By John-Michael Vincent Cortez
I am a young, Latino elected official – and I want to see more Latinos, especially young ones, in elected office at all levels of government. Not only is an increase in Latino representation warranted given our demographic reality, but it is also generally in the best interest of having a government that substantively represents the communities it serves. However, in the case of the newly created Congressional District 35, I argue that Hispanic community interests could not be more substantively and effectively represented than they are currently by Congressman Lloyd Doggett. For this, and many other reasons, if this travesty of Republican gerrymandering is to stand, I firmly believe Congressman Doggett is the best candidate to represent CD35 in Washington.
Despite my strong support of Doggett, until very recently, I did not begrudge Joaquin Castro for his efforts to take advantage of this terrible situation created by another Republican power grab by announcing his intent to run in CD35. However, I am now terribly disappointed by recent reports of Castro's involvement along side the very Republicans who have essentially disenfranchised me, my neighbors, and many communities all the way down to Bexar County. As a result, my support of Doggett is firmer still, and I hope you will join me.
I always found it odd that Castro and many of his supporters were justifying his challenge to Congressman Doggett by claiming that he would be more effective than Lloyd, because Castro knew best how to get along with Republicans. Well, most folks I know want someone who will stand up to Republican extremism, not go along with it. However, I previously felt that Castro's claims to be strongly opposed to the GOP congressional map were believable – no committed Democrat could justifiably support this plan that illegally divides communities across Texas. However, we now know that this purported opposition was only superficial, as Castro worked hand-in-hand with Republicans to draw the most favorable district for himself, no matter how many of us were harmed.
At the recent trial in Federal Court in San Antonio, Republicans actually used Castro's involvement as part of their defense against Democratic claims that this redistricting plan is illegal. Republicans essentially said: “Hey, it was not Republicans alone who drew this map to which you Democrats are objecting, we were just following the advice of Democratic State Rep. Castro (and his friend, Redistricting Committee Vice Chair Rep. Mike Villareal).” Castro wanted this crooked District carving up neighborhoods in San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Lockhart and Austin. Then he asked that this area be carved up a little more to add what he thought would be even more favorable additional territory in San Antonio along with symbolic locations like the Alamo.
Why are parts of San Marcos, Kyle and Lockhart consigned to Tea Party Republican Lamar Smith or Blake Farenthold? Why are the people of East Austin and the Eastside of San Antonio and Harlandale split up to weaken the strength of their voices? Because the only community of interest Castro seemed to care about was his own interest when he reached out to GOP map drawers to draw himself into Congress. One small step forward for Castro, but one lamentable step backwards for our Hispanic communities generally. The effect of moving more strongly democratic precincts into the proposed CD35 has caused great harm across Bexar County. Castro actually agreed to the removal of longtime Rep. Charlie Gonzalez's home and district office as well as the core of downtown San Antonio from his district, replacing that area with more conservative neighborhoods. This makes the district of the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus considerably less Hispanic. The long list of grievances with Castro's configuration of Rep. Gonzalez's district has been covered in two different stories, published in the San Antonio News Express on October 8 ( Article1 & Article2 ). The precincts that Rep. Gonzalez says he wants restored to his district by the Federal Court are the very ones Castro supported removing.
And what about working with other Democrats to regain the Congress? Castro was willing to remove some of the strongest southside Democratic precincts from the district of Rep. Quico Canseco (Freshman Republican who defeated Congressman Ciro Rodriquez last year). That helps protect Conseco and makes it more difficult for a Democrat to defeat him. This seat is critical if Democrats are to win back the US House of Representatives next year.
And there are more news reports showing how Castro collaborated with Republicans in support of the Perrymandering congressional map now being challenged in court.
In a fawning profile in his hometown paper, the San Antonio Express News, dated October 5, (http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/Rep-Castro-looks-to-leap-to-bigger-stage-2198786.php) reports that Castro worked with Republicans Lyle Larson and redistricting committee chairman Burt Solomon (author of the anti-immigrant “Sanctuary Cities” bill) to move precincts from other nearby districts to the new 35th district. Here's an excerpt from the article:
“Before Democratic state Rep. Joaquín Castro of San Antonio declared he would run in a contested new congressional district that stretches like Silly Putty from downtown to Austin, he placed a strategic call to a member of the rival party in control of its shifting boundaries. State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, knew Castro as an ideologically distant yet collegial member of the House. Castro “asked me to help with the (redistricting) chairman, Burt Solomons, in dealing with adding some Hispanic precincts,” Larson said, “so it's more likely that the person who wins the district would come from Bexar County.”
Again, probably a great move for Castro, but what about the communities that have been split up to serve his ambitions and Republican interests?
Perhaps the most troubling part of this whole affair is that Castro seems to have misrepresented his involvement in this unseemly process: On July 27, 2011 Castro told an audience of Travis County Democratic leaders:
“I know that congressional districts have been a very sore spot, especially Travis County, because of the way the districts were cut up. And I want you guys to know I agree with you on that. I voted against all the Republican redistricting. I voted with Dawnna Dukes to keep Travis County in just two parts, rather than have it be divided into five.” (Source: Travis County Democratic Party County Executive Committee Meeting Speech)
Despite his vote, Castro failed to disclose that he had worked with Republicans to develop their map, designing a district for himself, improving Republican Canseco's district, and tearing apart communities represented by Rep. Charlie Gonzalez.
I really want to see more Latinos in Congress, but in attempting to custom-make himself a district, Castro has done tremendous damage to the communities he claims to represent, and the political party to which he belongs.
Newly-minted Republican Aaron Pena is not the only State Representative to misrepresent his role in redistricting. Perhaps we should treat them both the same.