On its first day back in session, the Texas Senate named state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) its President pro tempore for the session. The unanimous vote made her one of just a few women ever to hold the mostly honorary title—such honors including being acting governor when the governor and lieutenant governor are out of the state, and being forced to sit through awkward compliments and jokes from her Senate colleagues this afternoon.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) nominated Van de Putte for the title, focusing on the obstacles that Van de Putte has overcome as a Hispanic woman. Zaffirini regaled the room with the story of how Van de Putte was once sent home from school for speaking Spanish on a playground. Having won the League of United Latin American Citizens’ “Legislative Recognition Award,” Van de Putte, Zaffirini said, has already “won the highest award that can be bestowed upon a Hispanic.” Her turn as President pro tem, and any honors to come, are all just icing on the cake.
Zaffirini’s nomination roast continued with a nod to Van de Putte’s 12 kids and grandchildren gathered around her desk. “I’m not sure when she became an advocate for Planned Parenthood,” Zaffirini said, “but I bet her children are glad it wasn’t earlier.”
Sen. Rodney Ellis, (D-Houston) played it straight: “We are a big family. We are a bipartisan family,” he said. “Even with family, there are people I don’t want to be with all the time, and Leticia helps bring us together.” Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) praised Van de Putte’s dedication to “Texas children, women, and the working poor.” He went on to compare Van de Putte to Mother Teresa, adding that she has “become a mother figure here in the Senate.”
Most of the support for Van de Putte centered around her stereotypically feminine qualities, like her motherly nature, her big heart and passion, and her affinity for wine. “She loves wine so much, I put her in charge of a wine working group,” Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) joked. Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) insisted that Van de Putte’s past legislative work “ensured that the special needs of our lady veterans were being addressed” and that “while she has never worn the uniform of our nations warriors, she certainly has the heart of a warrior.”
In her acceptance speech, Van de Putte focused on education, accommodating veterans returning from war, diversity and human trafficking. “I have … been in a position to help families, children, parents,” she said. “And this past session I was happy to actually make life difficult for some people. With our attorney general, we made things more difficult for human traffickers. … To those who would deny freedom to others, they deserve it not for themselves.”
She said she’d take a different strategy this session, though, as she works on “making life easier on the survivors” of human trafficking.
As she spoke of “the beautiful diversity of our state,” and the growing Hispanic population, Van de Putte believes that “we can make that next great blend, and if we do not, history will remember us harshly, as the generation that squandered a unique opportunity to build something grand.”
“Let’s remember that our actions as a community can help unleash the potential of an individual,” she said. “We can build something great, and we can build it together.”