‘People are ready for a new generation of leadership’: 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro on his path to politics, immigration reform and more

Julián Castro speaks during a recording of Political Party Live at The Mill. Sunday, April 14, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Julián Castro was candid about his place in the large field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during his live Political Party Live’s podcast interview at The Mill Sunday. The former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who also served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, is still slowly building his campaign and working on expanding his name recognition.

“I’m comfortable not being a front-runner right now,” Castro told PPL hosts Stacey Walker, Simeon Talley and guest host Lilián Sánchez, as well as the capacity crowd at The Mill. “I wasn’t born a front-runner, I didn’t grow up on the West Side of San Antonio as a front-runner.”

But Castro, and his identical twin brother Joaquin — who represents San Antonio in Congress — did grow up in a very politically aware household. They were raised by their grandmother, who came to the United States from Mexico as an orphan at the age of 7, and their mother, a well-known Chicano civil rights activist.

Rosie Castro played an important role in helping to remove barriers that shut the city’s Latino majority out of elective office.

“A lot of people grow up with a cynical attitude toward democratic participation,” Castro told Little Village in an interview before his PPL appearance. “Of course, growing up, I was skeptical, maybe sometimes cynical as well. More than anything else what I took from my mom was that you should get out and participate. And that you couldn’t just sit on the sidelines.”

As kids, the twin brothers spent many hours at political functions. Their mother was effective and active enough in her pursuits to achieve a distinction shared by many political activists of ’60s and ’70s: the FBI started monitoring her.

“It was a fascinating and wonderful way to grow up in politics,” Castro said. “And I’m forever grateful for my mom for standing up the way that she did for people who needed a voice, and I’m convinced that if I hadn’t grown up in that household that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into politics.”

But entering politics wasn’t an automatic decision for Castro and his brother. They attended Stanford, and then Harvard Law School. After graduating, they had many options.

“I got into politics partly because I had a chip on my shoulder about my hometown,” Castro said. “When I went away from my hometown, what I saw was that not a lot of people from that community got to Stanford or Harvard, and I wanted to go back and make sure that more people could have that opportunity that I’d had.”

Julián Castro speaking on Political Party Live, as Stacey Walker (left) and Simeon Talley look on. April 14, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

At 26 years old, Castro became the youngest person ever elected to the San Antonio City Council. Within a year, he faced the first major choice of his political career.

City council members were paid $20 per meeting, so members either had other jobs or were already retired. Castro had been hired out of law school by a major law firm, Akin Gump.

I continued to work at the law firm, until the law firm got a client that wanted the city council to approve a land deal. And the land deal was to build a golf course over the city’s water supply … I had concerns that their environmental plan wasn’t strong enough, and so it could compromise the integrity of the [city’s] drinking water.

I wanted to vote against it. My constituents very much wanted me to vote against it. But under the professional rules of conduct for lawyers in Texas, you can’t go against the interests of a client. So, I had a conflict. And I had to make a choice between doing what I felt was the right thing and representing the people that I was elected to represent, or essentially shutting up and taking my $100,000 a year. I just quit my job.

It wasn’t a cost-free choice, Castro explained. He fell behind in payments on his home, and faced foreclosure.

“I picked myself back up little by little,” Castro said. “I had my law degree, so I was fine.”

Looking back on the decision to quit his job, Castro said, “To me, it was important to do that, because one of the worries that I had before I ever got into politics was that it was somehow corrupting. That you have to play this game with people who often get their way — powerful interests, whatever they are — and I was glad that I was able to stand up and do the right thing.”

Castro went on to be elected mayor twice, and in 2014 became the youngest member of President Obama’s cabinet, managing HUD, a department with a budget of $48 billion and 8,000 employees.

As he demonstrated in the speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Castro is still willing to take a bold stand. Traditionally, candidates speak about law enforcement officers using either circumspect or flattering language. In his Jan. 12 speech in San Antonio, Castro said we must “reform and reimagine our justice system,” calling people of color killed by the police, such as Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, “victims of state violence.”

It’s an accurate description, but an unusually blunt one for a political candidate.

“I referred to it as ‘state violence,’ because at what point do we acknowledge that it’s not just a few people?” Castro told Little Village. “That we have this problem in our police departments across the country?”

Castro said, as president, he would return to Obama-era policies on 21st century policing that the Trump administration has abandoned. He said we also need to “look at how we train officers, how we recruit officers. One of the things that I believe in is, let’s recruit more officers from those neighborhoods they are going to be policing.”

Castro would also bring back and build on Obama-era housing policies. Unsurprisingly, the former secretary of housing is making affordable housing a major issue of his campaign. He favors renewed federal investment in affordable housing programs and said he wants to “find other creative ways to generate revenue to create a more affordable housing supply.”

Julián Castro signed autographs and took selfies with audience members after ‘Political Party Live’ at The Mill in Iowa, April 14, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“On top of that, I think we need to do a better job of connecting the dots,” Castro added. “And by that I mean, the link between housing and health, and housing and education, and housing and transportation. The Obama administration began to do this in a meaningful way. I would supercharge that effort.”

He would also make sure various federal agencies “figure out how they can align their mission to holistically improve the quality of life by housing, education, transportation, infrastructure, public health and so forth.”

Castro discussed other major issues with the hosts of PPL. Proudly describing himself as progressive, he said he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 a hour, establishing a universal pre-K education program (as mayor, Castro oversaw a major expansion of pre-K for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds) and Medicare-for-all.

Earlier this month, Castro outlined an extensive plan for immigration reform in a post on Medium. He would treat unauthorized crossings at the border as civil offenses, instead of criminal ones — that was the law prior to the George W. Bush administration. Castro would also increase the budget of the immigration judicial system to clear the backlog of cases in the system. But the most far-reaching part of the plan is what Castro calls “a 21st century Marshall Plan for Central America.”

Castro wants the United States to enter into partnerships with Central American countries, providing support for economic development “so people can find safety and opportunity there in their home countries, instead of having to come to the United States and present themselves at the southern border.”

PPL co-host Simeon Talley asked Castro how proposing sweeping changes the immigration system in an effort to make it more humane might affect Castro’s chances in the 2020 general election, if he wins the nomination.

“How do we reframe this discussion?” Talley asked. “It’s an issue that [Trump] won on in 2016. How do we win on immigration?”

“I don’t think we can be afraid of Donald Trump on this issue,” Castro said. “I don’t think that we can back up and think that we’re just going to go around the edges.”

Interview with Julián Castro at The Mill

Before his appearance on the Political Party Live podcast, 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro sat down for an interview with Little Village. The former HUD secretary talked about growing up in San Antonio with a political activist mother, his first major challenge as an elected official and his plans for America.Full story:

Posted by Little Village Mag on Wednesday, April 17, 2019

“We have to, of course, make sure people understand that we have a border that’s secure, and that we’re always going to make sure that the border is secure,” he said. “Every country in the world has a right to be concerned about its border. But also make clear that we can do this in different way, one that is respectful of human beings.”

Guest co-host Lilián Sánchez — who was student body vice president when she was a student at the University of Iowa, and is now the executive assistant to Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand — pointed out another way that Castro is different. He is the first presidential candidate to have an accent in his name.

“I did that because that’s how I’ve spelled my name, with that accent,” Castro said. “So, I wasn’t going to take it off all of a sudden.”

Castro said that, in the course of his campaign, he’s found people want that sort of authenticity.

“I represent a new generation of leadership,” the 44-year-old Castro told the audience at The Mill. “I believe people are ready for a new generation of leadership.”

Editor’s note: Little Village was a media partner for the March 15, 2019 ‘Political Party Live’ podcast.

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