She describes herself as a sixth-generation Tejana whose family has been living in Texas even before it was a state. She is also a mother of six, a practicing pharmacist and a state senator.
Now Leticia Van de Putte is running to be the next lieutenant governor of Texas, which is the second-highest and arguably the most powerful office in the state. Though she is down in the polls, the Latina Democrat is quietly emerging as a competitive candidate in the lieutenant governor race against tea party-aligned state Sen. Dan Patrick. The election will be held in November.
Governing Magazine recently described the contest between Van de Putte and Patrick as one of the most important and competitive state-level races in the country.
Van de Putte is not a polarizing figure, and unlike the remaining statewide candidates, she has a long and impressive political track record, Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist, told the magazine. The policies and rhetoric that served Patrick so well in the primary may very well come back to haunt him in November, particularly some statements that are seen as being anti-Hispanic by most Texas Hispanics.
In an interview with VOXXI last week, Van de Putte said she thinks there are many reasons why this race is perhaps one of the most exciting races in the country. One of the reasons she cited was that the race could be seen as historic in that this is the first time that youre matching up two people that are in contrast [to one another], particularly on issues of importance to Latinos.
Among the top issues Van de Putte said she cares about is education. While addressing a group of Latino business leaders and educators at the American Latino National Summit in San Antonio last week, Van de Putte said she is worried that many students in the state are falling into poverty. She said she wants to ensure these students get a good education so that they can get good paying jobs and help the economy grow.
Its in our enlightened self-interest that we get that group of students to and through our public school system and ready for the next step, she said.
On the issue of education, Patrick wants to make Texas a leader for school choice by expanding the options families have to educate their children, according to his campaign website. In addition, he wants to give parents more power to choose to close a failing school and choose new leadership.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), told VOXXI that part of the reason why Van de Putte is an appealing candidate is because of her multi-generational history in Texas and the way she moved up the ranks of the state legislature.
She really knows the policy challenges and the needs of the state, Vargas said. It would be such an asset to everybody who lives in Texas to have somebody of her talent and expertise in that position.
Vargas added that there are other Latinos who, like Van de Putte, are running for statewide offices in at least 10 states. Some of the Latinos he named are Assemblywoman Lucy Flores who is running for lieutenant governor of Nevada, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras who is running for governor of Rhode Island and Gov. Susana Martinez who is running for reelection.
All of those states are huge, he said. I think whats different about Texas is that you have somebody running for what really is the most powerful office in the state.
Whoever is elected as lieutenant governor of Texas in November will have control of the Senates agenda and its rules. That person will also have significant influence in shaping state policy and influencing laws that may eventually be passed by the Senate, according to the Texas lieutenant governor website.
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But winning the race wont be easy for Van de Putte given that Patrick has the edge with voters in the traditionally Republican state of Texas. However, Van de Putte is likely to have the biggest advantage in appealing to Latino voters.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are 4.2 million Hispanic eligible voters in Texas and about 26 percent of Texas eligible voters are Hispanic. In 2012, Latinos made up 22 percent of the Texas electorate and overwhelmingly sided with the Democratic Party.
For Patrick, making inroads with Latinos wont be easy partly because of the tough stance on immigration he took during the primary and runoff elections. He championed for adding tougher border enforcement, ending in-state tuition for undocumented students and strengthening Texas laws to go after undocumented immigrants.
But whats likely to hurt him the most among Latino voters are the offensive immigration comments he made in the past. There are various reports of him describing the flow of immigrants coming from Mexico to Texas as an illegal invasion. He also said previously that immigrants bring third-world diseases into the United States, such as tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.
Van de Putte said that what sets her apart from Patrick is her willingness to work across party lines to put Texas first.
Its about understanding that as a leader, you work with everybody to put an agenda and priorities that meet the needs of our families, she told VOXXI.