Bravo for Julian Castro, But …

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Politics sometimes makes drunkards of us all with its intoxicating whiffs of power and possibility -- and it often clouds our thinking until the sobering reality of an election itself. 

Julian Castro, (photo above, left) the former Obama Cabinet member and San Antonio mayor, brought his presidential campaign to Los Angeles this week.  

"I'm running for president because...I want to make sure that in years to come, no matter who you are... wherever you come from, that you can reach your dreams too,” Castro, who served as U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Barack Obama, told a crowd of about 450 students at UCLA. 

Castro, 44, came to Los Angeles on the heels of a whirlwind tour of Iowa, the state whose early voting caucuses historically go a long way in determining a candidate’s ability to stay in the long, costly presidential nominating campaigns. 

"I believe that my candidacy is going to resonate with Americans of all backgrounds, but of course especially with the Latino community that presents an opportunity to bring new people into the fold who haven't been involved," Castro said in Iowa, whose Hispanic population has become sizable in recent years. "I think what you're going to see is that more and more Latinos are going to come out that haven't before.”  

Castro is running a campaign promising extensive changes to health care, raising the minimum wage to $15 and renewing America's role in the war on climate change by re-signing the Paris Climate Accord. He is also campaigning against President Trump’s immigration policies, opposing the construction of a border wall and the divisiveness of the current administration.  

“I see myself as the antithesis of Donald Trump,” Castro told interviewers in Los Angeles. "I’m trying to bring the country together instead of divide Americans. I've demonstrated honesty and integrity in my public service.” 

All that serves the Castro campaign well. He is certainly the most visible Latino Democrat to seek the presidency. That said, what kind of chance does he really have? Since Obama, of course, all ambitious politicians of color believe they can follow in his footsteps and be the first woman, the first multi-ethnic woman, the first Latino or the next black president. Obama made that American Dream a reality.  

And in Texas, the Beto O’Rourke quixotic campaign trying to unseat Senator Ted Cruz last year left other young ambitious Democrats thinking they could step into Beto’s shoes as well. Witness Beto traveling to every dusty town in Texas. Castro has pledged to visit all 50 states in his run for the Democratic nomination, forgetting two central facts. Although Beto became a national figure, he lost the race in Texas. And Castro has never even run statewide in his still-conservative home state. He has never won a race in anything but the slam dunk Mexican American mid-size South Texas city of San Antonio. 

Texas politics can be like a mirage. What you see may not be real. Few politicians from South Texas, certainly no Latino Democrats, have ever done well in statewide races unless they were white, wealthy and anointed by party leaders. Part of the blame is on the Democrats of the past who used to look upon Mexican American voters like steers to be herded to the polls during elections.  

Many Latino Democrats revolted. White liberals were also fed up. It led to the fractured party of the last several decades. What the overall politics, culture and atmosphere did to Latinos is often overlooked as well.  

Mexican Americans there are far more conservative than their counterparts in California and other parts of the Southwest and in many elections have been responsible for Democrats' defeats by landslide numbers.  

Texas may also offer strong evidence of a surprising social and political reality among Latinos. As they assimilate over generations and increasingly achieve the American Dream, no matter the level of their participation as registered voters or as voters at the polls, Latinos — much as other Americans — only eventually come to reflect the political views of the society in which they live and into which they acculturate. 

You could say the Eyes of Texas is upon them.


(Tony Castro (no relation to candidate Julian Castro) is a Los Angeles journalist and author whose seventh book, “Mantle: The Best That Ever Was,” will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in April. He can be reached at tony@tonycastro.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.