Blue Texas Part II

May 10, 2013 in Analysis & Editorial

Julian Castro San Antonio Mayor

Can Julian Castro become a leader in a new Blue Texas? Will he run for Governor? Does he have the record for it? If Ted Cruz, with no discernible record as an elected official is the benchmark, then all is possible, if difficult. Can a progressive Hispanic compete with Texas’s conservative electorate? Castro says yes. He is convinced, for starters, that the Texas GOP has left the political center up for grabs and that moderates will be attracted to his message.

The rapid growth of Texas’s Hispanic population will only accelerate the shift away from Tea Party conservatism according to Castro, pushing some of the worst policies in the nation. They’re under-funding schools that are now 50.3 percent Hispanic. They’re attracting low-wage jobs as opposed to high-wage jobs, which creates an invisible ceiling. They’re not funding Medicaid, and they’re under-funding social services in general. The Republican Party is generally not doing much for the growing young Hispanic community that exists in Texas, and eventually, that will cost them.

Castro’s governance has centered on implementing the “SA2020” vision:  a Democratic agenda geared toward helping San Antonio’s lower-income and predominately Hispanic population prepare for a more urban, technical future. The city launched Cafe College in 2011, a center for learning about the application and financial-aid process. Developers soon started proposing new residential projects downtown, and city planners were drawing up streetcar blueprints.

Last May, Castro persuaded voters to fund SA2020 with a $596 million bond  issue. It is the largest in San Antonio’s history. This past November, San Antonio residents agreed to raise their own sales tax by an eighth of a cent to finance PreK 4 SA, a program Castro created in consultation with local business leaders. It will train a new class of high-quality public-school teachers and provide early-childhood education to more than 4,000 four-year-olds who are at risk in San Antonio, more than in any other Texas city.

As a young man, Castro entered politics with his parents’ eyes, visions and aspirations. His mother, Rosie Castro, was an activist in the Chicano movement. She met Julián’s father, Jesse Guzman, through La Raza Unida.

One of Castro’s earliest memories is of handing out leaflets for a local school board candidate in the late 1970s. He was four years old. It was a full-immersion childhood: his mother, Rosie Castro, was an activist in the Chicano movement. She met Julian’s  father, Jesse Guzman, through La Raza Unida. The two never married.

Despite his upbringing, Castro never wanted to go into politics himself. He didn’t like it. He didn’t see it as much fun as a young person, or as something you could make progress with. Castro entered Stanford with a plan to go into broadcast journalism. When the realities of news reporting became apparent to him, he instead accepted a summer job in the Clinton White House.

Castro realized he couldn’t resist the allure of politics. Newt Gingrich was Speaker and his “Contract With America” was popular. Before long, Castro was back at Stanford, running for student council alongside Joaquin.

At Stanford he saw a community that was much better educated, had a much higher income, and was more innovative. At the same time, in San Antonio, he saw a city with a much stronger sense of community. He wanted more for his city and his people. Castro held his first political fundraiser while still a student at Harvard Law. He raised over $2,000. He was then elected to the San Antonio City Council less than a year after returning home from Cambridge.

Castro’s first run for mayor was unsuccessful due to some entry level mistakes. He lost by 3,820 ballots. But four years later Castro won with 83 percent of the vote. The mayor of San Antonio was a weak mayor and not nearly as powerful, by law, as the mayor of other midsized cities.  Castro has maximized his impact by mastering the bully pulpit and redirecting city resources toward programs he supports.

Alex Steele, formerly an Obama operative in Iowa and Colorado, now field director for Battleground Texas, plans to harness technology and social-networking strategies to exponentially enhance the impact of traditional voter outreach. Rather than getting 250 paid organizers to make 50 contacts each and ultimately reach 12,500 voters, Steele surmises he wants 250 field organizers to oversee five teams of volunteer neighborhood leaders who will use their own Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts to reach 500,000 voters.

When Castro’s name is mentioned, people take notice and Castro himself seems to feel the future is upon him. He has said repeatedly that timing is the key and he takes his cues from Obama. Publicly Castro insists that the “right time” is at least “six to eight years” off—when he believes efforts like Battleground Texas will start to mature, and his terms are limited in San Antonio. This is when the future could begin for Texas and a conservative era comes to an end.