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“Bienvenidos, y’all!” With those words today, Leticia Van de Putte set the tone for the much-anticipated announcement of her run for lieutenant governor.
Since Sen. Wendy Davis threw her Ft. Worth hat in the ring for governor earlier this year, political watchers around the state have wondered if Democratic supporters would see a competitive ticket for lieutenant governor as well.
Many in San Antonio have long known Sen. Van de Putte as a hardworking, hometown hero. She’s well-known locally as a strong voice on veterans’ rights, a pivotal issue here in Military City. She chairs the Texas Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee, and she authored legislative this past session granting property tax exemptions for spouses of those killed in duty and for certain disabled vets. She’s also a proponent of education and small business.
But it was one phrase that rocketed her to the national stage: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand for her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”
She spoke in frustration after being ignored and talked over during the fateful night of the “people’s filibuster” against anti-abortion legislation that shut down the Texas Senate. She had left her father’s funeral to drive to Austin to protect reproductive rights. The question touched a nerve and helped set off the now historic night when supporters answered by yelling at the top of their lungs that they were tired of being trampled over and ignored, of not being recognized.
Today, at the gym at San Antonio College, many people (including myself) wore orange shirts emblazoned with those now famous words.
For San Antonio, however, Sen Van de Putte is much more than just her incredibly important stand for reproductive rights.
From the beginning, you could tell this would be a hometown celebration of a woman many of us regard as a hero. The party kicked off with a performance from La Mariachi San Miguel, a group that includes the senator’s younger brother, Rolando San Miguel – a performance about our culture and la familia.
The crowd sang and danced along, took pictures and videos. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff served as master of ceremonies. The colors were presented by local veterans from the VFW. And then Sen. Van de Putte’s daughter took the stage. She introduced her mother by telling us that her mother told her every morning, even into college:
“Mijita, you’re the smartest girl in your class. Learn with all your brain. Learn with all your heart.”
Van de Putte’s speech focused heavily on education, opportunity, hard work, and opportunities for Texas families. She started her speech with a story about her two daughters as children, one asking why Mommy wanted to be a state “wepwesentative,” with her other daughter answering “because there aren’t enough mommies there.” But 23 years later, Van de Putte said, the situation hasn’t changed enough.
“Friends, mama’s not happy,” she said.
She called out the pay gap in Texas, with women making 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. She reminded the crowd that the Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, ensuring pay equality, had sailed through the Texas Legislature with rare bipartisan support, only to be vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry on the request of chain stores Macy’s and Kroger.
Van de Putte told the crowd that she’d worked hard to support legislation to promote economic opportunities, the Texas middle class and those who need support the most, “while the governor was too busy trying to be president and the lieutenant governor was too busy trying to get into the U.S. Senate, to pass legislation.”
The crowd booed at the mention of Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Van de Putte said the Texas GOP is too concerned with pandering to the primary challenges of the Far Right to listen to the majority of Texans who are concerned about the billions being slashed from education, transportation, and healthcare budgets.
“For a long time, politicians in charge around here haven’t done much to make Texas worthy of our pride in it. Don’t you think Texans deserve better than that?”
Van de Putte then officially announced that she’d be asking the state of Texas to hire her for the lieutenant governor position. She’ll be running against the winner of the Republican primary, in which Dewhurst currently has three opponents.
Cheers and tears all around the auditorium.
She went on to promise to watch over the middle class, protect education and the economy without giving into corporate polluters – to ensure that all Texans have rights equal to others, job security shouldn’t depend on who you love.
“I’ll be the lieutenant governor who understands fundamental rights, dignity and opportunities for women aren’t just pawns in a political game. Women will never again be treated how they’ve been treated by our government lately,” she said.
She also called out to our hometown and Latino heritage.
“They’ll say little old Leticia Rosa San Miguel Van de Putte from the barrio can’t get elected. And then they’ll ask for the Hispanic vote. Take my word for it. You can’t fight for the Hispanic vote unless you successfully fight for Hispanic families,” which she repeated forcefully in Spanish.
By the end, with the crowd whipped into a San Antonian frenzy, she reminded us that there are naysayers saying she and Sen. Davis can’t get elected, and it would be an incredibly difficult fight that can’t happen without each of us.
I hope she does get elected, but I know that she’s right. This is going to be an uphill fight, so I charge each of you to remember that your work is needed. The lieutenant governor’s role in Texas is in many ways a more powerful position that governor, and we need the strong and powerful leadership of Sen. Van de Putte. As I recently heard my friend Heather Busby, the director of NARAL Pro-choice Texas say, we’re not a red state or a blue state – we’re a “non-voting state.”
Texans have the lowest voter turnout – especially among women. We need every person to be out registering voters, talking to their friends, talking to their families, walking blocks, and donating money. The other side has been out organizing and out fundraising us for decades. This is our chance to take it back, but it will only happen if the people who want to push Texas forward aren’t complacent. Even many Republican voters are tired of the push to the conservative right at the expense of education and civil rights.
Engage in the difficult discussions. Host an issues party and tell people why you’re voting the way you are. Even if you think all of your friends are on the same page as you, hold them accountable for voting. Get involved. As exciting, emotional, and rowdy as this announcement party was, I know the victory party next November will be even bigger and better.
Lindsay Rodriguez is a local teacher and runs the @safeminists twitter and meetup groups, has a monthly feminist happy hour, and works in organizing in several different areas including civic engagement and feminism.