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San Antonio native and former state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte is co-chairing this year’s Democratic National Convention Rules Committee, a position that comes with significant power and responsibility.
Although the majority of her work is already done – the committee met Saturday for a marathon session of debating and voting on the rules – Van De Putte’s test will come this week as the rules are enforced and the party nominates a candidate.
Van De Putte’s work comes on the heels of a contentious Republican National Convention, at which the Republican Rules Committee was challenged by supporters of the “Never Trump” movement who campaigned fervently to amend the nomination process, but ultimately failed.
Van De Putte was assured that the DNC Rules Committee proceedings would go much more smoothly, though not entirely without disagreements.
“We are Democrats and we enjoy vigorous debate,” Van De Putte said in a phone interview Friday. “As a Texan, I enjoy a good debate, but at the end of the day (Democrats) pat each other on the back and we go out for a beer.”
Van De Putte said that there have been “trouble spots” in all rules committees throughout political history, so disagreements are nothing new.
“Republican, Democrat, Independent — this is where the fights break out,” she said. “We have to respect the process and each person’s voice. I’ve been on the other side; I know what it feels like to not be heard. It’s extremely sensitive.”
While Van De Putte said that she doesn’t see the Democratic Party as having the same divisions sometimes found in other parties, each member on the Rules Committee still has to agree to the terms of openness, accessibility, and respect.
“When people get shut out, that’s when there is a breakdown,” she said. “But the Texas Senate and the Legislature prepared me well. And I already know many people who’ve worked on (the committee).”
Van De Putte said that while not every issue is important to every member of the committee, there are a few that she knew would make for lively discussion.
Van De Putte’s premonition proved correct Saturday as supporters of Bernie Sanders rallied for changes to the superdelegate rules. After numerous efforts and debates on both sides, the two sides came to an agreement.
A 21-person “unity commission” will be formed to retool the nominating process, to make caucuses more accessible, and to remove the obligation of superdelegates who are members of Congress, governors, and other elected officials to be beholden to one candidate based on their states’ primaries. Superdelegates who are not within one of these categories will remain bound to primary results. Changes will have to be approved by the DNC. A final recommendation is expected Jan. 1, 2018.
The amendments won enough approval from both sides to move to the convention floor this week, so it is unlikely that controversial debate and chaos as seen on the RNC convention floor will occur in Philadelphia.
Van De Putte’s Co-Chair Barney Frank, co-author of the Dodd-Frank Act and a former congressman from Massachusetts, has been a vocal critic of Bernie Sanders throughout the campaign cycle. The Sanders campaign attempted to oust Frank from his rules committee position this spring due to perceived bias towards Hillary Clinton. However, the complaint was dismissed as Frank’s elected position was filled by the DNC in January and no rules were violated during said election process.
Van De Putte said that Frank is “very familiar” with Robert’s Rules, a popular system for organizing and focusing parliamentarian meetings.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Barney,” Van De Putte said. “Debates (between committee members) could get heated and emotional, but that’s okay.”
Van De Putte previously served as the 2008 convention’s co-chairwoman and was appointed to the Rules Committee by this year’s convention Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Wasserman Schultz came under fire from Sanders supporters this year – again due to what they saw as bias for Clinton. She eventually turned over her duties to Brandon Davis, national political coordinator for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in June but remained the face of the convention. However, only days after WikiLeaks released a massive database of Democratic committee emails exposing negative comments about the Sanders campaign, it was announced Sunday that Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge would lead this year’s convention.
Van De Putte spoke positively of Wasserman Schultz and added that Wasserman Schultz was campaigning with Clinton in Florida Saturday where the presumptive Democratic nominee announced Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate. In another turn of events, Wasserman Schultz also announced Sunday that she was resigning as Democratic National Committee Chair. Donna Brazile, who is a political commentator and Vice Chair for the committee, will serve as interim chair.
Van De Putte said that she would take a special moment Saturday to remember former Hawaii Rep. Mark Takai who died Wednesday after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Van De Putte spoke of Takai’s work with the military and veterans during his time as a congressman and recalled a visit to San Antonio where he met with military installation commanders at the city’s numerous bases.
“I want to take a moment to recognize Mark Saturday because this really brings home how fragile life is and the good people you come into contact with,” she said.
Ultimately, Van De Putte said, the rules committee is comprised of parliamentarians who are ready to work for a stronger representative democracy.
“I’m ready for the exciting work of the convention and the hard work of the next few months.”
Top image: Leticia Van de Putte speaks with a supporter in October 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.