Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D)
Texas 20th District
San Antonio, with its antique past and Hispanic heritage, its military superstructure and its high-technology hopes, is unlike any other city in the United States. It is the home of the Alamo, preserved by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, where Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and 184 others were killed in 1836. (Crockett was a Tennessee congressman for three terms; if he had not lost his re-election in 1834, he presumably would not have left Tennessee for Texas.) Its Spanish architecture recalls San Antonio’s days as the most important town in Texas, when the state was part of Mexico, and contrasts with the 31-story Tower Life Building, which contrasts with the armadillo-like Alamodome. And its Paseo del Rio, the Riverwalk along the tiny San Antonio River that was redeveloped in the 1970s, also recalls an earlier era. The city includes old neighborhoods that evoke the Germans who were its chief Anglo citizens for many years.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For most of the 20th century, San Antonio’s economy was built on the military. What the locals call “Military City, U.S.A.” remains the home of Lackland Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston and a giant military hospital. In 1995, President Bill Clinton bent the rules of the base-closing process to keep in San Antonio the thousands of jobs at Kelly Air Force Base, a move so resented that Congress blocked new rounds of base closings until 2005. Kelly was finally closed in 2001. In the 2005 base review, Fort Sam’s renowned Brooke Army Medical Center was transformed into a regional military medical center, for a net gain of more than 4,000 jobs in the area. The local health industry, which includes the Texas Health Science Center, has been thriving and is the largest local employer. San Antonio has many military retirees and is the largest tourist center in Texas. The city also is the Union Pacific rail hub.
Since 2000, its population has grown 16%, and San Antonio has surpassed Dallas as Texas’s second-largest city. However, its metropolitan-area population of 2.3 million is only about half the size of metro Houston and one-third the size of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. Its low education and income levels are partially due to the high levels of new immigrants in the city. Yet it has mostly avoided polarized politics and ethnic strife as it has progressed as a low-wage, high-tech center that has some links to, and sometimes competes with, nearby Austin.
The 20th Congressional District of Texas includes most of central San Antonio and its lower-income west side. (Affluent neighborhoods are in the 21st and 23rd districts.) The district is wholly contained within Bexar County. On the west it extends beyond Lackland Air Force Base toward the county line. The district is 70% Hispanic and is one of the state’s seven Hispanic-majority districts. It is Democratic. Republican favorite-son candidate George W. Bush won 45% of the vote here in 2004. Republican presidential nominee John McCain got 36% in 2008.
Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: May 5, 1945, San Antonio .
Home: San Antonio.
Education: U. of TX, B. A. 1969; St. Mary's Law Schl., J.D. 1972..
Family: Divorced; 1 child.
Military career: TX Air Natl. Guard, 1969-75.
Elected office: Judge, San Antonio Municipal Court; Judge, Bexar Cnty. Court at Law, 1983-87; Judge, 57th State Judicial Dist. Court, 1988-97.
Professional Career: Elem. schl. teacher, 1969-71; Practicing atty., 1972-82.
The congressman from the 20th District is Charles Gonzalez, a Democrat first elected in 1998. He is one of eight children of former U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, who held the seat for 37 years. Charles Gonzalez grew up in San Antonio, graduated from the University of Texas and St. Mary’s University School of Law, and served in the Texas Air National Guard. He was an elementary school teacher, practiced law and served as a judge from 1983 to 1997. When his father announced his retirement, Charles Gonzalez was the front-runner for the seat, but the contest was more competitive than many had expected. Gonzalez campaigned as a consensus builder, emphasizing his background in negotiation and compromise. Symbolizing the economic transformation of San Antonio, he said he would work for the entire district, not simply its low-income groups. Taking a feistier tone was Maria Berriozabal, a former San Antonio City Council member, who called for more outspoken leadership. She displayed a picture of Henry Gonzalez in her campaign literature and claimed that she was more in his mold than was his son. Just before the March primary, Henry Gonzalez issued a brief statement endorsing his son, who wound up leading Berriozabal 44%-22%. In the April runoff campaign, he benefited from a fundraising advantage of more than 2-to-1 and mostly ignored his opponent. He won 62%-38% and went on to easily win the general election.
|Charles Gonzalez (D)||127,298||(72%)||($821,805)|
|Robert Litoff (R)||44,585||(25%)|
|Michael Idrogo (Lib)||5,172||(3%)|
|Charles Gonzalez (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (87%), 2004 (65%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (88%), 1998 (63%)
In the House, Gonzalez has a relatively moderate voting record, especially on economic issues. He has a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, and during the committee’s debate on climate-change legislation in 2009, he advocated incentives for the nuclear-power industry. He backed a proposal to require satellite-television operators to end a practice that forced users to have two satellite dishes to receive channels in both English and Spanish. Gonzalez also has called for stiffer penalties on businesses that hire undocumented workers.
As a member of both the Democratic Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus—which his father had refused to join—Gonzalez has been a leading proponent of census sampling, which statistically estimates the number of members in a community for use in redistricting processes and generally increases population totals for immigrant communities. But he opposed Latino activists who wanted to create an additional Hispanic-majority district for Texas in the 2001 redistricting, arguing that because of low voter turnout among Hispanics, such a step would reduce the Democratic majorities in other districts, an argument corroborated by subsequent redistricting in the state. After Democrats gained the majority in the 2006 elections, he led the House Administration Committee review of the contested 2006 result in the 13th District of Florida, in which Democrat Christine Jennings lost by 369 votes; more than 18,000 ballots had not been recorded. The panel unanimously dismissed the case in February 2008, after concluding that voting machines had not malfunctioned.
In 2004, Gonzalez faced his first re-election challenge since taking office, and it had unusual personal overtones. Initially, his ex-wife, Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist, said that she would run against him so that voters would have a choice and he would be “held accountable.” But she failed to get the 500 signatures required to get on the ballot as an independent. In the general election, Gonzalez beat Republican Roger Scott 65%-32%.
Gonzalez was among the few Hispanics in Congress who endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois early in the presidential primaries. He said Obama brought “the wind of change.”