Leticia Van de Putte’s Lite Guv Bid Assures One Outcome: She will be heard
Published: March 26, 2014
Ten minutes left on the clock.
The tension, palpable. The chaos, looming.
By now, the scene had drawn an estimated 180,000 viewers from around the country, even attracting the attention of President Barack Obama.
Orange-clad activists filled the Texas Capitol gallery in solidarity with state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth), who stood for 11 hours to defeat one of the harshest abortion laws in the nation. Using every parliamentary trick in their arsenal, conservative Republicans on the Senate floor aimed to knock Davis off her feet during the now-storied filibuster. With moments to go before the end of the special session, they succeeded in calling a third and final strike against her.
Across the room, close friend, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) struggled to gain the attention of the presiding senate chair, who passed up the newly elected president pro tem (technically, second in command at the Senate) for her male counterparts. Frustrated, exhausted and incredulous, Van de Putte couldn’t handle it any longer.
“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?,” she asked, eliciting thunderous applause and sustained cheers from those vigilantly watching from above—the “unruly mob” as they were later derided by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. The echoes of the pro-choice advocates reverberated through the chamber, drowning out a final vote on the abortion-restrictive bill.
If you were present, you could feel it in your bones: the shifting of tides; the awakening of a sleeping giant; the birth of something unprecedented among the Texas grassroots. And with her powerful statement that evening—a call to simply be heard as a woman in a room dominated by men, an encapsulation of the indignation felt by hundreds of thousands watching their basic rights to their own bodies stripped away—San Antonio’s Van de Putte helped catalyze it.
But she wasn’t even supposed to be there.
Fresh off a condensed stream of unexpected personal tragedies, all within the year—including the sudden death of her infant grandson, a car accident that killed her father and the death of her mother-in-law—the senator arrived at the Capitol just hours after her father’s funeral.
“I had just buried my dad that afternoon, so I didn’t expect to be on the Senate floor that day,” said Van de Putte, during an interview with the Current at the Alamo Area Council of Governments headquarters. “I knew Wendy was doing the filibuster but it was nowhere near my mindset. I was just trying to be with the people who came to pay my dad tribute.”
So what compelled the emotionally and physically fatigued senator to step into one of the most controversial Senate debates in Texas legislative history?
A photo montage flashed across the screen during the burial service, an image of her father standing up, clapping and blowing kisses to Van de Putte as she walked across the Senate floor to be honored at the ceremonial Governor For A Day event last May. “It hit me, he was standing up for me,” she recounted, tears welling in her eyes.
> Email Mary Tuma