Democratic candidate Julián Castro

Aug 23, 2019  | 27 min  | Ep 4701 | Podcast | Transcript


A presidential race nearing the end of summer 2019 with 20 candidates still jockeying for position. We sit down with democratic presidential hopeful Julián Castro on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, August 23 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

Yepsen: With crucial fall debates looming, democratic presidential candidates are still stampeding the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire while seeking donations across the country. We're joined today by presidential candidate Julián Castro. The 44 year old Texan is a former Mayor of San Antonio and was the youngest member of President Obama's cabinet serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017. Mr. Secretary, welcome to Iowa Press. Good to have you with us.

Castro: Great to be with ya'll. Thank you for having me.

Yepsen: Across the table are journalists Barbara Rodriguez, Political Reporter for the Des Moines Register and Kay Henderson, News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Mr. Secretary, he briefly mentioned some of the resume points. What among those do you consider most important for Iowa caucus goers to know about you?

Castro: Well, that I'm one of the few candidates in this race that has strong executive experience, particularly as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. If you think about what the President is, you're a federal executive, and that's what I was as a cabinet member. I managed a department that had a $48 billion budget, 8,000 employees, 54 field offices across the country. I also served as Mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States, and had an opportunity to see then how we can impact lives at the local level and also at the federal level. As HUD Secretary I visited and worked with 100 different communities in 39 states. And so one of the things that distinguishes me is that I have a strong track record of executive experience and getting things done.

Rodriguez: Given that it's so crowded, so many people running for President, there has been a lot of talk about whether some candidates who aren't polling very high should consider getting out of the race. John Hickenlooper recently left the race and has been considering running for Senate. Why not run for Senate?

Castro: Well, for one reason is my experience directly relates to what I'm running for. Actually I haven’t been a legislator, I've been an executive, and so I feel like what I'm running for matches my experience. Secondly, we have a good crop of folks who are running in Texas for Senate, a very diverse crop of accomplished people and so I'm confident that we're going to have a strong nominee in November of 2020 that can help lift congressional candidates and everybody down the ballot as well as in the presidential contest. I believe that if I'm the nominee for our party that I'm the party's best hope to expand the map in 2020 and to get the 11 electoral votes of Arizona, the 29 electoral votes of Florida and the 38 electoral votes of my home state of Texas.

Yepsen: Why are you the most electable candidate in the race? Iowa democrats, and you may have noticed this, they want to beat Donald Trump with a passion. And I hear them say, I disagree with him on this issue or that issue, but I want somebody who I think can win. So what is your path to 270 electoral votes? You sort of alluded to it but flesh that out. Why are you the most electable?

Castro: Well, I think anybody's path begins with their general theory of this election. And what I believe is that if we look at these elections that there are basically four big themes that recur. One of those is that people want somebody who has demonstrated integrity and honesty in public service instead of the dishonesty that this President has. I think that they also want somebody who is trying to achieve unity to bring people together instead of to tear us apart the way that Donald Trump is. I also believe that they want somebody who will be a president for all Americans as opposed to a president for 37% that this President considers his base. And this is particularly telling if you look at the races that democrats have won in 1960 and '76 and '92 and in 2008, I believe that Americans are ready for a new generation of leadership, that they want somebody that doesn't want to make our country anything again but that wants us to make us better than ever in the years to come. And so you always have this theme in these elections of the past versus the future. And I don't mean that just with regard to age, but I think that they want a new face and I provide that. I also believe that I can go and get the 77,000 votes that we lost, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by in 2016, that my candidacy would be an historic candidacy that can excite a lot of people. And, as I said, that I can go and get those 11 electoral votes of Arizona. We already had 3 people that ran statewide in 2018 that won, Senator Sinema and then two statewide races. In Florida that election is always within a point or a point and a half. I'm convinced that we can go and get those 29 electoral votes. Incidentally that's also why this President seems to be so focused on using the word socialist and I believe even why he's talking about what the Jewish community should or shouldn't do in America. He's focused on Florida. And Texas showed tremendous movement away from the Republican Party under Donald Trump. In the suburbs of Houston and Dallas, the election of Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher, in south Texas the overall turnout of the Latino vote. That's going to continue and I believe that I can capture that moment and win the election in 2020.

Rodriguez: Just a point of what David was trying to ask though, going to so many different campaign events I see a lot of different candidates making similar points. And so how is it maybe productive to have so many candidates for the next five and a half months? I know that you just qualified for the upcoming debate. So how do you try to have a breakout moment there given again that it is such a crowded field?

Castro: Well, I don't think, if you look at what has happened here in the Iowa Caucus, over several cycles, ya'll have seen this, I don't know that it's any one moment. What usually happens, as ya'll know, is that in the last six to eight weeks there is a gathering steam that is picked up by a candidate or in some cases more than one candidate and so I believe that what's going to happen here in Iowa is that as more people focus on the race that there's going to be an opportunity for some of us who may not have been top of mind but who are in the September/October debates and will likely be in the two debates after that to pick up momentum. I can already tell here in Iowa when I come out here that more people come to my events, that we have more grassroots support. I can also tell that people very much are still considering who they're going to support in the caucus, that because you have had so many candidates people are open. And maybe the biggest benefit to those of us who want to beat Donald Trump, all of us who want to beat Donald Trump in 2020, is that no matter what happens the person that emerges as the democratic nominee is going to be a stronger candidate because he or she will have to compete, will have had to compete against very talented people. There's an embarrassment of riches in terms of people who are visionary and talented and are in it for the right reasons. In order to win the primary you've got to be a great candidate and that means that that nominee is going to be that much stronger than if they just had to go against two or three people.

Henderson: We're taping this program on Wednesday. A few hours ago the Trump administration announced a new policy for asylum seekers. Do you consider that a step forward?

Castro: I consider it a step backward.

Henderson: Why?

Castro: It's a step backward because instead of saying the answer is to keep families caged longer together it should be to actually not detain families and let them be together on the outside. And toward the end of the Obama administration, the administration implemented something called a family case management program and this family case management program was designed so that we could make sure that people showed up for their court date because often times when you ask folks, well why don't you just not detain people, they say oh well how are we going to make sure that they show up for their court date. Through the use of intense case management, sort of a case worker system that would keep in constant contact with the individual that had to come back for their immigration court appearance they were able to achieve over a 95% success rate in getting people to come back. I believe that's the kind of program that we should invest in instead of the answer being well because of the Flores settlement we can't keep children in here more than 20 days so let's just abandon that and keep those families together behind bars. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do. It's another example of the cruelty of this administration and I have a completely different vision for how we should do immigration that uses, like I just outlined, common sense, that would be cheaper to taxpayers and ultimately also more humane and more effective at accomplishing what we want to accomplish.

Henderson: Were you comfortable with the Obama administration's deportation record? And did you raise concerns about it during his administration?

Castro: I did. I raised concerns in 2014. I have said during the course of this campaign that I believe that the administration did get better in some ways on immigration as the year went by, the number of deportations fell, they instituted DACA in 2012 and DAPA in late 2014. They instituted that family case management program toward the end of the administration as a pilot program. So there was a recognition of how we could improve our immigration system. Of course there was also the 2013 legislation that had 68 votes in the Senate that President Obama pursued and if John Boehner had allowed that legislation to actually get a vote on the floor of the House it would have passed. So I have said, look, there are lessons that we can learn from the past and I have learned those lessons. I want to make sure that we have an immigration system that is working for our country and doing so in a way that is with common sense and with compassion for the people who are involved. I don't believe in the cruelty of Donald Trump and his administration.

Rodriguez: Mr. Secretary, you're a Latino candidate and you're running for President at a time when this national conversation over immigration is super heightened and I know that just a few days ago you filmed an ad that was very critical of the President. And I guess I want to make sure I understand whether you feel a sense of responsibility or burden in terms of how you have to talk about this issue and constantly being asked about issues around immigration?

Castro: Well, I recognize that for a lot of Latinos out there that my candidacy has special meaning because there haven't been that many Latinos who have run for President. And especially now when a lot of the Latino community feels under attack by this administration that there is a special significance to me being on that debate stage for a lot of people. I feel that. I also feel a responsibility to make sure that the vision that I put out there reflects the reality that I see as somebody that grew up in Texas and understands that the immigrants that we're talking about are no different in what they want for our country and for themselves than waves of immigrants that came before and that many Latinos have been here for generations and there's too often times a one dimensional view of the community. So I acknowledge that, I think I have spoken to all of those issues, including immigration. But I also know that I'm much more than that, that I've put out policy plans on housing, on education, this week making sure that we protect animals and wildlife.

Henderson: We want to get to those. Let's start with housing. There's a really dire shortage of housing in rural Iowa. How do you envision addressing that as President if you are elected?

Castro: I've called for a significant investment for the creation of housing that is affordable to the middle class, to the working poor and the poor not only in urban communities but also in rural communities by working through HUD and also the USDA to create more housing opportunity in rural communities. In a lot of the rural communities that I've been to one of the biggest challenges also is that the housing stock is old and so we need money not only to create new housing opportunity but to repair and renovate housing stock that exists and is old. We can do that through investment, for instance, in HOME, which has been around since 1992, and one of the ways that money can be used is to repair people's homes. During the 2009/2010 timeframe there was something called the NSP program or the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, that was fantastically popular because it provided a lot of flexibility in different communities to do those things that were tailor made for that community. We need to work with states and local governments but give them the resources that they need to create that housing.

Yepsen: Mr. Secretary, put your secretary hat on and talk to local officials in Iowa. I know you've been talking to them about housing issues. What should rural officials be doing to get more housing? What should urban officials be doing to get more affordable housing? Any thoughts? Advice?

Castro: Well, I would say to the rural communities, look, one of the things that I've learned during my time in public service is that it's true what they say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And because people don't often think of the housing issue as an issue that burdens rural communities, but those rural communities certainly have the ear, especially of more conservative members of Congress that don't tend to support investing in affordable housing in the same way. I would encourage those rural mayors, council members, county commissioners, to make their voice heard on that issue, to tell their stories of how necessary it is to create better housing opportunity in rural communities because often times those congressional representatives are not listening to that or they don't understand that. For the urban communities like Des Moines I would say they too should be advocates of course. They should also make sure that they have zoning policies, planning policies, other land development policies that encourage affordable housing creation and of course I know right now that Des Moines is going through looking at their development code and it's controversial. I think whatever happens there it should be a plan that actually makes affordable housing creation more possible, not less possible.

Yepsen: We have too many issues and not enough time. Barbara?

Rodriguez: Just also a quick question too about some of the communities that you are trying to reach here in Iowa. I know that it includes a lot of marginalized communities. I also know that Iowa is a very white state. And so I'm trying to get a better sense of what the strategy is there. Is it a matter of trying to get new caucus goers? Or is it more of a national strategy of getting past Iowa?

Castro: No, in fact we're scaling up our presence here. We're going to put more people on the ground in Iowa over the next few weeks and couple of months. I'm going to compete here, I've been here a lot. What I know is that if you want to be President of this country you've got to go and get the votes of people that may be familiar to you and people that are not familiar to you. And so of course I'm going to try and go make sure that we're getting new voters involved in the process, including the Latino community, which as ya'll know is growing here in Iowa. But I'm going everywhere. I've been to places like Orange City and I've been to Sioux City and I visited the Meskwaki settlement area not too long ago. I'm going to make sure that I'm going throughout the state and appealing to people of different backgrounds and I'm confident that if I do that by the time we get to February 3rd that I can be one of the frontrunners.

Yepsen: Mr. Secretary, to play off Barbara's question, a lot of parallels have been made between your career and Barack Obama's. Iowa provided a breakout moment for Barack Obama. Can a black man win? He won, in a lily white state like Iowa he won, it rocketed him forward, helped him carry black voters in South Carolina. Is there a parallel with you if you can run and win in predominantly white Iowa that this is going to energize Latino voters elsewhere around the country?

Castro: Well, I think what is true is that people need to believe. The thing about 2008 in retrospect was that people say that folks needed to believe in Barack Obama. And I think, first of all, Barack Obama is a singular figure and nobody is in his category, his league. But I do think that I need to have people believe and doing well here in Iowa is one way to do that. And so I certainly see that opportunity and that is one of the reasons that I'm working hard here to make sure that I do well.

Henderson: Sometimes people hear the phrase animal welfare and farmers get nervous. You have released an animal welfare proposal this week. How would it work?

Castro: Well, it has different parts. We ensure that we're investing in wildlife preservation, for instance, that we're working with communities across the United States to get to no kill status in shelters throughout our country. Essentially that means that rescue or shelter facilities are not euthanizing pets, that they're saving at least 90% of the domesticated dogs and cats that come into that shelter. In addition to that we've said that we would tighten regulations on factory farms and make sure that the communities around factory farms have an ear in the administration.

Henderson: So does that mean federal regulation of that industry?

Castro: I absolutely believe in some ways that there needs to be regulation, sure. I've heard plenty of community members here in Iowa who have talked about the environmental impact of some of these factory farms. I know that there's concern even with whether there should be any factory farms in the future or the ones that do exist should be allowed to expand. Obviously I'm looking forward to that conversation. I do support pausing that because I think that there are a tremendous number of concerns out there.

Rodriguez: I want to make sure that I ask about health care. It's a top issue here in the state about accessibility and affordability and there are a lot of different candidates that are talking about Medicare for all or some variation of it or strengthening the Affordable Care Act. I want to make sure I understand where you stand on that.

Castro: I believe that we need to improve our health care system by going to a system that strengthens Medicare for the people who are on it and then makes Medicare available to everybody who wants it. I also believe though that if somebody has a strong private health insurance plan, one that is solid and that they want to hold onto, that they should be able to hold onto that. Even in these European countries, several of these European countries, or even in Bernie's legislation, I praise Bernie for his efforts and he has done so much to make this issue of Medicare for all mainstream. But even in that legislation there is the ability of somebody to have a private health insurance plan for, for instance, elective cosmetic surgery. Now, not that many people would have that kind of plan but that's a nod toward the option of private health insurance. I believe that if somebody has a strong plan that meets certain requirements that they should be able to have a private health insurance plan. What I don't believe is that anybody in our country should ever go without health care because of the profit motive of big pharma or big insurance companies. And I would make sure that we have a strong, robust Medicare system that is the primary system that people get insurance by.

Yepsen: We have less than three minutes, Mr. Secretary.

Henderson: Should Congress ratify the U.S./Mexico/Canada agreement?

Castro: Well, I hope that the Congress takes the opportunity to really scrub through the environmental provisions and the labor provisions as well as the enforcement provisions. I hope that those provisions are strengthened, that we can get to an agreement. I believe that any type of agreement we enter into should make sure that American workers are the primary beneficiaries, that American workers come out on top and then American companies. I also know as somebody that comes from Texas that the United States can lead on trade that is beneficial both to us and to other countries. And so I hope that they're able to work out a deal.

Yepsen: Barbara has a question about gun violence.

Rodriguez: Several candidates including yourself have been talking about gun violence. You had this forum a couple of days ago here in Des Moines. The reality is though that you have a republican controlled Senate. I'm trying t get a better sense of the strategy there if the Senate remains republican in 2020.

Castro: I believe at 12:01 p.m. on January 20th, 2021 that we're going to have a democratic President, a democratic House and a democratic Senate. But if we don't, there are two things that I would do. The strategy is, number one, everything that we can legally do with executive authority. For instance, we would redefine who is a firearms dealer so that if you sell more than five weapons a year that you have to get a license as a firearm dealer and therefore do universal background checks. We would expand the scope of the Violence Against Women Act to unmarried domestic partners so that we would increase the number of people who can get protective orders, for instance. And keep guns out of the hands of people that shouldn't have them. And secondly, I believe that we're going to have the opportunity even if there is a republican controlled Senate to put massive pressure on swing state republicans. Folks saw two weeks ago after what happened in Dayton that the Governor of Ohio, republican DeWine got shouted down with people saying do something, do something, do something on common sense gun safety legislation. We are in a new era for common sense gun reform and I believe that there's more pressure than ever that will be applied to republicans to actually do something.

Yepsen: Do you think the NRA's power is waning?

Castro: Oh, no doubt. I mean, just look at the number of politicians out there that are openly taking on the NRA and who are successfully winning races. The NRA is no longer as feared as it used to be.

Yepsen: Mr. Secretary, I'm out of time. Thank you very much for being with us today. We appreciate you being here.

Castro: Thank ya'll for having me. Thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week for Iowa Press with another presidential candidate from Texas when former U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke joins us. That's Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen.  Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. 

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