council. 

“She was a middle-of-the-road, business moderate Democrat," Kennedy says. "[Davis] helped to bring the Radio Shack headquarters downtown and promoted corporate development in Fort Worth. It wasn’t until she got to Austin that she became the champion for the cause.”

Three causes, really: job creation, public education and women’s health. And she worked doggedly to push through legislation. Davis introduced more than 60 bills after only four months in Austin. In 2009, she was named legislative rookie of the year by Texas Monthly.

More recently she’s emerged as a staunch supporter of womens’ reproductive rights -- last year protesting with those who opposed a plan to cut Medicaid funding to agencies that provided abortions.

“I, like so many poor women, relied on that as my absolutely only source of health care,” Davis said at a rally in Fort Worth.

After last night’s standing, and talking, sensation, Davis has secured her place as one of the most popular senators in Texas’ blue minority. She’s getting shoutouts on Twitter from Perez Hilton Mia Farrow, and other celebs. Still, she says she’ll never forget where she came from. 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.