Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis announced this week that she would challenge Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) for the Austin-based congressional district he represents. Within the first few moments of the launch of her campaign, she had already taken a very public action that appears to have violated Texas law.
Davis was a quiet, moderate presence during most of her years in the Texas Legislature, but all that changed on the day in June 2013 when she decided to don pink sneakers to filibuster a pro-life bill. Her efforts opposing a ban on late-term abortions and sanitation and safety requirements for abortion clinics allied her with a more extreme liberalism, re-branding her as a darling of the pro-abortion left and their supporters in Hollywood and the media.
One teeny-tiny little detail Davis’ fans often skip over: her infamous filibuster was a complete failure. She was able to hold the Texas Senate hostage long enough for the statutory deadline for the end of session to pass — and the bill therefore to fail — but then-Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) responded nearly immediately with an order for the Legislature to return for a special session.
The special session’s main focus was that pro-life bill, it passed, and Perry signed it into law. Since then, the law has been challenged by several lawsuits, and has had some modifications and restrictions, but it survives and has been credited with contributing to a reduction of the number of abortion clinics in Texas.
Davis followed up her failed filibuster by running for Texas Governor. Perry was not running for re-election and then-Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-TX) won the Republican nomination. Abbott easily defeated Davis by nearly 20 points, winning the women’s vote, the Rio Grande Valley (a heavily-Hispanic and Democrat-leaning area), and even Davis’ own state senate district in the Fort Worth area.
And now Davis wants to follow up that failure by running for an Austin congressional district where just moved a few years ago. It’s a convenient target as a metropolitan area with a Republican Congressman who attracts a lot of media attention.
So far, the Wendy Davis for Congress campaign is not off to a great start.
Davis is a Harvard-educated lawyer who was able to hold her filibuster for the requisite number of hours to force the special session because she had studied the finer points of legislative procedure, but made an embarrassing blunder by violating her former office’s basic ethical rules.
When Davis launched her campaign Monday morning, she sent out several online videos calling for donations: a standard tactic for a newly-launched campaign, especially for a candidate with a national media profile like Davis had.
The problem was with at least two of the videos that showed Davis standing on the floor of the Texas Senate chambers, asking for supporters to help her raise $100,000 in her first 48 hours.
Filming political or campaign ads in the Texas Capitol is against the State Preservation Board rules. Media organizations and non-profit organizations may take stock footage and use it if permission is granted ahead of time, but a fundraising video for a political candidate is clearly a violation.
Davis’ violation was called out by her hometown paper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which contacted Patsy Spaw, the Secretary of the Senate, who confirmed the rule-breaking:
While Davis has spent hours on the Senate floor as a former state senator, Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said State Preservation Board policy prohibits political or campaign filming in the Capitol, which includes the Senate Chamber.
“Likewise, Senate policy prohibits political/campaign filming in the Senate Chamber. Permission to film was not requested and permission was not granted,” Spaw wrote in an email.
Spaw said that while the Senate isn’t able to monitor every tourist who films on the Senate floor, videos taken on the floor can’t be used for political purposes. Groups, such as media organizations, may take stock footage of the chamber if permission is given ahead of time.
A spokesman for Davis’ campaign, Hector Nieto, attempted to deflect the issue, emailing the Star-Telegram, “We disagree. Wendy is a private citizen and not seeking state office.”
Being a “private citizen” does not exempt Davis from the rules here. Filming in the Senate Chamber is prohibited for political and campaign purposes, period. The restrictions are not just for current state legislators, but for all political candidates and organizations, and all other filming is subject to review and prior permission must be requested. The Davis campaign did not do this.
This isn’t some obscure or weird rule unique to Texas, either. Most states — as well as the United States Congress — place restrictions, if not outright prohibitions, on filming political campaign ads in their chambers, or using footage from official legislative hearings and procedures in ads. It’s a fair and nonpartisan rule applied to current and former officeholders of all political affiliations, and the purpose is to keep the legislature’s business from being more overtly political than it already is by nature.
When legislators are acting in their official capacity, they should focus on the business of representing the people in their district, and let them make their campaign ads in their free time. If Davis were actually from Austin, perhaps she would be more familiar with the many scenic areas nearby where she could have filmed an ad instead of breaking the rules.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
This article has been updated.