Don't Forget The Other Castro Brother
It's a given that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, tapped by President Obama for the same Democratic National Convention keynote slot that rocketed him to prominence in 2004, will command attention Tuesday (and likely many days after). But don't forget about the man who comes before him tonight: Twin brother Joaquin Castro, the Democratic nominee in Texas's 20th Congressional District, is in line to make a faster impact on Washington, D.C. The House Democratic caucus badly needs young stars, and the younger Castro brother -- by about a minute -- has all the tools to become one.
Though Joaquin will be on-stage for just a few minutes before ceding the spotlight, the American Dream-themed speech that Julian will deliver applies equally to Joaquin's life and his political narrative. The same things that made Julian an attractive pitch-man for Obama would make Joaquin an effective advocate for House Democrats. He already couches his core political argument in more dynamic terms than many Washington Democrats.
"I believe in infrastructure of opportunity," Castro said in an interview with Hotline on Call, citing education, health care and well-paying jobs as the pillars of the country. They are the issues he focused on in the Texas legislature, and they played the biggest role in his family's evolution, in a few generations, from Mexican immigrants to national political figures. "All of these things make up the infrastructure of opportunity that has made this country special and distinguished us from other nations of the world," Castro continued. "We can't afford to lose that competitive advantage."
Joaquin Castro has spent 10 years in the minority in the Texas state House, a sometimes frustrating experience that came with a silver lining. "You learn, almost in a Darwinian way, how to be effective without using sheer force of numbers," Castro said. That includes the ability to work with Republicans. The state House version of Texas's 2011 budget, written by Republicans and including sharp spending cuts, included four Democratic amendments to restore funding to certain programs; two were Castros. But Castro was also the Democratic floor leader this session, responsible for whipping the caucus against a raft of legislation emanating from the Republican majority in 2011.
Castro adopted an old-school political identity as a legislator, learning how to split the difference between dealmaker and partisan. "Sometimes he fights, sometimes he negotiates," state House Democratic leader Jessica Farrar said. "Then he might go back to the fight. I think he knows what battles to pick, and he knows what he can win and what he can walk away from."
That has earned him criticism from both sides at times. Last year, when it looked like he might end up challenging liberal Rep. Lloyd Doggett for a congressional seat, some Doggett supporters charged that Castro was too willing to compromise. For the most part, though, Castro draws support across the Democratic spectrum. "I think that he is a good Democrat, whatever label you want to put on him," Farrar said. "The most important part is he represented his district, he was a good fit there."
Castro comes pre-equipped with other political tools, too. "He's a really prolific fundraiser. Among our top donors among our caucus members," said Farrar. As Obama's July stop there demonstrates, San Antonio can be lucrative fundraising territory for Democrats, and having the family go national tonight will only help Castro in an area that could benefit him in the House down the line. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already named him a "Majority Maker," a candidate responsible for fundraising and donating on behalf of candidates in tougher races. Colleagues remember and reward such assistance; it helped Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy climb to top Republican leadership posts within a few terms of joining the House.
Castro is under no illusions about what the transition from state legislative leader to House freshman will entail. "I come in under no illusions," Castro said. "I know I'll be in the broom closet for a while as a freshman and sophomore and so on." Castro's modest initial goal in Congress sounds much like his goal for the Democratic convention: "I'm going to make friendships and learn from the people there, and get better as a legislator."
Talk of Joaquin's political potential has taken a backseat while reporters ponder Julian Castro's future after his convention keynote. But Joaquin could become an important figure among House Democrats, who have an aging leadership and a dearth of young stars. "The age, the qualifications, the relationships in Texas, the fact that two of them cover more ground," Farrar said. "The world's his oyster."