San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention tonight. Largely unknown outside of South Texas, Mayor Castro and his twin brother Joaquin (current State Representative and likely the next congressman from Texas’ 20th district) have become the faces of the Texas Democratic Party and field generals in the battle for Texas Latino voters, the great battleground and holy grail of American national politics over the next decade.
The DNC’s decision to pick Castro as the keynote speaker was unsurprising and an obvious attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters and highlight the president’s advantage among the demographic group. We’ve heard ad nauseam that a Convention keynote address is the place to jumpstart an already-rising political career. However, those in the San Antonio chattering class don’t see Castro as having Obama’s rhetorical abilities, and Chicago won’t allow the mayor to steal the president’s thunder.
The Convention will, however, introduce the Brothers Castro to a national audience. They embody a new generation of Hispanic Americans: under 40, attractive, ambitious, and Ivy-league educated.
Thirty years ago, another young and attractive San Antonio mayor, Henry Cisneros, was the fresh face in Democratic politics, only to have his star fall to earth due to a sex scandal. The Brothers Castro will not be undone by scandal- their rise has been way too controlled. There will be no maniacal preachers, shady real estate deals, or sex scandals.
Born in the economically disadvantaged west side of San Antonio to a Chicano activist, the twins were standouts through high school, Stanford, and Harvard Law. Their respective campaigns for the state legislature and city council were planned in the dorms, and over the past decade they have built the best local political machine in Texas.
After losing the 2005 mayoral election, Julian began to court the business community and north side white voters who viewed him skeptically. He was able to build a coalition of traditionally Democratic and Republican voters and interests, and beat a crowded field in the 2009 mayoral contest with 57 percent of the vote.
The Mayor of San Antonio has traditionally been a weak office, its power embedded only in its agenda-setting prerogative and the bully pulpit. But Mayor Castro has used these assets effectively, pushing through a progressive agenda over the past three years.
CPS Energy, the municipally-owned utility he effectively leads, has expanded its renewable portfolio and recently added a 400 MW solar plant. The City Council has provided benefits to domestic partners of municipal employees and banned smoking in public places.
This November, the mayor has bet his political future on a sales tax increase to fund an early childhood education imitative (which, unsurprisingly, falls outside the purview of the municipality’s powers under the City Charter). He has coopted business support for his plan, inoculating himself from charges of liberalism-run-amok. Under his tenure, San Antonio has consistently kept its unemployment rates below national and state averages and has been recognized for its resilient economy.
Joaquin Castro decided to challenge liberal lion Lloyd Doggett of Austin in the Democratic primary for a congressional seat that includes Austin and San Antonio. The retirement of Charlie Gonzalez allowed Castro to run for another San Antonio-based seat, but all indications are that Castro would have beaten Doggett.
Conservatives will be quick to compare the Castro brothers to President Obama: just more attractive guys in empty suits without any record of accomplishment. The biggest mistake you can make in politics is to underestimate your opponents, and this is especially true in the case of the Castros.
They are prodigious fundraisers who have learned the value of coalition-building. You won’t hear any “you didn’t build that” gaffes either, because they are too controlled to make slipups of that nature. With liberal bona fides and rhetoric that speaks to “opportunity” rather than “equality,” they have the cross-over appeal that the president once possessed.
George P. Bush, Jeb’s son, is famously trying to attract Hispanics to the Republican Party of Texas, but the Castro brothers and their field army stand in his way.