Monday, January 20, 2014

Not quite a molehill

Much less anything bigger.

Wendy Davis has made her personal story of struggle and success a centerpiece of her campaign to become the first Democrat elected governor of Texas in almost a quarter-century.

While her state Senate filibuster last year captured national attention, it is her biography — a divorced teenage mother living in a trailer who earned her way to Harvard and political achievement — that her team is using to attract voters and boost fundraising.

The basic elements of the narrative are true, but the full story of Davis’ life is more complicated, as often happens when public figures aim to define themselves. In the shorthand version that has developed, some facts have been blurred.

Davis was 21, not 19, when she was divorced. She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter.

A single mother working two jobs, she met Jeff Davis, a lawyer 13 years older than her, married him and had a second daughter. He paid for her last two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard Law School, and kept their two daughters while she was in Boston. When they divorced in 2005, he was granted parental custody, and the girls stayed with him. Wendy Davis was directed to pay child support.
In an extensive interview last week, Davis acknowledged some chronological errors and incomplete details in what she and her aides have said about her life.

“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”

There's more at the link, including this.

A former colleague and political supporter who worked closely with Davis when she was on the council said the body’s work was very time-consuming.

“Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.”

He said: “She’s going to find a way, and she’s going to figure out a way to spin herself in a way that grabs at the heart strings. A lot of it isn’t true about her, but that’s just us who knew her. But she’d be a good governor.”

Frankly, that person should have been willing to go on the record, or that quote should have been left out of the story.  I think that back-handed slap is garbage, and just short of a smear.

I first took note of a discussion of the article from RG Ratcliffe's Facebook wall. There are a few good journos weighing in there on the nature of the reporting itself.

Should Wendy Davis have been certain about her age, particularly in her public references to it, with regard to when she was divorced from her first husband?  Yes. This is an (albeit minor) unforced error.  Is her response about using "tighter language" adequate?  No.  She was first in her class at Harvard Law. She's been a successful attorney and politician for some time since then.  I have a bigger problem with this explanation than I do the actual mistake.

But this is still the smallest of potatoes. If this is the best that the media (and Abbott's oppo research folks) can do... Davis has nothing to worry about.

I'm a little more concerned about the investigation into her personal life that isn't prompted by anything even remotely salacious.  Women are judged more critically in this regard, by far, than men.  And that's sexist and wrong.

What I will wait for is the same kind of journalistic scrutiny applied to an attorney general of Texas who collected millions of dollars after a tree fell on him, then advocated for tort reform.  What was the reasoning behind that?  It's sort of like banning the lottery after you hit all six numbers. Or outlawing marriage between Latinas and white men after you married one.  Jay Root at the TexTrib came closest to getting a straight answer about this than anybody else has.

“If there were someone jogging today, got hit by a tree today, suffered the same kind of accident today, they would have access to the very same remedies I had access to,” (Abbott) said.

“Our legal system was abused in this state,” he continued. “There were many invalid claims that were filed in court, that clogged up the courts,  that either denied or delayed access for people who had valid claims.”

Not accurate at best, and a flat-out lie at worst. The very next paragraph...

Tort laws have changed drastically since Abbott’s accident, adding hurdles for people who sue for personal injuries and making it harder for them to win large sums. But there is disagreement about whether Abbott could receive a similar settlement today.


Not long after Abbott’s accident, sentiment against trial lawyers and large jury verdicts swept through Texas politics, which helped propel Republicans into dominance and laid the groundwork for new lawsuit restrictions.

In 1995, the Legislature capped punitive damages stemming from noneconomic losses at $750,000. Lawmakers also erected hurdles for plaintiffs who try to collect from multiple defendants.

Meanwhile, the conservative Texas Supreme Court, on which Abbott served from 1996 to 2001, began adopting tighter standards for losses that involved pain and suffering and mental anguish.

Too much spinning here from Abbott.  His specific personal motivations for advocating change in a law he richly benefited from -- something that gets at the deep, dark hypocrisy that Greg Abbott lives with every day -- would be an excellent debate question, one more difficult for him to dodge in a public, televised forum.  I just don't think he can answer it without exposing his true nature.

Update: Adding this exchange between the HousChron's  Lisa Falkenberg and Abbott, regarding the circumstance of Herlinda Garcia.

"So," I said, returning to Garcia's case, "if you were this woman, would you feel like justice had been served?"

"Well, having been a victim myself, on the one hand, you never feel that justice is served because you have to live with it the rest of your life, but also as a victim, I realize that victimology or being a victim doesn't get you anywhere in life. You just gotta move on."

"But," I asked, "what if they had told you that - after your accident, after you were paralyzed? 'You've just got to move on. And this is all you're going to get. Your award is limited.' "

"That's the reality that I face," he said. "I'm never walking again, Lisa."

"But what if they had limited your award and said 'move on?' "

This was the only part in the interview when Abbott stumbled.

"Uh, I mean …" he said. "I wasn't given a limitless award. I was given what the insurance policies had. That was the way it worked for me."

Yes, that was the way it worked out for you, General Abbott. You received a multimillion-dollar settlement that helped you support your family while you got your life back on track. You received what seems fair compensation for the harm you suffered.

The question is why Herlinda Garcia isn't entitled to the same.

As regards the piece on Davis, Socratic Gadfly is harsher in his judgment than I am, and Egberto Willies is much kinder (to Davis but not TexTrib publisher Evan Smith, in response to that Today show/Maria Shriver piece last week).  Update: And Carl Lindemann has a few questions about Abbott's own biography.

The pressure is increasing for both gubernatorial candidates, and they will need to get away from their spin and manufactured stories and speak truthfully and accurately about themselves and their vision for Texas as its potential leader.  I'm looking forward to reading those articles.

Developments UpdateAs you may be aware, Republicans have flown into a tizzy trying to make the non-molehill into a mountain.  Senator Davis felt compelled to issue a statement, and it is here, clarifying the timeline of some of the events of her life.

The misogyny so prevalent among the right shifted into overdrive this afternoon, and it's been an ugly thing to see.  But it's their pattern.  They are losing control of everything in their lives, and they have to blame it on a black president, a strong woman running for governor, gays, Ill Eagles, godless liberals and what have you.

Not exactly the party of personal responsibility after all.

I feel confident that the caterwauling hasn't moved the needle in either direction.  Women and minorities will see these vile attacks as something familiar, and everybody else will tut-tut, call it politics, and wait for the next piece of crap from conservatives to float to the surface.

We shouldn't have to wait more than a few days.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

I'm also curious who "ratted." I might surf through listings of old FW City Councils, you know?