Text of Senator Van de Putte's President Pro Tempore Speech
(Austin) —On January 8, 2013, state Senator Leticia Van de Putte (District 26, Bexar County) was unanimously elected by her colleagues to serve as President Pro Tem of the 83rd Regular Session of the Texas Senate. The following is the prepared text of her remarks in acceptance of this honor. Please note: Senator Van de Putte's actual speech did not conform verbatim to this text; to hear her precise remarks, view the archived video of the January 8, 2013 Senate session at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, General Abbott, state officials, my dear colleagues, family, friends, and Senate Staff:
Thank you for this tremendous honor.
The first day of any legislative session is always an exciting one. Even when we anticipate a session might be tough, it's still a time when everything is new. A time when possibilities still abound. It's a time when we can be optimistic.
It's a time for vision. We look forward to what can be. We look at the issues that matter most to us, and how we can make a positive change.
I've been extremely blessed to have experienced this moment of hope 11 times, and today for a 12th. The hope doesn't always turn out like we'd want it. Bills die. The legislative process takes a wrong direction. Sometimes laws don't have the effect you intended.
But we keep plugging away at this lawmaking business because of those moments when it does go right — those moments when we push our magnificent state in the right direction are exceedingly rewarding.
After more than two decades under the pink dome, I think people know what my passions are. I'm so fortunate to have played a part in making Texas a better place for veterans, including my father, Daniel San Miguel.
I'm also fortunate to have been in a position to help working families. And parents.
This past session, I was happy to actually make life harder for some people — working with my colleagues, and the attorney general and governor, we made things more difficult for human traffickers, giving prosecutors more power to crack down on this modern-day form of slavery.
This is a battle I'm proud to wage. To quote the great Abraham Lincoln: "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, cannot long retain it."
This session, I hope to make life easier — for the survivors of trafficking, who badly need support services to recover from the horrible trauma they've endured.
This is, indeed, a time to be looking ahead. As we learned after the census, this is a time of great change in Texas. Our state grew faster than any other state in the nation. And overwhelmingly, most of that growth came from minorities, and most of that from Hispanics. The face of our state is transforming, and that transformation brings with it new needs and new challenges.
Last spring, I was present at the dedication of the new Tejano Monument on the Capitol grounds. It was a wonderful ceremony, and an unforgettable tribute to our heritage. If you haven't yet visited the Monument, just east of the South Gate, I encourage you to head out there and see it before you leave today.
At the festivities, I stared out into a sea of faces reflecting the beautiful diversity of our state. As I did, I reflected on the journey Texas has made just in the two decades since I first took office. Go back to similar ceremonies at the beginning of my tenure in the Legislature, and the makeup of the crowd would have been much different.
Many of those faces that day were of Latino heritage, of course, but people of all colors and backgrounds assembled to celebrate the many different stories that meld to form the greatest state in the nation.
We were there to honor the past, but in reality we were looking at the future.
My future is here today. I thank our six beautiful children: Nichole, Vanessa, Henry, Gregory, Isabella, and Paul. If there were ever a glimpse at the future of our state, it is in our family portraits. Some of my six children are just as brown as you'd expect from a family named San Miguel, my maiden name. But my other children's appearances reflect the Belgian and French genes of my husband, Pete Van de Putte.
The majority of my grandchildren, despite their Latino heritage, have blue eyes. They are 75% Anglo, and they will someday be a minority in this state.
This is something to be embraced, not feared. Great things have emerged from the blending of our cultures.
Look at the great conjunto music that sprang up in San Antonio and South Texas. Tejanos heard the accordion music of their German-American neighbors, incorporated it into their traditions, and created a sound that is uniquely Texan. It is living proof that diversity is a strength.
Look at our food. Every December I distribute San Antonio tamales around the Capitol, and they end up on plates at the Senate holiday party right next to the turkey and dressing.
Look at our celebrations. People from all corners of San Antonio and Texas come together to honor the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto every April at a magnificent 10-day celebration called Fiesta.
As we move forward into this new Texas, let these examples be our guide. Instead of separating into groups, let us say to the world, "Bienvenidos, y'all!"
We must embrace these changes. But they are changes that will present us with challenges. If we meet these challenges head-on, Texas can reach the great heights to which we aspire. We can make that next great blend.
If we do not, history will remember us harshly as the generation that squandered an opportunity to build something grand.
We cannot miss this opportunity.
It will be a collective imperative to realize our duty, a duty reinforced by the oath we have just taken. A duty to invest in our future.
An investment in the human capital of Texas. We must invest in the education of Texans. All of them. Education is the pathway away from poverty. Education is the pathway to good jobs. Education provides the toolkit for self-sufficiency. Education is the fuel of our economic engine.
Two years ago, we did the people of Texas a disservice. The 82nd Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education. Our students and teachers need that investment.
I know we were going through tough times. Our national economy was in a recession. Our state's tax revenues were down, and we are required in this state to balance our budget.
But let this session be different. Let's begin with our goals. And then let's figure out how we accomplish them. Yes, we need to have fiscal discipline. But we cannot arbitrarily decide that some tools cannot be used from the toolbox, no matter what. Shortchanging public education may save money over the short term, but it will cost us dearly in the future.
I am a Tejana and I herald from an education family. My great-great-grandmother Rita Alderete San Miguel started the first public school system in Maverick County. My mom Belle Ortiz worked for 32 years in public education. My husband was a band director and administrator before moving into the business world. My sister Annabelle Garcia has taught kindergarten for more than 30 years! Who does that? She should be a candidate for sainthood.
Over the long term, cutting back on our schools cannot be sustained.
We must invest in our students.
If we invest, Carlos, they can become great attorneys.
If we invest, Craig, they can become great business leaders.
If we invest, David, they can become great lieutenant governors.
And we especially must invest in them if they've served our country, by preserving the Hazlewood benefits that our veterans and their families have earned. Too many of our brave warriors fight for freedom, only to come home and then have to fight for a job. If we invest, they can take the invaluable knowledge they gained in the military and translate that to civilian success.
Let's remember that education made our nation and our state great.
This session will be difficult. We all come here with our own priorities. I've just told you mine. Some overlap with yours. Some do not.
But just like those Texans in the past, I know we can blend. Our diversity can be a strength.
That music I mentioned earlier, conjunto . There's a lot of ways to translate that word. It usually translates as "group." Basically it means different elements, like those German accordions and Mexican bajo sextos, coming together to form a whole.
Troy, I know we can come together and find a solution to water infrastructure issues. Robert, I know we can move forward together on transportation issues. Jane, I know we can figure out how to improve women's access to healthcare together. Dan, I know you and I have different visions for how to make education great in this state, but we do have that common goal to make it great.
We are 31 individuals here in the Senate. And we need the strength of individuals. This state was built on that spirit of rugged individualism. But we also need to remember that Texans have also came together with a spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. We recognize that we have shared responsibilities.
I am here because of the support of the people of District 26. But I could not have been here today without a supportive family with unconditional love. I was given deep roots and strong wings from my grandmother Lupita, or "Memo."
I worked hard, but I didn't do it on my own. I was motivated to get my pharmacy degree, to be like by grandfather Don Daniel San Miguel, who owned La Botica Guadalupana, a Mexican pharmacy in San Antonio.
I had many fine teachers who pushed me through that public education system, and taxpayers made that system possible.
Let's remember that public spirit as we do the public's business this session. Let's remember that our actions as a community can help unleash the potential of the individual.
Let's come together, from our different backgrounds and different cultures, and let's seize this opportunity. Let's meet the challenge of this moment, this crossroads in Texas history. We are Texans. We can build something great. And let's build it together.