Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor

Back in the day, before Gov. Rick Perry’s 14-year tenure tilted the state’s power structure out of historical balance, Texas’ lieutenant governor was widely considered the state’s most powerful political figure. Only the speaker of the Texas House, and certainly not the constitutionally weak governor, could approach the influence the lieutenant governor, as leader of the state Senate, held over Texas government.

Never mind whether we will see the likes of Bob Bullock and Bill Hobby again. In the contest for lieutenant governor between Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, the question voters should ask is whether they want a Texas Senate capable of governing, or a Senate that risks devolving into Washington-style gridlock. We favor a functional Senate and urge voters to support Van de Putte.

Elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Texas Senate in 1999, Van de Putte, 59, a pharmacist by training, possesses a deep knowledge of state government and owns a successful legislative record. Throughout her political career, she has fought for public and higher education, women’s health care, equal pay for women and programs to help veterans and military families. She’s widely respected and liked by her colleagues.

As a candidate for lieutenant governor, she has called for funding all-day pre-kindergarten and reducing standardized testing. She supports the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And as the daughter of a Latino family that has been in Texas for generations, Van de Putte has a perspective on immigration and border security that is grounded in reality and possibility, not divisive rhetoric like Patrick’s.

Granted, Van de Putte, if elected, will be called on to lead a conservative Texas Senate disinclined to follow a Democrat, but her career has been distinguished by an ability to work with senators on all sides of a debate. We’re confident she can forge coalitions and find common paths forward to meet the state’s education, health care, infrastructure and other priorities and needs.

Where Van de Putte knows how to reach across the aisle, the confrontational Patrick, 64, shows more interest in using his conservative majority to dominate, bully and ram through legislation than in seeking bipartisan consensus. If elected, he says he plans to limit the number of Democrats who chair committees in the Senate and will try to repeal the chamber’s so-called two-thirds rule, a move that will be guaranteed to get next year’s session off to a contentious start.

The two-thirds tradition requires 21 votes — two-thirds of the Texas Senate’s 31 members — to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. Like the tradition of assigning members of the minority party to chair committees, the two-thirds rule is designed to temper political passions and pull senators toward moderation and consensus. It emphasizes the importance of the institution over the individual.

But for Patrick, a radio talk-show host and tea party conservative, ideological purity trumps tradition, and institutions are suspect. We’re not alone in fearing he will turn the state Senate into a Texas version of the dysfunctional U.S. Senate.

Patrick refused to meet with us both before the Republican Party primary in March and again ahead of the general election next month. But his record is well-established. He wants to lower property taxes by raising sales taxes. He opposes the expansion of Medicaid. He wants to expand the number of charter schools, though charters, as a whole, perform worse than traditional public schools. In 2013, he voted against restoring $3.4 billion in school spending that had been cut in 2011.

Exploiting social issues and using them as political wedges is Patrick’s métier — abortion, gun rights and especially immigration. Texas Republicans such as gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott who hope to win greater support from Hispanic voters — and who understand that doing so is essential to the party maintaining power — might find Patrick an impediment.

Barring any electoral surprises, Patrick almost certainly will be Texas’ next lieutenant governor. Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, and the Texas Lyceum Poll, a nonpartisan survey released Oct. 1, showed Patrick running 14 points ahead of Van de Putte among likely Texas voters.

If the election unfolds as expected, we only can hope that once the seat is his, Patrick will realize that the rigidly ideological don’t govern authentically, they govern poorly, and for the state’s sake, he will know when to bend.

Also running for lieutenant governor: Libertarian Robert Butler, owner of a marketing agency in Round Rock, and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney, a Houston singer, composer and teacher of Indian music.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: It hasn’t always been like this

One of the unavoidable tragedies of youth is the temptation to think that what is seen today has always been. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in our responses to the recent Parkland, Florida, massacre. Part of the responses to those murders are calls to raise the age to purchase a gun and to have more thorough background checks — in a word...
Commentary: Americans need to know the truth about McCabe
Commentary: Americans need to know the truth about McCabe

While it might be too early to label fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe a victim, there is without question one victim in this story: the American people, who have been left to form opinions without benefit of the facts. With all eyes on the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General and its forthcoming report on the conduct...
Letters to the editor: March 20, 2018
Letters to the editor: March 20, 2018

Re: March 14 article, “House report condemns ‘bathroom bill’ as Abbott’s role is questioned.” I hope that everyone reads Chuck Lindell’s piece on how our Texas lawmakers spent their time during the last legislative session. And let’s make one thing clear: Dan Patrick has never championed or led any push for...
Herman: Filling in the blanks on the Austin bombings
Herman: Filling in the blanks on the Austin bombings

Confronted and confounded by the unknown, our minds rush to fill in the blanks. And in the sad mystery that shrouds the bombings that have frightened our city, the unknown far outweighs the known. To date, we know what our professional investigators want us to know as they go about the business of protection, prevention and prosecution. That&rsquo...
Opinion: “Militant” anti-gay activist seeks to divide Catholic flock

The music of Dan Schutte, a composer of Catholic hymns, is a staple at Visitation Parish in the heart of Kansas City. The man himself is less welcome. The renowned composer has been disinvited from a scheduled April 28 concert. That alone is shocking, as the lyrical, soothing tones of his work are heard in churches nationwide. The reasons for his disinvitation...
More Stories