Signal Investigates: Who is Sarah Davis?

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There has never been a more crucial time for investigative journalism, and a closer examination of the voting records and motivations of the elected officials governing the three branches of Texas government. In this series, we’ll be taking a deep dive to bring you the facts that matter.

This is Signal Investigates: Who is Sarah Davis? 

Across Texas, Republican incumbents are scrambling. They’ve never faced challengers as serious as they do this cycle, with direct mail, digital ads and even television buys making appeals to their voters. These Republican incumbents are also unaccustomed to having their legislative records examined more closely unless it was by a right-wing primary challenger. Danger awaits behind every door for Texas Republicans, who for years prioritized feeding the beast and satisfying their base over genuine legislative accomplishment. As these Texas Republicans sprint to the middle, their legislative records show representatives that are out-of-touch with the districts they represent. 

Nobody exemplifies this trend more than Texas State Rep. Sarah Davis. For years, Davis it seemed, was unique in her immunity from stiff cross-examination. Widely viewed as the most moderate Republican in the Texas Legislature, she had calculatingly and selectively gone toe to toe with Democratic candidates and Governor Greg Abbott’s political machine alike, and emerged unscathed each time.

But then we reached this moment in time. 2020 turned into one of the most cataclysmic years in American history. As the novel coronavirus pandemic ravaged Texas, and particularly Harris County, and President Donald Trump continued to alienate suburban and independent women, the momentum has only continued to shift to Democrats.

Even still, that was before hurricane season. This season in Harris County and the coastal bend has been unpredictable and terrifying, with strong storms and flooding as recently as this week. Warnings of unsurvivable storm surges and cars being washed away in powerful flooding called to mind the persistent calls of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Evan Minz, who has for years begged the question: when the hell are they going to build the damn Ike Dike?

Legislative and policy fights around hurricane response are commonplace in the states afflicted by the storms, and Texas and Harris County specifically are still waiting for assistance from the federal government to assist in the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Harvey. This week, Signal uncovered a track record of votes that Davis has taken that have been detrimental to hurricane survivors throughout the region.

It started when we took a closer look at who has backed Davis’ campaigns financially. We quickly found that the group Texans for Lawsuit Reform has given Davis over half a million dollars, and found over $60,000 of contributions from the insurance industry. 

Texans for Lawsuit Reform have backed a wide-ranging group of candidates and legislation. One of the bills they were most interested in during the 2017 legislative session was Senate Bill 10, a pet bill for Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, which would have made it harder for property owners to sue insurance companies over storm-related claims.

Many businesses were incensed and lined up to oppose Patrick’s bill, but not every sector shared their view. The insurance industry in Texas lobbied heavily on behalf of the house version, HB 1774, which was famously described as a money grab by the insurance industry. 

When we reviewed the list of legislators who co-authored that legislation, one name stood out: Davis, Sarah.

It’s always surprising to see Houston representatives support or oppose legislation that makes life harder on property owners trying to recover from a catastrophic hurricane. As Houston residents continue to heal from the scars of Hurricane Harvey, and Ike before it and many others before them, there has never been a more important time for our elected officials to fight for working Texans.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, this isn’t just one vote. 

When multiple tornadoes ripped through North Texas in 2011 and then-Governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration, he highlighted a bill the legislature had passed during the session that made it illegal for contractors to demand full or partial payment before they began work repairing hurricane-damaged homes. That bill, HB 1711, carried the type of bipartisan support you would hope for legislation so important, sailing through the State House with only one member voting against it.

That member was Sarah Davis. 

To date, she’s accepted over $100,000 from general contractors in her political campaigns.

More to come. 

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