News Abortion

Michelle Duggar, Mike Huckabee Visit Texas as ‘Orange Shirts’ Keep Fighting for Reproductive Rights

Andrea Grimes

As yet another late night of testimony on omnibus anti-abortion legislation continued inside the Texas State Capitol building Monday night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and reality show star Michelle Duggar made the trip from their home state to headline an anti-choice rally.

Read all of Rewire‘s coverage of the recent fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

As yet another late night of testimony on omnibus anti-abortion legislation continued inside the Texas State Capitol building Monday night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and reality show star Michelle Duggar made the trip from their home state to headline an anti-choice rally on the pink granite building’s south steps.

Around 2,000 blue-shirted supporters of HB 2 gathered with Huckabee and Duggar, the evangelical Christian star of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, to pray and praise bill sponsors Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker) and Sen. Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), chanting “Pass the bill!” as the sun began to set over the capitol grounds. Speaking from the steps, Hegar and Laubenberg exuded confidence. Both spoke of nationwide support for their legislation from their fellow citizens—and from God, as assured by the Rev. Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Dallas who brought a little fire and brimstone to an already plenty warm Texas evening.

blue shirts texas house leg“Anyone who opposes this bill, whether he realizes it or not, is a tool of Satan!” said Jeffress, quick to remind the crowd of last week’s “Hail Satan!” hubbub, when a few orange-shirted protestors allegedly shouted down a soap-box stumping session for Jesus in the capitol building’s outdoor rotunda.

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Legislative victory is almost certain for anti-choice lawmakers and their supporters, many of which were bused in from out of state to shore up Monday night’s rally and fill the house gallery Tuesday morning. Texas’ majority Republican and Tea Party lawmakers overwhelmingly support HB 2 and its companion bill, SB 1, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, require abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges, restrict the prescription of medical abortions and mandate that all abortion facilities be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, a rule which would shut down all but five abortion facilities currently operating in Texas.

Those five abortion-providing ambulatory surgical centers are located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, leaving Texans from the Rio Grande Valley, West Texas, and the Panhandle with hundreds of miles between them and access to safe, legal abortion care.

Mike Huckabee, currently the host of a Fox News talk show, told the gathered crowd of 1,500 or so Monday night “It’s not about abortion, it’s about the intrinsic value of each human being.”andrea house leg pic

While anti-choice bill supporters surrounded the south steps, their orange-shirted opposition gathered in near-matching numbers at the entrance to the capitol grounds for another march downtown, banging tambourines and chanting, “Whose choice? Our choice!”

Inside the capitol, testimony carried on in front of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee until 1:40 a.m. CST, with 3,800 people registered to witness, though only 400 or so were ultimately able to give spoken testimony. The senate committee left SB 1 pending, waiting for the house to hear its companion bill on the floor Tuesday morning. That body convened at 10 a.m. CST and is expected to hear from house Democrats, who have proposed amendments that would require the state to expand children’s Medicaid and prenatal care for low-income Texans.

Investigations LGBTQ

Brewing Hatred: Coors Beer Company Markets to Women, Latinos, LGBTQ Communities as Coors Family Attacks Their Rights

Zoe Greenberg & Brie Shea

As women, the LGBTQ community, and Latinos gain political and consumer power, Coors and its competitors have scrambled to target these groups. But the family behind the company continues to pump millions of dollars into powerful anti-choice, anti-immigrant organizations.

In a Coors beer ad released in 2011, two men dance suggestively behind the familiar script of the Coors Light logo. One of them, wearing a pink button-down shirt, holds his beer can aloft with one hand and his dancing partner’s thigh with the other. A small blue box near the bottom corner boasts that Coors was named by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the best places to work for LGBT Equality. In the center of the page, above the dancing men, Coors boldly proclaims: “Out Is Refreshing.”

Coors Light is the second most popular beer in the United States, bringing in more than $2.3 billion of the $101.5 billion beer market in 2014, according to the market research firm IRI. The Coors family is one of America’s oldest and largest beer dynasties, and the brewing companies that still bear their name—MillerCoors and Molson Coors—rake in billions each year. (Coors merged with Molson, a popular Canadian brewing company, in 2005, and the two companies created a joint venture called MillerCoors in 2008.) Molson Coors had $4.15 billion in net sales in 2014 alone.

To maintain that success, Coors has recently developed product lines and ad campaigns designed to cater to three key increasingly profitable markets—women, the LGBTQ community, and Latinos. As these groups gain political and consumer power, Coors and its competitors have scrambled to transform beer, once a blue-collar, bro-identified product, into a multicultural cash cow.

But a new Rewire investigation shows that although the Coors marketing messages and company policies have changed, the family behind the company continues to pump millions of dollars into powerful anti-choice, anti-immigrant groups, financing efforts that are directly hostile to the diverse customer base the Coors companies are trying to win over.

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Coors Foundational Giving 2009-2014

Conservative groups to which the Coors foundations have contributed at least $50,000 between 2009 and 2014.

Blue denotes anti-immigrant organizations

Red denotes anti-choice organizations

Green denotes anti-LGBT and anti-choice organizations

Orange denotes anti-immigrant and anti-choice organizations

* Individual contributions from Jeffrey Coors and John Coors, not family foundations

Organization Total

Independence Institute

$2,768,403

American Enterprise Institute

$900,000

Heritage Foundation

$800,000

Institute for Justice

$540,000

Pacific Legal Foundation

$510,000

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

$380,000

Cato Institute

$375,000

Donors Trust

$372,000

Philanthropy Roundtable

$360,000

Mountain States Legal Foundation

$355,000

Ethics and Public Policy Center

$335,000

Leadership Institute

$335,000

Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies

$270,000

ALEC

$240,000

Institute for American Values

$200,000

Independent Women’s Forum

$190,000

State Policy Network

$185,000

Landmark Legal Foundation

$170,000

Reason Foundation

$150,000

Texas Public Policy Foundation

$150,000

Barry Goldwater Institute

$160,000

Property & Environment Research Center

$140,000

Intercollegiate Studies Institute

$130,000

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CO)

$120,000

Southeastern Legal Foundation

$110,000

Americans for Prosperity Foundation

$100,000

James Madison Institute

$100,000

Media Research Center

$100,000

Competitive Enterprise Institute

$90,000

Young America’s Foundation

$90,000

American Studies Center

$80,000

Prometheus Institute

$80,000

Institute for Energy Research

$75,000

Heartland Institute

$70,000

Center for American Values

$65,000

National Center for Public Policy Research

$60,000

Cascade Policy Institute

$55,000

National Catholic Bioethics Center

$55,000

Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives

$50,000

Women Speak Out PAC (SBA List)

* $50,000

Center for Equal Opportunity

$50,000

Foundation for Government Accountability

$50,000

Independent Institute

$50,000

National Center for Policy Analysis

$50,000

The Coors family foundations have contributed at least $12.5 million to conservative organizations in the past six years alone, making the Coors one of the most formidable right-wing donor families on the national stage today.

Much of the family’s money is channeled through two private foundations: the Adolph Coors Foundation (founded in 1975) and the Castle Rock Foundation, which merged with the Adolph Coors Foundation in 2011. The foundations gave approximately $36.8 million total in grants in the past six years, meaning their conservative spending made up at least a third of their overall giving.

According to Kellie McElhaney, founding director of the Center for Responsible Business at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the public messaging from the Coors companies is in clear conflict with the private giving of the Coors family members.

“If the company is truly investing in women and minorities, which is going to cost the company money as an investment strategy, and the [Adolph Coors] Foundation is investing in things that appear counter to supporting women and minorities, then that’s a conflict,” she told Rewire. “You can’t invest in women and minorities on the one hand, and do anything that appears to be divesting from women and minorities on the other hand.”

The Coors beer companies and the Coors family say there is no conflict—because they operate separately. The family foundation’s website reads, “The Adolph Coors Foundation is a family foundation and not connected in any way to the brewery.”

And a spokesperson for Molson Coors echoed that message in an email to Rewire.

“We respect the rights of the family members or their foundations to choose their own political affiliations and activities,” the spokesperson said. “However, their contributions are their own and are not connected to the activities of the company. The culture at Molson Coors is based on respect, integrity and diversity.”

Rewire did not receive a response to our questions from MillerCoors, the other major Coors brewery. The Adolph Coors Foundation declined to comment.

Despite this asserted independence, public records show that Coors family members—including those who control the family’s charitable foundations—retain substantial ownership and control of the for-profit companies that carry their name.

Marcel Kahan, a professor of corporate law at NYU Law School, reviewed the most recent Molson Coors proxy filing for Rewire. He estimated that Coors family members and their entities own about 27 million of the total shares outstanding, or approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total votes in the company.

“They clearly are the most powerful single shareholders here,” he told Rewire. “They have significant influence because they are the directors, and they are the largest shareholders.”

In addition to owning large chunks of the Coors companies, Coors family members are involved in both the company and the foundation at leadership levels.

While some family members work at the companies, and others serve on the foundation, Peter H. Coors and William Coors hold senior positions at both. Peter H. Coors is the chairman of the MillerCoors Board, the vice-chairman of the Molson Coors Board, and the president and chairman of the Adolph Coors Foundation, according to 2014 tax filings. (A spokesperson for Molson Coors told Rewire that although Peter H. Coors fills these roles on the Adolph Coors Foundation board, John Jackson, a Colorado native and former consultant, actually leads the foundation. Tax filings list Jackson as the executive director/secretary of the foundation.) William Coors sits on the board of the Adolph Coors Foundation and is a director emeritus of Molson Coors, a position through which he provides consulting and advisory services, according to a 2015 proxy filing.

Four other Coors family members are on the board of the Adolph Coors Foundation, including Jeffrey Coors, CEO of Graphic Packaging Company, a major supplier of packaging for Molson Coors and MillerCoors.

At least three Coors family members—Christi Coors-Ficeli, Peter J. Coors, and David Coors—are currently employed by the brewing companies. All three are the children of Peter H. Coors (the chairman of the Adolph Coors Foundation) and the siblings of Melissa Coors Osborn, another family foundation member.

These ties undermine the claims that the company and the family are unconnected, said McElhaney, of the Haas Business School.

“There’s no question that optically, the family is very inter-linked with the actual company itself, particularly because it’s a family-owned company,” she said.

A Model Corporate Citizen

Just as the nation’s political parties have been forced to reckon with America’s shifting demographics, the nation’s major beer companies now have to appeal to the same groups if they want to stay profitable.

We and our US joint venture with SABMiller—MillerCoors—have increased our marketing to both women and minorities in recent years because they represent key consumer groups that will help drive the future growth of the beer industry,” Molson Coors spokesperson Colin Wheeler said in an email.

The increasing buying power of Latinos, women, and the LGBTQ community offers potentially major windfalls for beer companies. With nearly 33 million people of legal drinking age, and an estimated $1.5 trillion in buying power in the United States, Latinos represent a market that has until recently been underserved by mainstream brewers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos are a relatively young and growing population; by 2045, they will make up 25 percent of the population of legal drinkers in the country. The preferred adult beverage of the Latino population is beer, as noted in a recent report from the research firm Technomic.

In 2014, the U.S. LGBTQ community’s buying power was an estimated $884 billion and rising, according to Witeck Communications.

Women also have growing purchasing power, controlling $5 to $15 trillion in annual consumer spending in the United States, as reported by Nielsen. But as a group, they currently make up only one-fifth of the beer drinking population around the world.

In light of these numbers, Coors and its competitors have devoted themselves to a straightforward, and exceptionally profitable, goal: Get women, Latinos, and gay people to drink more beer.

The goal has spurred new marketing strategies by the major players in the beer industry. In 2008, one such competitor, Anheuser-Busch, introduced Budweiser Chelada, a version of the “michelada,” a popular Mexican drink that combines beer, tomato juice, lime, and spices. A press release promised, “The beers also pair well with traditional Latino dishes such as ceviche, chicken enchiladas and tamales.”

Coors Ad

The goal of selling more beer to Latinos has spurred new marketing strategies from major players in the industry. (McCann Copenhagen, Noche Latina, Bud Light)

Molson Coors also launched its own special beer lines targeting these new demographics.

In 2011, Molson Coors released a beer in the UK specifically for women, called Animée (French for “lively”). Based on almost three years of research about what women want, the beer was sparkling, pink, and advertised as “bloat resistant.”

Melissa Cole, a beer critic for the Guardian, wrote at the time: “Despite having some pretty pictures of hops on the bottle, if anyone can identify anything even approaching a normal beer flavour in any of these drinks I’ll eat my hat.” The brand was taken off the market 12 months after it was released.

Although that particular strategy failed, the company was undeterred from its fundamental goal of getting more women to drink Coors beer.

“Animée was only one part of our plan to attract more female drinkers to beer, and attracting female drinkers remains a priority to get the category back into growth,” a spokesperson told Marketing Week when the brand was pulled.

Coors’ attempts to win Latino consumers have met with more success. In 2014, MillerCoors released the Coors Light Summer Brew, a citrus-flavored beer specifically targeting Latino drinkers. Coors also started including bilingual packaging on Miller Lite and Coors Light brands and running Spanish-language beer ads.

The company’s efforts have gone well past marketing, to encompass a range of real-world corporate policies and efforts directed at these three key groups. 

Coors extended benefits to same-sex couples long before equal marriage was legal, and supports trans employees wishing to transition, both with medical care and paid time off. MillerCoors is a corporate partner of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, sponsors Pride parades around the country, and was the first national sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, according to its website. Earlier this year MillerCoors chairman Peter H. Coors backed out of an event hosted by an anti-gay organization.

In recognition of the company’s work, the Human Rights Campaign has awarded MillerCoors a “100” rating in their Corporate Equality Index ten years in a row. EDGE Media, a network of LGBTQ publications, called Coors a “model corporate citizen.”

The Coors companies have donated thousands of dollars to Latino community groups, including the Coors Hispanic Employment Network, a nonprofit based in Golden, Colorado that works to “support Hispanics in career development and employment opportunities.” Another program, called “Coors Lite Líderes,” provides grants, networking events, and online resources “to help up-and-coming Latino leaders to go further.” Each year the organization awards a $25,000 grant to a leader and his or her project, which must benefit the Latino community.

The Coors companies have introduced gender-inclusive workplace policies, as well.

In 2009, Molson Coors launched the Violet Initiative, a task force led by senior women in the company to increase the number of women ready to move into leadership positions and to make Molson Coors a desirable place for top-level women in the industry.

According to an annual report, the company introduced “flexible work arrangements” in 2010 to encourage work-life balance. MillerCoors has its own program to cultivate female leaders, including an annual Women’s Development and Networking Summit for women across the beer industry.

In a video, MillerCoors lays out its gender-related goals for the next five years. In 2014, 28 percent of managers were women, it explains; by 2020, the company hopes to have 34 percent of managers be women.

“This is a got-to-do if we’re going to be successful as a corporation now,” Scott Whitley, the president of the company, says in the video. “I think with the strong pipeline of talent we have among our female employees, we have a great opportunity. We’ve got to make sure we’re removing the obstacles and the challenges that might get in the way of people realizing their aspirations.”

“Learn to Speak English”

At the same time as the Coors companies are prioritizing outreach to women and Latinos, the Coors family is funding some of the most influential anti-choice, anti-immigrant organizations in the country.

The family’s support for right-wing causes is longstanding.

In 1973, Joseph Coors helped establish the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s most famous right-wing think tanks, which has taken credit for many of George W. Bush’s policies. Around the same time, the Coors family helped establish and fund the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative think tank that used anti-gay organizing to build political power for the Christian right.

And the family’s politics were squarely reflected in company policies.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, a broad coalition of unions, members of the gay and lesbian community, and immigrant rights activists boycotted the company because of its low wages and discriminatory hiring. Consumers, activists, and the press summarized these practices in a single menacing symbol: the Coors polygraph test.

“Prior to my employment, I was required to submit to a polygraph (lie detector) test,” David Sickler, an organizer of a 1977 brewers strike, said in a sworn affidavit. “Have you had sex with one or more persons?” Sickler recalled being asked. “What kind of sex?”

“I felt degraded, humiliated, and angry at this unwarranted invasion of my privacy,” Sickler said.

Other employees remembered similar questions. “What is your sex preference?” one recalled. “Have you ever done anything with your wife that could be considered immoral?” “Did you have relations with your wife last night?”

Many of the questions danced around one fundamental concern: “Are you a homosexual?”

The polygraph tests, which were used to screen job applicants in a company that had more than 10,000 workers by the time the practice stopped, were deployed to intimidate non-white applicants as well.

In a sworn affidavit from 1977, Frank Abeyta spoke about the multiple polygraph tests he was forced to take as a prospective employee because, he suspected, the company could not believe he had no criminal record as a Chicano man.

“I feel that this whole month of harassment was unnecessary and I was subjected to it because I am a Chicano and they were trying to discourage me from seeking employment with their Company,” he said.

The polygraph tests helped fuel the boycotts. While they raged, the Coors family foundations continued to support religious-right groups like the Institute for American Values, an organization dedicated to the values of heterosexual marriage, thrift, and anti-gambling; the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s conservative Christian organization; and Intercessors for America, a Christian fundamentalist group that focuses on prayer and fasting to end abortion and the “gay agenda,” among other things.

The AFL-CIO boycott ended in the late 1980s, after the company agreed to remove some obstacles to union organizing, but the family’s conservative spending continued, along with generalized pushback from other groups. Throughout the 2000s, the Castle Rock Foundation continued to support political positions that were increasingly opposed to the companies’ public relations messages and internal policies.

According to Allyson Brantley, a PhD student at Yale writing her dissertation on the Coors boycott, the first significant public break between the political stance of the company and the family came in 2004, when Peter H. Coors, then 58, ran for Colorado Senate. As a candidate, Coors opposed abortion without exception, defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and supported Bush’s war in Iraq.

Brantley says that the senate run represents a turning point, because for the first time, the company sought to distance itself publicly from members of the Coors family.

“The company was very explicit about how they were unconnected from Peter Coors and his senate run,” Brantley told Rewire. “Although, the family was always involved in the money of the company and also the operations of it. It was hard to know where one ended and one began.”

Another turning point came in 2009, when the Adolph Coors Foundation appears to have shed any reticence caused by the controversies of prior decades, and began once again to aggressively fund national conservative organizations, according to Rewire’s analysis of tax filings and other public documents.

Since then, the family has become one of the major funders behind some of the right’s marquee battles in the culture wars, including the fight against the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.

Between 2009 and 2014, the Coors family foundations contributed $380,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the nonprofit law firm that masterminded many of the challenges to the Affordable Care Act. That represents around 2 percent of the overall giving to the Becket Fund—one of the nation’s largest right-wing nonprofit groups—during that time, according to Rewire‘s research.

The Becket Fund’s most famous client is Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts supplies store that brought its objections to insurance coverage for contraception to the U.S. Supreme Court last year, and won. The Becket Fund has also represented other religiously affiliated nonprofits, such as Wheaton College, in an effort to eliminate insurance coverage for birth control for employees of religious institutions.

The Coors family, though, did not have just one horse in the anti-birth control race. Between 2009 and 2014, the family foundations also contributed $335,000 to the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a neoconservative group dedicated to “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.” The center filed an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case as well, arguing that for-profit corporations can exercise religious freedom, and therefore deny their employees access to birth control.

Molson Coors told Rewire that although the company’s health-care benefits vary by country, most employees have health care that provides birth control benefits and covers abortion.

The Coors family has also contributed thousands to right-wing women’s groups that seek, among other things, to eliminate legal abortion. In 2014, Jeffrey Coors and John Coors each gave $25,000 to Women Speak Out PAC, the super PAC arm of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List. The group’s stated goal is to “reduce and ultimately end abortion.”

Between 2009 and 2014, the family foundations also gave $190,000 to the Independent Women’s Forum, which the New York Times editorial board described as “a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women.” The IWF sent a spokesperson to testify against gun control laws in the aftermath of the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, claiming “guns make women safer”; opposed the Violence Against Women Act, arguing that it has been a source of “waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer resources”; and defended Rush Limbaugh when he called a college student a “prostitute” and a “slut” for her support of the birth control benefit.

In addition to funding anti-choice political groups, between 2009 and 2014, the Adolph Coors Foundation contributed nearly $120,000 to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), many located in the Coors’ home state of Colorado. CPCs are anti-choice facilities that try to persuade women not to get abortions, often by claiming that abortion causes breast cancer or sterility (it doesn’t). CPCs tend to use deceptive advertising to trick women into thinking they may be able to get an abortion if they make an appointment.

And, as much as Coors marketing spokespeople tout the benefits of bilingual advertising and scholarships for Hispanic students, the Coors family has a very different idea about how to spend the profits reaped from such careful multicultural advertising.

Between 2010 and 2011, the Castle Rock Foundation contributed $50,000 to the Center for Equal Opportunity, a small conservative think tank fiercely opposed to bilingual education. In testimony before the House Judiciary committee, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity said that to achieve assimilation, there are “ten basic principles” to which all Americans must subscribe. They included “learn to speak English”; “don’t have children out of wedlock”; “don’t demand anything because of your race, ethnicity, or sex”; and “don’t hold historical grudges.”

From 2009 to 2014, the Coors family foundations also contributed $800,000 to the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank founded by Joseph Coors, which in recent years has become increasingly hostile to immigration. In 2013, a Heritage senior policy analyst named Dr. Jason Richwine wrote a study that argued against amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Dr. Richwine was subsequently fired when reporters discovered that he had written a dissertation arguing that Hispanic immigrants had I.Q.s that were “substantially lower than that of the white native population,” something he said should be taken into account when drafting immigration policy.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Coors family foundations contributed $60,000 to the National Center for Public Policy Research, another conservative think tank devoted to a white vision of America. In 2012, the group announced the creation of a “Voter Identification Task Force,” to push forward voter ID laws, which disproportionately affect Black and Latino voters. And between 2009 and 2014, the Coors gave $510,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has fought against bilingual education and state tuition rates for undocumented students in California.

“California taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the post-secondary education of adult illegal aliens,” the Pacific Legal Foundation wrote in an amicus brief.

The individual family members also have a long track record of contributing to anti-choice politicians, according to federal election commission records. Between 2008 and 2015, they gave at least $57,000 to Mike Coffman, a Colorado congressman who opposes abortion including in cases of rape or incest, and between 2005 and 2015, they gave $50,700 to Scott Tipton, another anti-choice Colorado congressman.

Though the family hasn’t publicly stated which Republican they’ll be supporting in the election season, Peter H. Coors gave $5,000 to the Right to Rise PAC, connected to Jeb Bush, in February. Last month, Bush told the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

To be sure, not all of the family’s spending has a political bent: Between 2009 and 2014, the Coors foundations gave approximately $19 million to various community organizations, schools, and nonprofits.

But when it comes to supporting groups that undercut the inclusive stance of the Coors companies, the Coors family seems to maintain a position that was most clearly articulated by Peter H. Coors in 2004, when he was asked about Coors’ pro-LGBTQ practices.

That’s “just good business, separate from politics,” he said.

Sharona Coutts contributed to this report. Follow her on twitter: @sharonacoutts

CORRECTION: Due to a copy-editing error, a version of this piece incorrectly noted the location of Newtown. The piece has been updated to correct this.

Commentary Media

Let’s Talk About That Wendy Davis Cover of ‘Texas Monthly’

Andrea Grimes

Just months after Texas Monthly lauded Davis as a potentially serious political threat, the magazine flung her into a cow pasture in an act of pure, derisive mockery—all for the crime of running for office and losing.

I guess the thing I keep thinking about is the pair of pink Mizunos: the sneakers that Wendy Davis wore when she stood for 13 hours on the floor of the Texas Senate chamber, filibustering an omnibus anti-abortion bill that has now shuttered all but a dozen or so legal abortion clinics in Texas.

Those sneakers carried so much more than a single legislator through her history-making stand against the most extreme package of anti-abortion laws in the country. They carried the hopes of thousands of Texans who came to occupy the halls of the capitol building during the summer of 2013, some of whom drove hundreds of miles across this sprawling state to tell stories—their abortion stories, their parents’ abortion stories, their grandparents’ abortion stories—to lawmakers who refused to listen, who put the false refrain of “health and safety” on repeat, and who scoffed at their “repetitive” pleas for continuing access to legal abortion care.

And this month, those sneakers are slathered in cow shit on the cover of Texas Monthly. Wearing them is a grotesque caricature of Wendy Davis, the exaggerated wrinkles on her face contorted in abject horror as she realizes she’s stepped in manure, her body twisted into a kind of faux-dainty, Barbie-esque revulsion. Alongside her is a cow that looks personally offended that Davis had the gall to smear its precious turd pile.

All of this is in service of the magazine’s “Bum Steers” issue, an annual tradition that calls out the year’s most embarrassing Texans, those responsible for the year’s biggest Lone Star mishaps. For those unfamiliar with the rag: Texas Monthly is the elder broseph of state-focused media outlets, obsessed with barbecue and Bernie Tiede, long a breeding ground for some of the country’s finest longform journalists. If Texas Monthly were to take human form, you’d be looking at a cross between Matthew McConaughey and George W. Bush.

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Announcing Davis as the “bum steer” for 2015, Texas Monthly argued that “nothing, and we mean nothing, could match the train wreck that was Wendy Davis, Battleground Texas, and the Democrats.”

To be sure, it was a bad midterm election for those on the left side of the aisle—not only for Texans, but across the country. Following Davis’ filibuster, the pressure was on for her to lead the way to turning Texas blue. Her loss stung, particularly after so many had hoped that she could bring change to the governor’s mansion, or at least a real challenge to decades of GOP incumbency.

But this magazine cover, y’all. This magazine cover is something else. Just months after Texas Monthly lauded Davis as a potentially serious political threat—along with San Antonio’s Joaquin and Julian Castro—under the headline “Game On?“, the magazine flung her into a cow pasture in an act of pure, derisive mockery. All for the crime of running for office and losing.

And, perhaps more pointedly, for the crime of running for office as a woman. The cover follows a long bipartisan tradition of deeply misogynistic mainstream portrayals of women who work in politics. The tropes are easy enough to name: Sarah Palin as a dippy pin-up, Hillary Clinton as a ball-busting bitch, Condoleezza Rice suffering the double-whammy of racism and sexism as a GOP line-toeing mammy. When it comes to Davis, this cover—like many other less sleekly produced Davis renderings, from “Abortion Barbie,” to made-up Wendy condoms, to a variety of takes on the fact that she attended Harvard while married to a human man—doesn’t just caricature her. It portrays her as ugly, weak, self-absorbed and prissy. Whatever the failures of her campaign, those are not traits Davis possesses.

Contrast the Davis “bum steers” cover with the way her male fellow award winners have been portrayed by the magazine: Here’s a remarkably smooth-skinned Gov. Rick Perry with a post-it note on his forehead, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones having a beer and a shot with the Texas Longhorns mascot, Dick Cheney posing with a rifle, disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong pedaling victoriously to another dubious win. None of these covers go out of their way to make any of these men look physically unappealing, and in fact some of them actually improve their looks. These illustrations, for that matter, all seem to punch up at powerful dudes who’ve acted like out-and-out dipshits.

In a world where women were not judged on their appearance and overall composure, where thousands of Texans who need abortion care were not likely to be denied that care thanks to the explicit dealings of anti-choice politicians, distorting Davis’ face into a commedia mask and shoving her, clad in those Mizunos, into a pile of bovine manure might have merely been a little over-the-top. But in this world, the world in which our cultural dialogue is shaped, in part, by entities like Texas Monthly, it is nothing less than egregious. It smacks of the elite reserve of journalists who are able to treat stories with a kind of “set it and forget it” attitude: this month’s cover down, and on to the next one.

Consider the reasoning behind Davis’ nomination here. Again, “bum steers” are generally awarded the prize for general doofusery—see Perry, Rick—or the kind of self-aggrandizing overconfidence that leads people to do remarkably stupid, even sometimes criminal, things that embarrass the state and its most prized institutions—see Armstrong, Lance and Jones, Jerry.

But Davis? Davis lost an election. Something that is perhaps not particularly surprising in a state where lawmakers have actively worked to disenfranchise low-income Texans, and Texans of color—in other words, Texans who vote Democrat—with explicitly racist voter ID laws.

Which brings me back to the shoes. For the “national magazine of Texas” to smear cow shit on those shoes, and all that they and Wendy Davis stood for, is to punch many, many orders of magnitude down. It is to say that running against the odds, as Davis did, was not only foolish—in the manner of accidentally shooting your buddy while you’re out quail hunting—but worthy of outright mockery.

Forgive me, but I don’t find what Wendy Davis did when she fought for people like the Vestals to be able to make a decision on how to handle a troubled, much-wanted pregnancy, based on the best available medical recommendations, to be worthy of outright mockery.

I don’t find what Wendy Davis did, when she read Texans’ abortion stories through tears to lawmakers who had intentionally silenced those who wished to testify, to be worthy of outright mockery.

I don’t find what Wendy Davis did, when she connected years of anti-choice legislation and family planning budget cuts to a continuing effort to end access to safe reproductive care, to be worthy of outright mockery.

I don’t find what Wendy Davis did, when she advocated for Texans in the farthest-flung corners of the state to continue to have access to health care at clinics that have been providing safe, legal abortion care for decades, to be worthy of outright mockery.

I don’t find what Wendy Davis did, when she spent hour after hour dismantling the outright lies of lawmakers who cooed constantly about “health and safety” regulations deemed unnecessary and dangerous by mainstream medical organizations, to be worthy of outright mockery.

In general, I do not think that standing up for Texans’ most basic rights to safely and confidently plan their families—to not be forced to carry every pregnancy to term because of a lack of resources or transportation—is something that is worthy of outright mockery.

I think, rather, that what Wendy Davis did, and what she stood for in those now-shit-smeared pink sneakers, is something that is worthy of our utmost respect, particularly in a political climate where those who believe in good science and good medicine are hounded into silence and submission by lawmakers whose compassionate conservatism begins at conception and ends at birth.

Perhaps the women who call the shots at Texas Monthly know that their glossy magazine salaries and their middle-class zip codes will always mean that they can access legal abortion care if they need it. Perhaps the men who call the shots at Texas Monthly don’t fear that their wives, sisters, and daughters will need to smuggle in abortion-inducing ulcer drugs from a Mexican pharmacy when hundreds of miles stretch between their homes and the nearest legal abortion clinic.

Maybe that’s why they thought it would be a good laugh to run with a cover featuring a disgusting illustration of Davis standing in a pile of soggy, sticky cow shit.

Perhaps also the Texas Monthly staff thought it could elude accusations of partisanship by naming Davis the 2015 “bum steer,” hungry as its writers may be for future audiences with media-shy politicians like Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and incoming Attorney General Ken Paxton.

If so, the magazine is guilty of the worst kind of privileged, horserace-style politicking. In attempting to position itself as somehow above the fray, Texas Monthly is telling a lie of its own. It’s saying that politics in Texas are not dominated by a particular party, and that equal time and equal mockery are due, in equal measure, to all. That Texas politics is a friendly game of ping-pong; that everyone is equally responsible for Texas’ astounding repeat teen pregnancy rate, its abysmal nationwide education ranking, its rank refusal to help its most marginalized residents obtain affordable health care. These simply aren’t things that Texas progressives, liberals, and Democrats can lay claim to; they haven’t any real leverage in crafting statewide policy since Ann Richards lost to George W. Bush back in the ’90s.

Part of the reason for that—not the entire reason; I’m not playing the Evil, Baddie Media Monster game here—is that Texas Democrats, for a long time, have been damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This year, Texas saw its most promising, most energizing Democratic candidate in years: a woman who gave thousands of Texans permission to finally talk about supporting abortion in public, who filibustered not only for reproductive rights but for education funding, who took a Harvard law degree while raising two daughters. And the most prominent periodical in the entire state, the magazine that purports to be a thought leader in the political conversation month after month, shoved her into a shit pile for it.

Is it any wonder Texas Democrats have trouble gaining ground in mainstream political conversations? When they are roundly mocked for making any attempt to try? You tell people that their beliefs are pointless bullshit—in this case, literally—over and over again, and eventually you end up with a state with the lowest voter turnout in the entire country and a decades-long GOP monopoly on every office in Austin.

There comes a point at which pretensions toward objectivity and fairness become their own kinds of partisanship, and begin to look an awful lot like the reification and reinforcement of the status quo. That’s when “not taking sides” and hearing “both sides” crosses into the territory of putting publications like Texas Monthly on the wrong side of history. But in the meantime, this kind of grocery check-out line pagebait is great for selling magazines—and after all, Texas Monthly needs to sell copies if it’s going to keep its barbecue editor in brisket.

Indeed, I expect this issue will fare particularly well. I expect it to find a place in the home of everyone on “both sides” who thought “Abortion Barbie” was the best punch line of the year.

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