Drawing On Family History, Julian Castro Hopes To Paint Texas Blue

The story of the changing demographics in Texas can, in many ways, be told through the family history of Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio. Mayor Castro discusses his story, as well as what Texas' expanding Hispanic population means for the state's political future.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now, we continue with our week of reporting from Texas. Yesterday on the program, we heard about the surging Hispanic population here. It's already 38 percent and will become the largest single group in the state by 2020. One big question has been will that Hispanic electorate, which tends to vote Democratic, help turn Texas from a solidly red state to a blue one?

It was with that question in mind that I dropped by the office of the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro. At 39, Castro is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party. He was picked to give the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Political observers have imagined Castro as governor of Texas, senator from Texas, or even the first Hispanic president of the United States.

MAYOR JULIAN CASTRO: First thing that I put up in my office here at city hall was a poster from 1971 when my mother ran for city council.

BLOCK: His mother, Rosie Castro, was just 23 when she ran on a progressive Chicano slate. The slogan, printed on the bottom of that weathered, crinkled poster: Give government back to the people.

CASTRO: And it's all frayed at the edges now and very simple but also, I think, very powerful because it's a representation of that generation, of her generation - the idealism.

BLOCK: Julian Castro's mother lost that race but she passed on her passion for political action to her two sons, Julian and his identical twin brother, Joaquin, who's in his first term as a U.S. congressman. The Castro brothers' family story is a compelling version of the classic up-from-nothing, immigrant dream.

CASTRO: It's a very common story with just a different hue to it over in these parts.

BLOCK: Julian Castro's maternal grandmother came to San Antonio from Mexico in 1922 as an orphan when she was just 6 or 7.

CASTRO: My grandmother, when she was young, would've walked past shops where some folks had out a sign that said no Mexicans or dogs allowed.

BLOCK: She worked as a maid, a cook, a babysitter. Her life was bounded by limits. That Texas, Mayor Castro says, is light years away from the Texas he knows. And as he thinks about where his state is heading politically, he reckons with this reality: A Democrat hasn't won a statewide race in Texas in 20 years. Still, he sees positive signs of that ever-growing, Hispanic community and he says a Republican Party that's moving farther to the right and is increasingly out of step with many Texans.

CASTRO: I grew up in a Texas where people would say, I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me. Now, the reverse is happening. People are leaving the Republican Party because the Republican Party is going too far to the right in Texas. And that's a source of great potential support for Democrats.

BLOCK: At the same time, you can look at the Tea Party in Texas and say, it's stronger than it was. You have Senator Ted Cruz, who's become a real standard bearer for that part of the Republican Party. Some people are looking at the results from the primaries and saying, Tea Party is doing just fine in Texas.

CASTRO: The Tea Party definitely scored a significant victory with Senator Cruz's election in 2012 and scored victories in some statewide primaries. But to me, as the Tea Party gets stronger within the Republican Party in Texas, the prospect of a blue Texas becomes stronger and stronger.

BLOCK: There's some pretty striking numbers when you look at Hispanic voting participation. The numbers I'm seeing, 61 percent of eligible Texas Hispanics did not cast a ballot in 2012. Sixty-one percent. How do you explain that?

CASTRO: There is no question that there has been a lackadaisical approach by too many folks in the Hispanic community and some other communities, but in the Hispanic community with regard to voting. There are different factors that play into that. Low-income communities across different backgrounds, whether they're Hispanic or of another background, generally voted lower rate. Sometimes language barriers or people being intimidated - just not knowing the process.

The other thing - and this doesn't apply just to the Hispanic community - but generally, no matter what community somebody comes from, these campaigns are not doing a good job of increasing voter participation. If you're a candidate, the number one thing you're focusing on is, look, I need to go to the people that vote consistently and make sure that I have their support. Unless you have been in a battleground state like Florida or Ohio or Virginia or Nevada, you really haven't been in a place where the national parties are trying to increase voter participation in a robust way.

BLOCK: How surprised will you be, Mayor Castro, if in 10 years, say, Texas is still solidly in the Republican column in presidential elections?

CASTRO: I believe that there is going to be a blue Texas in the years to come. It's not going to happen overnight but it will happen.

BLOCK: Mayor Castro, thanks for talking with us.

CASTRO: All right. Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, who adds, I'm optimistic and I'm young. I have time to watch what happens and help make it happen.

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