Castro Electrifies Democratic Convention
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa was making his way up and down the several rows of his state’s raucous delegates on Tuesday night, telling them that in 15 minutes “the mayor” would be speaking.
That’s San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, 37, who had been tapped to deliver the keynote address of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, opening for First Lady Michelle Obama.
“So give it all you got,” Gilberto told his delegates, though he didn’t have to. The electricity in the section of the convention floor carved out for the Lone Star State delegates at Charlotte’s Time Warner Arena could have powered the room had the breaker flipped.
Castro, who delivered a speech heavy on the themes of investment and opportunity, had big shoes to fill.
“Two conventions ago the keynote speaker was a guy named Barack Obama,” he had said in a video shortly after the announcement last month that the fresh-faced mayor had been chosen for the prime-time speaking slot, often given to the party’s rising stars.
He is, after all, the man who Austin political consultant (and former George W. Bush hand) Mark McKinnon famously said in a New York Times Magazine profile, “has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States.”
He didn’t disappoint. In his convention speech, a calm, smiling Castro drew a stark contrast with Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It is investments made in the past—and present—Castro said that allow America to be a unique place, where dreams can come true regardless of one’s background or family history.
Romney, he said, is a man who “Doesn’t get it,” and “has no idea how good he’s had it.”
As an example, Castro pointed out a tip Romney had given university students in Ohio a few months ago if they wanted to start a business: Borrow money from their parents.
“Gee,” Castro mused, “why didn’t I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether you can pursue your dreams.”
With a nod to his home-staters, Castro had said earlier in his speech that “Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow.”
It was the last point that he hit hard throughout the speech, and the message resonated with Kathleen Thompson, a Texas delegate who says she’s a Democrat because she wants her two small boys in Austin to live better lives than Americans are now; to make sure they have good schools, can breath clean air and have good roads to drive on.
Investment in the future, Castro said, starts with education.
“Twenty years ago, Joaquin and I left home for college and then for law school,” he said. “In those classrooms, we met some of the brightest folks in the world. But at the end of our days there, I couldn’t help but to think back to my classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. They had the same talent, the same brains, the same dreams as the folks we sat with at Stanford and Harvard. I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive. The difference was opportunity.”
Louis Escareno, who was watching from the stands, grew up in the same West Side San Antonio neighborhood as Castro and went to the same high school, though many years earlier. A friend of their mother, Escareno had known the Castro twins since they were born and said he couldn’t be prouder.
Asked if he thought the mayor might have national ambitions, Escareno smiled. “Right now he’s focused on being the mayor of the city of San Antonio,” he said. “He understands how important this election is nationally but he’s grounded in San Antonio … and I suppose at some point down the road he’ll have to think about what other option may be available to him and there will be plenty of them. Texas is a red state for now, but he represents the future. The demographics are what he embodies.”
Castro is the first Latino ever to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic national convention, and his rollout has drawn comparisons to Obama’s memorable 2004 convention speech in Boston that made the future president a star.
The last Texan to keynote the Democratic convention was then-Gov. Ann Richards in 1988.
But Castro presented a much different image than the one Richards did 24 years ago. Castro told the story of his grandmother working as a maid and a cook. She never owned a house. “But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college,” he said. “And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.”
It was that line that resonated with Renee Edwards, a delegate from DeSoto. “I think he hit the nail on the head,” she said. “He brought it home for the middle class, the poorer class, the 99-percenters.”
Though he laced the speech with his own family’s story, Castro, a Texas co-chair for Obama, Castro also spent considerable time promoting the president’s reelection. He didn’t hold back on the president’s opponent, painting the former Massachusetts governor as a faithful follower of a free-market economic theory that crumbled the middle class and trashed the national economy.
“We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others,” Castro said. “What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re promising us.”
The Romney-Ryan budget, Castro said, “doesn’t just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training. t doesn’t just pummel the middle class—it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class.”
And he couldn’t resist a jab to a soft spot on Romney that hurt him during the Republican primary: the former governor’s one-time support for an individual mandate for health insurance in Massachusetts. “Governor Romney has undergone an extreme makeover,” Castro said to laughs. “And it ain’t pretty.”
Castro ended by saying that the days Americans are living right now in are not easy.
“But we have seen days like this before, and America prevailed,” he said. “With the wisdom of our founders and the values of our families, America prevailed. With each generation going further than the last, America prevailed. And with the opportunity we build today for a shared prosperity tomorrow, America will prevail. It begins with re-electing Barack Obama. It begins with you. It begins now.”
As Castro stepped off the stage, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, said it was one of the best speeches he’d ever heard.
“And let me tell you,” he said, “I think both of those Castro sons have a very bright future in Texas politics.”
Asked about national politics, Ellis laughed.
“Start with Texas,” he said. “That’s the way you go national.”
At National Convention, Texas’ LGBT Democrats Show Their Strength
Tuesday, September 4, 4:32 p.m. EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—When the roll call came for Texas at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Caucus meeting in Charlotte at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the applause was louder and lasted longer than perhaps any other state.
With 33 LGBT members, Texas came behind only California (76), Florida (40) and New York (36).
The DNC has 551 total LGBT delegates, according to organizers.
Texas’s fourth-highest total didn’t come as a surprise to Eli Olivarez, president of the Stonewall Democrats, the official LGBT caucus of the Texas Democratic Party.
“We are united in Texas,” he said, and ticked off reasons why. In June, Texas became the first Southern state party to pass marriage equality in its Democratic Party platform. Also, the state party has a new chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, who has opened state Democratic Party programs to LGBT groups, which is a departure from years past, Olivarez said.
That’s led to an unprecedented LGBT statewide community outreach program between the Stonewall Democrats and the state party. The program, called “Come Out and Vote,” is registering voters and asking them to flood the polls on October 27, the only Saturday early-voting day Texas.
The group is hoping for 10,000 votes to come from the push.
“That will determine how strong we are, then we can go back to the party and the state and say ‘We can make a difference; we can also help you decide an election, so bring us to the table and speak to us,’” Olivarez said.
As Democrats from across the country milled around just before the LGBT caucus meeting began in an upstairs room in the Charlotte Convention Center, members of the Lone Star State delegation were hard to miss.
Omar Navarez, the 38-year-old president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, was working a corner of the room. His group is the largest LGBT Democratic club in the state. An elected delegate from Senate District 15, Navarez says the state’s 33 delegates representing the LGBT community (out of 288 total state delegates) is a record for Texas.
This year represents the first time Democrats have put a marriage equality plank in the national platform. Navarez said he’ll be proud to cast a vote tonight for it on the convention floor. (The national Republican Party platform approved last week in Tampa endorses a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.)
“We’re not there,” he said when it comes to equality rights nationwide. “But [Obama] is getting us to the steps where we need to go forward for full equality and the recognition of our civil rights.”
Johnny Shelton, a 65-year-old from Texas City, shook his head and chuckled when talking about how the Texas Democratic Party put a marriage equality plank in its own platform.
“It’s the first time in Texas anything like that has ever happened,” he said. “Obviously in Texas things are changing, whether the red-state people want to admit it or not.”
He has a point.
The sheriff of Dallas, Lupe Valdez, who took office in 2004, is openly gay. And in 2009, voters in Texas made history when they elected the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, Annise Parker, to run Houston.
Carol Cappa, a delegate from Fort Worth, says many LGBT members play a big role at the precinct level in Texas Democratic politics. “We have such a desire to go blue that we know that’s the way we’ve got to do it is get involved at the local level,” she says.
Daniel Graney, past president of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus, said he hoped San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro would mention marriage equality in his keynote DNC speech this evening. “I think he will,” Graney said.
Outside the caucus room was Dennis Coleman, former director of Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization. Coleman, who was not at the DNC as a delegate, says the LGBT community working within the state Democratic Party infrastructure is happening more now in Texas than ever before.
Democrats nationally worry that a presidential administration made up of Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will claw back rights for the LGBT community.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a similar point in her remarks to the LGBT caucus.
“The passage of the Affordable Care Act is the most significant health issue for LGBT Americans, no question about it,” she said, adding that a Romney-Ryan administration would attempt to repeal the healthcare reform law.
Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the U.S. government is beginning to collect health data on LGBT health needs, she said. And she had a question for the pro-LGBT crowd.
“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” she asked to rousing cheers.
Corey Hutchins is a reporter for the Columbia Free Times covering South Carolina politics. He won the 2011 South Carolina Press Association’s award for Journalist of the Year. He last wrote for the Observer about Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman.