Ep. 133 - Julián Castro

Update: 2017-03-27


Julián Castro, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, talks with David Axelrod about why Housing and Urban Development programs are important to rural and urban communities and should be preserved; Donald Trump's strained relationship with the Latino community; the lessons Democrats can learn from 2016; and whether he plans to run for office again.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

and the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod the the young mayor of San Antonio Leon Castro was a fiend almond politics with a compelling personal story he became known nationally we delivered the keynote speech at the two thousand and twelve Democratic convention and then he was a cabinet member under President Obama and emerged as one of the contenders for vice president on the ticket with Hillary Clinton in two thousand and sixteen a few days after he left office had a chance to sit down with Secretary Castro to talk about his experiences and where American politics going in the next few years so the references you'll hear will reflect where politics was an early February recorded this conversation but most of his observations are very relevant right now the Julian Castro welcome you to to the X Files but also back to the Institute of Politics where you've been on the board and where your brother serves on the board now we appreciate that thank you it's great to be here so you guys serve you guys are unique in that your identical twins and have made this big impact in politics but you sort of couldn't help it it seems like given the way that you were raised chuckled about that yet first thanks for having me it's great to be here and can brats on the way that you built up this Institute of Politics in such a short time yeah yeah so my brother walking and I are twins were born one minute apart I am older than he is he says um as I got to be married but I jumped into politics before he did his running joke is that the minute uglier than he is used in DC I used to tell people that the waiter tells part was that on the Castro in Washington with a real job since he's in Congress these days he says that he's the Castro with the job I might employ but yeah we grew up with with the mother especially our mom that was very very active in politics she never held office herself but she was involved in the ll take on a movement of the late nineteen sixties and seventies she ran for City Council to talk about talk about her life she She was born in San Antonio she had grown up with her mom been raised by my grandmother as a single parent my grandmother had come from Mexico when she was about six years old and she came because sister had been orphaned her parents had passed away in Mexico and the nearest relatives that could take the men were in San Antonio so they came through Eagle Pass Texas in nineteen twenty two and my grandmother ended up with this extended family they pulled her out of school to help with the housework when she was in third or fourth grade so she never finished or even elementary school she ended up learning she could speak both English and Spanish and she raised my mom as a single parent my mother didn't have much interaction with her dad when she was growing up and my my grandmother worked as a maid a cook at a babysitter for her whole life that's what she did and she was not very political soul my mother was basically a child of of the sixties this hell raiser who graduated from High School in nineteen sixty five she went to Catholic school for all of those thirteen years starting in kindergarten and then went to a Catholic university and got involved in the Young Democrats and then got involved in the Chicano movement in the raw salmon tied to San Antonio at that time was a town that was going through a lot of political turmoil because you had a large Latino population but not represented in the politics of the city no doubt no doubt there was this tension in the city you had a groundbreaking congressman named Henry Gonzales that I think was one of the We the First or Second Mexican American congressman elected and obviously taxes being the state that it was at the time you had limited opportunities just like you did and much of the rest the United States for four Mexican Americans and Latinos in general one my grandmother was growing up you could walk across store fronts than I've seen the signs that said No Mexicans are dogs allowed and of course by the time my mother grew up it was better there was some progress that had been made but you still had a very high dropout rate you had under investment in primarily Latino and African American neighborhoods in San Antonio so the prospects for young people my mother's age who were Latina or Latino was not what it could be and there was a real frustration with Dad and I think it got tied up completely also backed it into the antiwar movement in the general activism that was going on and that bug bit my mom she ran for City Council which was twenty three incident but not as a Democrat right she ran she challenged me read you well it was nonpartisan back to Nic for city elections but she ran under a slate called the Committee for body or betterment and I still have the poster campaign poster from nineteen seventy one and their slogan was Give government back to the people it was a very grassroots oriented effort really focused on making investments in older neighborhoods in rundown neighborhoods focus on giving more opportunity to everyone on not leaving people out but at that time Senate own you like most big American cities did not have single member districts so i din matter how popular you were in one neighborhood ward one ward or segment EU few could afford run citywide couldn't get support citywide didn't matter and nobody that ran on her slate one there was at least to dominate and let us so they she she actually she did well in one or two the others did well enough that an analysis afterward showed that there had been sick for districts there were one or two districts where she could have won and been elected she was never elected she only ran that one time my brother and I were born three years later in seventy four and you can imagine that we grew up getting dragged to speeches and rallies and organizational meetings she was active in different women's issues she continued to volunteer for campaigns I remember they live so she worked at a couple different nonprofits and then she worked for several years at the City of San Antonio and that the housing authority and she worked one of the community colleges and there was a time also after that period of activism and I'm sure that other folks went through this during that time where I think she was penalized for being as outspoken as she was and taking on the establishment in that area you know who are lot of people you see this even today in different contexts if you rock the boat too much and you may not be the first candidate for a job at a company or somewhere else that wants a safe bet and and I think that that she suffered from some of that but you know she made it work she and my grandmother because after the age of eight we grew up with with both of them write your dad left home he was a teacher yet he was a teacher he started off early on he had graduated from the public schools there in San Antonio and gotten his bachelor's degree at UT and in the early sixties he graduated he became a math teacher and my mother and father were never married I guess they were common law married because they were together for ten or eleven years but after the age of eight my brother walking and I grew up with my mother my grandmother you remember to have memories of these rallies and events I mean are they yes some of it mostly negative because who in the world wants to go when you're nine years old or ten years old to hear one of the speeches rallies I remember sitting for three hours in this the Main Library in San Antonio wall the adults talked about who knows wad in organizing and I was Israeli now that was part of the reason that I actually did not like politics of you would ask me at fifteen did I think that I would get involved in politics I would've said no way I'd see the point I thought it was boring I just I did not see that for myself huh interesting she did she was instrumental in this or movement that ultimately led to the election of the first Latino mayor of San Antonio Henry Cisneros yet she and other folks were involved with collecting the data and putting the argument together that eventually led to the creation of single member districts in that city and go former mayor Cisneros was first elected to City Council District one in San Antonio and then re elected a couple times eventually nineteen eighty one he became the first Latino mayor of a major American city very inspirational meant a lot for the folks growing up during that time my brother I grew up doing seven you yell when he was elected I would have been six going on seven and I don't remember that election but I remember a few years on and all of the aspirations that were tied into Henry's rise and to this day were friends obviously he eventually served as HUD Secretary Rice served as mayor and then as HUD secretary now and I still see a mentor Yemeni C's been somebody who has offered advice consistently in a good friend through the years and I still call for advice I was on the phone with him a couple weeks ago but when I was growing up there was there was a significance in being able to say you know that Henry is in that position and look he looks like me and if he can do that I can do that and so I think that he had that kind of impact at the time on a lot of us who are growing up in San Antonio but you say your interest in politics came later you went off you and yes interested I read somewhere that you guys I went to night school to get out of high school more quickly we graduated in three years from high school bye bye going to night school and summer school why I it just in their hurry to get the hell out know just people say that high school you know you always hear the high school is the those are the best years of your life that's not true for me and I mean first of all high school I was fairly quiet I'm still not the loudest person out there you're kind of an unlikely politician that's right yeah you know my brothers a little bit more extroverted than I am but he's not that much more extroverted neither one of us is the most boisterous person or more most talkative person but in high school I used to talk to to two or three people during the day and my brother was one of us and so of how social I was so I didn't take the president now I was involved in different things and played sports but but I was and though I wasn't a lie for the party when you're a Jew suan Yee you raised really by a grandmother and your mother so we have that impact I knew growing up in that household that was base notes of a matriarch e have that shape you are I think it was fascinating as a parent I look back on it my mom was very liberal not just interviews but in how she parents ah I remember walking in I A when we were nine years old taking the bus downtown we did have a car at the time we took the bus downtown and watched in the summer of nineteen eighty four we probably watched The karate Kid like six times and other movies and yet she does let us go and we would watch horror movies and eat junk food and she let us stay up pretty much as late as we watch as we wanted to so the basic message here is if you're a parent out there yeah into that now is apparent to my kids however I think that the magic of it was dipped with with our homework another thing she actually somehow I still don't are but she has to to to self discipline and to want to succeed in to do well in school and finish our homework and do the things that you should do without the heavy hand or spanking or your grandmother play a role and she did I mean she was little so I her political views yet but her parrot yeah I know they were just us about growing up with these two women household they gave but at the same time it was a household that was it was very full of respect and a sense that that we had real worth and that you had to make something out of that and also that you should use do something for other people too and so somehow it all worked out the other thing that I think helped was that I was it when I'm convinced I wouldn't be where I'm at if I had had walkie because for those of the folks listening that are twins or you have twins or siblings or twins you know that a very unique relationship and we're each other's best friend growing up we were very competitive and so I think that that competition between us fueled each other to do better both in school and sports ah and I'm not sure that I would have left of my own devices in this house that was very lenient I'm not sure what would happen but have you walking your sort of temper that it did make a difference that you are identical I mean does it create that creates no created a political problem for you once when you get when the hot yet when are my opponent said that we tried to switch with each other yes but and we actually have these twins here in politics in Chicago the Shaw Brothers one was in the Legislature was in the city council and they use to fill in for each other from time to time so it's not unheard of an era in American politics but of but I'm just wondering being a twin being identical twins versus being a twin does that have any particular nuance to it I think that growing up it makes a difference in the sense that you're always compared to each other because you walk through the world walking the same having so many of the same experiences as you grow up that your identity is formed in some ways in comparison and in contrast to your twin brother twin sister and I think that was true with walking in me so you know one of this is the quieter one in one of us is a louder one ah one of us was better at school and one of us was better at sports I was very school but okaay so your identity is probably formed in relation to another person more then somebody out there in the general public to it that is has siblings or as an only child and then you guys went to college together at Stanford yeah you said somewhere spoke a I think moving Lee about the fact that you are the beneficiary of affirmative action of which you know has been an ongoing issue certainly in the state of Texas Jess is for sure it's been an and maybe an issue again now with the reconstituted potentially reconstituted Supreme Court what what should people know about your experience in college at Stanford with affirmative action and yeah well you know a few years ago I was doing in need of interview for The New York Times Magazine and I told the author if you're going have this policy in place then people should be straightforward about the benefits and the disadvantage is and I said No I feel like that affirmative action may have helped me get into Stanford and that my at the time I S A T score was a little bit underneath what I think the median but regulating student the student was going there I think my grades in the other stuff was right up there and did very well but that may have been won one benefit of affirmative action but the part of the story that he did not write about which I told him was that when I took the L sat four years later to get into law school did I score higher than the meticulous and Stanford student that was going to law school and my my point of it was that that policy had helped ensure that for some folks who had gone to schools that had been under invested in and you know you had a headwind that he'd given up gave him a shot to compete with everybody else for the first time on a stage and that in my case when I was able to compete then a few years down the road that I actually had excelled and done better than a lot of folks have done better then than the average and I think that that's the way to tatting should have worked that people are given a chance and then it's up to you to make something of that I know that there's a debate right now is probably about to scream cord and I certainly think that that for my kids for instance that they should not be the beneficiaries of affirmative action program because they're going to have all the benefits in the world right but but I do think that that there was a value in that and as states grapple with the approach they're going to take that they need to be careful to maintain opportunities for folks who have faced headwinds we're going to be right back with Hui and Castro I want to follow up on the affirmative action point you just made because you said something that I've heard Barak Obama say which was which is my kids don't need the benefit of affirmative action they've had all the benefits almost exactly the same words that that you've said so how should these programs be constructed had you because the other half of the affirmative actions this discussion is that it is good for the campus community at large to have a diverse student body so it's not just the interest of the student but the interests of the campus at large so how do you construct these programs in a way that that account for the fact that your kids have of advantages Barack Obama as kids have advantages but there are other kids who don't and also that there are kids in rural Texas for example whose schools are also under financed run under who who face headwinds as well oh and I think that that a couple of things number one it points out that you need you need a process that is nuanced folks say you know we don't want quotas and I think that that's absolutely right that you don't want any kind of quota system that remember the idea supposed to be that all things being equal it when you're when you're trying to select a class and make it diverse because as you noted they think institutions recognize that there's a value especially educational institutions in diversity in the student body reflecting the larger society and so that students themselves can get better prepared for the world that they're going to encounter but any process of affirmative action needs to take into account the headwinds are the challenges that different people have faced it and I think in the years since I went to college one of the things that I have more appreciation of the different ways that people face those challenges if you're somebody that is pour in in these taxes roll East Texas or you're somebody that is growing up with a disability are the folks have these life experiences that create headwinds and I think any process that we put in place that you have in place ought to consider that you know the different ways that people have overcome because that was the idea I think in the first place behind affirmative action I will say though at the same time debt that if you're a young African American growing up right now in in Chicago or Philadelphia that we can't pretend that from the beginning is often much more difficult to get to those same heights like the DAC is it still too often time stacked against folks and so that that I think is a reason to keep some way whether you call it affirmative action or something else some way to offer opportunity to folks who are overcoming challenges and we're overcoming bias and to do it in a way that is respectful and that is nuanced and it also adds to the experience of the students in those universities are you worried that that is not going to be the case on the real change of words is known that that folks will pretend like we've made all the progress in this country that we need to make and as the president said very eloquently when he spoke at the foot of the Edmund Pettis Bridge in twenty fifteen President Obama to present Obama that's right President Obama said when he spoke at the foot of the prospectus bridge at Selma to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of bloody Sunday you can't deny that we made a lot of progress but folks also can't deny that we still have alot to go and so I do think that there's a place for making sure that folks who after overcome these legacy challenges that that they get opportunity let me ask your question this always comes up relative to you and Joaquin given your history and given the nature of San Antonio and so on and given how obviously bright you are I think I read that you study Japanese or something what that Spanish you have it does come up a lot yes so when we were growing up my grandmother spoke Spanish and my mom speaks Spanish decently but mostly around the house they spoke English grandmother would watch her get in all their lives on we see on Earth Telemundo so I grew up hearing Spanish some Spanish but I think my mother had also come from a generation where she was she she was slapped on the wrist with a ruler and her classmates were if they heard you speaking Spanish so she came from a generation that wanted make sure that that her children learn English too and I think that that just became the that we spoke and and so I understand you know people often write about this or they talk about this and they act like walking in I spy if you're not fluent in Spanish that you speak zero I speak some Spanish it decently I'm just not fluent at it so I can get by I'm just not fluent at it but when I went to the vice presidential process every other article or maybe you know eighty percent of them had that in there you know and well Tim Kaine is a fluent Spanish even got the job you know so she had no army to his credit you when you use a human she worked at a law law from you worked at a re celebrated Texas law firm Aiken Gump and Bob Strauss The Who is sort of a legendary figure in American politics and in Texas politics was former chair of the Democratic National Committee was there did you have was he around at the time no in the San Antonio office and it had been a Dallas based firm because the time we got there was really the power base was in Washington D C but he and Vernon Jordan is his group of folks who'd just been you know very big into Democratic politics over the years I was there a little over a year and half and then I laughed because there was an issue where one of the clients had an interest before the City Council they want to develop this golf course over the aquifer recharge zone sanity relies for its drinking water on an underground aquifer they want to put a golf course on the area where that recharge is and I wanted to vote against it but I couldn't do that they were inclined to the firm and so one day in January of two thousand to I just walked into one of the partners offices and told him that I was quitting and I enjoyed my time at the firm and so forth but for me that was it was a very important moment because it was a decision about whether I was going to be honest with myself in public service and maintain my integrity or I was going to keep making the money that was very good at that law firm ah and I was only twenty seven years old think of the time but I had just gotten but how sad I had a car and eventually we started our own law firm and so forth but my house almost went into foreclosure little by little I climbed out of that but I still think about that time and it was worth it yeah that was in the days when conflicts of interest were an issue yeah you know I'll get to him often have a good chuckle about that considering what we're seeing in DC right now um you ran for mayor thirty one years old and you run for mayor has thirty yeah I was trying to become the youngest elected mayor there had been a guy at the age of twenty eight I think in the eighteen hundred it had been appointed mayor but I was trying I was trying to become the youngest elected mayor and there was a guy that I was running against who
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Ep. 133 - Julián Castro

The Axe Files with David Axelrod