In what’s become a muscle-flexing week for the Democratic Party in Bexar County, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro took center stage Wednesday, delivering a keynote address at the Congressional Luncheon hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Castro updated attending officials and businesses leaders on citywide issues like transportation and cybersecurity, as well as his initiatives to improve public safety. Castro leads the 20th Congressional District, which includes Bexar County. He also serves on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.
Castro and twin brother Julián, the former San Antonio mayor and current Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, have stayed close to their San Antonio roots. Both have major political appearances here this week. Julián is widely considered to be a leading candidate as vice presidential running mate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she wins the party’s nomination.
It’s no coincidence that Clinton is kicking off her national Latinos for Hillary campaign on stage with Secretary Castro at Sunset Station on the city’s near-Eastside on Thursday. The initiative is expected to be an important measure of Latino voter registration and voting, which has has fallen off in recent years.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum now,” Joaquín said Wednesday. “My brother, during his time as mayor, often called this a ‘city on the rise.’ His goal in everything he did was to build that infrastructure of opportunity in San Antonio. Our local leaders must do everything they can to keep their foot on the gas and keep San Antonio moving forward.”
CityView Chairman and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros praised Joaquin as a key political leader and important asset to San Antonio.
“A big part of that is politics, because that’s the way we do our business in the United States, someone has to be the mediator and bring people together,” said Cisneros, who also serves as the chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. “Congressman Castro is the kind of person who already comes in the Presidential milieu and the national dialogue.”
Joaquín has pushed to eliminate partisanship in Congress, Cisneros said, and sees an opportunity for bipartisanship in the upcoming election for House Speaker. Cisneros said Texas House Speaker Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) is an example of effective bipartisan leadership in the Texas Legislature.
“Democrats have an opportunity to leverage their numbers in the Congress and extend a hand and reach across the aisle and work with Republicans,” Cisneros said. “A Republican who is willing to put partisanship aside, who is not scared to go to a primary and say they’ve worked with Democrats to capture that big middle in the United States Congress and actually do something more than what has been done in the last few years.”
The last two sessions in the U.S. Congress have been the least productive in American history, reporting the fewest number of passed bills than any other session. Joaquin remained positive about bipartisanship in the House, referencing a successful discharge petition last week, where 40 Republicans and 190 Democrats voted to push the item for a vote. The last successful discharge petition was in 2002.
Joaquín discussed several pending issues facing the San Antonio community, including the U.S. Export-Import Bank charter, which lapsed in July. Castro argued that if the charter is not renewed, tens of thousands of jobs would be at stake and affect San Antonio companies like Caterpillar and Boeing.
Funding for state and citywide transportation projects has become piecemeal and short-term over the years, he said. State lawmakers are now searching for long-term funding solutions, rather than depending on the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.
“It’s a very inefficient way of doing things,” he said. “It’s affected our local and state ability to fund future transportation projects. In a state like Texas, where we’re getting thousands and thousands of people every year, and we only expect that trend to continue.”
Texas gained four Congressional seats during the last redistricting session, and state officials expect to gain three more seats in the next round. Joaquín hopes that San Antonio will look to new forms of transportation like high-speed rails, similar to the bullet train project that will connect Houston to Dallas.
“When you hear that transportation funding is held up because Congress can’t agree on a bill, Texas, of all states in the nation, is affected the most,” he said. “Fortunately, on the horizon there may be a compromise for a six year bill, rather than a three-year bill. I’m hopeful in the next few weeks that Congress will get that done.”
Audience members cheered when he mentioned San Antonio’s role in national cybersecurity, citing UTSA as a major force in cyber research and defense.
“Cybersecurity is only going to gain importance and prominence as an issue. San Antonio is a gem for cybersecurity – outside of Washington D.C., this is the second most important city in the country for cyber.”
Joaquin mentioned several other initiatives, including an expansion of STEM education programs, free Pre-K programs throughout the nation, and much-needed funding to replace San Antonio’s aging federal courthouse.
“You need strong leadership in the city to make sure everyone in the country understands that San Antonio is doing incredible things,” Castro said, before breaking into a Q&A session with the audience. “I look forward to coming here in the coming months and working with everybody here in San Antonio.”
*Top image: U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro walks up the stairs to his speaking engagement with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Scott Ball.