On Sunday, the Dallas Morning News and reporter Wayne Slater published a blockbuster story exposing the fact that Wendy Davis, the Texas Democrats’ candidate for governor, has embellished and hidden key parts of her background.
Davis has long claimed that she is a rags-to-riches story, a teen mother living in a trailer who was divorced at age 19 before working herself out of poverty to become a political celebrity. She certainly struggled financially, after she became pregnant at a young age, then married and divorced the father of her first child.
Slater reported that the truth is far more complicated than Davis’ origins story. Davis divorced at 21, not 19. She only lived in the trailer for a few months. She was able to get her Harvard education thanks to her second husband, Jeff Davis, whom she left the day after he made the final payment on her tuition. He had cashed his 401(k) savings and taken out a loan to pay for her education.
She met Mr. Davis, 13 years her senior, while she was waiting tables at her father’s dinner theater.
Four nights a week, Davis was also waiting tables at her father’s Fort Worth dinner theater, Stage West. It was there that she met her future husband, Jeff Davis, a 34-year-old friend of her father’s.
“One day at the end of a meeting, Jerry asked, ‘How do you like younger women? My daughter wants to go out with you,’” Jeff Davis said in an interview. “I was flattered so I took her out. We dated two or three years, then got married.”
While they dated, Wendy Davis enrolled at Texas Christian University on an academic scholarship and a Pell Grant. After they married, when she was 24, they moved into a historic home in the Mistletoe Heights neighborhood of Fort Worth.
Jeff Davis paid for her final two years at TCU. “It was community resources. We paid for it together,” Wendy Davis said.
When she was accepted to Harvard Law School, Jeff Davis cashed in his 401(k) account and eventually took out a loan to pay for her final year there.
“I was making really good money then, well over six figures,” he said. “But when you’ve got someone at Harvard, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got two small kids. The economy itself was marginal. You do what you have to do, no big deal.”
The daughters, then 8 and 2, remained with Jeff Davis in Fort Worth while Wendy Davis was at Harvard.
Davis, who rocketed to national fame on the back of a filibuster she mounted to defend late-term abortion, leaving her children behind while she pursued her career would become a theme. She left them behind again after the divorce, and was ordered to pay Mr. Davis child support. She said at the time that “it was not a good time” for her to raise her children. Davis’ daughter asked the court to grant Mr. Davis conservatorship of her.
In the initial divorce filing, Davis’ husband accused Wendy Davis of marital infidelity. Mr. Davis also requested a restraining order against the future state senator, which had the court order her not to do drugs or drink alcohol within 24 hours of contact with her children.
Wendy Davis also may have committed perjury. She has stated in sworn testimony that she was divorced at 19, when the truth is that she was divorced two years later. From Slater’s story:
“I had a baby. I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old,” she testified in a recent federal lawsuit over redistricting. “After I got divorced, I lived in a mobile home park in southeast Fort Worth.”
In Slater’s story, Davis blames the two-year discrepancy in her age at her first divorce on “loose language.”
“My language should be tighter,” she said. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Wendy Davis’ hometown newspaper that she sued in the 1990s after losing her first political race, initially ran no story of its own regarding its local state senator and governor candidate. Tuesday afternoon, it ran a piece by the AP’s Will Weissert that glosses over many key sections — the status of the children, the infidelity claim in Mr. Davis’ filing, the timing of Mr. Davis making the final payment on her education, and her leaving him the following day. Weissert also includes quotes from Davis blaming the discrepancies in her life story on her likely GOP opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
The Star-Telegram ran Slater’s article on the front page of its print edition Monday, but that version of the story leaves out at least 8 key passages that appeared in the original Dallas Morning News version.
Here is the Star-Telegram print version of Slater’s story. It leaves out the following 8 parts.
- “Most people would identify with the fact that we tend to be defined by the struggles we came through than by the successes. And certainly for me that’s true,” she said, sitting in her campaign office in Fort Worth. “When I think about who I am and how it’s reflected in the things I worked on, it comes from that place.
- “One day at the end of a meeting, Jerry asked, ‘How do you like younger women? My daughter wants to go out with you,’” Jeff Davis said in an interview. “I was flattered so I took her out. We dated two or three years, then got married.”
- “I was making really good money then, well over six figures,” he said. “But when you’ve got someone at Harvard, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got two small kids. The economy itself was marginal. You do what you have to do, no big deal.”
- “Harvard really impressed her with a different culture of energy, really bright young people. That was something she would like to be around. She just enjoys that culture,” Jeff Davis said. Wendy Davis agreed. “It expanded my perspectives tremendously,” she said. “I went to school with some of the brightest people in the country, and I learned tremendously.”
- “I opened some doors for her with people, knew how bright she was and knew she’d do a good job,” he said.
- The council seats were nonpartisan but in terms of voting, she was a Republican. Davis said she voted in GOP primaries because she supported mayor and congressional candidate Kay Granger, a Republican, and as a lawyer, she wanted to have a say in selecting judicial nominees in a county where the judges were often Republicans.
- “I was a vibrant part of contributing to our family finances from the time I graduated to the time we separated in 2003,” she said. “The idea that suddenly there was this instantaneous departure after Jeff had partnered so beautifully with me in putting me through school is just absurd.” In his initial divorce filing, Jeff Davis said the marriage had failed, citing adultery on her part and conflicts that the couple could not overcome. The final court decree makes no mention of infidelity, granting the divorce solely “on the ground of insupportability.”
- “I will tell you it was very important to me that Dru stay in her childhood home. It was a very difficult time in our life.” She said: “I very willingly, as part of my divorce settlement, paid child support. That was at my request, not any court telling me I needed to financially support my daughters.” A former colleague and political supporter who worked closely with Davis when she was on the council said the body’s work was very time-consuming. “Wendy is tremendously ambitious,” he said, speaking only on condition of anonymity in order to give what he called an honest assessment. “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else get in her way.” He said: “She’s going to find a way, and she’s going to figure out a way to spin herself in a way that grabs at the heart strings. A lot of it isn’t true about her, but that’s just us who knew her. But she’d be a good governor.” Davis’ daughters, now adults, are supporting their mother’s campaign for governor. Both appear in a campaign video on her behalf. Jeff Davis said the financial difficulties that Wendy Davis faced before her second marriage were real. “A lot of what she says is true,” he said. “When she was 21, it became a little easier for her. The first 21 years were about working one, two and three jobs, trying to get through, raising a kid, driving an old Toyota pickup truck that was the smallest you could find. “She got a break,” Jeff Davis said. “Good things happen, opportunities open up. You take them; you get lucky. That’s a better narrative than what they’re trying to paint.”
Slater’s original story suggests that Wendy Davis “got a break,” marrying Jeff Davis in order to climb out of poverty, and ended their marriage once she had obtained her Harvard education. It also suggests that she abandoned her children to pursue her career. The Star-Telegram’s heavily edited version and the Associated Press article it ran leave its readers in the dark regarding both possibilities, and the likelihood that Davis has committed perjury.