Bud Kennedy

Signs of a calmer, gentler Dan Patrick, but Van de Putte says rhetoric costing Texas

Houston radio foghorn Dan Patrick hasn’t changed.

Or has he?

A week before a much-ballyhooed immigration debate, and close to the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, the radio-host-state-senator no longer rants against an “illegal invasion.”

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, knows why.

Patrick knows he has to be “more understanding and engaging” so the party can keep Latino Republican voters, Villalba said Friday in an interview for WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics (9 a.m. Sunday, WFAA/Channel 8).

In February, Villalba wrote an open letter warning Republicans against calling children’s parents “illegals” or shouting, “Stop the invasion!”

Now Villalba is helping Patrick calm his hard-line message before the special April 15 Univisión debate against San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, a Democrat.

As a blustery talk host, Patrick has blamed foreigners for “Third World diseases” and said they cost Texans money. (But a state comptroller’s study found a net gain of $17.7 billion a year in economic benefits and taxes.)

In January, Patrick’s campaign wrote on Twitter, “Obama created this illegal invasion” and “Help me fight for Texas’ future! Do you agree w/conservative vision to stem the illegal invasion?”

By last week, after even gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott’s adviser urged candidates to tone it down, Patrick’s campaign tweeted more sedately, “Inaction on border security is unacceptable.”

Gone are insults against foreigners’ Texas-born children and grandchildren in public schools. (Potential first lady Cecilia Abbott is the granddaughter of immigrants from Monterrey, Nuevo León.)

Patrick’s spokesman, Allen Blakemore, said Patrick met with Villaba but didn’t change positions.

Villalba said he thinks Patrick “really does want to understand this [Latino] population better.”

Blakemore called Patrick “the same old Dan” but said he looks forward to explaining his view.

In a separate WFAA interview, Democratic nominee and state Sen. Leticia (San Miguel) Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said rhetoric by Patrick and other Republicans is “costing Texas jobs.”

Van de Putte, a sixth-generation Texan with grandmothers from Guadalajara and Múzquiz, Coahuila, said Patrick and opponent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are campaigning on the “politics of fear.”

Van de Putte quoted numbers on Texas-Mexico trade.

According to Gov. Rick Perry’s office, cross-border business is worth $720 million.

Not per year.

Per day.

Van de Putte said she hopes to raise $5 million to $6 million from campaign donors, much from “business leaders … Republicans and conservatives.”

Democrats welcome that invasion.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538