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. Liz

    So we are all going to feel sorry for her and let her lie some more just to get in office. It looks to me that she was pro death even after she had her kids, passing them off to someone else as she did her thing. Great message mingles with lying. That's not who I want, send her to the wh she would do great up there. Lies, lying and liars!

    January 20, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  2. Scott

    Hey look, CNN has comments back on for this. She lied, she lied, she lied. So many on the left think this no longer matters because "everybody lies". REALLY? Is that how low our standards have sunk. I wonder if the Today show or the Huffington Post will have a follow-up on this after being duped by her. You'd think they would check the facts...

    January 20, 2014 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  3. Eagle0841

    One word. Unstable!

    January 20, 2014 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  4. Jo Se

    Who cares. What are her political positions?

    January 20, 2014 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  5. Randy

    Sounds like a gold digger to me! Her husband takese care of her kids, puts her through school and after he makes the last payment, she divorces him. Also, if she's a single mother and a christian (I assume she's a christian, I could be wrong though) how can she be for abortion?

    January 20, 2014 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  6. Ali

    I am disappointed that Davis has been less than honest about her personal life. Unfortunately, a politician is a politician, no matter his or her political affiliation.

    That being said, who cares if Davis was not as poor as she led on? Does that make her less of a compelling politician? Does she need to be phoenix rising from the ashes of the trailer park in order to have our respect?

    If not for the fact that Davis is a WOMAN, we would not be so fascinated with her personal affairs. I'm tired of articles placing the blame on strong women for not being fit enough mothers because they put more focus on their professional career (at least for awhile). Wendy Davis is a successful woman. She left Harvard, picked up a judicial clerkship, and began working at Haynes and Boone (a great firm). So what if her husband was the primary care giver during that time? And who cares if he helped pay for her education? If I'm ever married, I can only hope that I have the resources to support my spouse in that way.

    January 20, 2014 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  7. david saint

    lol the fact that so many right wingers revel in this so freely, indicates thats because they see her as a real threat. Those mocking her, less you forget Bush wasnt just a drunk, but he went AWOL during Vietnam when daddy got him assigned to a guard post here in the US. And you all elected him President, TWICE!!!

    January 20, 2014 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  8. WhackyWaco

    Turns out Wendy Davis lied considerably about intricate details of her life. What else is she trying to hide. Just because she can stand a read for 13 hours does not mean she is a smart cookie.

    January 20, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  9. mike

    I'm not saying Wendy Davis is a golddigger, but she ain't messin' with no...

    January 20, 2014 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  10. erbrock

    Why did the writer leave out the fact that Mrs. Davis ran as a Republican at first and it wasn't until after losing that she switched parties. This should have been a dead give away of how this women operates.

    January 20, 2014 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  11. Zocotroco

    LIAR, LIAR,LIAR. That is not a good way to begin her bid for the Governorship. LIA, LIAR, LIAR...............................and LIAR.

    January 20, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  12. Rationalist

    "Complicated"...is that PC for "fraudulent"...?

    January 20, 2014 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  13. janie batt

    A woman who doesn't want or looses custody of her children is always a bit "shady." Sad to say but perhaps she so upholds up abortion rights because she wishes she had exercised them herself and not had her children. Sorry, but what was written about her begs that question.

    January 20, 2014 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  14. thenakedpolitico

    so she lied through her teeth,screwed over a guy,deserted her family and now insists she's for the family...is she trying to lose?

    January 20, 2014 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  15. Blue Dog

    Slight inaccuracies which don't change the big picture. Still a compelling narrative. Go Wendy!

    January 21, 2014 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  16. Jim

    As usual, the liberal media never bother to look into the claims of a liberal politician until AFTER they're elected.

    January 21, 2014 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  17. bubbajoe

    OK, let me make sure I've got this straight: the big kerfuffle is over the difference between age 19 and 21? Well, hang her out to dry! Everyone knows it's tough being a single mom at 19, but it's no problem at 21, right?

    January 21, 2014 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  18. geno marcello

    If Wendy David cannot tell the truth about herself and her life as a married woman and later a divorced mother, what makes voters think she could tell the truth if elected Governor of Texas" She sounds like a loose cannon who would only end up disappoionting the people who put her into office.

    January 21, 2014 02:58 am at 2:58 am |
  19. Anonymous

    She may actually have a chance...I think a lot of women and minoritys and indeoendants will come out of the woodwork to vote for her..after all these years of perry a lot of texans want change..a lot of nonconservative people have moved to texas also..

    January 21, 2014 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  20. bob

    Once people are stricken with ambition and aspire to lofty goals, the part of their brains that see and remember reality as it actually is goes on the fritz. All of a sudden, consumed with visions of grandeur, they see themselves as heroes and martyrs, crusaders for morals and virtue, saviors of society, geniuses and would-be kings. (Or queens, as the case may be.) Meanwhile, those who are still somewhat in touch and check on their far-fetched stories of growing up in a log cabin, or the ghetto, or a trailer park, or a homeless shelter are often shocked to discover that they made the whole thing up and are just middle-class climbers like all the other job seekers striving to get a bigger piece of the pie by winning an election and landing a job that provides a fat salary, lots of perks, book contracts, talk show appearances (maybe even a reality TV show), a pension and fringe benefits for life. Unfortunately, the ones who succeed become career politicians. And people wonder what's wrong with this country.

    January 21, 2014 03:09 am at 3:09 am |
  21. Dojo

    I'm not surprised by this. Feminists often play down the role of husbands/fathers in today's families. They love stories of single mothers getting through Harvard while raising children on her own without any help from (or in spite of) the "deadbeat" men in their lives.

    January 21, 2014 03:10 am at 3:10 am |
  22. IndianaGreg

    What an inspiring role model for young women across the country. I only hope my daughter has the kind of ambition to marry a man to further her career, then cheat on him once his usefulness has ended.

    January 21, 2014 04:05 am at 4:05 am |
  23. larry

    She is So Democrat.

    January 21, 2014 04:09 am at 4:09 am |
  24. Mike

    This is par for a Democrat, they lie without admitting it when caught! She is is a gold digger and a pathological liar. I guess this qualifies her to run for office!

    January 21, 2014 04:44 am at 4:44 am |
  25. DC

    So she used her ex-husband for money to pay for her education and then divorced him. Stay classy, Wendy

    January 21, 2014 05:05 am at 5:05 am |
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