Wendy Davis, former Texas State Senator and gubernatorial candidate, has written an article for Politico that is gut-wrenching in its honesty. The title and tag line capture her angst: “Why I Caved on Guns When I Ran for Governor of Texas: I was part of the reason we can’t make progress on the issue. And I regret it every day.”
Perhaps it is cathartic for Davis to write a piece like this. But I have a hunch that her motives went beyond a self-serving attempt to salve her own conscience. That’s because most of the article is devoted to exposing her own thoughts as she made the decision to support open carry of handguns during her campaign. And in doing so, she tells us a lot about why passing common sense gun safety laws has been so difficult.
As baffling as this would appear to an outside observer, I know why we keep ending up here. I know why because, even with my history of supporting sensible gun laws, I was cowed by the political realities of my state. Me, a Democrat who wasn’t afraid of making waves when it came to strapping on a pair of pink sneakers as a state senator and filibustering an anti-abortion bill for 13 hours. I might be doggedly progressive most of the time, but when it came to staking out my position on the open carry of handguns in a red state, none of that mattered.
For those who think this only happens because of financial support candidates receive from groups like the NRA, Davis points out that she has consistently received and “F” rating from them.
Instead, Davis names two things that led to her decision:
1. She wanted her campaign to be about things like education funding, equal pay for women and access to healthcare. If she took a position against open carry, she knew it would completely dominate the conversation.
2. The “Ann Richards Rule” in Texas reminds everyone that the former governor lost her 1994 re-election bid to George W. Bush primarily because she vetoed a concealed carry bill.
In the end, Davis lost the governor’s race anyway. But she certainly wouldn’t have done any better if she had opposed open carry. Regardless of other strengths and weaknesses she had as a candidate, Davis has done a good job of describing how the issue of gun control plays out in red state elections.
The question in those states comes down to whether or not those who support common sense gun safety laws are willing to allow that issue to crowd out all other priorities, and if they are willing to lose elections over it. That’s a tall order. But it is obviously one that a lot of folks are beginning to grapple with.