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. chris

    This lady is the worst. She knows very little about basic topics. When she is aksed questions that require some tought behind an answer, she can't do it. Come on people, stop towing the party line and use some common sense when you vote. But if you just have to vote democrat, please, don't vote for this one.

    January 20, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  2. scranton

    She's a liar, she will do well in politics.

    January 20, 2014 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  3. Deano

    There are two very telling quotes in the article.
    1. In response to the ex-husband getting custody of two kids, Ms. Davis said " While Ive been a good mother, it's not a good time for me right now." How many mothers would say that?
    2. A former colleague and supporter of Ms. Davis saying " Wendy is tremendously ambitious– she is not going to let famliy or raising children or anyhting else get in her way"
    On a final point I guess her saying she's been a little loose with her language is a little hard to excuse since she is a trained lawyer and supposedly one of the smartest women around.

    January 20, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. paul mariani

    Don't trust her. Typical snake politician. Manipulation of the facts is a bi-partisan way of life.

    January 20, 2014 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  5. Thomas

    "(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,"

    Maybe many women have married out of poverty like Wendy Davis did, but her story of struggle that she tries to portray is an insult to many single mothers who have indeed struggled through poverty to better the lives of themselves and their children.

    January 20, 2014 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  6. Thinking it through.

    Lord help us if we vote her in???? LOL...Lord help us..in politics... a 20 year old single mother goes off to Harvard Law–she takes her daughters with her for the first year...eventually her second marriage burns out like a million others in America and she ends up paying child support... sounds like one bitter dude who made NOTHING of himself...maybe she just focuses TOO much on work–like a million other Americans...of course we are talking about TEXAS where the right wing votes for PERRY–that man is an actual moron–but he certainly LOVES the Lord!! We are a nation surrounded by simpletons like Rush and Sarah and all the other dolts at Fox– Wake up People..This woman actually HAS a brain and a heart- too bad about the dudes–they sound like great people ...of course we ALL knew exactly what we were doing at 19 as well.... too many idiots in Texas–too many in America.. the right wing will sink the nation if they can... Lord HELP US!

    January 20, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  7. gahh

    If you live in Texas, then you know we have had the biggest hypocrite liar for a Governor ever, named Rick Perry. The Republican candidate is Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is also running for Governor. Abbott was involved in an accident, and got a multi million dollar settlement. He then used his position, and helped Big Insurance pass laws limiting injured people to thousands in settlements, instead of millions. Abbott has millions in campaign money, because everything he does, is for Big Business. Davis will win the election, because she is for the middle and poor classes, in her decisions.

    January 20, 2014 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  8. Flyervic

    Another democrat politician who is a liar! Media should take her to task and rip her a new one. Let her "clarify" all she wants after she withdraws from the campaign.

    January 20, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  9. snowdogg

    Too bad that Wendy is handicapped by running for office in Texas!

    January 20, 2014 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  10. Jim

    If she was a republican cnn would make this front page and run it for weeks. Got ya!!

    January 20, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  11. zaggs

    Don't know whats so complicated about the fact Davis lied. Well outside of the fact CNN has to actually write about one of their heroes lying.
    I mean good god even the response is a lie. Davis is a single mother at 19, but doesn't get divorced until 20. Huh?!
    BUt I need to ask the question. Since Davis clearly didn't want her children, why didn't she abort them? I mean thats the motto she has embraced.

    January 20, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  12. V. A.

    To JJ: Lord help us if ABBOTT wins. Wendy Davis all the way!

    January 20, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  13. F.A.

    She's just what the liberals love. A lying cheat.

    January 20, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  14. Anyone but a Conservative

    If you are an intelligent human being you would vote for anything but a conservative capitalist.

    January 20, 2014 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  15. maggie

    I'm all for her....go go go girl!

    January 20, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  16. gstlab3

    All this arguing over wether or not it is cool to hoover out the honey hole any old time it is economically expiedient to do so is disgusting and should have an obvious answer., but people I suppose are to dumb or confused and or scared of responsibility and the facts of life.

    January 20, 2014 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  17. Deez

    Another witch hunt by the Right. Still chasing that IRS "scandal" too, huh?

    January 20, 2014 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  18. kerryzaputz

    It's not difficult to understand how a woman who champions the mutilation and destruction of viable fetuses would ditch her two children for her personal advancement. I would like to know if the generous (and used) second husband paid for her extensive cosmetic surgeries. She's had about $40K worth, by my estimate.

    January 20, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  19. Bobby

    She freaking lied....stop sugar coating it CNN !!!!

    January 20, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    So where is all the usual conservative BS about the redemption of a second chance?

    January 20, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  21. JCQueipo

    I'm a liberal democrat, but I wouldn't vote for this liar/goldigger

    January 20, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  22. Curt F

    Say, SilenceDoGood,
    Outspoken women have always been a part of the political landscape in Texas; Ann Richards, Sissy Farenthold, Ma Ferguson, Kay B Hutchinson.
    A little knowledge will go a long way.

    January 20, 2014 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  23. PerrysTerrible

    I'm not much of a CNN fan, but THANK YOU for reporting this (and same to MSNBC). It will take A LOT to get me to start believing you guys don't have a political agenda against Republicans, but this is a first (small) step.
    I may actually visit your site once in a while now.

    January 20, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  24. rufus

    That's some serious spinning she's doing.

    January 20, 2014 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  25. Herewe Goagain

    If she was a republican they would be all over this. But since she lies to serve the left, all is well.

    January 20, 2014 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
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