The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Rep. Joaquin Castro reaches out to students, Latino Voters

By Chris Ramos and Vanessa M. Sanchez

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro held a town hall forum for area high school and college students April 10 to answer students’ questions and address the importance of voter registration and getting the Latino population to the polls.

The forum was held in the Robert L. B. Tobin Studio at KLRN’s office at 501 Broadway and  organized by Univision 41.

The forum was recorded live at the KLRN studio in coordination with Univision, which does not have adequate studio space to hold a forum, Amparo H. Ortiz, community affairs and station promotions director for Univision, said.

“At first we reached out to political science programs at the university,” Ortiz said. Hoping to fill the studio audience, she also reached out to Sidney Lanier and Winston Churchill high schools who raised the attendance to more than 50.

College students from Texas A&M-San Antonio, UTSA, St. Mary’s University, Trinity University and the Alamo Colleges were invited to submit questions prior to the start of the forum from a suggested listing of more than 20 diverse topics such as voter apathy, youth involvement in politics, the Dream Act, health and the Eagle Ford Shale.

A&M-San Antonio students Camilo Avila and Benjamin Rubio pose with Rep. Joaquin Castro at a forum organized by KWEX/Univision and hosted by KLRN.

Questions were pre-screened and 12 students’ questions were selected to read aloud to Castro during the live recording. Univision reporter Brenda Jimenez moderated the bilingual forum.

The 30-minute program is scheduled to air 10 a.m. Saturday on Univision 41.

In a brief interview after the forum, Castro said he met with his campaign staff and discussed holding a town hall with the population who vote the least. His goal was to explain the importance of voting.

The world is changing rapidly, Castro said, and the strength of the nation is reliant on the younger generation as they will face the larger challenges for years to come.

In his opening statement, Castro said there have always been major issues that will affect the community and youth.

Christopher Hernandez, Lanier High School student council president, said his family is not involved in politics, but noticed from watching news, the decline in the economy. He questioned: “What’s going to become of us? Every state and every city has a solution. I wanted to know where we’re going.”

He said he felt Castro was specific, brief and gave more insight than what he expected.

“Personally, I thought his answers were great. It got me to think about what they’re doing,” he said. “It shows San Antonio politicians care what our community needs,” he added.

Melody Hernandez, Lanier High School senior and law enforcement explorer representative, said that she had attended mock trials through her high school where she is learning about the political process. As a minority student, she said she’s also learned the challenges she faces now and in the future.

“Now that I am getting ready to go to college, I have to figure out how to pay for college. My mom lost her job and the burden is on my father and me to pay for college.”

Castro addressed these challenges directly. “A lot of students can’t afford (college) or having to work to afford an education. People then drop out and are having to give up on their dreams; it’s a tug-of-war,” Castro said. Voting, he said, is an important part of following through with those dreams.

Lanier High School junior Tersa Jimenez said the forum motivated her. “Now I am interested in adding to the community and becoming more involved.”

Gema Hernandez, a teacher from Lanier High School, brought a large group of high school students because she “wanted to show students how to be a part of community.” She said she also wanted students to know the importance of having a voice and being heard.

Hernandez said she didn’t know that the students would have the opportunity to ask questions.

Point by point: Rep. Castro answers students’ questions

Dream Act:
We should continue to press forward with the legislation, Castro said. “Dreamers” deserve the chance to move ahead.

Combating Voter Apathy:
Castro said we need to show unengaged voters that there is a strong personal connection between voting and changes they can make in their own lives. Disconnection can be solved by helping people understand that politics is personal.

Workforce Opportunities:
To offer San Antonians more opportunity, Castro said we need a diversified economy. San Antonio needs to broaden its industry beyond the traditional hospitality sector. As a city, we are expanding and becoming more well known and creating jobs in bioscience, health care and high tech.

Main Topics that Motivates Voters:
In Texas, jobs are driving more people to vote. We we need to convince people that the path to the American dream still exists.

Position on Voter ID Law:
Castro voted against the Voter ID law and did not support the notion that voter fraud necessitated the need for a voter identification law. Castro told students that he believed that a right so fundamental as voting means we need to error on the side of the voter and protect everyone’s right to vote without hindrance.

School Budget Cuts:
Castro reminded students Texas ranked 44th in the nation in education and emphasized cuts in education ($5.4 billion) during the last legislative season. Castro said that rather than “going backwards” we would need to invest in education. Castro reviewed his accomplishments as Vice Chairman of the Higher Education Committee.

Public Service:
Castro reviewed for students key moments in a life dedicated to public service, reminding listeners that he grew up in a family that was very politically active. “I believe that when government works right it can create opportunities in people’s lives.” Castro named three sectors — government, business and community — which can work together to create opportunity.

Environmental Issues in San Antonio:
CPS, Castro said, is a leader in the United States for alternative energy. He listed new and developing initiatives, including a 400 megawatt solar project and solar manufacturing plant.

  • “CPS Energy is committed to bringing up to 400 megawatts (MW) of solar power to San Antonio as part of the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP). STEP sets an ambitious goal of achieving renewable energy capacity, including wind, solar and landfill gas, equal to 20 percent (1,500 MW) of our total generation capacity by 2020.” Read more

Castro also mentioned a decreased reliance on coal plants, and increased efforts in recycling and commended San Antonio’s bike share program.

Infrastructure and Opportunity:
Like streets and roads, Castro said, we have an infrastructure of opportunity to get where we need to go in life. That framework, he summarized, distinguishes the U.S. from the rest of the world. Castro used the metaphor to remind students to both build and advance on our carefully constructed system of opportunity.

Latino Vote:
On this issue, Castro said, we lag behind. Because younger population tends to vote in lower numbers he reminded students to be active participants in getting more friends and family to vote. “We need to go out and reach toward our family members,” he said. Castro reminded the audience he has initiated a Voter Mobilization Project to increase the Hispanic voting population. The effort is to do more than just campaign, but also reach out to friends and families.

Gun Control:
Castro did not support SB 354 legislation to allow professors and students (at least 21 years old) who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon to bring it on campus. Castro said he believes the Texas Concealed Handgun (Concealed Carry)  will remain status quo.

President Obama’s Health Care Plan:
Twenty-five percent of adults and children in Texas have no healthcare, Castro told the student audience. This percentage he said is higher in Latino urban populations and on the border. Castro said he agrees with Obama’s health care initiatives.

Castro was intrigued by a student’s question on whether e-voting is a solution to low voter turnout. He said we need to look into that in the coming years. “I suspect we’ll see more and I do think we should look into it.”

November Elections:
“Get ready for the November elections, register and vote.”

Castro also answered questions about voter frustration, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the role of government and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

About the Author

Chris Ramos
Chris Ramos
Christopher Ramos joined The Mesquite in Fall 2012 as a general assignment campus reporter. A communications major and criminology minor, he has reported on campus crime, student clubs and A&M-San Antonio’s School of Education. He joined the health care team in Summer 2012 to report on issues affecting uninsured college students in San Antonio. Chris is a 2006 O'Connor High School graduate and transferred to A&M-San Antonio from Palo Alto College. After graduation, he will pursue a career in law enforcement with the San Antonio Police Department

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