San Antonio State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat, was sworn in as the pro tempore of the state senate last week.
“I’m only the sixth woman to have ever served in this capacity, and the second Latina,” Van de Putte told Politic365 with elation. “I’m very honored and humbled by this, I think it sends a different picture, a visual of a Latina in the chair.”
The role allows Van de Putte to preside over the senate and assume the role of governor if both he and the lieutenant governor are out of the state. While the role is not politically powerful, she told Politic365 that being a Latina face of politics in Texas points to the changing political dynamics in the state at a time when Republicans there are struggling to be more inclusive.
Republicans in the Texas house have lost their supermajority, meaning it will be harder for them to push through legislation over Democrats’ objections. This may mean less controversial legislating in the state which saw fights erupt over Voter ID and redistricting in the last session.
The first Latina senate pro tempore was Senator Judith Zaffirini, the last Latino pro tempore was Mario Gallego and the last woman to serve in the role was Florence Shapiro in 2005. The presidents pro tempore of the senate have tended to be mostly Republican white men.
“We just haven’t had anybody wielding the gavel that is female — and certainly not a person of color,” she said. Although Van de Putte is quick to point out that, in her new role as presiding officer, she is responsible to be “fair” and said the role would not affect her legislative priorities.
And were a racially-charged bill with offensive rhetoric come to a vote, she said she would most likely not be performing leadership duties so that she could vote.
Nonetheless, she was optimistic that her ascension to this role is one of the signs that this session in the Texas legislature won’t be as anti-Latino as previous sessions. Additionally, Van de Putte said she hasn’t heard talk of “sanctuary cities” or anti-immigrant and/or anti-Latino legislation recently, and perhaps one reason is that Republicans in the state are starting to feel the negative political effects of ostracizing Latinos.
“I think that having a Latina up at the dais is a reminder of the growing demographics and opportunities that we have,” she said. “There are many people who are uncomfortable with the changing demographic, the Republican Party is grappling with it because if they are going to stay a relevant party they have to grow in the Latino population and if you have harsh harsh rhetoric, that’s not a ‘bienvenidos.’”
Van de Putte has been a champion of human trafficking legislation in the state and had to give up her position as the Democratic Caucus Chair in order to take on her new role. The senator hopes to see this decade be one in which bigotry in Texas politics begins to fade, something she’s seen anecdotally in legislation focusing not on racial groups, but on the poor, for example.