In grade school Wendy Davis came home with As, but also with notes about “unacceptable” class conduct. “I talked a lot,” recalls Davis. “It made my mother crazy.”
But that ability to talk and talk and talk has put Davis – a Democratic Texas state senator – in the national spotlight. On June 25 Davis, 50, stood for 13 hours (in now-famous pink sneakers, without eating, drinking, leaning or breaking for the ladies’ room) on the Austin Capitol floor, speaking nearly the whole time in a filibuster that held up a vote on a bill that would make Texas’s abortion restrictions among the nation’s strictest. The cheers of her supporters in the Senate gallery forced the 19–10 vote in the bill’s favor to be invalidated, as it came past midnight. “I was overwhelmed by the response,” says Davis. But opponents were not pleased. “I am furious about the outcome,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a statement. “An unruly … mob using ‘Occupy Wall Street’ tactics derailed legislation.”
More difficult than that long night in the senate is the path she strode to get there. After her parents split, Davis sold newspapers from age 14 to help support her three siblings. By 19 she was herself divorced and living in a trailer park with a baby, Amber. “I felt despair, hope and determination,” says Davis, who worked three jobs, finished college, remarried, had daughter Dru and went on to Harvard Law. Finding politics to be a “perfect fit,” she won her seat in 2008. “I admire her more than anyone,” says daughter Amber, an operations manager at an energy company (sister Dru is a tech account exec). “As a mother of two daughters, Wendy is the right person to talk about women’s rights in Texas,” says colleague Sen. Kirk Watson.
Though Gov. Rick Perry has called a special session where the bill is expected to pass, Davis says she hasn’t given up. “I understand struggle. And I have fight deep in my gut.”