Finding your way around Capitol Hill is never easy. It’s not only a physical maize, but a legislative one. But Rep. Joaquin Castro has great expectations of making a significant difference in Latino communities through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), which he chairs. The CHC recently introduced the Dream and Promise Act to help Dreamers and TPS holders obtain permanent legal status, as well as introducing the Families Belong Together Act.
Castro believes that we need to end gerrymandering so districts are fairly represented. Getting big money out of politics is also important. “When you have people who come from communities of modest means, it makes it tougher for them to run for office when there is unlimited money spent in campaigns by special interests,” he told LATINO Magazine in an exclusive interview. While Latinos represent 18.1% of the U.S. population, in Congress they are only 7.5%. Thus, empowering Latinos and raising our voices is key. Castro believes.
Following the “blue wave” last November when the Democrats regained control of the House, the ranks of the CHC swelled, and there are ten new Latino Members of Congress. When asked what advice he would give them, Castro said: “The most important part [of the job] is making sure that they are serving their constituents when they call you with a problem… and to be helpful to the people they represent. Secondly, to take some time to figure out your way around, particularly to those that have not served in a legislative body before. Figure out your schedule because you need to prioritize what meetings or things are truly urgent or priorities and what is not.” Castro admits that although he spent 10 years in the Texas legislature before his time in Capitol Hill, it took him two years to learn his way around.
The same day this interview was conducted, Castro saw his hard work pay off. The resolution to block President Trump’s national emergency declaration in order to build a wall along the border, which he introduced in the House, was passed in the Senate with the support of ten Republicans. Since the new wall would be built along the Rio Grande in Texas, this is of deep concern to his constituents
Delivering to constituents is precisely one of the challenges legislators face while in Congress due to the tight electoral cycle. Many, as soon as elected, have to start working again on their re-election campaigns, causing them to take their focus away from delivering promises to their constituents, according to Castro:
“I think everybody has to strike the right balance with themselves, the responsibilities in terms of the legislative process, and then what they have to do outside of here to connect with constituents and be successful in their re-election.”
While many newly elected Members arrived in Washington, DC eager to impeach President Trump, Speaker Pelosi’s recent comments appeared to put the brakes on that. “I think we should wait for the Muller report to get a full accounting on the president’s transgressions and we then make a decision from there,” Castro appeared to agree.
The CHC has more Latina Members than ever before, and Rep. Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar are the two first Latinas ever to serve in Congress from his home state of Texas [See Time for a Change, p. 16] “I hope that Latinas will take a change in running for office,” says Castro. “My mom was 23 when she ran for City Council. At the time there were hardly any women at the City Council and there weren’t even single districts then. We still have a long way to go to make sure that women are equally represented in legislative bodies.”
Recalling how he grew up in San Antonio, Castro said, “I have been very fortunate to have a family and a community that believed in me and helped propel me to my own version of the American dream. But I do worry about young Latinos and Latinas in this climate that has been so divisive. ... The leadership starts at the top for the tone that the President sets for the nation. I believe this President has given people license to express racism in a way that we have not seen before.”
According to Texas Monthly, Castro may soon launch his campaign, running against incumbent Senator John Cornyn’s seat. That along with his twin brother Julian’s recently announced Democratic presidential primary bid (not to mention Beto O’Rourke) will place Texas at the center of the 2020 elections.