After their formal business finished earlier Friday, thousands of Texas Democratic Convention delegates and guests streamed into the west end of the Alamodome to listen to the state’s leading officeholders and party leaders speak.
Some speakers were more fiery than others, especially when they turned their attention to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“What do you think of that guy? He wouldn’t know greatness if it hit him on the ass,” State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-119) said, making light of Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
The San Antonio state lawmaker said individuals of all races, ethnicities and religions have contributed to the “greatness of America.”
“America never stopped being great, whether it was women’s suffrage or civil rights,” said Gutierrez. “America’s greatness will not be defined by that fool. It won’t be defined by a tyrant, a demagogue. I won’t say his name.”
State Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-20), who also served as convention chairman, drew standing ovations before and after he spoke.
Castro expressed love for his native state, but joked he is jealous of states where Democrats hold high statewide offices.
“When I visit New York or California…I wish I could trade, say, Ted Cruz for Elizabeth Warren, or Greg Abbott for Jerry Brown,” Castro said.
Joaquín targeted Trump for casting aspersions on Mexican immigrants who have come to the United States, offering the story of his own family’s arrival here two generations earlier.
“My grandmother came from Coahuila, Mexico. She was neither a murderer or a rapist,” he said.
Joaquín was equally tough on the state’s top Republican officeholders, calling the current leadership “corrupt,” and saying they mislead Texans with ideological distractions in lieu of governance.
“Today the Republican majority is hurting Texas, they’re hurting our economy, neglecting our schools, bilking taxpayers,” he said. “We stand for values that Texans actually care about. They want to tell you how scary the border is. They tell you there’s no money for anything. They offer prayers after a mass shooting, but no action.”
His twin brother Julián Castro, Housing and Urban Development secretary, received his own standing ovations. He was introduced by the party’s 2014 gubernatorial candidate and former state Sen. Wendy Davis.
Julián echoed his brother and spoke of how his parents worked hard to make a better life for their children. His family, Julián said, contributed to the quality growth of the country.
“As Democrats, we know when we invest in opportunity, we create prosperity,” said the former San Antonio mayor. “When you include those who’ve been excluded, you make the biggest difference. When you stand up for what’s right, you knock down injustice.”
Julián accused Trump of dividing people for political gain and only caring about himself.
“He believes an American-born judge can’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the country,” he said. “He’s mocked the disabled, scoffed at POWs. A good commander-in-chief strengthens alliances and promotes peace around the world.”
Julián called Trump “temperamentally unfit” for the presidency.
“The good news is you can do something about it,” Castro said, reiterating his brother’s criticisms of the state’s current Republican leadership. “Here in Texas you’ve had a front-row seat to how bad Republican policies and shortsighted politicians have limited the dreams of so many.”
Julián praised the Obama administration and said he looks forward to seeing Hillary Clinton become the nation’s first woman president. Noting her early career with the Children’s Defense Fund, he said, “Hillary has a passion for wanting families to succeed. She knows how to get the job done.”
Julián, of course, is on most Democratic Party watchers’ list of potential vice presidential running mates.
State Sen. Jose Menéndez (D-26) said the mass killing of 49 individuals, most of them gay Hispanics, by a lone gunman in an Orlando nightclub one week ago proves that “the march to equality is not over.”
He stressed a need for all Democrats to hold dear core party values, such as universal access to affordable health care, adequately funded public education, better veterans services , women’s health care rights, social tolerance, and equal pay for women.
State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-19) took issue with Trump’s talk of building a border wall, saying the Democratic Party builds “bridges” of inclusion and opportunity for all people.
“Build bridges of ideology, compassion, inclusion and unity,” Uresti said. “This is perhaps the most important presidential election in American history. Each victory is an important step toward turning our state blue.”
Uresti was one of a few speakers who offered words of praise for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters for spotlighting issues that progressives feel have been largely ignored by party leaders.
“I love Bernie Sanders because he talked about the bread and butter issues,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-141).
“(Sanders) has energized the electorate,” said state Rep. Filemon Vela (D-34), who recently sent an open letter to Trump inviting him to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”
Vela did not apologize or back down from his criticism of Trump in his remarks Friday, saying people should be judged by their character rather than their heritage. Still, some of the Democratic campaign rhetoric has grown markedly more coarse in response to Trump’s inflammatory comments that many within his own party regard as bigoted and racist, prompting some Democrats to fire back with their own personal insults.
“You can take your racism, your bigotry and your wall and shove it,” Vela said of Trump.
Other local elected leaders spoke briefly Friday night. State Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-124) said Democrats must ensure that all eligible family members register to vote and go to the polls.
“That’s the key to growing our party. That’s the key to growing our families. That’s the key to change,” she said.
State Rep. Justin Rodríguez (D-125) said Democrats promote policies practical to families, and not ideologically driven wedge issues.
“There’s non-sensical rhetoric where Republicans rail about bathrooms in schools instead of classrooms in schools,” he said.
State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), a former San Antonio City Council member, said it’s incredible for a man like Trump to run for the highest office in the land. He paraphrased a line uttered by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to make the point that Trump embodies the type of individuals America has fought to relegate to its past.
“The man running for president judges people on the color of their skin, not the content of their character,” he said.
Bernal said the state Democratic convention was not meant to be an anti-Trump rally as much as a platform for Democrats to reaffirm their values — helping all people by promoting such things as access to the ballot box, an empowering economy, quality public education, and a fairer justice system.
“There are terms for people who believe in these things…liberal, left, progressive, but what we mean is Democrat,” he added.
The keynote speeches included brief tributes to those who died in the Orlando mass shooting, the Charleston, S.C. churchgoers who were gunned down one year ago, and Sandra Bland, the African-American motorist who died in jail after being pulled over by police in East Texas.
The convention resumes Saturday with even more speeches and completion of the party’s state platform.
This story version corrects a previous version that contained Rep. Bernal’s comments, some of which were out of context. We apologize for the error.
Top image: Texas Democratic Convention Chair and U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro gathers House and Senate members to stand together in protest of Donald Trump. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.