On Sarah Davis getting a challenger, social conservatives, and brands of politicians

Image credit: Pixabay

The frequent lament that American and British [political] parties are much alike, instead of representing different ideologies or, sometimes, classes, is thus a criticism of the voting rules rather than of our politicians.

Gordon Tullock – Appendix 2, of James Buchanan’s The Calculus of Consent

This past week, Big Man David Jennings broke the news on his blog that two-term state representative Sarah Davis (R – 134) will have a challenger in the Republican primary come Spring 2014. The news brought out a slew of different reactions to Jennings’s post, not to mention 89 comments on the Facebook link to his blog post. It seems Davis’s challenger, one Bonnie Parker, is largely a one-trick pony, namely proclaiming herself to be a pro-life politician, whereas Sarah Davis cast the lone Republican vote in the 83rd Texas Legislature against tightening the screws – yet again – on abortion. Sarah went so far as to write an Op-Ed to the Houston Chronicle on the issue, which miraculously was published.

Republican State Representative Sarah Davis, HD 134 (courtesy house.state.tx.us)
Republican State Representative Sarah Davis, HD 134 (courtesy house.state.tx.us)

A personal disclaimer before going any further: I first met Sarah at a Tea Party rally I sponsored, held at Discovery Green, back on April 15th 2010. Sarah had survived a bout of cancer, and that prompted her to run for office. I’ve donated several hundred dollars to Sarah’s political campaigns. One of the memories I have of Sarah was hearing the news on election night of November 2010. The local R’s erupted in elation when the news came that Sarah had defeated her Democrat opponent, Ellen Cohen. Fast forward three years, and now some Republicans seem to think that poor Sarah is a modern-day incarnation of the Wicked Witch of the West.

There’s no end to the irony of all this, because if you’re a social conservative who is outraged at Sarah Davis for her position on abortion, you need only look at who it was that Sarah defeated back in 2010: Ellen Cohen. From time to time, local anti-abortion groups organize protests that are held at the local Planned Parenthood palace, located on the Gulf Freeway. Now, what would you think if I were to tell you that some voices in the wind told me several years ago that a certain former state representative, who happens now to sit on Houston City Council, had a big hand in getting that temple built? Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at Planned Parenthood’s own website and see who is listed amongst those specifically endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Cohen apparently was the recipient of over $11,000 in campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood when she was a state representative. In comparison, Sarah Davis has received some $943,000 in campaign contributions over time, but for some bizarre reason I can’t figure out, Planned Parenthood is nowhere to be found amongst Sarah’s big contributors. Now ask yourself, why is that?

Moreover, social conservatives have handed the Republican Party a headache in 2014, in the form of Wendy Davis, who looks to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor of Texas come November 2014. It was the late push by social conservatives in the 2013 Texas Legislature to tighten the screws on abortion – yet again – that prompted the backlash from Democrats, led by Planned Parenthood, which created a ruckus that featured massive opposing crowds descending on the Capital building in Austin. This was the drama that brought Wendy Davis to widespread public notice, running around in silly pink running shoes and holding a filibuster on the floor of the Legislature in protest. Up until then, Wendy Davis was just another run-of-the-mill, obscure Texas legislator, little known to anyone who wasn’t a political junkie or who wasn’t neck deep into North Texas politics.

Now, there are probably quite a few people out there who think that Wendy Davis is not going to amount to anything and that presumably Texas is still safely a Republican state. They may well be right. Indeed there already is a cottage industry out there grinding the grist on Wendy Davis. The point here, however, is that up until social conservatives pushed the abortion issue – once again – the Democrats didn’t have anybody to rally around! Now they do. So, once again social conservatives, you have created the political problem.

But what about the here and now and Sarah Davis? One of the things that irritates me about this matter is that the social conservatives got their legislative victory on abortion without Sarah’s help. In other words, they won without her, yet despite the fact that they won without her, here comes the political hatchet. It would be a strange irony if the political outcome of this primary challenge were to be that a pro-abortion Democrat were to win the seat come November 2014. That is not beyond the realm of possibility since Sarah’s district, House district 134, has been a swing district for a while, with many split-ticket and crossover voters, and ultimately with our single member legislative districts, you have to create a package or political brand that appeals to the most voters to win the seat. Debra Danburg held this seat for the Democrats before she was unseated by long-time Republican Martha Wong. Wong in turn was defeated by Ellen Cohen in the Obama wave election in 2008, until Sarah Davis in turn took the seat away from Ellen Cohen in the Tea Party wave election of 2010. Be that as it may, it could be that someone like Sarah Davis, with her political brand of economic conservatism, coupled with friendliness to gays and an annoyance with government being in the bedroom, is going to be the best that the Republican Party can do in such a district. Moreover, something tells me that Sarah might not toe the Republican Party line on abortion, yet I sorely doubt that Sarah is going to go out of her way to go to the mat for a group like Planned Parenthood, and push for the construction of family planning palaces for them.

And so it goes. I am a pro-life person, yet I’ll write another check for Sarah Davis come next spring when she faces her rematch with Bonnie Parker. Why is that? Because in a world where everything has been politicized, I like someone with Sarah’s brand of politics slugging it out up in Austin. Besides, not to belabor the point, I also quietly approved of the legislative victory achieved by the pro-life crowd too, even if Sarah voted against it. The difference between someone like me and many others, is that I’m not going to hold that against her.

Time and fortunes await. 2014, here we come.