Wendy Davis fights back over questions on biographical details


Texas Sen. Wendy Davis defended herself from questions over her biography in a speech Tuesday night (Credit: Erich Schlegel.)

Correction: This post originally included incorrect information on the location of Davis’s speech. She spoke to the Travis County Democratic Party in Austin, Texas.

Facing mounting questions over details about her biography, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) used a speech to Austin-area Democrats on Tuesday to defend her account of her early adulthood.

Davis, a rising star in the Democratic Party whose one-woman filibuster against anti-abortion legislation captured the attention of the left, inspired donors and activists with her story of boosting herself from single motherhood, divorced at 19 and living in a trailer, to Harvard Law School.

But a week and a half ago, the Dallas Morning News published an in-depth look at Davis’s story that called several details of her account into question. Davis divorced her first husband when she was 21, not 19, the paper revealed. Davis’s second husband, attorney Jeff Davis, paid for her last two years of undergraduate study at Texas Christian University and her three years at Harvard.

Republicans, led by her likely general election opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), have leapt on the misstatements, which Davis acknowledged in an interview with Morning News reporter Wayne Slater.

Since the story came out, Davis had maintained the questions were prompted by Abbott’s campaign as part of a political attack. But in a measure of how widespread the story had become, on Tuesday, Davis responded to those critics with a fierce defense.

“Most women think about the moment when they become the sole caregiver of their child as the time when their marriage ends. My divorce was official when I was 21, but in reality my marriage ended when I was 19, when I became Amber’s sole caregiver — and remained so for four years,” Davis told the Travis County Democratic Party, according to prepared remarks released by her campaign.

Davis said her second husband, the Texas attorney, was “generous and supportive” when it came to her education at TCU and Harvard. The couple’s two daughters, Amber and Dru, joined Davis in Boston for a semester before returning to Texas, after the Davises decided they would do best back home. Davis said she spent the remainder of her law school years splitting time between Boston and Texas.

“The truth is that this was a family effort from beginning to end. It was a family effort when Jeff cashed in a 401K to help pay for law school and it was a family effort once I became a successful lawyer working and contributing to our family finances to pay off my law school loans over the next decade,” Davis said. “I will always be grateful to Jeff for that partnership.”

After the couple divorced, 10 years later, Jeff Davis kept custody of the two daughters, and Wendy Davis was ordered to pay child support. Speaking to Democrats on Tuesday, Davis said she had never given up or lost custody of her children.

Davis sought on Tuesday to turn the controversy back on Abbott and Republicans, whom she accused of “lying about my family.”

“Greg Abbott and his folks have picked a fight with the wrong Texas gal if they think I’ll shrink from working to fight for a just and right future for all Texans,” Davis said.

Davis and Abbott will collide in one of the most high-profile gubernatorial races of the year. Given Texas’s lax campaign finance laws, both candidates have raised millions of dollars already — Davis said earlier this month she had raised more than $12 million for her campaign since October, while Abbott’s campaign said it had a total of $27 million in the bank.

Despite the attention she has received from donors and activists, Davis faces an uphill fight. No Democrat has won the governorship in Texas since Ann Richards, in 1990. All nine statewide elected officials are Republicans, and President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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