Texas Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) formally announces she'll run for Lt. Gov. Photo by Mary Tuma.
Before hundreds of cheering supporters sardined in a packed gymnasium at the San Antonio College campus Saturday morning, the six-term state senator delivered a campaign speech that appealed to middle class, working families while unabashedly knocking current Republican leadership. Her announcement confirms the highly anticipated (for Dems) Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth)/Van de Putte Democratic ticket for Texas' upcoming gubernatorial race. In the Republican arena, incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst hopes to cling on to his seat next year in the face of three main challengers, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, state Sen. Dan Patrick and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
Van de Putte cited perceived failures of the current GOP in areas of immigration reform, transportation, public school funding, health care and the “war on women.” She pointed to top Republican officials’ move to ascend to higher political office as examples of absentee governance.
“For years, the Governor’s been too busy trying to be President, and the Lieutenant Governor’s been too busy trying to get to the U.S. Senate—nobody’s been minding the store!,” she said. (Van de Putte bitingly added, “We should probably be glad they’ve been too busy trying to move up the political ladder. Lord knows the damage they could have done if they’d worked harder at it.”)
And Van de Putte took a shot at the lite guv Republican primary, summing it up pretty accurately by saying, “[it] gets wackier every day.” Cases in point: Patterson (who, by the way, has sponsored Confederate flag license plates) recently took time to respond to a conspiracy theorist at an open-carry gun rally at the Alamo. Dewhurst, a moderate looking desperately to win over the Tea Partiers who rejected him during the U.S. Senate primary (and delivered Ted Cruz to the Capitol) has called for President Obama’s impeachment. Patrick and Dewhurst think citizens shouldn’t elect their own senators, advocating for a repeal of the 17th amendment and all four candidates agree on revoking in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants—a view not even Rick Perry cares for. And then there’s this bizarre embarrassment of a campaign slam strategy from Patrick.
“They’re all trying to out-extremist one another. All four of them chasing after the most extreme five percent of Texans who control Republican primary elections. To them, the rest of Texas doesn’t exist," Van de Putte said.
During her speech, Van de Putte sought to appeal to those she claims have been neglected by the partisan one-upmanship, a base that could grow as the primary season wears on. The infighting among former allies (like Dewhurst and Patrick), absurdist remarks and transparent catering to the far right faction could indeed prove alienating to moderate Republicans and create irreparable rifts among conservatives lining up behind one candidate or another during the primary. While all reports on Democratic Texas candidates post-1994 (the last time a Dem was elected to statewide office) must be accompanied by the caveat “even though it’s a long shot,” Van de Putte’s populist tone could be the beacon some moderate or independent voters are searching for in a race that resembles a game of extremist chicken on the right.
Van de Putte supporters packed the gymnasium at San Antonio College. Photo by Mary Tuma
While her largely centrist background may help her chances at the polls, Van de Putte’s opposition to what some consider a full-scale attack on women’s rights could further attract moderate suburban women into her camp, an increasingly powerful demographic. When she famously bellowed at Dewhurst—the man she hopes to upend soon—during the debate over Texas’ anti-abortion law, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?" Van de Putte cemented her place as a women’s rights champion and figurehead, along with her friend Wendy Davis, who gained national notoriety for filibustering nearly 13 hours on the Senate floor in an attempt to block the anti-abortion legislation. This weekend, alluding to her question heard 'round the nation, the senator told the crowd, “I’ll make sure women’s voices will truly be heard in shaping these decisions.”
And she’s already making plans. Citing income inequity (women make currently make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men's payrates, she reminded the room) the senator vowed to bolster passage of the equal pay act, sponsored by Davis in the 2013 legislative session. The bill, a Texas version of the national Lily Ledbetter Act, passed in the statehouse, giving Van de Putte and other Dems a rare chance to praise a calm and productive legislative session. However, in the midst of applauding the atypical bipartisan accord, the anti-discrimination bill made its way to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for a veto and shortly after, Perry formally placed abortion regulations on the special session agenda. At the time, Van de Putte called the veto another attempt at continuing the “war on women.”
So, for many in Texas, the two women represent the fight for reproductive rights. But while Davis didn’t mention the issue in her gubernatorial campaign announcement, Van de Putte made it a hallmark. To resounding applause, she said, “While they wage their war on women, they’ve cut funding and closed the clinics Texas women relied on for the only preventive health care they could afford. Doesn’t Texas deserve better than that?” Not mincing words, Van de Putte promised to make certain, “opportunities for women are not a pawn in some political game.”
“I’ll fight to ensure that women will never again be treated the way we’ve been treated by our own government lately," said Van de Putte.
It seemed the hundreds of supporters present heard that message on Saturday. Loud and clear.
Watch video of the announcement via NOWCastSA: