Leticia Van de Putte’s decision to run for lieutenant governor always had a win-or-win-by-losing flavor to it.
The Democrat from San Antonio is one of the state Senate’s elders and has the inside knowledge that comes from five sessions in the State House and seven more in the Senate.
Her run for lieutenant governor came in the middle of her current Senate term. Had her campaign been successful, she would be on her way to the corner office outside the Legislature’s upper chamber. A loss was largely without cost. She remains a senator, and while Democrats remain the minority party, the Senate is the kind of place where an experienced player in the minority can sometimes exercise real power.
She wins, or she loses without sacrificing power.
And then, just as in the pivotal moment of a television game show, there is the possibility of a big prize behind door No. 3.
San Antonio voters will soon choose a new mayor, what with the elevation of Julián Castro to secretary of housing and urban development.
Others have entered that race, notably state Rep. Mike Villarreal, a Democrat who announced his resignation from the House less than a week after winning re-election last Tuesday. He announced his candidacy for mayor some time ago and has been lining up support and getting organized for weeks.
Van de Putte could upset his plans. She is well known and well liked in San Antonio. She just finished running a statewide race that put her on TV — a lot — in her hometown.
During her campaign for lieutenant governor, aides worked to dampen speculation that she was positioning herself for a mayoral race. They had no choice, really, because the downside risk was that their candidate would look too politically acquisitive. They decided to run one race at a time, knowing that the first effort could boost the second if it came to that.
Now it has come to that. Van de Putte, like the other Democrats on the statewide ballot in Texas, was walloped in the general election, losing to a fellow state senator, Dan Patrick, Republican of Houston, by 907,686 votes. He finished 19.4 percentage points ahead of her.
In her home county, however, she beat the Republican by 13,600 votes, or 4.5 percent. That’s a big swing from the statewide result and, to the point, demonstrated her strength at home. She said this week that she was praying over the mayoral race and talking to her family, and would announce a decision shortly. Having missed a chance at a job near the top of one government, she still can try to win the top job in her home city.
That is just what she did last time something like this came up. The most famous line during the filibuster that made Wendy Davis a political phenomenon came from Van de Putte, not Davis. The Senate went ahead with that debate at the end of a special session — that’s what gave the Democrats a deadline to work against — but Van de Putte had to miss most of the day. She was at home in San Antonio, burying her father.
She came back at the end of the session, and as the Senate fell into pandemonium, she waved for permission to speak and found it almost impossible to break through. And she delivered the line that quickly adorned T-shirts commemorating the filibuster: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”
Davis catapulted to political fame and quickly became the party’s favorite candidate for governor. Van de Putte, who announced her own statewide race a little less than a year ago, waited a little longer to announce after doing the same thing she is doing now: seeking advice and support and finding out whether the family is up for another campaign.
Quietly, she might get some encouragement from Republicans in Austin. The best you can say about having the two major-party candidates serving in the same place during a legislative session is that it would be awkward and perhaps entertaining. For the incoming lieutenant governor, the departure of Van de Putte might be a small blessing, removing an experienced and potentially troublesome Democrat from the Senate.
She said she would pray over it. Others may be doing exactly the same thing.