On Saturday at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Julián Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Obama administration, and keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic national convention, offered no shortage of criticism for President Trump and Texas’s current legislature. Castro has done little to deny reports that he’s seriously considering a presidential bid in 2020, and has recently spoken in New Hampshire and Iowa, while also stumping for candidates in Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and across Texas for the 2018 midterms. The results of the November 6 election, according to Castro, will weigh heavily on whether he officially announces his candidacy.
Castro’s appearance at the Texas Book Festival ostensibly focused on his memoir, An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream, which was released on October 16. Featuring a prologue written after he visited the border during the recent child detention crisis, the book focuses on immigration’s role in his family’s history and details the early, high-profile political wins and losses of Julián Castro and his brother, Joaquín, who has served in the United States House of Representatives for Texas’s 20th congressional district since 2013.
Just after his discussion at the book festival, Castro visited the Texas Monthly office to record this week’s edition of The National Podcast of Texas. Castro discussed the nation’s general state of division, his take on the likelihood that Texas turns blue, Beto O’Rourke, and whether he’ll have the stomach to go toe-to-toe with Trump.
On the State of the Texas Legislature
I believe that Texas has one of the most incompetent and probably corrupt state governments. You have years and years of lack of accountability and total one-party control, which has decayed the state government. Whether it’s contracting scandals, cronyism, or the scandals related to the Attorney General or the Agriculture Commissioner, there’s just complete lack of accountability. I’ve said that the worst day for these folks is going to be the day that new leadership has control over the auditing function of the state government, because you don’t know what you’re going to find, but I’m sure it’s going to be substantive.
On Whether Texas Will Turn Blue
I wouldn’t say that anything is inevitable. I do think that Texas is undergoing demographic changes which are helping move it in the direction of being more competitive, at least a purple state. There’s the impact of the Hispanic community, the growth of the Asian American community, people moving here from outside of Texas into the suburbs of DFW, Houston, San Antonio, Austin. You also have a lot of folks who are native Texans living in those suburbs. We also see voters who are moving over because they’ve had enough of the Trump administration, so they’re at least moving to the independent column and perhaps voting in greater numbers Democratic. So on top of the demographic change, you have this sliding over of people who believe that the Republican Party has left them and many of whom frankly are disgusted by what they see as a lack of moral leadership in Trump and ineffective governance. All of that adds up to light at the end of the tunnel for Democrats in Texas.
On Beto O’Rourke’s Chances of Winning the Senate Seat
I think he speaks to this generation. If you look at how he’s run the campaign—not taking PAC money, not hiring a whole bunch of consultants, the Facebook Live thing—a lot of his campaign is basically direct to camera. It’s not all glossy, but it’s authentic. He’s also been very positive and I think that has resonated in a time when Trump and others had been so negative and so divisive. He’s been trying to speak in positive terms and to unite people. He’s spoken a lot about how whether you’re Republican or Democrat or independent or a nonvoter, you’re welcome at our rallies. That stands in stark contrast to Trump rallies where basically there’s an Enemy Number One, and that’s anybody that’s not in this room and anybody that doesn’t agree with us. I do think that Beto has captured the zeitgeist and that he can win on November 6.
On the Family Separation Policy
I consider this so-called “family separation policy” of the Trump administration to be state-sponsored child abuse. In my book, I talk about my relationship with my grandmother who came from Mexico when she was seven years old, along with her younger sister. They came over because they were brought by relatives who lived in San Antonio. She left her mother as her mother was dying, but I remember her in her seventies crying because she never got to see her mom right before she passed away. I remember how much that traumatized her. I can only imagine how these kids who are going to have memories of being separated from their parents, some of whom may never be reunited with their natural parents, will experience what amounts to lifelong trauma.
On Learning About Resistance and Protest From His Activist Mother
Sometimes even when you don’t win, you can make progress. My mother ran for City Council when she was 23 years old with a slate called the Committee for Barrio Betterment in San Antonio. There were no single member districts yet. You had to run citywide, and nobody from her slate of four people won. But on election night when a local reporter asked her about the loss, she said, “Oh, we’ll be back.” And because of the activism of her generation, we got single member districts in San Antonio and the Voting Rights Act in 1975 was extended to Hispanics. The climate changed and there was more tolerance and appreciation for difference. Thirty years later, in 2001, at 26 years old I became the youngest elected city councilman in the modern era in San Antonio. That wasn’t an accident: It was in part because of the activism of that generation. I learned from her that sometimes your victory may be deferred, but you’re still on that march to victory.
On Running Against Trump
I don’t believe that we’re going to beat Donald Trump by trying to be Donald Trump. If you look at who wins these races as Democrats, it’s usually a leader from a new generation who paints a positive, strong vision for the future, whether that was Kennedy’s New Frontier, Carter who represented a break from the scandal of the Watergate era, or Clinton, who basically represented the baby boomer generation coming into its own. And, of course, Obama, who gave that wonderful speech at the 2004 convention about no red states or blue states, but the United States. During a time of division around the Iraq war and the tremendous failure of Katrina, he represented hope that we could unite as a country.
Incidentally, Kennedy was 43 when he took office. Carter was 50 or 51. Clinton was 46 and Obama was 46 or 47. I think you’re going to have somebody from this group under 55 that emerges as a Democratic nominee. Because when I go out there, I hear very clearly that people want a new generation of leadership—a new face—whether I run or not. But you have to be able to stand up to Donald Trump and to call him out. I don’t think you want to be Donald Trump, because you’re not going to beat Donald Trump by trying to out-gutter him. As the Beto campaign has shown, people are looking for inspiration and positivity. It can’t be a naive positivity, but I do think people want something positive.
These quotations have been edited and condensed for clarity.