Monday, May 27, 2024 May 27, 2024
95° F Dallas, TX

Is Rafael Anchia the Hispanic Obama?

State Representative Rafael Anchia could be governor of Texas within 10 years. If he’s not a U.S. senator by then. Or running for president. Which path, if any, will he choose?
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Rafael Anchia has only been in his new Victory Park high-rise office for a few weeks, but the few items he’s unpacked already suggest a man at a crossroads.

Although sparsely decorated, the shelves above his computer hold pictures of his family: his stunning wife, Marissa, and beautiful daughters Sofia, 4, and Maia, 2. Beside them sit more unusual curios—a long xistera, the wicker basket attached to the hand in the game jai alai, and, next to it, a handmade jai alai ball, or pelota. It was made by his father, Julio, a former professional jai alai player from Spain who came to Miami at 19 to find love, fame, and fortune. He found only the first, Anchia’s mother, Edurne, born in Mexico City but of Basque heritage herself. When his father’s playing days ended, he made pelotas to pay the bills. Anchia takes it from its place on the shelf and proudly hands it to me to inspect. “A work of art,” he says, beaming.

When he leans forward, though, the political yang to his familial yin becomes apparent. Behind him, sitting on the sill of his floor-to-ceiling office window, waiting to be hung, are a number of framed awards, posters, and memorabilia. One is a large Barack Obama poster with the word “hope” running along its base. Next to that is the front page of El Pais, the largest newspaper in Spain. The headline, Es la hora del “Obama hispano,” says it’s time for the Hispanic Obama. That would be Anchia, pictured on the floor of the Texas House, smiling as he lowers his jacket to reveal a basketball jersey underneath his suit, his surname stitched from shoulder to shoulder.

“It’s nice, huh?” Anchia says. He hands to me the framed article and shakes his head. “It says ‘the Hispanic Obama.’ ” He rolls his eyes. “It’s flattering, but not true, you know? I’m just trying to be a good representative for my district. I’m not interested in anything beyond that right now.”

You wouldn’t think his ambitions are that modest from the article, the sub-head of which says Anchia “leads the electoral roll of Latinos in Texas.” Nor from the press he’s been given by Texas Monthly, which has in turn named him the Lege’s “rookie of the year” in 2005 and one of its 10 best legislators in 2007. His next run for office has been the subject of much media speculation: perhaps mayor of Dallas, or Kay Bailey Hutchison’s U.S. Senate seat. TexMo proclaimed he could be the state’s first Hispanic governor by 2018. “If the Legislature were a stock market, Rafael Anchia would be Google,” the magazine wrote. “Recommendation: Buy.”

Anchia, though, isn’t buying. Despite pressures from within the state and other young Hispanic politicians around the country, he swears he is not on a fast-track plan to emulate his political hero, Obama. Over months of interviews, Anchia’s stance never wavers, on record or off. Despite the headlines, now is not the time for Rafael Anchia to follow the Obama playbook (statewide office, U.S. Senate, national stage).

“My goal is to stay in the House,” he says before running to meet with Dallas city staffers on behalf of a day-job client (Anchia is a corporate finance lawyer for Haynes and Boone). “I love what I do. If I didn’t, I would just stay home and practice law. But I love going to battle for the folks I represent. I plan on running for a fourth term in 2010.”

He leans back in his chair and looks toward the window, as if addressing the Next Job, which he knows exists somewhere, out there, some day. “There will be opportunities, sure. In Texas. In Washington.” He swivels in his chair and points to the family photographs and smiles. “But I’m not looking to leave right now.”

Few political watchers believe him. Yes, they believe he’s sincere in his desire to avoid the consuming grind of national politics at the next level. He’s not one of them, the smooth-talking careerist politicians who trot out the term “family” only when convenient (e.g., as a place of refuge to avoid scandal). And he’s not worried—well, not too worried, anyway—that by discussing higher office he’ll seem as though he regards his current position as unimportant, doing time in the minors before the inevitable call-up to The Show. They just don’t think he’ll have a choice. “Put it this way,” says a Republican legislator who works on a committee with him, and therefore didn’t want to be named, “the Texas Dems, other Hispanic politicians, his friends, they’re not going to start giving him less pressure to run for [U.S.] Senate or whatever. A lot of people are already fitting Rafael for his next suit, as it were. He just has to make sure he doesn’t bite off more than he can chew.”

He knows all this, of course, which is why he hates to talk about it. Because there’s nothing to talk about. Nothing is imminent. And yet, because that is true, it only makes the speculation worse. Because everything is possible.

So he’ll run down the list, the reason why he’s going nowhere anytime soon. He loves being a state rep. He doesn’t want more strains on a young family. He has a thriving law practice. But he also knows he can’t forever ignore the expectations placed on him by those within the party who see him as one of the most electable Democrats, let alone Hispanics, in state- or nationwide races in recent Texas history. “Look, it’s pretty simple,” says Los Angeles City Council member Eric Garcetti, who works with Anchia in a nationwide group of up-and-coming young Democrats. “He’s a rising star. He’s smooth, he’s smart, but not at all arrogant. He’s got a little superstar in him, you know? He can go as far as he wants.”

This sort of heady talk can make anyone start believing his own press clippings. But a few things keep him grounded and will make any upcoming run for higher-profile office a tough sell: his strong-willed wife, Marissa, his impeccable sense of timing, and the story behind that basketball jersey he wore on the floor of the Texas House.