Rep. Henry Cuellar (D)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Sept. 19, 1955, Laredo .
Education: Georgetown U., B.S. 1976, U. of TX, J.D. 1981, Ph.D. 1998, TX A&M U., M.A. 1982.
Family: Married (Imelda); 2 children.
Elected office: TX House of Reps., 1986-2000; TX secy. of state, 2001.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1981-2004.
The congressman from the 28th District is Henry Cuellar, a Democrat elected in 2004. Cuellar (KWAY ar) was the oldest of eight children of migrant workers who had only elementary school educations. He graduated from Georgetown University and the University of Texas law school, and he later got a Ph.D. in government from UT. From his base in Laredo, he served in the Texas House from 1986 to 2000, where he helped to author the Texas Grant college-aid program. In 2001, Republican Gov. Rick Perry appointed him secretary of State even though he is a Democrat. Cuellar resigned in 2002 to run against veteran Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla in the old 23rd District. He was helped when Bonilla said he didn’t need Laredo to win. In response, the Webb County Republican chairman endorsed Cuellar. Cuellar attacked Bonilla for his votes against funding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and funding for Pell grants. He also accused Bonilla of being insufficiently Hispanic. Bonilla had the money advantage. Cuellar carried Webb County 84%-15%, but only when the Bexar County votes were counted a few days later was it clear that Bonilla had won 52%-47%.
|Henry Cuellar (D)||123,494||(69%)||($1,181,840)|
|Jim Fish (R)||52,524||(29%)||($7,028)|
|Ross Leone (Lib)||3,722||(2%)|
|Henry Cuellar (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (68%), 2004 (59%)
Redistricting in 2003 strengthened Bonilla in the 23rd District, but it also gave Cuellar an opportunity to run in the 28th against incumbent Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio, who had the most liberal voting record of Texas’s Hispanic Democrats in Congress and was chairman of the Hispanic Caucus. When Cuellar announced he was running, Rodriguez said he had a hard time believing that a friend and former legislative colleague for whom he had raised money in 2002 would run against him. The ambitious Cuellar explained that primary bids like his were a common political occurrence in South Texas. Besides, he told a local reporter, “Nobody died and made him king. . . . Democrats run against Democrats all the time, and that’s what it’s all about.” Rodriguez had little time to get acquainted with the new district, since the March primary took place just five months after passage of the map. He had the support of the Hispanic Caucus in Washington, but that delivered few votes in Texas. Cuellar criticized Rodriguez for voting against the GOP’s 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill. Rodriguez said that Cuellar had sided with Republicans as secretary of State. The initial vote count showed Rodriguez ahead by 145 votes, but Cuellar demanded a recount. When officials in Zapata County, the border county just south of Webb, found 177 additional votes for Cuellar and none for Rodriguez, Cuellar was ahead by 203 votes. After a lawsuit, a second recount, and a state appellate court ruling in July, Cuellar was declared the Democratic nominee by 58 votes out of 49,000 cast. He went on to win in November 59%-39%. Later, in September 2007, the Federal Election Commission fined Cuellar $28,500 for failing to disclose a $200,000 bank loan in his 2004 campaign.
In the House, Cuellar’s voting record is the most conservative of the Hispanic Democrats from Texas, putting him near the center of the House as a whole. He has kept his distance from Democratic leaders, voting for tax cuts and opposing a move to close tax loopholes for energy companies. He likes to tout the Wall Street Journal’s description of him as “a pro-growth member (of Congress) in the John F. Kennedy mold.”
On the Agriculture Committee, he backed the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement, which he called an opportunity for “real transformation and progress” in the region, and he was among the handful of House Democrats who supported the Bush administration’s trade deal with Colombia. He backed sending drug-fighting aid to Mexico but disagreed with Republicans in their call for a fence along the border.
As the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response Subcommittee, Cuellar in July 2008 complained that Bush administration officials continued to “drag their feet” on a plan for national emergency-communications standards. And in early 2009, he sponsored a bill to improve law-enforcement coordination in border communities. He has emphasized a bipartisan approach and has shown a knack for getting legislation passed. With Republican help, he won passage of legislation to create a national gang-intelligence center at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to toughen penalties on sex offenders who break the terms of their release.
In Cuellar’s first re-election bid in 2006, Rodriguez was back to challenge him in the primary, but struggled to match him in fundraising, bringing in $750,000 to Cuellar’s $1.1 million. Cuellar won the endorsement of the national anti-tax group Club for Growth, but it was of little political value in his district. Rodriguez said that Cuellar’s votes in Washington had “sold out” the district. Cuellar said that voters were tired of the usual partisanship. The San Antonio Express-News endorsed Cuellar for his “independent non-partisan mindset” and said that his willingness to place the district ahead of his party was “refreshing.” Cuellar won the primary comfortably this time, 53% to 40%. (With the court-ordered redistricting changes, Rodriguez had another opportunity later in the year, when he ran and won against Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla in the 23rd District.) In 2008, Cuellar easily won re-election.