Posted on January 20, 2014 at 8:06 PM
Tuesday, Jan 21 at 1:13 PM
AUSTIN -- State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) launched her campaign for governor on a simple premise.
"Every Texan has a story about what Texas means for them," Davis told supporters gathered for her official announcement in October 2013. "As everyone in this room does, I have a Texas story.
Inside the gymnasium of her old high school in the working class Fort Worth suburb of Haltom City, Davis' own story of working her way from an impoverished single mother to a Harvard-educated attorney and politician took center stage.
"By the time I was 19, I was already on my way to a divorce, living in a tiny trailer with my daughter Amber," said Davis. "I was barely making ends meet, and sometimes they didn't."
In particular, it details her marriage to a wealthy, older attorney named Jeff Davis, who helped pay for her to finish her studies at Texas Christian University, and took out loans and cashed in a 401(k) to provide funds to put her through Harvard Law School. The article also notes she divorced him after her loans were paid off, and that he was granted custody of her daughters.
Along with a claim Davis made while testifying in a federal redistricting lawsuit that she was divorced by the age of 19, the details of her second marriage and divorce have been seized upon as evidence the authenticity of her personal story is dubious. When contacted Monday, Republican attorney general and gubernatorial opponent Greg Abbott's campaign released a statement accusing Davis of lying about her personal history.
"Sen. Wendy Davis systematically, intentionally and repeatedly deceived Texans for years about her background, yet she expects voters to indulge her fanciful narrative," said Abbott spokesperson Matt Hirsch. "Not only does Sen. Davis hide her donors and contributions, but she's attempting to hide her past. It's disappointing that a candidate would so cavalierly deceive voters about the most basic aspects of their life, while providing inaccurate testimony in the process. If voters can't trust what Sen. Davis says, how can they trust her to lead? Texans deserve candidates who are open and honest with the truth."
"This obviously raises a lot of questions," said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. "It's going to put her campaign on defense for the next week at least, and it really sort of undercuts one of her strengths, which is this personal narrative."
"In a campaign, the best messenger you have is the candidate," Mackowiak said. "If the candidate is seen as not being fully honest, or even being dishonest, it sort of makes it impossible to use the candidate as the messenger."
Davis' campaign responded Monday by releasing new details of her personal biography describing both the financing of her higher education and the raising of children as joint family ventures. Davis states that she also contributed to repaying the loans while working as an attorney, and that she and her ex-husband shared child custody following the divorce. The campaign additionally emphasized both Davis' daughters lived with her in Boston during her first year at Harvard; after which Davis split time between Boston and Fort Worth, and spent half of each month with her children during her final year.
"We’re not surprised by Greg Abbott’s campaign attacks on the personal story of my life as a single mother who worked hard to get ahead," Davis said in a statement Monday. "But they won’t work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you’re young, alone and a mother.
Her serious financial difficulties prior to her second marriage and struggle to make a living while going to school and raising a child are not in question, nor were the academic achievements needed to secure a scholarship to TCU and acceptance to Harvard. Democratic consultant Jason Stanford argues the details from the period after that don't detract from her story's resonance.
"She's the woman that people can relate to," said Stanford. "I'm a child of divorce. I've been divorced. Now I have something in common with Wendy Davis. If you're going to attack someone for not living a perfect life, you're going to find an awful lot of sinners looking for redemption in Texas. God forbid any of us have our exes go on record against any of us. If her daughters are behind her, then really what business is this of ours? Apparently Greg Abbott thinks it's his business to attack a woman for her personal life. I think that is way beyond the line."
It will be up to voters in November whose story wins the day.
To read Davis' full statement and new biography details provided by the campaign, go here.
To read the original story in the Dallas Morning News, go here.