Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor
Texas has always been a state that has thought of itself as a whole ‘nother country. This independent sentiment felt by many Texans is not entirely unwarranted, given the state’s size, wealth and rich history. So it’s no real surprise when things are done “big” in this state, and politics is no exception.
Sometimes, however, the “big” size of Texas politics can be a bit surprising, and already-large campaigns can take on a life of their own. Exhibit A: the governor’s race between presumptive nominees Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.
Now, the race for any governor’s seat is an important affair, and in the bigger states it can be a huge deal. This election here in Texas, however, is more reminiscent of a race for the White House than the Governor’s Mansion. If you lived through the last presidential race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, you know that’s nowhere near a positive assessment.
Case in point: This is the first week of February, the actual election isn’t until November, and serious mudslinging between Abbott and Davis began weeks ago.
The first few months of Davis’ candidacy had been a relative stroll in the meadow. Basking in the fame bestowed upon her for her pro-abortion filibuster in the Texas Senate, Davis began to tout her life story as a self-made, single mother to earn credibility with voters.
As revealed in a story in the Dallas Morning News, however, some of the details of her biography “have been blurred.” For example, while she claimed that she was a divorced teen mother, she and her first husband did not actually divorce until she was 21. Her website also states that she managed to attend Texas Christian University (TCU) and Harvard Law School with the help of scholarships and student loans. However, the website failed to mention that her second husband, 13 years her senior, not only paid for her last two years at TCU and her time at Harvard, but also cared for her two daughters during her schooling. They divorced shortly after her student bills were paid off.
When the Dallas Morning News made these discrepancies apparent, the Abbott campaign and other Republicans latched onto them tightly. Opponents have loudly begun to question how much of a self-made success story she actually is, and social conservatives attack her for what they see as a lack of family values.
Some liberals argue that such attacks show the Republicans to be sexist. These Democrats say that the Republicans find it troublesome that a woman can go out into the business world and leave the kids with her husband. Davis’ campaign, however, is still reeling from these revelations.
In response to Davis’ shellacking, some of her supporters have begun to question the legitimacy of Abbott’s handicap. According to his biography, Abbott, who is wheelchair-bound, became partially paralyzed when a tree fell on him as he was jogging. Now these “wheelchair truthers” are demanding proof that his paralysis is not a stunt for sympathy among voters. While it has yet to become a mainstream movement, enough people are fanning the flames to keep this rumor alive.
Looking back on it all, one might wonder: Is this really what Texas politics have come to? We’ve (unfortunately) come to expect this kind of over-the-top behavior in national races, but all of this is occurring in a single state, well before the two candidates can even officially say they’re their respective parties’ nominees.
What do I believe is the main reason that this race has become so huge so early in the season? The National Democratic Party. The last few presidential elections have shown that while Texas has remained a red (Republican) state, it has begun to take a sort of purple-ish hue. A key reason for this is the rising Hispanic population in the state, coupled with the failure of the Republican Party to bring these Hispanics into their fold. Having a Democratic governor would allow for more liberal policies to be enacted in the state, which national Democrats hope would result in even more votes going to their party. Their chance to push Texas into the swing-state column for presidential elections, if not outright turn it into a blue state in the future, is too good for them to pass up.
Now that Wendy Davis has presented herself and become a household name, Democrats from across the country are pouring out cash to help one of their own capture the Governor’s Mansion for the first time in decades. National Republicans have followed suit and are backing Abbott just as enthusiastically. As the repercussions of the race become even more significant — and as the money in the campaigns’ coffers increses — everything about these candidates that can be scrutinized will be — and with a fine-toothed comb.
This state race has gone national; participants are concerned not only for what’s in Texas’ interest, but for the role that Texas will play in our nation’s future. Just because this campaign has become something akin to a national race, though, does not mean that campaigners have to act like it has become one. Abbott’s and Davis’ campaigns and supporters should know better than to behave like rabid partisans, but it is up to Texas voters to ensure that the partisan fires don’t receive any extra fuel.