I feel like I say this a lot, but: What the hell was Rick Perry thinking?
Speaking at a National Right to Life conference in front of roughly a thousand delegates, Perry suggested that he has "put pro-life measures at the top of the call list" and then, for some reason, decided to indirectly mention Davis:
Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.
Although some indicate Perry intended the remark to be positive, there's a lot more "backhanded" than "compliment" in the statement above. Never mind the fact that Perry is pointing to an example of a woman who was given the opportunity to make the right choice for her -- something he wants to strip away from other Texas women -- but it's absurd that he felt the need to follow-up by stating "the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done."
Aside from the tacky wording -- and tacky is the kindest description for it -- who are "they" Governor Perry? Women? Disenfranchised voters? Pissed off citizens who will actively stump against you if your party is foolish enough to let you run for office again?
Take your pick.
What Rick Perry doesn't understand is that in attempting to win the battle for SB 5, he's starting what will be a war for Texas -- and demographics indicate that his side doesn't have the numbers in the long-term.
In addition, basic political strategy would probably dictate that Rick Perry shouldn't acknowledge Wendy Davis' existence if he hopes to ultimately discredit and defeat her. It has worked for him in the past -- in 2010, Perry was reelected to office without ever agreeing to debate his main challenger Bill White.
But now, in a week when Davis has catapulted herself from being a lightly known state senator to a nationally recognized figure, Rick Perry has decided to further empower her by personally painting her as his opposition. And, as most people who watched Davis tactfully dismiss her opponents during her filibuster know, he's picking a fight with the wrong person.
Wendy Davis knows how to flip conservatives. Just look at the district she represents, which was completely dominated by Republicans -- some of whom were even elected unopposed some years -- before she ran for office in 2008. If Wendy Davis can turn Fort Worth blue, imagine what she'd be able to do against a long-time governor who recent polls indicate would only be fully supported by 26 percent of voters if he were to again run for office.
Now, Wendy Davis could perhaps strike back at Perry by suggesting that the $4 billion he oversaw in education cuts in 2011 took place because, as his alleged leaked college transcript indicated, he was such a poor student that he couldn't possibly understand the benefits of good schooling. But alas, Davis won't resort to such means because she possesses another attribute that distinguishes her from Texas' governor of 13 years -- class. (Her much more measured response is available here).
Perry asked the pro-life crowd at the conference, "Who are we to say that the children born in the worst of circumstances can't grow to live successful lives?"
Well, as a governor who has slashed social services and public education in addition to family planning, Perry has certainly had plenty of say when it comes to making life more difficult for lower-income Texans.
There's a very good chance that SB 5 will pass into law during the second special session that Rick Perry has called for. But what makes this bill unique and especially important is that there will be a much-publicized and contested fight over it. Many socially restrictive bills have been signed into law under Rick Perry's watch, but not a single one has drawn this much national scrutiny and attention. And that's a huge issue for a governor whose success has at least partially relied on voter apathy. A recent poll by the fantastic Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin and the National Conference on Citizenship indicated that in 2010, Texas ranked 51st among the states and the District of Columbia in voter turnout and 49th in the share of its citizens who contacted public officials.
Now, what would happen if those voters weren't so apathetic anymore?
Just keep talking, Rick.