The last two times I spoke to congressman Charlie Gonzalez I noticed a sense of futility in his demeanor. It wasn’t a fatalism that you’d attribute to someone who’d given up hope. Not at all. It was more the feeling of facing something that had no foreseeable fix.
He talked at length of the ideological impasse in American politics; about the intransigence in congress where there sh0uld be compromise, about the distortion and bulwarked thinking of women and men who had been elected to congress to make laws but instead made a difficult situation worse.
He didn’t frame it that way, of course. He put it in terms of the difficulty of tending to the nation’s problems when there was no real incentive to find solutions.
All of this came to mind when Charlie made his announcement to not seek reelection to the seat in congress that he’d held for the past 14 years and that his father, the legendary Henry B. Gonzalez, held for 37. Together, Charlie and his dad held the seat of the 20th congressional district of Texas form 50 years.
I’m sure that each, in his own day, swam through difficult tides of national history, but I think that in those days each side was willing to talk to the other. When Charlie talks about the present state of congressional discourse he seems dismayed that he sees no place to begin a constructive conversation – not even a toe-hold with a flimsy balance.
It was a surprise for me to hear that Rep. Charlie Gonzales would not seek reelection – but after a little reflection it made sense. His official reason, as given in a press conference and reported in the Houston Chronicle, was
“I’ve been in Congress for 14 years and I want to do something else — what that is, I really don’t know. But financially, I would like to be productive and have the resources to make a better life,”
His leaving makes room for a younger generation of politician to take the seat, specifically Joaquin Castro, the Texas state legislator and presumed shoe-in for the -post. Joaquin Castro and his twin brother Julian (I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that you feel compelled t0 mention one when you mention the other), the popular Mayor of San Antonio, TX, are the rising stars of Texas Democratic politics. Joaquin had announced his candidacy for the U.S., House of Representatives with no clear indication of which seat he aspired to – it was a condition of redistricting that had yet to be decided. He announced he was running for congress; the specifics had yet to be worked out. Now we know.
But this didn’t come about without Charlie’s foresight and, in a way, selflessness. Before Gonzalez’ announcement there was a showdown looming between Castro and Ciro Rodriguez, both announced candidates, both vying for what they believed to be a new district carved from the state’s redistricting process. The race had the potential to divide local Latino politics and could have had repercussions beyond the race itself. But no such thing will come to pass. Castro will run in the 20th district and Rodriguez, a former U.S. congressman who lost his seat to Republican Quico Canseco, will run in the newly created district 35.
So everything seems to have worked out, in a tidy way if you can apply that word to congressional politics.
But the solution doesn’t address Gonzalez’ preoccupation. Congress, with Castro in the 20th and Rodriguez in the 35th, is still intransigent, still ideologically bulwarked, still spitefully do-nothing. But starting next session, Charlie will be watching from the sidelines. Which is exactly where he wants to be.[Photo by Charlie Gonzalez Campaign]