This news out of Texas was quickly supplanted by the SCOTUS decisions around marriage equality today, the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman trial, and somehow, by continued coverage of Paula Deen’s racism. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the 11-hour filibuster by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis because it was a moment that perhaps can give us some lessons to remember for future political battles—which will inevitably will come our way. Or say, next month.
1. The filibuster was well planned and executed—Wendy had several things going for her, including a thick binder of germane content to read on the floor of the chamber, testimony from women that had not been allowed during earlier hearings on SB5, a Web page collecting more on-point testimony, and apparently, a big old Depends undergarment. She also had clearly prepped on the rules of the Senate filibuster allowances, and while she was abruptly ended by the Senate President for getting off-topic, talking about how SB5 would harmfully interact with an earlier passed law on sonograms was arguably still germane to the discussion. Dr. Gunter outlines the argument why that’s the case. But that she held the floor so long, despite extreme bending of the Senate’s rules on the part of the GOP supermajority makes this moment a prime example of successful governance. Big-ticket issues like a woman’s right to choose should be filibuster material, especially when the stakes are the closure of 37 out of 42 abortion-providing clinics in a state with 26 million people.
2. The gallery behaved exactly as they needed to, when they needed to—By many accounts, the rotunda in the Capitol and the gallery to the chamber were packed with supporters for Wendy. Women from all over Texas came out in numbers to show their frustration at yet another medically uninformed bill that would have extreme consequences for their lives. They certainly could have been kicked out hours earlier if they’d started a ruckus in the evening, but they were quiet, off-camera for the most part, as Sen. Davis talked on and on about the problems with the bill. They even remained silent while Republican senators challenged and ended her filibuster, and all throughout the picky-ante process of parliamentary inquiry with a clearly overwhelmed Lt. Governor. But when 11:52 ticked by and they were called to action by State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, they whooped and hollered, shouting “Shame! Shame!” and delaying the vote until 12:02, after the session cutoff. They must have known that state police would descend on them, and they did, a full 50 officers making arrests. It was the gallery of Texans that held off the vote and won the evening, ignoring Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s freaked out gaveling and bartering for quiet.
3. Notable objections among state senators showed that principled approaches to lawmaking still exist—State Senator Kirk Watson refused to yield his time to ask parliamentary questions, State Senator Judith Zaffrini, a strong anti-choice advocate but no fan of SB5, stayed on topic and took up time complaining that the Senate President (who is also the Lt. Governor) was not following the chamber rules correctly, both activities of which aided Senator Davis during and after her filibuster. In a country in which the media lunge to give time for continuing the tired conversation about polarized politics and “culture wars,” this in-the-weeds look at a filibuster in progress showed that political machines are still more nuanced and complicated than FoxNews or msnbc would have us believe.
4. Social media once again gave us what mainstream news programming would not—While many cable news programs were showing reruns (this filibuster and senate session went on until 1AM Eastern time), 190,000 people watched the livestream into the chamber. As happens when online-inclined people watch something live all at the same time, the Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded in commentary. This brought more people into the radar of the event, got the Internet talking, and some geographical data showed that tweets about “Wendy Davis” “SB5” “Texas Senate” and other topics were popping up all across the continent. Texas was in the spotlight and television was making itself once again irrelevant to the conversation. Then, the truly outrageous happened: The GOP-led Senate changed the time stamps on the roll call vote from 12:02 to 11:59. Again the Internet roiled, because 150,000 people had watched the entire proceedings and knew that time had expired before the vote had finished. Finally the Senate President admitted they did not complete the vote in time of the special session. The feeling on Tuesday night was that if he’d thought only the people in the chamber knew of the transgression, he would have tried to make the late vote stand.
5. Wendy Davis just got a huge signal boost—With President Obama’s popularity falling, the country still struggling with a 7%-and above unemployment rating, and a set of scandals from NSA to drone attacks in the Middle East, the Democrats have been pinning their hopes on Hillary Clinton for a 2016 run for President. But many people are tired of the legacy politicians from both parties, saying “No more Bushes or Clintons.” Wendy Davis at the very least, shows that there are capable, left-leaning politicians still out there, individuals not afraid to be tagged with the liberal label or who duck behind rhetoric like “his stance is evolving.” With Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren lying low in the US Senate in their first year, galvanizing their support for the future, we need more women like Wendy Davis to push back against the conservative tide in reliably red states like Texas. She may just be a future candidate in 2020 or 2024. And I wouldn’t count her out for 2016. It would behoove us to identify where similarly minded politicians are in other GOP strongholds, because these are the folks who are learning how to fight and make the kinds of connections one needs to get anything done in Washington. It is something Barack Obama failed to do as a one-term senator, and for which the Democratic Party is now paying the price.