Julian Castro

Castro's new job has political drawbacks

Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee, San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 17, 2014. The Senate has easily confirmed Castro to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Wednesday's 71- 26 vote making Castro one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in government. 

Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee, San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 17, 2014. The Senate has easily confirmed Castro to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Wednesday's 71- 26 vote making Castro one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in government.   

Last Wednesday, Julian Castro —the Mayor of San Antonio— was overwhelmingly confirmed by the US Senate as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The position will give the 39 year-old Democrat some serious Washington clout as he continues climbing up the rungs of the political ladder. Castro has openly expressed interest in higher office, and many are speculating that he could be Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2016 if the former First Lady and Secretary and State indeed decides to run for President.

What everyone else apparently has neglected to mention is that, by accepting this position to serve in President Barack Obama's cabinet for the remaining two and a half years of his term, Castro has totally and unequivocally disenfranchised himself from holding Statewide political office in this State.

Republicans love to link Democrats to the unpopular President, even if no such connection exists. Are you the five-term incumbent County Commissioner in Madisonville? Doesn't matter, your Republican opponent will plaster the airwaves and billboards with slogans blasting you as "Obama's best friend," even if you've never met —or voted for— the man. When it comes to someone like Castro, who will legitimately be indelibly linked, Republicans are figuratively frothing at the mouth thinking of the possibilities.

Furthermore, even when the day comes that Texas turns blue, Obama will not likely be a popular figure. Even in cycles where Democrats prevail Statewide, I cannot imagine a former Cabinet secretary of the Obama administration doing very well. This precludes Castro from running for Governor in 2018, which I had formerly assumed his plan had been all along.

I like Castro, and I would love to vote for him if he were to run for some high office. But unless Clinton has promised him the Vice-Presidency, I cannot imagine my vote going to a successful candidate in the near future.

Julián Castro displays the Hook 'em Horns sign following the 2014 commencement ceremony at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Photo Credit: Bryce Seifert | Daily Texan Staff

After delivering the commencement address for the LBJ School of Public Affairs, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro talked with The Daily Texan about some of the issues surrounding higher education today. Castro declined to comment on media reports about his possible nomination to President Barack Obama's cabinet. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

DT: What do you think are the most important issues facing higher education today?

Castro: Some of the most important issues facing higher education really have to with the affordability of it. Over the last couple decades, we’ve seen the cost to students skyrocket – student loan debt increased significantly. So I’d say affordability. Secondly, college completion – ensuring that as much as we celebrate folks getting into college, it’s really completing college that makes a difference. Universities and colleges across the United States ought to be working to get much better at their completion rate, not just their matriculation rate.

DT: What do you think the solution is to making college more affordable?

Castro: I would say that making college more affordable begins with ensuring that less folks have to take remedial courses. So many of our young people have to take remedial courses that it ends up extending the time they are in higher education. It means they spin their wheels in a sense. So No. 1 is improving K-12 education and synching it better with needs of colleges and universities. Secondly, for universities to look at ways that they can offer degree programs more that are still as substantive as they need to be but also perhaps accelerated or involve less credit hours, so that students can rack up less debt.

DT: What do you think about the Texas Dream Act, which offers in-state tuition to some undocumented students?

Castro: I support the Texas Dream Act. It was passed in 2001 with bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature. These dreamers are young people who only know the United States as their home. And they are, for all intents and purposes, Texans. They have grown up here. This is the state that they know, and they feel like Texans just like the rest of us. They deserve an opportunity. And so I support the in-state tuition.

DT: The University has been involved in a major affirmative action court case. What is your take on that?

Castro: My hope is that some ability to ensure that folks, whether through obstacles that they face or to ensure that we have diversity in our university settings, that the Supreme Court will strike a good a balance and ensure that diversity is still a concern.

Civil Rights Summit

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro both said they felt optimistic that immigration laws would be passed in 2014, and agreed the U.S. government must do more to address the issue of immigrants who overstay their visa.

Castro said Congress must define border security more clearly before passing a law for immigration reform. Also, the U.S. hasn’t adequately addressed who have overstayed their visa, Castro said.

“We haven’t done much about people who overstayed their visa and ensuring that we have a way to track who comes in and then whether they leave in a more effective and efficient way is an important part of this,” Castro said.  

Barbour said he thinks U.S. citizens are willing to spend money on a secure border, and he thinks the Senate bill focuses on this. Barbour said the U.S. shouldn’t deport employed immigrants because it wouldn’t be economically practical.

“Three, four, five million of these people who have had the same jobs for years, for decades, about the stupidest thing we could do economically is make them leave,” Barbour said. “We don’t have anybody to replace them with. The impracticality of sending everybody home should be obvious to everybody.”

According to Barbour, between four and five million immigrants - out of 11 million - could account for those who do not leave the U.S. once their visas expire. Barbour said this created a problem while passing laws through Congress because Americans do not want people to be rewarded for breaking the law.

“The two big issues and the underlying issue [are] that you have to deal with is you’re not rewarding people for breaking the law, and I think that can be done in a way that’s very appropriate and right,” Barbour said.

Near the end of the discussion, a woman in the audience yelled at Castro, asking him to stand up for "dreamers," referring to the DREAM Act, which would allow current, former and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients to obtain citizenship through either college or the armed services.

"Mayor Castro, I am a dreamer... Our families are under attack... We need you to act now," the woman said.

Castro said the one of the most prominent issues was how border security is defined. Since 2001, the U.S. has increased the number of agents along the 110-kilometer Mexican-U.S. border by 117 percent, mediator Brian Sweany said.

In a press conference after the panel, Castro said there is always room for improvement in methods of securing the border, and he hopes to promote a more robust and active legal system.

“There’s no question that there’s been a frustration among many dreamers,” Castro said.

Although Castro and Barbour said they were optimistic about laws being passed for immigration reform, sociology professor Nestor Rodriguez said he did not see changes happening in the near future.

“I think it’s unlikely at this point,” Rodriguez said. “This requires more discussion, how long this will take — I don’t know. I’m not optimistic it’s going to happen any time soon.”

Rodriguez said Congress members’ inability to make decisions hurts the country.

“Nobody wins in the present situation,” Rodriguez said. “We need to decide who can stay and who can go, but just being in limbo, we all lose.”

Javier Huamani, treasurer for University Leadership Initiative, said as an undocumented student, he hopes the Obama administration will push for administrative reform in the near future.

“It’s the fact that people and families are being torn apart on a daily basis,” Huamani said. “That’s the main problem. People shouldn’t have to live in fear.”

According to Huamani, there are about 500 undocumented students on campus who deal with the constant fear he faces.

“I would like my parents to be eligible for it as well and be able to be protected so they don't have to live in fear,” Huamani said.

Twin politicians Julian and Joaquin Castro discussed Texas politics with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on Tuesday evening. The brothers covered topics such as Medicaid, medical costs and gun control.

Photo Credit: Mikaela Locklear | Daily Texan Staff

This article was corrected after its original posting. Because of a reporting error, the article misstated the number of uninsured Texans. About 28 percent of Texans are uninsured.

The future of the Democratic Party might be right here in the red state of Texas. San Antonio’s twin politicians U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro spent Tuesday evening at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs discussing their party’s role in Texas politics.

The Castro brothers lobbied Monday at the Capitol for an extension of Medicaid, two hours after Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn denounced the extension.

Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief and CEO Evan Smith said about 28 percent of Texans are currently uninsured, and Julian Castro said there are millions of unpaid ambulance fees in San Antonio.

In addition to raising concern over medical costs, Julian Castro said Gov. Perry has not been properly prioritizing investments. Julian Castro said Gov. Perry should not have vetoed a tax initiative to increase funding to San Antonio preschools.

Joaquin Castro said Texas and Alaska were the only states to decline to compete in Race to the Top, a program that offered states money to come up with the best practices to increase innovation in K-12 education.

“It was, I think, a missed opportunity to set national standards with other states, to really come onto some new ideas and innovative policies,” Joaquin said.

The interview was followed by audience questions. In response to a question, Julian Castro said the electoral college is fine the way it is. On the other hand, he said that eliminating the Electoral College would be an opportunity for direct democracy.

“There’s nothing more powerful than when folks themselves are motivated to participate in democratic process,” Julian Castro said.

Julian and Joaquin Castro described their positions on gun control during the talk.

Joaquin Castro said he thinks changes regarding guns can be made while still supporting the second amendment. Julian Castro said high-capacity magazines carry the element of surprise, which is not good public policy, but reasonable requirements can be put in place in certain situations, such as for self defense.

Joaquin Castro also discussed immigration and said that currently the net migration rate between America and Mexico is approximately zero because of the struggling U.S. economy, the increase of border patrol agents and a booming Mexican economy.

“This is the moment that we should do comprehensive reform,” Joaquin Castro said.

JuliaCastro said he thinks America is positioned to succeed in the next century as long as the country improves education. In order to do that, America must build up an infrastructure of opportunity, according to Joaquin Castro.

Julian and Joaquin Castro first became interested in politics in 1994 when they ran for, and won, positions in the student senate at Stanford University, according to Julian.

This weekend UT will welcome the ACL for policy nerds, the Texas Tribune Ideas Festival. By bringing in leaders in the fields of race and Immigration, law and order, trade and transportation, public and higher education, energy and environment and health and human services, the Tribune festival encourages thought, discussion and awkward flirting between civically engaged types. The Daily Texan interviewed San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will be speaking Saturday at the festival.

Q: You are speaking on the “Future of Texas Politics” this weekend at the Texas Tribune Ideas Festival. In one sentence, what do you believe the future looks like for Texas?
A: The great state of Texas is at a tipping point, and we must change our view about investing in our future growth and prosperity.

Q: Why should UT students spend the weekend listening to policy ideas instead of playing Frisbee in Zilker Park?
A: Because policies have a real impact on students’ lives. The future economic success of Texas hinges upon our willingness to invest in education, roads and other infrastructure so that once today’s college students graduate, they can find jobs and build careers in an economically competitive, vibrant state.

Q: You told the New York Times in 2010 that you supported affirmative action policies in college admission decisions. What would you say in defense of such policies to a high-achieving student who believed they had been denied admission to UT because of affirmative action?
A: America has made a lot of progress, and I look forward to the day when affirmative action is no longer necessary. But for now, all students benefit from a college environment that is diverse and reflects the entire spectrum of the American experience.

Q: In Texas and across the nation, public universities have faced decreased funding from state legislatures and criticism from reformers for wasteful spending, pitting higher education against business-minded reform. In your view, how should the state of Texas support (or not support) higher education?
A: We need to invest more significantly in our public colleges and universities precisely because higher education is a business-minded issue. From 1973 to 2010, the number of jobs in the United States requiring more than a high school degree increased from 28 percent to more than 60 percent. In order to continue to attract the jobs of the 21st century, Texas must have a highly educated workforce.

Q: In 2010, the New York Times said in a profile that senior members of the Obama campaign were “notic[ing] and audition[ing]” you. With your recent turn on the stage at the Democratic National Convention, the American people have begun to “notice and audition” you as well. How does it feel to have the nation’s attention in this way? Do you ever fear that you might audition poorly?
A: It’s an honor, but I never felt like the opportunity was for myself alone. I looked at the keynote address as an opportunity to tell America about the vibrant community we have in San Antonio.

Q: Like Obama, you support the DREAM Act, part of which allows undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children to obtain six years of conditional residency for completing two years at a four-year university. In your opinion, does the DREAM Act do enough to support undocumented immigrants at universities?
A: Obviously it depends on which piece of legislation you’re talking about. But I fully support any legislative effort to give legal status to immigrants who have played by the rules and are morally blameless for being brought here as children.

Q: What inspired you to launch “Café College,” the college advising center in downtown San Antonio that offers free services to the city’s students?
A: I was inspired to create Café College after learning that the student to counselor ratio in our public schools is more than 400-to-1. I wanted to do something about that while still working with our school districts, not competing with them. Since we opened the doors in 2010, more than 10,000 students and their parents have received college test prep, admissions advice and help with filling out financial aid paperwork.

Q: Is your daughter aware of how endearing America found her flipping her hair during your speech at the DNC?
A: I’m saving the video for her wedding day!