Earlier this week Politic365.com had an opportunity to speak with Joaquin Castro, currently a representative in the Texas state legislature as a Democrat and a recently announced candidate for Congress. He spoke about his ambitions for federal office while highlighting some of his policy goals.
When Congressman Charlie Gonzalez (D – San Antonio) announced last month that he was not going to seek re-election for the seat long been held by his father, legendary San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, the ideal opportunity presented itself for Joaquin Castro to jump into the race.
Joaquin Castro had already expressed ambitions for Congress in the newly drawn 35th district where he would have had to challenge current Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin). But this opportunity to run in the 20th, long represented by the Gonzalez family, was serendipitous for Castro, as he currently lives in CD 20, a consistently blue district in a deeply red state.
When asked about why he wants to join a largely unpopular branch of government in what many describe as a polarizing political environment in DC, Castro remains focused on policy and his own political goals. He explained, “Congressional approval has been low, but I wasn’t thinking so much about the public’s perception of Congress. I am thinking about some of the policies that I want to focus on. For instance, education is one area that I have worked on in the state legislature and want to continue advocating for in Congress.”
Castro cited his work on the National Association of Latino Elected Officials’ (NALEO) Education Task Force as helping him understand issues related to college preparedness, advising and graduation rates. Having earned an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a law degree from Harvard with his twin brother who is currently serving as the Mayor of San Antonio, Joaquin Castro understands the value of elite higher education. But for his fellow Texans, even having the opportunity to attend any college can be a challenge.
Texas ranks last in the nation in terms of the percentage of adults with high school diplomas. And for Latinos, the disparities in educational attainment are even greater with just 16% of adult Latino Texans having an associate degree or higher compared with 33% of the total adult working population in the state.
Higher education is a key issue that Castro would like to champion in Congress if he wins next November. As a representative in the state house, he helped re-write the top ten percent rule for the state’s public universities. He also is the Vice Chair of the state legislature’s Higher Education Committee.
Two big issues in higher education that are often raised in the Latino community are the role of for-profit colleges and the DREAM Act, which was defeated a year ago in the Senate. When asked about these issues, Castro explained, “Regarding ‘for-profit’ schools — we do need to take close look at the accrediting process for these schools, advertising and metrics for student success. The issue has come up during my time in the Texas legislature.”
And on the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth who complete college or military service, Castro stated, “I support the DREAM Act. I know that many have been critical of the Obama administration with regard to immigration policy, which the DREAM Act is tangentially related. Although unsuccessful, the push for the Act — its passage through the House and its five or so vote failure in the Senate — symbolizes real progress on the issue. I hope that Congress and the Administration will push harder in the coming years.”
Castro plans to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus if he’s elected and would be one of the youngest members. He is eager to bring some new energy to the group.
In terms of Latino representation in the federal legislature, I asked Castro why he thought Mexican-Americans were not present in the Senate since they are the largest group of Latinos in the US. Currently, the two Latinos in the Senate are Cuban American, and when you break down the demographics, Mexican Americans constitute over 31 million of the nation’s Latinos while Cuban Americans are about 1.6 million. As a young Mexican American with Congressional ambitions, Joaquin Castro is poised to make the jump to the Senate at some point, especially giving the rapidly changing demographics in Texas.
“There are a few different reasons to explain it. We need to increase the political participation of Mexican Americans,” reasoned Castro. “There are some demographic factors that explain it. The population skews younger, and the younger population has lower voter turnout. You still have folks who are permanent residents instead of citizens and then a smaller group who are still undocumented. As time goes by, those things will start to change, and I think we’ll be a bigger influence in Congress.”
Castro also shared his thoughts on the recent departure of General Ricardo Sanchez from the race for Senate in the Democratic primary. “General Sanchez is a very accomplished individual, but jumping into politics for the first time at the highest level is difficult,” he observed. “And it is difficult running (as a Democrat) in a state that is quite red right now. Also Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst has been running for the Senate for a while. And the 2010 elections did not help.”
As the 2012 election season kicks off in earnest after the holidays, look for Joaquin Castro’s visibility to increase. But try not to confuse him with his twin, Julian, the current Mayor of San Antonio.