Authenticity in the Political Limelight: An Evening with Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis sat down with the 2019 Notley Fellows to discuss her congressional campaign, her nonprofit work and lessons learned from her 2014 gubernatorial loss.

Nationally, Wendy Davis is best known for her pink running shoes and an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid. But in Austin, she can be found attending local debate watch parties and dining with the Notley Fellows.

Before she made the decision to challenge Republican Rep. Chip Roy in Central Texas’ 21st District, Wendy was the Founding Director of Deeds Not Words, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower and activate the voices of young women in public and political discourse. Earlier this year, Wendy won $24,847 at Philanthropitch Austin for Deeds Not Words, before stepping away from the organization to hit the campaign trail full-time.

“It was a really hard choice to decide whether to stay connected to Deeds while running. I wanted to keep a foot in both worlds, but I made the decision to step away formally while on the campaign trail… I draw a certain kind of political opposition and a certain type of target. I knew I’d bring that target into Deeds if I didn’t create a wall there.”

Sitting down with Dan Graham and the Notley Fellows, Wendy expressed her reason for running again after suffering a devastating 20-point loss against Texas Governor Greg Abbott in 2014. Wendy would only run again if she had a real shot at winning, and Joseph Kopser — who ran in TX-21 in 2018 and narrowly lost to the Republican incumbent — encouraged her to challenge Chip Roy in TX-21.

“What ultimately pushed me was the current officeholder was behaving and voting and standing for things that are so diametrically opposed to what I believe and care about,” Wendy told us. Between gun control, the environment, healthcare and high drug costs, Wendy was determined to see TX-21 gain a representative who would actually fight for them in Washington.

But how could Wendy rise above the toxic political climate and speak directly to these issues with voters? Not to mention Wendy’s reputation as a political firebrand and die-hard abortion rights advocate. Wendy believes “we need to be talking more about the personal stories, rather than the top-level narratives,” in order to break through the noise.

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Additionally, Wendy emphasized the importance of being your authentic self, even in the political limelight. As a Democrat running in a Republican district, some might advise she take more moderate positions, but Wendy believes the opposite is true, citing Beto O’Rourke as an example: “What people loved about Beto was his authenticity, but part of that went away when running for President because he surrounded himself with consultants who told him otherwise.”

Wendy is not afraid to take strong positions, and has no intention of compromising on her beliefs. “I am unapologetically someone who supports women’s reproductive freedoms,” Wendy said proudly, adding that moderates can be won over by progressives who stick to the importance issues and stay true to their authentic self.

Overall, Wendy’s tone was one of optimism and excitement, envisioning a future where Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House, and Texas has turned blue! Even in a time of unprecedented political divide, Wendy maintains she “fundamentally believe that government plays an important, necessary role in realizing each of us reaches our full potential.”

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss was a difficult pill for many to swallow — especially for women in politics — but 2018 saw a rebuke of the President’s misogyny with 117 women sent to Congress. “I don’t really like the word ‘empower’ because it sounds like you’re giving someone power,” Wendy muses. “We already have power within us.” When women get involved, everyone wins.


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About the Author:

Savannah L. Barker

2019 Fellow

Savannah L. Barker is a Notley Fellow and the Director of Strategic Programs at Notley Ventures. Notley is a catalyst for social innovation unlocking opportunities with today’s impact organizations and changing communities.

She is also a freelance writer and journalist who is passionate about politics, education and identity. She’s been published in Quartz, PopSugar and Rantt Media, and has been interviewed by NowThis News for her work on gender in politics. Follow her on Twitter or contact her directly here.