While four Republicans are battling hard in the race for lieutenant governor, Democrats are hoping to persuade a spunky Latina from San Antonio to run against them.
Democratic Party leaders believe that having State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte join gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket would bring added appeal to women and Hispanic voters.
At a fundraiser last week, Deborah Peoples, the Tarrant County Democratic Party chair, said Van de Putte would bring geographic diversity to the ticket. After 22 years in the state legislature, she’d bring experience. And she might also galvanize the Hispanic vote.
“When we look at the state of Texas and we start putting a coalition of candidates together, she brings that energy from South Texas and I think it will absolutely help the ticket,” Peoples said.
Diane Mosbacher, a Dallas optometrist, likes the idea of two women running together for the state's top political jobs.
“She is a pharmacist and I think she’d bring a woman’s perspective, as well as a healthcare background,” Mosbacher said.
It is, in fact, the women’s healthcare issue that binds Van de Putte and Davis in what was one of the most dramatic moments ever at the Texas capitol.
On June 15 Sen. Davis had begun her now-famous filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill at the capitol.
Van de Putte, 58, was two hours away at the funeral of her father, who was killed in an auto accident. But when a staff member whispered that Republicans were trying to shut Davis down, Van de Putte, a mother of six, says she looked at a photo of her dad and knew what to do.
“I thought about all the times my daddy stood for me and I thought about Wendy and I said 'I’ve gotta go,'" she said.
Van de Putte told Democrats at the fundraiser that when she arrived on the Senate floor, her grief turned to anger because Republican leaders refused to let her speak. When they finally called on her she uttered the 22 words that caused hundreds of women in the capitol to explode in a protest that temporarily derailed the abortion bill.
“I said: 'At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over male colleagues in this room?'” she recalled.
Van de Putte believes the explosive reaction to her words was about more than the abortion debate.
“It was for women about not being valued, about being overlooked about not being heard," she said.
“You see the governor had vetoed just a few days earlier the equal-pay-for-equal-work (bill), the Texas Lilly Ledbetter Act, which basically says if you do the job and you have the same qualifications you shouldn’t have a difference because you happen to be female," Van de Putte said. "We also know hundreds of millions [of dollars] were ripped from the 2011 budget from the women’s health program denying over 340,000 women access to health services that they need, access to pap smears, access to diabetes checks, access to a mammograms."
Van de Putte claims Gov. Perry’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act also hurt working women who earn a little too much to qualify for benefits.
Van de Putte hasn’t yet said she’s running for lieutenant governor. The loss of her father came just a month after the death of an infant grandchild from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, so she’s delayed her decision.
But if she decides to run on the ticket with Davis, Van de Putte believes voters will respond to the big distinction between their record on women’s issues and the records of Republican opponents.
“It’s not just women, it’s the men who love their wives, and their daughters, and their sisters and their mothers who say, 'You know what, I trust the women in my family to make these very personal decisions,'” Van de Putte said.
She also disagrees with the four Republican lieutenant governor candidates who want to repeal in-state tuition to Texas high school graduates who were brought here by undocumented parents. She sponsored the Texas Dream Act.
“In what society, in what America that we have, do we hold children responsible for their parents’ transgressions?” she asked.
Van de Putte demonstrates her reputation as a quick-witted campaigner when she told the crowd that she, like Davis, hasn't forgotten her humble beginnings.
“I can say that truly for me I still live in the barrio and if I get lost I can find the gang signs on my way home," she said. "The closest gated community to my house is the jail."
But Van de Putte, a Roman Catholic, is serious when asked about the key principle that guides her.
Proverbs 3:26, she said, offering her interpretation: “Don’t withhold good if it’s in your power to give it. That’s what guides me as a public servant.”
Van de Putte says she’ll decide before Thanksgiving whether to apply that philosophy to a race for lieutenant governor.