Senator Leticia Van de Putte: Will Announce Decision on Statewide Run Soon

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Ed. Note: The policy stuff is above the fold, the politics is below the fold

Key Quote: I have not had the opportunity to visit one-on-one with key members of my family; my son will be in town this weekend, and hopefully I'll be able to speak with him and his wife then, but I'll probably be making a decision within the next week or so. […]

Could it happen in Texas? It might be me, and if it's not, I'll work hard for whoever. If there's no one else, though, then I need to work with my family and say, “this is my life for eighteen months.”

But this is possible — we could win. I'm going to do a lot of praying and soul-searching, and I had a very wise person tell me, “you're never 100% certain.” It's a leap of faith. At some point, you just got to jump.

This morning, I had an extended interview with State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. We talked about the policies she's championed this session — including a landmark anti-human trafficking bill she worked on with Rep. Senfronia Thompson and other members — as well as the $1.9 billion new funding she helped secure for school finance. We talked about how the 2/3 rule change Republicans championed came back to haunt Republicans in the final days. And we talked about her statewide interest in a potential run for Governor.

Here's the quick news: in the next two to three weeks, and maybe sooner, Senator Van de Putte intends to announce whether or not she will run for Governor. Her answers to my questions (which are below) remain balanced and measured, and she still stressed that she does not want to announce anything until after the end of the Session.

But her attitude has shifted; it's not something I can quantify with a reproduction of the text of our conversation, but for someone that has stayed up until the wee hours of the morning for four days straight working on a huge range of legislation, she certainly was eager and engaged in the discussion. I'd characterize it as a test balloon when I interviewed her in early March, whereas this felt more like a test blimp (if that makes any sense). I still have no idea if she will run, and Senator Van de Putte was perfectly clear that she's not deciding anything yet.

But now we know — we'll all know for sure soon enough.

Below is the highlights from our conversation. The policy is upfront — because everything that matters most right now is policy.

What is going to happen to the CHIP expansion legislation? Is it dead?

We are going to do everything we can to save it, but it will be hard.

Last week, when the chubbing was happening, there had been an understanding that there would be at least two critical bills that the House would put above voter ID. CHIP, everybody wanted to do something on, and eminent domain, everybody wanted to do something on. Then, when the third reading chubbing began, we found out that several House Republicans were upset about it, but that the deal was still OK and CHIP and eminent domain would still be on the table. That, unfortunately, never happened.

So we needed to figure out the quickest way to move the CHIP legislation, and that was with the [Rep. Paula Pierson] bill. Last Wednesday, Senator Deuell — who is my counterpart leading the Republican caucus in the Senator — and myself and our Senator Pro Tempore met with our counterparts — House and Democratic leaders — to discuss moving CHIP on this legislation. At the time, that was the plan. What we didn't find out until yesterday was this “strict enforcement” that several House Republicans have fought and asked for, which brings us to where we are today.

Couldn't you bring up Rep. Coleman's CHIP expansion legislation, which has sat in Senator Ogden's committee?

We could have, yes, but now the timelines are too strong against us. This has nothing to do with the House versus Senate thing — it's just the timelines. The bill would have to lay out 24 hours in the House, but that will no longer work. What we're going to ask for, now, is that the House sent the bill we sent them to conference committee, where we can work on a solution. But now, that's not going to be possible.

The Senate could suspend all of our posting rules, but because of the House Republican actions, they don't have 2/3 to suspend the necessary rules. I think we're going to send a resolution over to them, and encourage them to just go to conference…but, right now there are lots of tensions for Republicans and Democrats, because of voter ID. When we first did voter ID at the start of session, things were horrible on our side. Tensions were tough, but now we've had two months to heal — the House is still dealing with the tensions of those issues, so we will try to do what we can, but it's not looking good.

The 2/3 rule was circumvented for voter ID earlier in the session, did you have any idea it would lead to what we've seen happen in the last week?

Absolutely. Absolutely.

My comments in public then and recently has been that the idea that House Democrats chubbing is an issue — I had to remind everyone that had the Senate and Senate Republicans never changed the rules, the House would be rocking and rolling right now. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. They knew how uncomfortable we all were and how tense it was when we did voter ID here, and we told them, “you're going to reap what you sow.”

And it wasn't just Democrats — if you look at what Senator Carona said, he said we should get voter ID passed, but we shouldn't change the rules to do so because this will come back to haunt is. Well, here we are.

What would you define as victories this session so far?

Well, if it survives, the work we began eight years ago and every session since on the anti-human trafficking omnibus bill. To think that modern day slavery occurs in this country is unconscionable. It is not a huge statewide issue because not a lot of people know about it, but the work I did with Rep. Senfronia Thompson — and it was a bipartisan issue, but Rep. Thompson was wonderful — that means a lot to me.

Can you talk about the policies in the anti-human trafficking bill?

The policies are the result of recommendations from a task force with the AG's office and HHS. We do a lot — one of them is to form a state agency task force to educate people about the issue. On the law enforcement side, people don't necessarily recognize it when they hear about it. It could come in the form of a domestic violence call, or an unpaid worker complaint, or prostitution, and the law enforcement often take the victims and charge the victim as the criminal. When they take the layers off, they realize that it's not the victim's fault — it's human trafficking. Its a victim services bill.

The bill has training for health care professionals, mandatory training for law enforcement on T-Close certification. Training for DA's, training for local officials. Training for immigrants to learn how to petition the judge so they can stay in the country. Posting in public places where there have been these violations — so the number about human trafficking is present. There is a great civil cause of action section in the bill, getting to the money side of these things. I'm very excited about this bill — it's not something that I think someone would say, “this has major state implication.”

But the fact that humans are still in bondage just is terrible.

Other issues on “Julian's Agenda” that you've worked on?

I was focused on education, the environment, and the economy.

I was real sad that the issues I worked on with the economy — especially with the UI rules changes — died. The environmental stuff — the solar in schools — (crosses her fingers) we attached it to something else, but we aren't sure if it's going to survive. It died in the House, but we tacked it onto a bill and we're waiting to see if it is germane. There are other great environmental stuff — plastic bags, RPS stuff — and we just don't know the outcomes of that yet.

On education, though — I got $1.9 billion into the public school system. We're on the conference committee right now, and I need to work with Rep. Hochberg on the issue, but it's in there, the money is in the budget, and we didn't even need a court order! This is the first time that we've had extra money beyond enrollment growth money in the bill without needing the Supreme Court to tell us to do so. This began a year ago with my talks with Senator Ogden, and I couldn't have done it without him. But the House and Senate passed a unanimous school finance bill this session — that's great stuff.

Do you think the acrimony in the final week will drown out the good things that have happened?

I think superintendents know about the money, and school people know. But, the general public doesn't yet because the press is pretty focused on the disharmony and the dysfunction. We could save things in the next three days, but its dependent on the work of the small group of people that have stayed awake until 3am for a week.

Sometimes, though, you can measure your success by what you're able to defeat — that really hurtful ultrasound bill, for example. Voter ID. Vouchers was never even discussed. The McElroy nomination. And then we made some headway on big issues — the House passed the energy bill, we've got some great work done this session on the judicial system, and even getting issues through one chamber are good victories. We don't have as many full-fledged victories as we like, but we're almost there.

And this incrementally improving policy trend parallels what's going on with politics — as Democrats start winning more and more…

I think that Democrats' message is resonating very well in rural and suburban areas.

And that gets me to the question all of our staff wanted to ask: when can we endorse you, and for what position?

I have not had the opportunity to visit one-on-one with key members of my family; my son will be in town this weekend, and hopefully I'll be able to speak with him and his wife then, but I'll probably be making a decision within the next week or so.

[To continue reading, click “There's More” to go below the fold].

I'm really proud of the work we've done in the Caucus. We usually strategize and plan real well, and the execution doesn't measure up. We executed very well this session. On the TDI bill in the Senate, we worked the TDI bill until we got the amendments on the bill that made it more consumer-responsive — and then we put up strong amendments that they turned into straight partisan votes. We've achieved a lot of great work in the caucus — better communications system, lead people taking charge, it all worked well.

But that's work I couldn't have done unless I gave all my energy and focus towards it, and the better public policy we've promoted, passed, and killed — that's important right now. But I want to do things to help our Party, for sure, and I'm going to tell you that I wouldn't even be thinking about it for two things: for one, my kids are now a junior in college, and number two, if there was somebody out there that could really excite the base and was poised and ready to go, then I'd say, “go!”

We need somebody who, I think, can really appeal to our base and yet step out and touch persuadable voters.

That seemed like an issue, because Congressman Bell didn't really excite the base until the end, leaving us with a long time when the base wasn't excited and didn't want to talk to swing voters. How do you excite the base, both in the urban areas of the state and in areas like South Texas where we have great turnout in the primaries and not in the general?

Well, we had a very high level of excitement in last year's elections, but we need to see if it will carry over into this cycle. Will folks go back into complacency, or will they be excited about the Governor's race?

How do we keep people from being complacent?

We need someone who we can get excited about. If we only default to whomever thinks that they've got the money to do so, or that they've got a will to do so, then it will be a tough fight. I think it's better for the Democratic Party that we have an active primary. If we don't have an active primary, voters will go to the Republican primary — especially women who are independents, who maybe will always vote for Democrats in the general but would be willing to vote for Hutchison in the primary. 

That will play a lot into my decision — getting an active primary. In the next week, I will make some key calls to some supporters, both my own and some others around the state. I have great supporters here in the state who are encouraging me to do this, because they think its winnable — if Perry is the nominee, a Democrat can take Perry, and if Hutchison is the nominee, only a woman has a chance.

But if I do this, I do this to totally win. I really want to do what's best for the Party, for my family and myself. And we need someone who can make good decisions. Mr. Schieffer…he seems like a nice, decent man, but he's been gone for eight years and he thinks George Bush did a good job as President. He's a decent man, he could do this, and I admire that he feels its time for Democrats to run.

You have reservations, though..

I've got to question judgment of someone who wants to be leader of the state. As Governor, you need to make 1,500 appointees every two years. These are the appointees that lead the SBOE chair, the insurance commissioner. The power of the Governor is the power to appoint, and you need someone who can pass muster of the appointment process. My fear is that Tom Schieffer still believes that George Bush was the right person to do that job. I have to question that job. Do I really want the guy who thinks that George Bush was the best person for the job appointing the Chair for the State Board of Education? I don't think so! I have a problem with that.

Why would you run, if you decided to do so?

The reason I first ran for a House member was that I didn't get that gut feeling, with the candidate that was running, that, “yeah, this was the one.” And my husband was the one who told me to run, to get out there and talk in the forums about the things that are important to you — early childhood, health care, small businesses — and maybe, then, you can sway some of the people in the end that are going to go with the two front-runners, and then you have a friend with who is going to be elected.

But then I thought — I'm not doing this half-ass; if I do it I'm doing it to win. And I did. And it was anger that said, “hey, how come they are not talking about the issues that matter.” We had laws in 1989 that said every cow would be immunized — but we didn't have that for children. And I thought, “who's thinking of this?”

For me, it is about who else is out there that I can believe in. I love the policy, I've gotten better of the politics. I've had a great year — the book, the Spanish-language State of the Nation response, chairing the convention. These opportunities and experiences have certainly broadened my view. And now I have lots of encouragement both from folks that were my mentors, and from young folks telling me that it's my time and — win or lose — we move the ball forward.

Well I like winning, because it translates into policy that is good. To see my children be active and hopeful, too, means a lot to me. I will not have the financial resources like someone like Schieffer, because I live in the same House I've had for twenty-six years — I drive a '98 Lumina, for crying out loud. I never got around to the country club circuits, or owned a sports franchise. So I'd need the young voters to mobilize, and I'd need a lot of money — I think at least $25 million — to win statewide.

Could it happen in Texas? It might be me, and if it's not, I'll work hard for whomever. If there's no one else, though, then I need to work with my family and say, “this is my life for eighteen months.”

But this is possible — we could win. I'm going to do a lot of praying and soul-searching, and I had a very wise person tell me, “you're never 100% certain.” It's a leap of faith. At some point, you just got to jump.

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About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.

2 Comments

  1. crossing fingers
    pleeeeeeeeeeeeese!

    I know it would be a great sacrifice on her and her family's part to take the plunge and run for governor and an even greater sacrifice to be governor.  But I am hoping she does take the plunge and help expunge the stain and shame of Alberto Gonzales on Mexican Americans.

  2. Sen. VdP
    I'd LOVE to see her run. I've been saying virtually the same thing about the race she did- she CAN kick Perry's fanny and she is probably the only one who can beat KBH. She can keep Democrats voting in the Dem primary, which may well mean that Perry is their nominee, which would be great for us. Moderates will flock to her by the thousands.

    Would it not also be very cool if the Clintons AND Pres. Obama did a little stumping for her.:)

    Run, Sen. VpP, run!

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