Herman: The Hollywood version of a Texas filibuster

Updated Nov 13, 2017
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, helps fellow senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, put on a back support belt during her filibuster in the Senate chamber on June 25, 2013. The action prompted a point of order, which was supported in 17-11 vote. Davis filibustered in an attempt to kill Senate Bill 5, which restricted abortion procedures, providers and facilities. ALBERTO MARTíNEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I wasn’t ever going to write about this ever again. Really. And there were at least two good reasons not to write about it ever again. I’m sick of typing about it. You’re sick of reading what I type about it.

But then something happened.

Hollywood happened, and Lord knows Hollywood is where we look these days for moral guidance. I blame Hollywood. For everything. Except “Caddyshack,” which remains the pinnacle of American cinema.

There’s a movie in the works — “Let Her Speak” — that’s sure to be Hollywood’s fawning version of then-Sen. Wendy Davis in her famous among some, infamous among others, June 2013 filibuster that brought a rowdy, rule-breaking crowd to the Senate chamber to cheer her on as she successfully briefly delayed approval of abortion restrictions favored by a clear majority of senators.

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Whew, that was a long sentence. And it was a long day in the Senate when Davis performed the nearly 13-hour filibuster that made her famous and launched her 2014 gubernatorial campaign that gave us Gov. Greg Abbott. Way to go, Democrats.

For the record, and in case you missed my redundant previous columns about that extraordinary day in the Texas Senate, let me remind you that I was on Davis’ side in opposing the abortion restriction measure that later was approved in a subsequent special session and parts of which have been stricken down in court.

My beef is about process. Filibusters are dumb and counter to our basic notions about how law is made. Ban the filibuster.

Anyway, even as word spread from Hollywood last week that Sandra Bullock was on board to play Davis in the movie, I had no plans to revisit this topic until the movie actually is produced and projected onto silver screens. So why am I bothering you with this today?

Tilove. Jonathan Tilove. (And that’s pronounced tie-love, as in the diagnosable condition in which you really, really like ties.)

Tilove, our chief political reporter, is the hardest working man in journalism. Among other things, he produces a bit of online magic called “First Reading.” It really should be called “While Regular People Were Sleeping” because he produces it overnight while regular people were sleeping.

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On Monday, while others still were reporting that Bullock (one of the few local women named Bullock who never were married to the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock) was to play Davis, Tilove told us about the script, a copy of which he has procured.

My two basic gripes about the Davis filibuster have been about the filibuster, not Davis. Filibusters are dumb, unfair and should be verboten. If we didn’t have filibusters and they had them in Slobovia (Upper or Lower) we’d laugh and say, “Wait a minute, the legislative process can be brought to a halt by somebody who can stand and talk for a long time while wearing clandestine equipment allowing one to answer nature’s call while standing and talking for a long time?”

Oh, those wacky Slobovians (Upper or Lower), we would say.

That’s what a filibuster is: a nonsensical procedure in which physical endurance — in the face of the reality of the vote count — becomes a part of legislating. It causes nothing more than delay, because filibusters only are done when the filibusterer is on the losing side of an issue.

So next time you pick a Texas Senate candidate, be sure to take into account physical condition. In addition to debates, there should be a decathlon. Under the rules, our current governor would not be allowed to filibuster in the Texas Senate. The rules, and rulings made on them, states that a member speaking on the floor “must stand upright at his desk and may not lean or sit on his desk or chair.”

The “Let Her Speak” script, of course, is very pro-Davis. But included are two scenes in which a Davis colleague makes my two points about filibusters. Thank you, Hollywood version of Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. (And I’m with Tilove: Billy Bob Thornton should play Watson.)

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In a key scene showing outnumbered Dems strategizing about a possible filibuster, then-Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, tells Davis it would take “a hell of a long time.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chimes in, “Can’t be done. Not under our rules.”

Watson, listing the rules, says, “No sitting, no eating. … No taking a piss.”

“I know the damn rules!” Davis says, sparking this from Watson:

“Then look around you! D’you see any triathletes here? Any God-damn Olympians.”

The stage directions then say, “Wendy looks at her colleagues. One by one. Kirk’s right. They’re not out of ‘Cocoon,’ but they’re not far from it.” (In case you’ve forgotten, “Cocoon” was a 1995 movie about geezers. It was pretty good, but no “Caddyshack.”)

So, right there in the “Let Her Speak” script is the nod to the nonsense of physical endurance as part of legislating.

At another point in the script, Watson makes my point about marathon talking in the face of the reality that the other side has the votes. The scene shows some Watson-Davis tension as she gears up for the filibuster and he seems to question the wisdom of it.

“You think I’m not outraged?” Watson tells her. “You think I like showin’ up every day just to lose, over and over?”

Davis then rebuffs Watson’s suggestion that she seems to think she’s “the only one courageous enough to fight.”

“That’s exactly what you’re saying!” Watson says. “Trust me, senator. I can fight! I can God-damn fight! Difference between you and me is, I can also count.”

Exactly right, Hollywood version of Watson.

(Note to Watson’s clergy person. The movie is based on a true story, but Hollywood sometimes shows folks saying things they don’t really say.)

Final notion: Any chance the GOP-controlled Texas Capitol machinery allows Hollywood to use the Senate chamber to film this tale?

COMMENTARY: How the Legislature is choking the Texas film industry