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It's Official: Van de Putte Running for Lt. Gov.

In a historic first, two women will top the Democratic ballot

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013

Van de Putte followed up her announcement in San Antonio with a visit to Austin, where she met with reporters and volunteers phone-banking for Wendy Davis.
Van de Putte followed up her announcement in San Antonio with a visit to Austin, where she met with reporters and volunteers phone-banking for Wendy Davis.
Photo by Jana Birchum

"Mama's not happy." With those words, speaking of the state of Texas government, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte formally threw her hat in the ring as the Democratic challenger for Lieutenant Governor in 2014. She continued, "And when Mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy."

Van de Putte announced her candidacy in San Antonio Nov. 23 after months of speculation about her plans, with a hard-hitting speech that targeted the GOP for ignoring issues like education, transportation, and Medicaid expansion in favor of Tea Party talking points. "To them," she said, "the real-life priorities of too many mainstream Texas families simply don't exist."

The veteran San Antonio senator becomes the automatic front-runner for her party's nomination, so it appears the Democrats will field a historic slate next November. With Sen. Wendy Davis cruising toward the gubernatorial nomination, this will be the first time in Texas history that either major party has seen two women lead its statewide ticket.

The Republican Party has little such clarity so far. While Attorney General Greg Abbott is a likely shoo-in for the gubernatorial nomination, the lite guv race is a four-way dance between three filed candidates – current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and Agriculture Commis­sion­er Todd Staples – and declared hopeful Sen. Dan Patrick, who better hustle to get his paperwork in before the closing date of Dec. 9. In her announcement, Van de Putte accused all four Republicans of "chasing after the most extreme 5 percent of Texans who control Republican primary elections."

A practicing pharmacist, Van de Putte has represented Bexar County in the Legislature since 1990 – first as the state rep for House District 115, and as senator since winning a special election in 1999. Reflecting the number of military facilities and families within her district, her tenure has been marked by a strong position on veterans' affairs. In recent years, she has also spearheaded the legislative crackdown on human trafficking. Demo­crats are hoping that her credentials among service personnel and law enforcement will shore up their ticket against traditional Republican attacks.

Speculation that she might run for statewide office began at the beginning of the last legislative session: During the post-redistricting drawing of terms, she pulled a four-year term, meaning she could run in 2014 and still have her Senate seat to return to in 2016, should she lose.

The last session was a personally challenging one for Van de Putte. She began it in a wheelchair after foot surgery; her 6-month-old grandson died in May of sudden infant death syndrome; and then her father, Daniel San Miguel Jr., died in a car wreck in June. Yet it was a monumental time for her politically. In a sign of the bipartisan mood that defined the beginning of the session, she was elected president pro tem of the Senate. Then when the Republicans attempted to ramrod through abortion regulations, it was she, along with Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who helped run the legislative strategy supporting Davis' filibuster. And while that filibuster got Davis national headlines, it was Van de Putte who stirred the Senate gallery and the Capitol hallways into uproar with her now famous question: "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?"

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