Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” blasted from the speakers as Leticia Van de Putte took the stage and snapped a selfie with the crowd at the Texas Democratic Convention Friday night. Later that evening, after Wendy Davis finished her speech, she left the stage to Katy Perry’s “Roar”.
It was one of many not-so-subtle reminders that this is the first time in Texas history that two women have been at the top of their party’s ticket. Both Davis and Van de Putte, the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor respectively, invoked their gender a number of times, and for several reasons: in criticizing Republicans for certain policy positions, in telling voters about their respective life stories, and—intriguingly—in highlighting the camaraderie between the two of them, which is noticeably not present in the relationship between their Republican opponents, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick.
In terms of policy, Davis and Van de Putte returned to the issue of equal pay. In 2013, Davis sponsored legislation meant to expand Texas’s equal pay protections. The bill, which was authored by Democratic state representative Senfronia Thompson, made it through the Lege but was vetoed by Rick Perry. Davis’s efforts to raise the issue on the campaign trail got a boost in March, when Abbott said that he would have vetoed it too, and when the San Antonio Express-News reported that the female assistant attorneys general in Abbott’s office earn earn almost $6,000 less per year than their male counterparts.
“We don't iron the pants anymore--we wear them,” Davis said. “It’s not 1814. Women can go to college now. We can vote now.” Van de Putte argued that by voting against the measure, her opponent had given the lie to his professed concerns about women’s rights: “Dan Patrick gave up on the idea that women deserve respect when he voted against equal pay for equal work for Texas women.”
It was clear that for both Davis and Van de Putte, their interest in women’s rights is rooted in their own experiences—not just as women, but as women from modest backgrounds who had grown up with big ambitions. Davis told the delegates her well-known (and widely scrutinized) bootstraps story, and Van de Putte recounted the story of when was told that she could not run for student council president in junior high. “Why? Because I was a girl,” Van de Putte said. “Well, I did. And I won."
Abbott and Patrick, they suggested, can’t say the same. Davis used the word “insider” 17 times in her speech to describe Abbott and his Republican colleagues in what she referred to as the “good old boy network.” She blasted him for charging high interest rates and fees on payday loans, receiving campaign contributions from people appearing before his court, and his often-repeated brag that as attorney-general, his job consists of going to work, suing the federal government, and going home.
"Don't clap too loud,” she added, “or else Greg Abbott might sue you.”
An interesting aside was that neither Davis nor Van de Putte mentioned Barack Obama in their speeches; they may have been trying to keep their distance from a president who remains unpopular among Texas voters. They did, however, mention each other, and Davis referred to gender one more time, in contrasting the warmth of her relationship with Van de Putte with the apparent frostiness between their Republican counterparts.
“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor-- my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said.
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