SAN DIEGO — In the Latino community, being a public figure makes you public property.
This is especially true in the case of a Mexican-American political star who has been invited to meetings at the White House, appeared at events with former presidents, delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic convention, signed a deal to write his memoir, and been talked about as possibly the first Latino president.
When you’re Julian Castro, big dreams and high expectations come with the territory.
So does unsolicited advice.
It seems just about every Latino in the country has an opinion about whether the 39-year-old mayor of San Antonio should become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Castro is either making a shrewd career move or damaging his political future.
I can’t make up my mind. I’ve known Castro for some time, and usually, I’m excited when a friend gets a new job. Now I have mixed feelings. It seems the same is true for other Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, many of whom are emotionally invested in Castro.
In one camp, there are those who see this as a promotion to the national stage, putting a possible vice presidential candidate in a role where he’ll be traveling the country and catching the attention of Hillary Clinton or whoever turns out to be the 2016 Democratic nominee.
In an interview with CNN, Henry Cisneros – himself a former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary, and one of Castro’s mentors – suggested that moving to Washington could make it easier for his protege to jump onto a presidential ticket and “grow into a national-caliber talent.”
Besides, in politics the novelty wears off. Soon, voters are looking at you with cynicism or even contempt.
“He can’t stay a mayor forever without getting dinged,” Cisneros said.
True. If you’re an elected official, and you want to keep your record clean and your image pristine, you should not linger too long in the rough and tumble of big city government. In that sandbox, you make enemies and attract critics.
Castro could have run for re-election next year and won another two-year term. Completing it would have put him out of office in June 2017. By then, many opportunities would have passed him by. Despite the hype by East Coast media about how a pair of Democrats – gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant gubernatorial hopeful Leticia Van de Putte – are turning Texas blue, polls show both of them are likely to lose. Were Castro to stay in Texas, his political days could be numbered.
Yet, there is another line of thought. There, the argument goes, joining the Cabinet means spending most of your time in Washington, far away from the everyday concerns of most Americans. Castro could soon find himself unable to relate to voters back home in Texas, which would make it more difficult to restart a political career once his stint at HUD is over.
Also, for some Castro supporters, getting from the Cabinet to a national ticket still seems like a long and uncertain path. The national political arena doesn’t just make careers. It breaks them.
Finally, serving in the Cabinet means defending the president who put you there, and Barack Obama’s relationship with Latinos is sketchy due to a record number of deportations of illegal immigrants. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, since the 2012 election, Obama’s approval rating with Latinos has dropped from 73 percent to 54 percent. The poll also found that, if deportations continue at the current rate, a significant share of Hispanics – 34 percent – would blame Obama and Democrats.
Last month, at an event at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Castro declared himself “not comfortable with the number of deportations” and expressed hope that Obama would use his executive authority to slow the pace of removals – something that the president has refused to do. If Castro enters the Cabinet, the days of voicing such public criticism of this administration are over. Even so, you can expect the angry protests by immigrant activists to continue.
My Mexican grandfather used to say, “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres” (Tell me whom you associate with, and I’ll tell you who you are).
As Castro deepens his association with Obama, where will that leave his Latino supporters? Answer: With what I have now – mixed feelings.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at [email protected]