Minutes before the Senate gaveled in on Tuesday, Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte stepped onto the floor and began making the rounds.
This time, she wasn’t counting votes or asking for support for a bill. After 24 years in the Legislature, Van de Putte was bidding an emotional farewell to her colleagues ahead of a run for San Antonio mayor.
“The Texas Senate is a place where you work hard, and you work hard to find common ground despite the political differences,” Van de Putte said with her husband, Pete, sitting beside her. “We’re family here and we’re family here forever.”
Senators from both parties took turns recognizing Van de Putte’s service.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, invoked Van de Putte's status as “everybody’s mama.”
Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said Van de Putte’s work would be felt for generations.
“As a charter member of the grandparents caucus, I want to tell you thank you, grandparent to grandparent, for what you’ve done for our grandchildren,” Nelson said.
Van de Putte was first elected to the Texas House in 1991. She moved across the Capitol in 1999, winning her Senate seat in a special election.
During her time in the Senate, Van de Putte served as chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, leading the “Texas Eleven,” a group of Senate Democrats who fled the state to Albuquerque, N.M., for 46 days in 2003 in an effort to block the passage of a redistricting bill.
Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, made reference to that trip during his remarks about Van de Putte, saying, “We’ll always have a lot of memories of the vacation we took to New Mexico.”
Van de Putte unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor last year, taking her underdog campaign to Republican strongholds in hopes of appealing to moderate Republican voters. She lost to her opponent, Dan Patrick, in a statewide Republican blowout.
On Tuesday, Van de Putte told Patrick she would “stand always as your full partner in the love for this state.”
Two weeks after losing her bid for lieutenant governor, Van de Putte announced she was stepping down from state politics to run for San Antonio mayor. She is facing a crowded field of opponents, including former state Rep. Mike Villarreal, who also resigned his post to run for San Antonio’s top city office.
On the Senate floor, a bipartisan collection of senators seemed to endorse her mayoral bid. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told Van de Putte “the best is yet to come” because she would soon be back in the Capitol talking about “city matters.”
“I hope and I pray that you are the next mayor of San Antonio because nothing was more rewarding to me than my service as a mayor,” said state Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Republican and the former mayor of Tyler.
Sen.-elect José Menéndez, who was on the floor on Tuesday, won the race for Van de Putte's Senate seat on Feb. 17 and is set to be sworn in on March 5.
After describing the Senate as a “sacred chamber” where she saw the “civility and the humanity” of the Legislature prevail, Van de Putte ended her farewell using a closing remark that became a kind of trademark on the campaign trail.
“Dios y Tejas,” she said. “It has been an honor to serve with you for the people of this great state.”