How could the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s oldest Latino civil rights organization, have actually supported President Trump’s anti-immigration policies? We had an old establishment that became a little too corporate, a little too static, and the membership said no. That’s where the emphasis for my candidacy came from. People wanted change.
What’s your plan for changing people’s impression of the organization? We’re going to be on the front lines of the civil rights battles, wherever they may be. We were in O’Neill, Nebraska, population 3,000, this last weekend after an ICE raid, helping the families that were impacted with legal counsel, buying diapers and food for the families that were left without a wage earner.
How does a national organization like LULAC help out local grassroots outfits like Dallas’ Latino Center for Leadership Development? We have a $55 million annual budget, and we have resources. We are the largest Latino organization in the United States. We can provide resources, whether that’s mentoring, training, or travel to these organizations to help them grow, develop, and create the new generation of leaders.
What do you think of Lupe Valdez’s chances? Texas is on the cusp of turning purple. It’s all a matter of turnout. LULAC is not partisan, but I think if we are able to turn out Latino voters at the same rate they do in Nevada and California, you will see a dramatic sea change in the politics of Texas.
It seems that the city of Dallas is finally going to create some sort of commemoration for Santos Rodriguez, the 12-year-old boy who was killed in 1973 by a cop playing Russian roulette. What sort of memorial would you like to see? I think it’s high time that we name a park or a street after Santos. He was my neighbor. I still help his mother on a monthly basis. It’s an important part of Dallas’ history. It transformed my life. It had a big impact on my life as a 14-year-old boy.
A number of years ago, Texas Monthly called you “a one-man leper colony.” Do you hold a grudge against them? I wear that as a badge of honor. They called me that because I was running Latino candidates in the ’90s against incumbent Anglo candidates, primarily Republicans, and that antagonized my fellow colleagues because I had the gall to think that Latino candidates could run for state rep or state senator or city council, and that it was OK for them to run against incumbents.
In 1989, there was a protest at City Hall, and you got a city council member so angry that he jumped up in the audience and punched you. Do you still have that same rabble-rouser in you? That was Al Gonzalez. He swung at me; I put my head back. I’m a former Golden Gloves boxer. He didn’t punch me. But, look, I think it’s important that we have people who are willing to take on the establishment, speak truth to power, and get changes done for those at the bottom, those who are struggling to achieve the American dream. And that’s where I come from.
As a former Dallas city council member, did it surprise you to learn that Dwaine Caraway was on the take? No. The fact of the matter is, pay to play is a problem with City Hall politics, but also really at all levels of American government. It’s something that we really need to clean up across the board.
Something like 27 people are going to run for mayor of Dallas. Will you here officially state that you aren’t running? Neither me nor my wife are running for mayor. She’s the one that’s been asked to run, actually.
Your wife, Elba, is a Dallas County commissioner. She’s also a dentist. So as far as political power couples in Dallas go, would you say that the two of you have the best teeth? [laughs] Probably she does. I wouldn’t say that I do.