"Why bother?" I remember my friend, a fellow native Texan, saying as we walked by our Student Union building at The University of Texas in November of 2010. The polls were open but he saw no reason to vote. "It's just going to be Perry again."
My friend's pessimism was palpable and, honestly, warranted. There was very little to be excited about in regards to Texas politics if you were a Democrat.
Since 1995, the state has been led by either George W. Bush or his somehow even less articulate successor, Rick Perry. The drumbeat of job creation and Christian values was difficult to overcome politically in a state that could easily be seen as worshipping both equally. Never mind that the jobs created were largely minimum wage and that the Christian values, when transferred into legislation, resulted in the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, and the adoption of history textbooks that indicated, according to one dissenting State Board of Education member, that "Hispanics don't exist."
Indeed, despite having an approval rating of just 45 percent and refusing to debate his Democratic challenger prior to the election, Rick Perry romped to a 13-point victory in the polls in 2010.
Of course he would. This was Texas.
But on Tuesday night, something odd happened.
As many know, Texas state senator Wendy Davis took to the floor of the state legislature Tuesday morning to filibuster the extremely controversial SB 5 bill that would greatly hinder women's reproductive rights in the state. In addition to a myriad of other restrictions, the bill, which Rick Perry indicated he would sign into law if passed, would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks and shut down 37 of Texas' 42 abortion clinics.
Davis, who gained some notoriety in 2011 for filibustering a measure that would call for roughly $4 billion in cuts from Texas' already hurting education system, was noble in deciding to protest the passing of legislation that would require women from mostly lower-income areas to travel hundreds of miles in order to get an abortion. In a state where, in 2011, half of all pregnancies were unplanned, the negative repercussions of this bill were clearly apparent. But the object of the legislation was hardly surprising -- women's reproductive organs have long been an easy target for GOP legislators in Texas, as evidenced by the completely misguided effort to defund Planned Parenthood in the state.
Davis took to the floor at around 11 a.m. knowing that her efforts could be, and perhaps probably would be, completely in vain; even if she made it to midnight, Rick Perry could just call for another special session, starting the entire process over. But as Davis' filibuster progressed, Texas Democrats began to formulate something much bigger than the proceedings or even the bill itself, something that, if realized, could change the political landscape of the entire nation -- the Texas Democratic Party, for first time in a long while, found an identity.
In a state that sorely needed it, a few Texas Democrats put their foot down on the issue of women's reproductive rights and in the process likely awoke a sleeping giant.
As Davis' filibuster progressed, Texans, and the nation as a whole, began taking notice. By the time the sun had set, #SB5 and #StandWithWendy was trending on Twitter and even Barack Obama's official account lent support:
But it wasn't until Davis was forced to yield the floor after a questionable point of order that things got really interesting.
Although Democratic legislators did their best to prolong the proceedings, with a few minutes remaining in the session, a vote was called. And that was when the citizens in attendance, after having all of their other options stripped from them, finally did something that the Texas Democratic party has needed to do for several years. They got loud:
So loud, in fact, that after some controversy, it was revealed that no final vote was able to be tabulated on the bill.
SB 5 had failed.
Some called the crowd's yelling obstructionist. Lt. Governor David Dewhurst suggested that they were an unruly mob using Occupy Movement tactics to get their way. Honestly, this may be the case. But in a state that's dominated by a party that has already pushed to adopt suppressing Voter ID laws in the immediate wake of the striking down of section 4 of the Voter Rights Act, and has already greatly benefitted politically from unconscionable gerrymandering instituted in 2003 (thanks, Tom DeLay), the suggestion that any other group is using improper means to dictate the law of the land is frankly laughable.
Yes, on Tuesday a terrible bill failed, but perhaps much more importantly, the climate of politics in Texas seemingly changed.
It's always been very apparent that the evolving demographics in the state were favorable to the Democrats. The Texas' Latino population is increasing -- a bloc that favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 71 percent to 27 percent margin nationally in the last election. In addition, the latest census data has indicated that the state is now a majority minority, with whites comprising only 45 percent of the population.
The state has always been shifting towards the numbers it needs to turn blue, but now it has the key ingredient it's always needed to truly turn the tide -- a strong Democratic figure to rally behind.
Simply put, Wendy Davis is the embodiment of the American dream that many Texas GOP legislators constantly preach.
As the Texas Tribune outlined, she is "a twice-divorced single mother who had her first daughter as a teenager, was the first in her family to go to college, and worked her way from junior college and a Tarrant County trailer park to Harvard Law School and the Fort Worth City Council."
And now, in addition to those credentials, she's a nationally recognized name. Davis and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, are the type of young charismatic figures that can rally the Democratic base in Texas. Combine this newfound excitement and motivation with the likelihood that Hillary Clinton will run president -- a candidate that recent polls indicate is viewed favorably by 65 percent of Latinos, compared to just 13 percent who view her negatively -- and Texas might have just discovered what it needs to turn blue as soon as 2016.
And as anyone who has ever glanced at an electoral map can pick up on, a blue Texas is the worst nightmare for the GOP in a presidential election.
Last night thousands of rowdy Texans, fed up with being told what they can and can't do with their bodies, made a difference at the Texas State Capitol. And, in all likelihood, they'll continue being rowdy as they go door-to-door across Texas in 2014 and 2016 to spread their message of support for their party.
In most recent election years, many Texas Democrats stay home, wondering why they should bother when the result is a foregone conclusion.
But not anymore.
Not after Tuesday night.
Follow Dan Treadway on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dan_treadway