From NHI to Congress: George Rodriguez
In the first of this three-part series, we interview National Hispanic Institute alumni who have declared their candidacy for United States Congress in the 2018 elections. Our first interview is with the most senior of the three: George Rodriguez, who won the governorship at the 1984 Texas LDZ in Austin (at that time in NHI’s early history, its only program) and has gone on to be deeply involved with NHI in a range of roles. He is currently a member of NHI’s Board of Directors and a Project Administrator for the Greater Dallas region. He is running for office in Texas’s 32nd Congressional District.
First of all, why you did decide to run for Congress?
I realized that there was a narrative that was being created for our country that was not about our America. I want to run not to just be able to bring opportunity to all Texans, but I want to run to change the American narrative to one that embraces women and diversity. I know that with over 20 years of practicing immigration law I can bring an expertise that is needed in Congress. I know that with over 30 years of volunteering with NHI and being engaged in the Latino community, I can bring an expertise to Congress that is greatly needed.
How do you characterize yourself as a candidate? What might people expect from you, be it your positions, your values, or whatever else might distinguish you from the field?
I am not part of the establishment. I am truly running to represent the people of my district and the people of Texas. People can expect a person who is real and not a career politician. My faith and my upbringing call me to serve. I have spent my career giving immigrant families the opportunity to live the American Dream. This is deeply rooted in my belief that America has always been great because of its immigrants. I believe in the talents of the diverse communities and I want to lead the way in integrating those communities into one. I have spent over 30 years volunteering with NHI to also create opportunities for young high school students. It is an opportunity for a higher education and it is an opportunity to become better leaders of tomorrow. There is no other candidate with my experience in immigration or my experience in community work.
What people can expect from me is a public servant who still believes in “honor thy mother and father” when it comes to healthcare. A public servant who believes in an America who protects its most vulnerable – children. We must provide those who are over 55 and those who are under 26 with universal healthcare. Those who are of the age of responsibility must be provided with affordable healthcare. We should never play politics with people’s lives.
I see education as a community investment. As a society, we have to have the mindset of investor-beneficiaries when it comes to public education. I support new technology and resources in the classrooms. Funding for STEAM education and leadership programs from pre-K through high school. I would encourage programs that create partnerships between public schools and private business to enrich our curriculums and learning. There will be no greater dividend for our country than an investment in education.
I believe in equal pay for equal work. It has been over 50 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. At that time, women made about 59 cents for every dollar a man made. After 50 years, we are a bit better with women making 79 cents for dollar a man earns. Latinas actually only make about 44 cents for every dollar a man makes. I would support measures that would force employers to disclose salaries and would allow women their fair day in court to narrow the wage gap.
Just like the majority of Americans, I believe that our immigration system is unfair and in need of repair. Another narrative we need to change is the belief that immigration and security are one in the same. We need secure borders and a safe America, but the immigration laws are about a process and a system of immigration. We need to simplify our immigration laws and provide a fair opportunity for those seeking to contribute to our country. We need to treat families with dignity and we should never sacrifice due process or our Constitution. People need to understand that immigrants are vital to our economy. They need to know that it’s not just about our nice yards, it’s about our doctors, nurses, engineers and highly skilled workers as well. Our enforcement priorities need to be about those who threaten our country and those who break our laws — it should not be about the “low-hanging fruit” in order to break a deportation record.
You’re running in the 32nd district in Texas, which is currently held by a Republican (but is a swing district), and you’re facing a full field of candidates in the primary as a result. What do you think about the challenges facing you?
The biggest challenge I have in a large slate of candidates is be able to distinguish myself from the crowd. What I have that they do not have is NHI.
I believe my years of work with the Latino community and my engagement in the Dallas community will make a big difference. I also think that my approach to the issues will make a big difference in this race.
What did you learn about NHI that you’re taking to this race?
Just about everything I know about leadership I learned from NHI. Many of the concepts and beliefs I have are formed because NHI emphasizes how to think for yourself and create your own narrative. I find it funny how, when I tell a room of people that I do not use the word “minority,” nor do I allow my campaign people to refer to people as minorities, how they respond. Although they are very receptive, they are also in awe of the concept. To me, it’s just become a part of who I am.
What would you do in Congress to truly make a difference?
I believe that transparency and public accountability for myself and our government is vital, and I would make this a priority in all I do from Day One.
As the first Latino Congressman from North Texas, I would fight like hell to open a pathway for legal residency for those who have DACA and those who should have DAPA.
Finally, I would bring my core values of creating opportunity for all and a new mindset to Washington.