January 20th, 2014
11:57 AM ET
9 years ago

Report: Wendy Davis' life story more complicated than compelling narrative

Updated 3:47 p.m. ET, 1/20/2014

(CNN) – Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis admitted in an interview with the Dallas Morning News that she hasn't been totally accurate about her life's story, a compelling narrative she has used to appeal to voters in Texas and bolster her national profile.

"My language should be tighter," the Democratic state senator said. "I'm learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail."

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After her marathon filibuster against proposed abortion laws in the Texas legislature last summer, Davis was propelled to the national stage. The attention gave her the support and encouragement to announce a bid for governor in October.

She frequently shared her biography both before and after she started running for governor, saying she was a single mother by the age of 19 and lived in a trailer with her young daughter. From there, she eventually put herself through community college, Texas Christian University, and Harvard Law School with the help of scholarship and loans.

The Morning News, however, reported over the weekend that Davis became a single mother at 21, not 19, when she got divorced from her then-husband, who was directed to pay child support.

"She lived only a few months in the family mobile home while separated from her husband before moving into an apartment with her daughter," writes Wayne Slater, the paper's senior political writer.

Davis' campaign released a statement later Monday to clarify some of the details from her life.

"Wendy left home at 17, married when she was 18 and had her first daughter Amber when she was 19. She and her husband lived in a trailer, and Wendy continued to live there with Amber after they were separated."

"As a single mother at age 19, she often struggled to make ends meet," the statement continued. "Wendy filed for divorce when she was 20 and she and Amber lived for a short time with her mother. The divorce became final when she was 21."

Davis later got help from a second husband, Jeff Davis, who helped pay for her two years at Texas Christian University and her time at Harvard.

"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," Slater reports.

The Texas Tribune also reported details from Wendy Davis' relationship with Jeff Davis, as well as her complicated life story, back in September.

While Davis was in Boston, her husband took care of their two young daughters, the Morning News article stated.

However, according to the statement provided by her campaign, the girls lived with Davis in Boston during her first year at law school. After that, the girls lived in Fort Worth and Davis commuted weekly to see them. Her mother played a "daily caretaking role" to help Jeff Davis, her campaign said.

After she graduated from Harvard, she came back to Fort Worth and completed a judicial clerkship and worked as an attorney at the law firm Haynes and Boone.

Jeff Davis told the Morning News he "opened some doors for her with some people" so she could pursue her interest in running for city council in 1996. She lost, but ran two years later and won.

Jeff and Wendy Davis ended up getting divorced in 2005, roughly when her final Harvard payment was due.

"I made the last payment, and it was the next day she left," Jeff Davis told the Morning News.

Wendy Davis took issue with the idea that he solely supported her.

"I was a vibrant part of contributing to our family finances from the time I graduated to the time we separated in 2003," she told the paper. "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."

Slater reports: "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.""

Jeff Davis won parental custody, and Wendy Davis agreed to pay $1,200 per month in child support, according to the report. Citing her own rocky childhood, Wendy Davis said she wanted her daughters to stay in the home they grew up in.

"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," she said.

Her campaign, however, said Jeff and Wendy Davis shared custody of both daughters after the final divorce proceedings.

Davis is on good terms with her daughters, who are now adults. They support their mother's run for governor and appear in a campaign video for her.

"She and Jeff Davis have a healthy and respectful relationship based on their mutual love of their daughters," her campaign said.

Twitter lit afire Monday with critics blasting Davis for leaving out key parts of her personal history, such as the help she received from Jeff Davis. The hashtag #MoreFakeThanWendyDavis, used mostly by conservatives, became a trending topic on the social media site.

Though she admitted some details had been blurred, Davis defended her overall story as a young single mother who rose out of poverty and built a successful career.

"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 told the Morning News. "When I think about who I am and how it's reflected in the things I worked on, it comes from that place."

Davis raised a sizable $12 million last year, but she's still far behind from likely GOP nominee and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who took in $16 million and had $27 million cash on hand.

In the statement sent by her campaign, Davis dismissed attacks from her opponents over the Morning News article.

"(The attacks) won't work, because my story is the story of millions of Texas women who know the strength it takes when you're young, alone and a mother," she said.

Filed under: 2014 • Texas • Wendy Davis
soundoff (143 Responses)
  1. Wes

    It doesn't matter. She won't win Texas.

    January 20, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  2. Silence DoGood

    @Rudy NYC
    just saying wrote:

    "There's a small problem with your "she used the poor guy then tossed him aside" narrative. He filed for divorce, not her."

    yeah, so what?!! he finally woke up and saw he was being used and taken to the cleaners and dumped the gold digging tramp. good for him!!! i suppose you think he should have stayed with her until she completely bled him dry?
    Oh my! You? You give sanction to a divorce? I had thought that you believed in the traditional definition of marriage and its' sacred vows. What ever happened to the "till death do us part" part? Your immorals are showing.
    The Radical Right Christian-simulations are hard core when it comes to telling others how they should behave. But they make up for it by being super-flexible when it comes to themselves or their political gurus or winning an argument.

    January 20, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. Kenneth Krieger

    Give Ashley Killough an "A+. A great story that is non partisan. Just the news. I remember way back when I could trust CNN. Hire more people like her and get your viewers back. Supporting liars and socialist like this present group of Democrats and Obama is not what CNN should do. Please remember that the left is not right and the right is not right. Every issue is right or wrong, not left and right. I trust Ashley. Kenneth Krieger Cape Coral, Florida

    January 20, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  4. EdwardTr

    I hate Republican platform, but if this story is even half accurate I would not vote for this woman.

    January 20, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  5. Silence DoGood

    I think the core issue here with conservatives is having an outspoken woman standing up in Texas for women's basic rights and questioning the radical christian sect's domination there. Very brave!

    January 20, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. ajk68

    Wendy Davis is a narcissist who thinks other people are just means to get where she wants.
    She plays fast and loose with the truth; she is not a genuine person – with her husband or with the public.

    Keep this one out of politics. I can't even fathom the type of unethical behavior she would be involved in – she would make Christie look like a saint.

    January 20, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  7. JJ

    Lord help us if we elect her. Stand with Abbott

    January 20, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  8. Aerosgrl

    Because saying I had a sugar daddy to help me out doesn't sound as self motivating for other single mothers as she made it seem she did it in her own! She knew what she was doing.

    January 20, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  9. Lynda/Minnesota

    Oh, dear, just saying. Well, I can see you did not like my comment. All I can say in return is: please proceed.

    January 20, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  10. Fiona

    So she lied, making up a story in which she was victimized and abandoned by evil men, and pulled herself up by her feminist bootstraps...when in fact she lived off a guy and benefitted from his professional contacts.

    She's a witch for doing so, but she's not the first.

    January 20, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  11. Nursehope

    Tame compared to Gingrich. Look where he ended up.

    January 20, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  12. BeenThereDoneThat

    The hero of the "upstanding & righteous" GOP/TP is the "marry 'em/use 'em/then dump 'em" serial adulterer Newt Gingrich!

    January 20, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  13. Jtom

    Wow. She sounds like a disaster with a degree. It's difficult for a mother to lose parental custody of her children. Basically, one would have to either be ruled unfit or not want custody. Either speaks volumes about the person, and it's not good.

    Like most politicians, she has trouble telling the truth.

    January 20, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    "My language should be tighter," the Democratic state senator said. "I'm learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail."

    What? That is EXACTLY what you are taught to do in law school! She is a liar, just like Sen. Pocahontas Warren.

    January 20, 2014 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  15. frit frat

    After taking this story, the Dallas Morning News story, her original story, her clarification story and her divorced husband's story into account, I conclude: Wendy Davis===trailer trash.

    January 20, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  16. McBob79

    Yeah, I bet that makes Texans feel more comfortable. This woman is incompetent.

    January 20, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  17. TexasR

    The ones who should've been harmed the most by her actions, her daughters and ex-husband, all support her. Jeff Davis doesn't feel "used," and the girls have turned out fine. Where's the part of the story that her ideas for Texas education are good, or that she'll be proven right about what a bad idea the latest abortion law is when the SCOTUS has to strike it down? If the new law is such a good idea, why did the Republican majority in Texas take 12 years to think of it? That's how long they've been in control, and the abortion numbers (procedures done, and number of clinics doing them) have been flat the entire time. Why now? The new provisions have been getting knocked down in every other state that tried the same thing. The lawyers are getting rich. She opposed it because it's disingenuous. She can also see what Michigan just figured out about expanding Medicaid, and they're Republicans! Read that story if you don't know what I'm talking about.

    January 20, 2014 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  18. Federico Escobedo

    She has proven she is qualified for the Democratic ticket: she has lied, got caught, and fought to come back. Fellow democrats now will embark on a campaign to minimize her lies and justify them.

    January 20, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  19. sammy750

    The people of Texas and this nation should be supporting Wendy so she can return the state to the people and get it out of the grips of the Republicans who have destroyed the state. People of TX are now just puppets of Gov. Perry

    January 20, 2014 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  20. Ruth Chambers

    I am a Texas conservative, a woman to did work full-time, and was divorced with two small children. The idea that I would have left those kids to pursue MY selfish dream in another state is unfathomable. The bigger issue here is honesty–she lied in order play to the emotions of voters to drum up support. The left loves to do this–play a victim. Well, Al Gore told all sorts of stories too–so many people don't care. Honesty does matter to a lot of us. Even if she DID have good ideas for Texas, this would nix it for me. Good balanced report, nice to see on CNN.

    January 20, 2014 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  21. WestSide

    We've all seen this movie before.

    January 20, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  22. pooldan

    So, she found a husband to pay for her education, raise her daughter from another marriage, and still cheated on him in the process? Good grief!

    January 20, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  23. Aerosgrl

    Of course she has the support of her daughters since they're alive

    January 20, 2014 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  24. Fiona

    It occurs to me - and should occur to Harvard Law administration - that if she's lying about her life story now she probably wrote a similar fiction back when she applied to law school. It's the "poor wee me" approach. Shame on her.

    January 20, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  25. jschmidt

    She is in good company with the other Democrat liars. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, ELizabeth Warren,Obama, Pelosi, Reid and every Congressman that said you could keep your plan and doctor. "What difference does it make, now?"

    January 20, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
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