A mother of six could be the next lieutenant governor in Texas.
Holding elected office was the last thing on Leticia Van de Putte’s mind when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself. She had six children—all under the age of 10—and was running two small businesses in 1990 when a state legislative seat became vacant in a heavily Hispanic, lower middle class district in the heart of San Antonio. A quirk in Texas law left it up to the party precinct chairs to select the legislator to fill the seat.
Five men were running and after interviewing all of them, Van de Putte—who was one of the precinct chairs—was unsatisfied. Her husband nudged her to consider it. Her oldest child was more blunt: “There aren’t enough mommies there.”
Two decades later, Van de Putte, who is a pharmacist, found herself right back where she started, staring at an all-male slate. The positions being pushed by the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor left her angered and dismayed. Each one of them has pledged to end the Texas DREAM Act —a bill Van de Putte authored. They also promise to curtail what few options remain for access to abortion in Texas, to mandate the teaching of creationism in schools and to change the 17th amendment which established the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote. More traditional pro-business policies were nowhere to be found.
Van de Putte decided to seek the lieutenant governorship. As she explained in her announcement speech: “mama’s not happy.” Van de Putte is running alongside state senator Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for Texas governor. The two women will square off against an all-male Republican ticket. Below is an interview with Van de Putte, condensed for space and clarity.
Q: How does a ticket with two Democratic women at the top appeal to Texas voters?
I guess we’re going to find out. I think that there is a lot of synergy but that we both happen to be females, should that be the news? We just happen to be two gals. And the state has a history of electing women—(former Democratic governor) Ann Richards, and (former Republican senator) Kay Bailey Hutchison. There was a time when all of the major cities were headed by women. There were eight mayors in the cities in the 1990s – Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Corpus Christi. They were all women and the state didn’t fall apart.
Q: Do you consider yourself pro-choice?
I’m a health care professional. I had six children in nine years. [My husband] Pete and I are Roman Catholic and we have lived our Catholic faith. So for me personally that was our faith decision.
Women need family planning. Women need to plan their children and when they do, they do so out of love for the children that they already have.
I don’t want any abortions. I would love zero abortions. But the way you do that is not by reducing access. You do it by making them unnecessary in the first place. I also know that as a health care prof that those decisions are best made by women in their faith, women and their physicians, not women and their government.
To simply say ‘are you pro-choice or pro-life’ doesn’t really get where I’m coming from as a health care professional. I’m supportive of the current law, the Supreme Court decision, but I want us to get to a time and a place where it is not necessary.
Q: Is abortion going to be a wedge issue among Latino voters?
No. Latinas get it. They understand that these are very personal and private decisions. They also understand that the four guys that are running for this position make no exceptions for rape and incest, none.
Q: How do you see the issue of gay marriage playing out in Texas?
As lieutenant governor, if a bill got to the senate that would undo our constitutional provision of defense of marriage I would probably just faint. Our legislature is very conservative. It was conservative when it was Democratic. That being said, I think people are really evolving in the state of Texas about equality. My position has always been that I want that equality for everyone. I introduced a bill last year that would add sexual orientation and gender identity so folks can’t be discriminated for employment purposes. But we’re more likely to look at issues of discrimination in employment first [before marriage equality].
Q: The lieutenant governor is the most powerful legislative job in the state. If you’re elected lieutenant governor, what do you want to see in the first 100 days?
Q: Should Texas have taken the ACA’s Medicaid expansion?
Gov. Perry’s decision to reject in total the Medicaid decision was a very bad business decision. It said no to more than a million working Texans, said no to 68,000 veterans knocking off the only option they had for affordable health care. Other Republican states, very conservative [states] with Republican governors, found a solution for their state. The governor should have listened to the 20 plus Chambers of Commerce that gave resolutions in support of this, hospitals associations, and different bus groups. We could have found a solution.
Q: What will the effect of the voter ID law be on Texas?
The voter ID was passed based on the idea that we needed to stop fraud. But there had been three cases of voter impersonation - it was a way to really harm people. Texas has the lowest percent of voter participation. We should do everything possible to encourage people to vote. I think it’s going to cause difficulties for voters, particularly for the elderly, for women that don’t carry around their marriage certificates or divorce decrees, for college students, and for people with disabilities.
Q: The past several elections have seen a diminishing number of Texas Democrats turn out in elections. Given these numbers, where do you find Texas Democrats and how do you get them out?
In certain populations that don’t vote, they don’t think their vote will matter. When they thought their vote was going matter in the 2008 primary elections when we had a very heated campaign with great candidates, they came out. I know that I can connect, take that message that elections matter and that your vote is important and it’s not because of you but because of your kids because of your grandkids. I know people, especially women, will do anything if they think it will help their kids—it’s making that connect.
Q: In 2010, mid-term Latino turnout was lower than in the 2006 mid-term and this was seen as a result of frustration at the lack of immigration reform. If immigration reform again is stalled, will there be a similar reaction by the Latino electorate here in Texas?
I don’t know that they’re going to stay home because if they’ve been listening to the lieutenant governor candidates they’re angry and when people are angry they show up to vote. When they call your community a war zone, when they tell you that you live in a third world country and when they point to criminals when talking about “illegal” it is a disrespect to our community. What I’ve seen is that Latinos are mad and not just Latino Democrats, Latino Republicans are mighty mad.
Q: Should Hillary run?
I think I’ll let Hillary Clinton decide but I was an ardent supporter of Hillary in her last run. I co-chaired the Democratic National Convention and I was a Hillary supporter until she decided in June and then she said I need you to work as hard for Barack Obama as for me.