Politics & Policy

The Effort to Unseat Castro

Conservatives target a rising Democratic star in Texas.

Two prominent Texas Democrats are waiting in the wings of their state’s party. Julian and Joaquín Castro, identical twins from San Antonio, had starring roles at the 2012 Democratic National Convention (back in the Dark Ages before Wendy Davis was a household name). Julian is the mayor of San Antonio, and Joaquín is a congressman whose district includes about half the city. At 39, the twins are rising Democratic stars. But one of them might not be for long. 

If San Antonio grassroots conservative activists have their way, Julian Castro’s career in politics could be cut abruptly short. Organizers of an effort to recall the mayor say their push is picking up steam, and tell National Review that they’re confident they have a shot at voting the mayor out of office. They’re targeting him because of the passage of an anti-LGBT discrimination ordinance that conservatives worry will hamstring freedom of speech and religion. (Katrina Trinko laid out concerns about the ordinance here.) 

Weston Martinez, president of the Bexar County Conservative Coalition, lays out the strategy this way: To recall a mayor or council member, you have a 180-day window to get one-tenth of the number of voters from the last election to sign a petition. That means, per Martinez, that activists need about 63,000 signatures from San Antonians to have a recall election. They’re also trying to recall city councilman Diego Bernal, who authored the ordinance, and they’ll need about 6,000 signatures from his district to pull that off. 

Martinez says activists have collected more than two-thirds of the signatures necessary to recall Bernal. And he estimates they’ve gotten about 6,000 signatures so far on petitions to recall the mayor. They have volunteers camped out in front of Bernal’s office every day getting signatures, Martinez adds, and the councilman has called the police about their presence there. But that hasn’t deterred volunteers.

“We had a great outcry from the city,” Martinez says. “By our estimate about 80 percent of the city is opposed to the ordinance: Castro clearly is bringing national politics to the local level because of obvious future aspirations, the most liberal ordinance in the country into a very conservative town.”

Martinez says that between 80 and 100 people have already put in time gathering signatures. And Gina Castaneda, who’s helping coordinate the recall efforts, says 300 people have signed on to volunteer in the future. Ultimately, she hopes to recall all eight members of the council who voted for the ordinance. 

Martinez says the effort has galvanized many of the city’s Hispanic voters. 

“On a national level, the Democratic party doesn’t really represent the traditional values of the Hispanic community,” he says, “and they’ve just kind of inherited their loyalty even though they don’t deserve it. And so you have a lot of traditional, Catholic, always-voted-Democrat individuals who are signing the petition for the recall and are promoting the signing of the petition for the recall.”

If they can pull off the recall vote, it will come on the heels of successful efforts in Colorado to recall two state senators who voted for stricter gun laws. But the prospect of ending Julian Castro’s political career holds special appeal for conservatives: not just because of their qualms about the LGBT-discrimination ordinance, but because it gives them a chance to show that, national Democrats’ ambitions for the state be damned, the Lone Star State is redder than ever — and certainly not an incubator for national Democratic talent. 

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. 

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