Julian Castro, a rising star out of Texas

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Now that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has been chosen to give the keynote speech at next month’s Democratic National Convention, I wanted to hear what he plans to do with this incredible opportunity.

Castro told me he intends to tell his story along with his family’s story and explain how both are just an extension of something bigger.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro

“The Latino community’s American story is the story of all immigrant groups,” he said. “And there is a lot of celebration there and hope for the future. There’s no question that we’ve made a lot of progress, and we need to see the glass as half full.”

The Democratic National Committee and President Obama’s re-election campaign both want an inspirational speech to remind the base that there is still hope for change. They’re likely to get one from Castro.

Meanwhile, the 35,000 Democratic faithful who cram into the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., will be hungry for partisan red meat, and they’re sure to get that, too.

“I hope to make clear the choice that folks have in front of them in this election,” Castro said, “between continuing to move in the right direction and investing in what it takes to create opportunity for all Americans versus what I see as going backward to what got us these problems in the first place.”

How about that? The official program hasn’t even been printed yet, and the headliner is already on message.

I’ve known Castro for eight years and consider him a close friend. One of our favorite topics of conversation is Latino political empowerment. I asked how his selection as the first Latino to give a keynote speech at the Democratic convention advanced that goal.

“It’s one more indicator of how important the Latino community is to the future of America, not just electorally but in every sense, economically, socially,” he said. “It’s one more reminder of how important the Latino community is to the United States, and how seriously President Obama takes it.”

Castro is one of the co-chairs of the Obama re-election campaign, and we’re likely to see him on the stump with the president this fall. And so I asked what does he think Obama makes of the Latino community?

“I’m convinced that he has a very warm sense of Latinos,” he said. “His past work includes work within the Latino community in Chicago. I get the sense that he’s comfortable with the Latino community and he genuinely wants to listen.”

That’s funny. The sense I get is that Obama doesn’t like to listen to criticism. And, in the last three and half years, I’ve piled on plenty of it over his heavy-handed immigration policies.

“I know that you and I probably have a different view of it,” Castro said. “But I believe that (Obama) has been the most effective advocate that Latinos have had in the White House when you actually look at policy. The fact that nine million more Latinos are going to have health care coverage, that’s a huge issue. On immigration, I know there has been criticism for the issue of deportation. But he has put policies in place that are sensitive to the life that an immigrant has led in the United States by prioritizing the removal of people with criminal backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, I noted that it doesn’t hurt the Democrats’ cause that the alternative is so unappealing.

“It’s clear that the Latino community has significant reservations about Mitt Romney,” Castro said, “because he has embraced far right policies on immigration and aligned himself with folks… who have not been friends of the Latino community.”

Personally, I was curious about what Castro thought a historic breakthrough like this meant to his mother, Rosie, who was an activist in the Raza Unida Party in the 1970s and who raised twins who pursued careers in politics. Julian’s brother, Joaquin, is a Texas state representative who seems a shoo-in to win the race for a new congressional seat.

“I hope she’s proud,” Castro said. “The folks in that generation worked very hard so that future generations could realize our dreams. And so for her to see that the dream she had for her family and the United States is coming true thanks to the accomplishments of her sons, that feels very good to me.”

Me, too. And, I imagine, it will also feel pretty good to the millions of Americans who will soon get their first glimpse of Julian Castro.

It won’t be their last.

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