Texas Politics

Popular Sen. Van de Putte leaves to seek San Antonio mayorship



The emotion behind state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s farewell to her Senate colleagues Feb. 24 was summed up by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

She called Van de Putte “everybody’s mama.”

Van de Putte, well-liked on both sides of the aisle as a tough, but respectful and caring person, had nice things to say about all her colleagues as she leaves the Legislature after 24 years.

She referred to them as “my Senate brothers and sisters. . . . Over the years, I have seen the humanity and the civility of this body prevail.”

Her praise included even Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, her Senate colleague of six years, and the Senate’s most conservative Republican, a flamboyant right-wing radio talk show host — and the guy who beat her in the Nov. 4 election to become the Senate’s presiding officer.

“I will never forget our work together to improve our schools, our curriculum and the quality of our charter schools on behalf of the children of this state,” she told Patrick – adding that she would “stand always as your full partner in the love for this state.”

She praised her Senate colleagues’ support for her after the deaths of her father and grandson in 2013, and for finding community despite differing views.

“The Texas Senate is a place where you work hard, and you work hard to find common ground despite the political differences,” Van de Putte said. “We’re family here, and we’re family here forever.”

Van de Putte, with husband Pete, has six children and several grandchildren. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound lauded her attention to children and the future of Texas.

“As a charter member of the grandparents caucus,” Nelson said, “I want to tell you thank you, grandparent to grandparent, for what you’ve done for our grandchildren.”

Democratic colleague Chuy Hinojosa, of McAllen, ribbed Van de Putte for leading the Democrats out of state in 2003 to break a quorum over a Congressional redistricting bill, when she chaired the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“We’ll always have a lot of memories of the vacation we took to New Mexico,” Hinojosa said, referring to the 46 days the so-called “Texas Eleven” spent in Albuquerque, to fight the Republicandriven redistricting bill.

The Senate is a clubby place. There are just 31 members – compared to the current 36 members of the U. S. House of Representatives from Texas, and 150 in the Texas House. Each senator actually represents more people than a congressman.

Adding to the camaraderie has been the Senate’s two-thirds tradition, which required a two-thirds vote to get a bill on the Senate floor. That enhanced cooperation, as senators had to reach across the aisle to find votes to bring up their bills. That helped bring consensus and compromise.

But, led by Patrick, the Senate changed its rules this year, dropping the two-thirds requirement to three-fifths, or 60 percent. That lowered the number of senators needed to bring up a bill from 21 to 19. Now the 20 Republican senators, if they vote as a bloc, can bring up legislation without any Democratic support.

As for Van de Putte trying to move from a state elected post to a municipal one, she got some encouragement from Republican Sen. Kevin Eltife, who was mayor of Tyler before joining the Senate. “I hope and I pray that you are the next mayor of San Antonio, because nothing was more rewarding to me than my service as a mayor,” said Eltife, one of a few senators who earlier were mayors.

After describing the Senate as a “sacred chamber” where she saw the “civility and the humanity” of the Legislature prevail, Van de Putte signed off with a refrain from her lieutenant governor campaign.

“Dios y Tejas,” she said – (God and Texas). “It has been an honor to serve with you for the people of this great state.”

Van de Putte and 13 others are running for mayor of San Antonio in a May 9 special election, after former Mayor Julian Castro resigned to be President Obama’s head of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

Van de Putte acknowledged that she had said during her lieutenant governor campaign that she had no intention of running for mayor.

Her biggest competitors:

• Former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who succeeded Van de Putte in the Texas House. He resigned his House seat to run, and got a head start on Van de Putte in endorsements and fundraising.

• Tommy Adkisson, who after four years in the Texas House served 16 years as a Bexar County Commissioner, before losing a race for county judge last year; and

• Acting Mayor Ivy R. Taylor, an African- American chosen by her city council colleagues as interim mayor, after saying she wouldn’t seek election to the job.

DAVE MCNEELY is a political columnist. You may contact him at davemcneely111@ gmail or (512)458 2963.

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