Rep. Joaquin Castro \(D-San Antonio worked for six years as a staffer for Maxey, and then won his seat when the Austin Democrat stepped down. Maxey was known as a master of the rules and a fearless liberal. Less than a week into the session, Rodriguez has shown that he won’t shy from the challenge of such a legacy. He had an early chance to prove his mettle when Democratic leaders tapped him to present an amendment to reverse the Republican leadership’s move to scrap seniority on the House Appropriations Committee. The motion lost 105 to 39. Rodriguez, who fought his election battle in the primary, says he initially thought he’d play it safe this session, but that changed when the Republican tide transformed the House. “I don’t see a reason anymore not to speak your mind and bring the debate up,” he says. “This is not necessarily a bad place for the Democratic Party to be. We will find a core group of 30 to 45 people. We won’t know who they are until we get to certain issues.” In the interest of laying the ground for the future, Rodriguez says he’ll likely file an income tax bill. “We need to start the conversation,” he says. “The system as it stands now is not equitable.” Rodriguez points out that with an income tax, most property taxes will go down, even for the rich. And don’t be fooled by the Republican rhetoric against raising taxes, he warns. Plans to increase fees are taxes by another name. Maxey should be proud. CHIP on His Shoulders? Aaron Pella says ruefully that he had a lot of great ideas to improve his community and state, but when he arrived in Austin, he ran into a wall of reality. To promote the interests of his constituents in the Valley, he is now looking toward the long-term, laying the groundwork for sessions to come. “Education is our ticket out of poverty,” he says. “I will advocate pay increases for teachers even though I know it won’t pass. I will focus on social problems like drug addiction and mental health issues. I will try to stop the bleeding for programs that matter and are so successful in my community like CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program]. We are just starting to educate them on how to enroll in it, and now we have to tell them there is no money.” Pefia’s commitment to social programs has already received media coverage. Before the session, he went on a 125-mile, six-day walk from his district to Austin to raise awareness of the need for better mental health and substance abuse programs in Texas. The issue is a personal one for Pella, who lost a teenage son to drug addiction. After his son’s death, the Edinburg legislator, who is filling Juan Hinojosa’s former seat, vowed not to let his child’s death be in vain. He is willing to make the symbolic votes, as he did in the Democrats’ losing battle to preserve former Speaker Laney’s equitable House rules. “The vote on seniority meant a lot to me,” he relates. “If I’m here in 10 or 15 years, I can say I survived our time in the wilderness, and stood up for what I believed. We are creating the mythology for the younger generation. In order to do that, we have to go through a bloody battle.” How About Paul Wellstone for Inspiration? Joaquin Castro is one half of an incipient San Antonio political dynasty. His twin brother Julian Castro is a councilman in the Alamo City. Their mother, Rosie Castro, was one of the founders of La Raza Unida. Having graduated from Stanford with honors and earned a Harvard law degree, Joaquin Castro could easily be making a fortune as a corporate lawyer; instead he finds himself in a small, still-bare office, trying to learn the Capitol computer system. At the outset Castro says he wants to concentrate on modest issues that will help his district and young people. One idea he enthusiastically promotes is a program to track how many high school kids go to college and where they end up. The state needs the snap shot before it can set goals to increase university enrollment, he says. That doesn’t mean he’s going to shy away from the bigger issues, where the minority community he represents is likely to be hammered. “Every vote I’ve taken so far has been on the losing side,” he laughs. “But you have to stand for what you really believe.” Castro takes inspiration from an unlikely source: Speaker Torn Craddick.”When he joined the legislature in the minority party, he held firm to his convictions,” notes Castro. “Now he’s Speaker of the House.” Let’s hope, unlike Craddick’s experience, it doesn’t take 30 years. 1/31/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1
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