Leticia Van de Putte, of Andrade, Van de Putte & Associates, and Wanda Garza, executive officer for external affairs at South Texas College.

MCALLEN, RGV – A former state senator from San Antonio says she has never seen the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation as united as it was during the recent legislative session.

Leticia Van de Putte says that was not always the case and can remember when Cameron and Hidalgo lawmakers did not always see eye to eye on legislation. Not this year though.

“In the 25 years that I spent in the Legislature, I had never witnessed the delegation coming from the Rio Grande Valley so united and so together and so focused on a singular agenda of making sure that they would pass every single piece of the legislation that was important,” Van de Putte said.

“In prior legislative sessions, I have to tell you, quite honestly, I had seen that Cameron and Hidalgo divide. Not so this time. They joined forces.”

Van de Putte said in some respects the Valley delegation had to stay united. She said it was such a tough session that had it not, the region could have really have suffered.

“This legislative session was such a tough one. It was dysfunctional and somewhat painful, but the Rio Grande Valley, all its members stuck together, they helped each other and they went forward together. The results are evident, not just with this piece of legislation but with so many others.”

The piece of legislation Van de Putte was referring to, in her exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, was Senate Bill 2118, authored by state Sen. Kel Seliger, a Republican from Amarillo who chairs the Senate Committee on Higher Education.

Van de Putte was at South Texas College’s Ramiro R. Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen on Monday for a news conference that celebrated passage of SB 2118. The bill allows community colleges to offer baccalaureate programs in the fields of applied technology, applied science, early childhood education, and nursing. In the case of STC, the plan is to offer a four-year Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing.

Van de Putte was at the news conference because during the session she worked to help passage of SB 2118. After leaving the Senate to run unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor and later mayor of San Antonio, Van de Putte set up a lobby and consultancy firm with former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade. The firm is called Andrade, Van de Putte & Associates. This past session the firm was hired on a consultancy basis by PSJA ISD. Because PSJA Superintendent Daniel P. King believed in SB 2118 so much he asked Van de Putte to help lobby for its passage. The bill was passed on the last day of the session and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 11.

“I am so honored and ecstatic to have been able to help the Rio Grande Valley in this momentous piece of legislation,” Van de Putte said. “It applied statewide but we know that South Texas College is the leader at offering baccalaureate degrees. Particularly when you look at the nursing shortage, we know this is going to be an incredible opportunity for the students here in the Rio Grande Valley and for the employers. What this will mean is better healthcare for the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Van de Putte said SB 2118 means a lot to her because her she and her daughter are in the healthcare field.

“I have been a practicing pharmacist for almost 40 years but this piece of legislation is special for me. My daughter, Dr. Nichole Van de Putte, did her training here in the Rio Grande Valley in medical school and then she had the opportunity to also spend a semester here as part of her residency in OB-GYN. She certainly got excellent training here in the Rio Grande Valley. And, you almost got her, she almost got recruited to come here but I am glad she stayed in San Antonio because that is where she is with her grandchildren. But, she loves the Rio Grande Valley as our family does, with so many family connections and friends. It is just truly wonderful to see this type of legislation pass and the lead that South Texas College will take, not only in this region. They are leaders for the state.”

Asked about her new firm, which began operations last year, Van de Putte said:

“We do a lot of economic development work. We have a presence in Austin as well as San Antonio. We assist Dr. Danny King and PSJA in their efforts at the Capital. We will be monitoring and working very hard during the special session, particularly as it relates to school finance.”

Andrade, Van de Putte & Associates works statewide, Van de Putte explained. “We are very, very, pleased to be working in other areas (in addition to San Antonio). That is why we want to extend a presence here in the Rio Grande Valley. There is so much potential here. With what Dr. Bailey and UTRGV are doing, with the community colleges, the synergy… Texas A&M and its teaching site, and the pharmacy school just up the way in Kingsville, there is just great excitement here.”

A number of statewide leaders come to the Valley and say people’s heads are being turned by the progress made by the Valley. The most recent examples were Texas Workforce Commissioners Julian Alvarez and Ruth Hughs during the past two weeks. Asked if she hears great things about the Valley in other parts of the state, Van de Putte said:

“There is a sense of excitement and energy. There is not a ‘woe is me.’ I think years before and decades before the Valley sometimes felt victimized and there is no doubt, the Valley did not get its proper share funding, of highway funds and healthcare funds. But, with this aggressive legislative delegation, with a vibrant economic picture, things are changing.

“If we can work with the federal government to make sure that they don’t undo the good things that are happening here and (make them) understand that our relationship with Mexico is extremely important, that Mexico is our No. 1 trading partner and it is like a family, things will be even better. We don’t want to insult our No. 1 trading partner.

“There are great things happening for the Rio Grande Valley, with economic development, with trade and with higher education. Other parts of the state wish they had the excitement. But, no longer is the Valley the victim. The Valley is going to be the victor.”

Asked to expand on her observation that the Valley legislative delegation was united in its purpose in Austin, Van de Putte said the region’s legislators also forged great alliances with colleagues from Coastal Bend, Laredo, Eagle Pass and the rest of South Texas.

“Everyone worked together. The Valley delegation took the lead to include members from the Coastal Bend and Eagle Pass and Del Rio and Laredo delegations, and the South Texas delegations. It was not just the Valley, it was everyone who had been in this area before. They felt its strength and they joined forces together and went and made sure that this area was protected. Instead of fighting amongst each other they formed the alliances and held off everyone else. There is strength in those numbers and that was evident.”

Asked to give examples of how Valley delegation’s unity paid dividends, Van de Putte said:

“What we thought would have been a horrendous, dismal, session for higher ed, really did not happen. Sometimes you measure success by what you are able to prevent happening. Going into this session we thought we were going to get 30 and 40 percent cuts in higher ed and that did not occur.

“Not only that. We were also able to get amazing legislation passed, like this one, SB 2118, like the wonderful program Rep. Canales passed that is going to happen at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in the nursing area. Just amazing types of programs. The delegation led in areas such as technical education, for the first time putting CTE into the foundation school formula, things with career and technology, computing, so many things that happened in the education code that were forward thinking. These came from members of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation.”