Donna García Davidson
My story begins in the small, quiet border town of Mission, Texas, where I was born and grew up with my parents and five siblings. My father sold insurance and worked at the local post office while my mother worked in the home to raise their six kids. Our home may have been small and humble, but it was ours. My parents challenged us to work hard, to never take something we didn’t earn, and to give back to those who had less than we did.
When I was 13 years old, my father was killed in a car accident, so my mother finished raising our family as a single mother. That was a tough time for all of us. Mom didn’t even have a license to drive, let alone a college education. But she was a fighter. She learned to drive, went to college, and earned her bachelor degree to be a teacher while still taking care of our family. She did a great job as a single mom! Her kids grew up to be a college professor, a high school principal, a couple of school teachers, a businessman and me, the attorney. I am very proud of my family.
Working Through College
After graduating from Mission High School with honors, I worked my way through college in the radio business, initially as on air personality in FM radio in the Valley and then later in office operations for a radio chain in Austin where I finished my college education at the University of Texas. I studied communications and earned my Bachelor of Journalism degree. Right after my senior year at UT, I married Greg Davidson and we started our own retail business in the campus area, a small Christian bookstore providing Bibles and Bible study materials to UT students. It was more of a ministry than a business, but it’s where we learned how to work for things bigger than just ourselves.
It was during this time that I got involved with the conservative movement. I volunteered for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign and we walked door-to-door canvassing voters in Austin and building the legendary Reagan-Bush-Gramm voter list. Greg and I were involved with the Young Conservatives of Texas organizing conservative students on college campuses. I attended Republican precinct, county, and state conventions and Greg was elected precinct chairman in our neighborhood. We served as election judges for several primary elections and were very involved in building the Republican Party in Travis County. Greg was later elected to the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) for Travis and Hays counties and went on to serve as a presidential elector from Texas in the U.S. Electoral College.
This was also about the time my commitment to public service began. I worked in the legislature for State Representative Ted Roberts from Corpus Christi, who was an attorney and the only Republican in the House of Representatives south of San Antonio. Working for Ted in the legislature was a good fit with my South Texas roots. Ted was and continues to be a great mentor to me, not only in the law, but also in life in general. Under his guidance and encouragement, I decided to go to law school at the University of Texas to continue working on the legislative issues we started and to continue my commitment to public service.
My experience at the University of Texas School of Law sharpened my analytical skills and broadened my area of interest in the law. My first year class with Professor Charles Alan Wright laid the foundation for a good understanding of constitutional law while my later class with Professor Lino A. Graglia grounded me firmly in plain textual meaning of the law and formed my foundational understanding of constitutional interpretation.
While attending law school, I interned as a law clerk at the Texas Department of Agriculture which is where I started my understanding of administrative law. Upon graduation from UT Law, Commissioner Rick Perry hired me as an assistant general counsel. I worked on diverse issues such as the enforcement of the cotton plough down dates to eradicate the boll weevil and the registration of trademarks to promote Texas grown products. I also served as assistant to the administrative law judges in the agency as they held hearings, heard arguments, and issued opinions. It was here that I began to learn the intricacies of administrative law and how state agencies actually run. With the rise of the bureaucratic state, even here in conservative Texas, it is important for the powers of government to be balanced and not dominated by unelected bureaucrats. While working for Commissioner Perry, I monitored the newly-created Texas Ethics Commission and assisted in drafting the agency’s ethics policy, which drew the attention of the new governor for my next job.
In 1995, based on my work at the Texas Department of Agriculture, Governor George W. Bush hired me to be his Ethics Advisor and Assistant General Counsel. During the first conversation we had, Governor Bush challenged me to develop an ethics policy for his office that would keep him and our staff out of the gray. We called it a “bright line” policy and he told me that if we ever entered the gray, we had already lost. My charge was to train our staff to “avoid any appearance of impropriety” and to urge them to “exercise an overabundance of caution” so that the public could have confidence in his administration. We rolled his ethics policy out on day two of his new administration and it faithfully guided us through both of his terms as governor.
Working for Governor Bush was exciting, but even more stimulating was the opportunity to learn under the guidance of Alberto R. Gonzalez who was the General Counsel. Al and I came from similar backgrounds and we shared the challenges and opportunities that hard work and dedication produce. It was a time I grew to understand how my study of the law and public service could come together professionally. Al would later go on to be a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, a trusted White House counselor, and eventually Attorney General of the United States. Together we worked to implement Governor Bush’s vision of government in the executive branch.
Overseeing State Agencies
While I was an assistant general counsel in the Office of the Governor, we worked to implement Governor Bush’s vision of government in the executive branch. We oversaw the work of state agencies and had a clear vision to keep state agencies, even the Office of the Attorney General, in check. Our small division of six attorneys acted as a litigation team and challenged Attorney General Dan Morales and his handling of the tobacco litigation settlement money. Morales was eventually indicted on federal charges of trying to fraudulently obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in attorney fees from a state settlement with tobacco companies. He later pled guilty to falsifying documents related to the settlement and eventually spent time in federal prison for his actions.
Capitol Punishment and Executions
One duty we shared in the Governor’s general counsel office was advising the governor on capital punishment cases, the highest and most consequential result of criminal law. Each attorney was assigned to a case and we would pour over court records. We reviewed the files relating to evidence presented at trial and the arguments made by both the prosecutors and the defendants. We analyzed the issues presented on appeal through the judicial appellate process, and finally made specific recommendations to the governor to either stay the execution or allow it to continue. Executions are somber events. The taking of a life to achieve justice is never easy, and we approached our task with great determination to provide the governor with a thorough briefing so that he would be ready to exercise his constitutional right as he saw fit.
One particular execution was especially difficult. A 23-year-old woman had been convicted of a brutal murder, taking a pickaxe and participating in killing two people in a drug-fueled rage during a common burglary. She received a sentence of death for her cruel actions. But while on death row, she experienced a religious conversion and, according to the warden, lived a model and changed life for the next 14 years she was there. We reviewed the case and on February 3, 1998, she entered the death chamber and was strapped to the gurney. I remember the date because it was my birthday. Her case drew worldwide attention. Texas had not executed a woman in more than a 100 years and requests to stay her execution poured into our office from both liberal activists and conservative Christians. But, the courts had done their job. We reviewed the judicial record and found it solid. Justice demanded that the execution continue as the consequences for her actions. That night I was on the phone relaying the proceedings in the death chamber to Governor Bush and Al Gonzales who were both in the governor’s office in the Capitol. At 6:45 p.m., Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman to be executed in the United States since 1984, and the first in Texas since 1863. No matter how difficult this process was, justice was served.
After leaving Governor Bush’s office in 1999, I became the general counsel for Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry as he presided over the Texas Senate. As general counsel, I advised him and the office on legal matters and policy issues during the legislative session. That session, I was able to work with house and senate members as well as Governor Bush’s staff to pass the parental notification legislation. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of the legislative process and success was very satisfying.
I also had the privilege of helping with the transition when Governor Bush became president and Rick Perry became governor. After helping the first few months of the new administration with ethics training and other issues, I decided to leave public service and go into private practice.
As much as I loved working in the state government and for elected officials, I wanted to broaden my experience and enter private practice. My first step was to work with Potts & Reilly, LLP, a small law firm where I worked for eight years. During that time, I continued my work on administrative law issues such as protecting private property rights for dairy farmers and assisting clients through the administrative and legislative maze.
I served as outside counsel to the Republican Party of Texas in litigation before Judge Sam Sparks as well as in district courts involving election law matters. I was later named general counsel for the Republican Party of Texas and in that capacity represented the Republican Party before the Texas Supreme Court in the In re Francis case.
I enjoyed serving as general counsel and being with a small firm, but I wanted to run my own private practice. So, in 2009, I opened my own small business as a solo practice attorney. Running a small business is no easy task and is not for everyone. However, it has been a great experience for me. My practice concentrates on advising state senators, state representatives, lobbyists, associations, county and state political parties, and political action committees. My practice area covers state ethics laws including campaign finance, conflicts of interest, and nepotism issues, election law matters including six recounts and three election contests in 2016 alone, redistricting litigation counsel on behalf of the Republican Party of Texas, as well as advising on open meetings and public information issues for a variety of clients.
I have been licensed in Texas since 1992. I am a former member of the State Bar College and recently served as chair of the State Bar of Texas’ Legislative & Campaign Law Section, created in 2014. I am licensed to practice before the Western District, Fifth Circuit, and United States Supreme Court. In addition, I am a member of the local Austin Chapter of the Christian Legal Society, the Texas Center for Legal Ethics, and the national Federalist Society.
I have lived in Travis, Williamson, and Lee Counties for the last 38 years. I am currently a member of All Saints Presbyterian Church (PCA) and I enjoy singing in our church choir. Most importantly, I am happily married to Greg Davidson and we will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary in March. We are the proud parents of a 16-year-old daughter who played on the varsity basketball team and placed tenth in state in golf as a freshman in high school.
This lifetime of experience has prepared me to administer the law fairly and impartially as your justice on the Third Court of Appeals. My state government service and agency experience provides me a practical grounding for administrative law cases, a large part of what the Third Court hears on a regular basis. My state and private practice experience working with high level governmental officials and advising them on a variety of issues provides me with the confidence and analytical skills to tackle the complex cases that come before the Third Court. And finally, my real world, life experiences living in the area for 38 years and running my own small business gives me an invaluable perspective on how the decisions issued by the Third Court can impact lives of everyday Texans.
For these reasons, I ask you to vote for me, Donna Davidson, to be the next Justice on the Third Court of Appeals in Place 6. Thank you.
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