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HUD

Hillary and Julian

The other Texas political story from last week that had tongues wagging and social media buzzing.

Mayor Julian Castro

Why yes, since you asked, the Secretary did have dinner with the Clintons at their house, Julián Castro’s press secretary allowed.

Did they have a very vice, er, nice evening? Did they veep, ah, keep, talking late into the night?

“Secretary Castro and former President Clinton had a discussion about ways the agency can expand on the partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative to make public housing more energy efficient,” Housing and Urban Development press spokesman Cameron French said – the absolute echo of another HUD spokesman’s quote to the Washington Post about the dinner.

Last week’s repast took place at the Clintons’ 5,000-square-foot, 7-bedroom home just behind Observatory Circle – tantalizingly close to the Vice President’s official residence at the Naval Observatory.

It was just the latest manifestation of a warm, long-term relationship between the Clintons and the Castros – Julián and his brother, Rep. Joaquín Castro. And, of course, it served to bring the chatter about Julián as Hillary’s 2016 running mate to a rolling boil.

Julián worked as an intern in the Clinton White House. San Antonio’s twin political stars were in the Clinton camp in 2008, and remain there. That’s just the way Hillary likes it, as she realizes successfully courting the Latino vote is an absolute essential – both if there are substantive Democratic primaries and in the general election.

In fact, 2016 could be a history-making year in which both parties have Latinos in one of the two top spots on the ticket.

We’ve covered this ground before. I will just say again that the best thing Julian Castro can do to enhance his shot at being on the ticket with Hillary Clinton in 2016 is to do a good job at HUD and not screw anything up. If Democrats do well enough this November to make thoughts of Clinton carrying it in 2016 non-crazy, so much the better. Beyond that, this is the proverbial journey of a thousand miles, and we’re still at the starting line stretching our hamstrings. Chilling out in the meantime is advisable.

Castro confirmed for HUD

Congratulations, Secretary Castro!

Mayor Julian Castro

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the nomination of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The nomination was approved 71-26 on a roll call vote. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted for the nomination; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted against it. Republicans cast all of the no votes.

The San Antonio Democrat would serve on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet for the remainder of the president’s term, which ends in January 2017.

He will officially become secretary once he is sworn in.

“I’m very honored to be confirmed as the 16th secretary of Housing and Urban Development,” Castro said Wednesday afternoon at City Hall.

Amazing what the Senate can accomplish when it puts its mind to it, isn’t it? All attention now turns to the Alamo City and the selection of an interim Mayor to serve out the remainder of Castro’s term. The Rivard Report has all the details.

“My intention is to resign after the new mayor has been selected, and within the next couple of weeks we will likely have that specially-called meeting to select the new mayor,” Castro said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “I’ll leave my advice and comments for the new mayor to the conversation that the new mayor and I have. However, I am very confident that among the council members there is the leadership abilities to continue to do a great job, to lead this city well. No matter what job you are in, it’s never about one person. It’s about a strong team effort and the fact is we have very strong Council when you think about the modern history of San Antonio public service.”

Castro said he sees “several people on the council” who he believes would make strong mayors.

[…]

City Attorney Robbie Greenblum, Castro’s former chief of staff, was busy Wednesday contacting the 10 city council members to confirm their availability for a special meeting of City Council on Tuesday, July 22, or Wednesday, July 23. Council members typically plan vacations for July when the City Council is in summer recess. At that special meeting, Castro will preside over the council’s vote to select an interim mayor to serve out the final year of his unexpired term. Castro will not vote for his replacement. A general election to select a new mayor for a full two-year term will be held in May 2015.

Castro is expected to be sworn in as the new HUD Secretary before the end of July. Jaime Castillo, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the swearing-in could occur on Monday, July 28, meaning Castro would enjoy a few days as a private citizen, time that presumably will be spent getting settled in to his new life and work in the capital.

According to the protocol established by the city attorney’s office for selecting an interim mayor, interested candidates among the 10 council members will be required to submit a public “letter of interest” prior to the special city council meeting. Only current city council members are eligible for consideration, according to the 1951 city charter. Council members will then meet to select one of the declared candidates. Council members cannot vote for themselves but are allowed to abstain in any given round of voting to prevent a candidate they oppose from winning a six-vote majority, or they can abstain at the outset to avoid taking a position. In the event none of the declared candidates can muster a six-vote majority, council members will be allowed to nominate a colleague who did not submit a letter of interest. There also is a process to deal with deadlocked votes, and eliminating candidates who win the least votes if more than two council members apply. As many as five of the 10 council members are believed to be leaning toward seeking the interim mayor’s position. That means the process could lead to a stalemate with no candidate able to muster the six votes needed to win.

Castro said Wednesday he hopes charter reform will be on the November 2016 November ballot. It could be placed on this November’s ballot, but the deadline is Aug. 16, making that highly unlikely.

Yeah, I’d say that charter could use a bit of updating. As for who may succeed Castro, this year and next, Texpatriate discusses a couple of possibilities, including Mayor Pro Tem Cris Medina, and State Rep. Mike Villarreal; there’s also CM Ivy Taylor, whose candidacy I have discussed, and others. We are way into uncharted waters here, so expect an action-packed year for the political junkies of San Antonio and elsewhere.

As far as Castro’s future in Texas post-Obama, I’ll say again what I’ve said before: Barring a scandal of some kind, Julian Castro can run for whatever interests him and is available in 2018. The main effect of having served in the Obama administration will be better access to the national campaign funders. Maybe this improves his chances of sharing a ticket with Hillary Clinton in 2016 and maybe it doesn’t – perhaps we should at least wait for Hillary to formally announce her candidacy before we get too deep in those weeds. If he’s not on the national ticket, the main curveball that could get thrown at him for a 2018 Governor’s race might be if his brother Joaquin gets recruited to run against Ted Cruz for the US Senate. I’m honestly not sure if a two-Castro Texas ticket would be extra exciting or hard for some people to handle. But again, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Congratulations on your confirmation, Secretary Castro. Do a great job at HUD and I figure the future will take care of itself.

Castro gets the nod

As anticipated.

Mayor Julian Castro

Before a packed crowd in the White House’s state dining room, President Obama on Friday nominated San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro to become the newest — and youngest — member of his cabinet, as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“I am nominating another all-star who’s done a fantastic job in San Antonio over the last five years,” the president said between jokes about the “good-looking” mayor who had proved to be a “pretty good speaker.”

Pending Senate confirmation, Castro will replace Shaun Donovan, whom the president has tapped as the new director for the Office of Management and Budget.

Castro spoke of having “big shoes to fill,” and called the nomination a “blessing.”

“I look forward to being part of a department that will ensure that millions of Americans all across the country will have the opportunity to get good, safe, affordable housing and pursue their American dreams,” he said, adding his thanks — “muchisimas gracias” — to the people of San Antonio.

See here and here for the background. I’ve said what I’ve got to say about the politics of this, so let me just say “Congratulations” and “Don’t let Ted Cruz be a jerk to you in the confirmation hearings”. I look forward to seeing what happens next. The Rivard Report and the Current have more.

The case against Castro for HUD

While we wait for further word on San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s reported appointment to be Secretary of HUD – he is keeping quiet about it for now – it’s worth considering some of the political implications behind it. Brian Beutler does the honors.

Mayor Julian Castro

Castro is currently the Mayor of San Antonio, an office with relatively little power, but one that suggests a longer path toward national prominence that runs through the Texas governor’s mansion. A HUD nomination would constitute a pretty significant detour. And I think there are three ways to look at the decision—one optimistic, one strategic, and one shortsighted—any of which could explain why Castro, Obama, and party strategists think this is a wise move.

An idealist might look at this and say the country has turned an important corner, around which heading a government agency tasked with providing services to low-income communities is no longer a political anvil around the neck. Or at least that today’s Democrats are hoping to turn that corner.

A cynic, by contrast, would look ahead to 2016 and see a Democratic field that lacks seasoned Hispanic stars. Could Hillary Clinton (or whomever) pick a mayor of a medium-large city as her running mate? There’s a real logic to priming Castro by placing him in the cabinet now.

But a pessimist would note that Obama has a frustrating tendency to pluck star Democrats out of red states and place them in his cabinet where their political prospects quickly erode. Castro’s prospective nomination coincides with a growing recognition that Obama’s probably not going to sign an immigration reform bill, and is looking for other ways to maintain the Democrats’ huge edge in immigrant communities.

It should be noted that one of the top competitors to Castro for the VP slot on the Hillary Clinton 2016 ticket is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the former Governor of Iowa who was appointed to that post in 2009. In other words, being in Obama’s Cabinet isn’t necessarily a death knell for one’s future political ambitions. (See also: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I’m just saying.) The grumbling about “plucking star Democrats out of red states” mostly had to do with taking potential Senate candidates off the board for 2010 than anything else – think Janet Napolitano, who might have challenged John McCain; Kathleen Sebelius, who could have run against Pat Roberts; and Vilsack, who might have taken on Chuck Grassley. The theory was that without a credible Democratic opponent, these guys had free rein to be as obstructionist on the Affordable Care Act during the endless legislative summer of 2009. It was a sensible-sounding theory at the time, but in retrospect surely we can see that it didn’t hold water. Putting aside the disastrous election results of 2010, we now know that the the main force affecting Republican legislative behavior was and very much continues to be the threat of being primaried as a RINO. Republicans these days, and this definitely goes back to 2010, fear their base much more than they fear the November electorate. I get the frustration, but there’s not much empirical evidence of actual damage done.

As far as Julian Castro goes, being HUD Secretary is likely to help him get on the 2016 ticket than run for statewide office in 2018. Not because of any taint from having served in the Obama Administration – he was a keynote speaker at the 2012 DNC and did a ton of campaigning for Obama in 2012 as well; he’s already as tainted as he’s going to be, and even if he wasn’t the Republican’s would act as if he were anyway – but because I think he’d be better served building up his record of achievement in San Antonio. Honestly, though, it probably doesn’t make much difference one way or the other. If Castro is available to run for something in 2018, then the combination of demography and the efforts of Battleground Texas will have more to do with his likelihood of success than his most recent job title. He’s already got the resume, the star power, and the fundraising connections. As long as he can avoid screwing up or getting caught by a scandal, he’ll be in as good shape as he can hope to be in.

Here come stimulus money

The first batch of funds is arriving.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated more than $500 million to Texas cities and counties on Monday, part of a wave of stimulus money expected to flow into the state.

Federal officials released $14.4 million more to support 12 Texas health centers, many of which provide care to people with no health insurance. The federal money is expected to create more than 400 jobs in the state, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

[…]

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs received the biggest chunk of money — about $148.4 million for affordable rental housing projects that rely on low-income housing tax credits.

More than 350 public housing authorities in Texas received $119.8 million for public housing projects, including energy-efficient modernization, capital improvements and critical safety repairs. San Antonio and El Paso received the most public housing assistance with about $14.6 million and $12.7 million, respectively.

There’s more, and I’m glad to see it. I suspect most of the agencies that will benefit from these monies haven’t exactly been flush in recent years, if ever. Hopefully, we can get a lot of good done.

Of course, there’s still a fight looming over how much Governor Perry wants the state to accept. Towards that end, a group of Democratic legislators will be calling on Perry to take everything that has been allocated for Texas. From their release:

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston,) Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) will hold a press conference to urge Governor Perry to accept all available stimulus funds on Tuesday, March 3, 2009, beginning at 9:00 AM, in the Lieutenant Governor’s Press Room.

The press conference will call on state leaders to invest the stimulus funding in programs and priorities which will give a hand-up to as many Texans as possible. The legislators will particularly focus on plans to shore up Texas’ rapidly dwindling Unemployment Insurance System.

While Texas does not yet face double digit unemployment, as Michigan does, the economic forecast is not rosy. According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Texas economy will lose 111,000 jobs in 2009, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise from 6 to 8.2 percent. The recently passed Economic Recovery Act offers $555.7 million to Texas to shore up its shaky unemployment fund, but the state must first pass a series of reforms to be eligible. Unfortunately, even as Texas accepts stimulus funds, some continue to say the state should reject unemployment funding, simply because it requires small changes to the program.

It would be nice to have some Republican legislators doing this as well, but this is a good start. That press conference will be at 9 AM in the Lt. Governor’s press room in the Capitol.

Finally, on a related note, a group of transportation activists will be making a call of their own to TxDOT tomorrow regarding that agency’s plans for its federal stimulus funds.

In February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $2.25 billion in federal transportation funds to Texas. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) will allow states up to one year to decide which projects to build.

But the Texas Transportation Commission is poised to ram through $1.7 billion of new stimulus-funded projects at their meeting Thursday. The project list is chock full of controversial projects, including the Grand Parkway in Houston, the US-281 toll road across the Edwards aquifer in San Antonio, roads to nowhere, and sprawl highways through environmentally-sensitive areas. Further, many Texans object to spending stimulus on toll roads.

On Tuesday morning, Texans from across the state will converge at the capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) slow down and do this right. We must ensure our federal stimulus isn’t wasted on boondoggles!

What: Joint citizen press conference

Who:

* Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Terri Hall, http://texasturf.org
* Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Brandt Mannchen, http://texas.sierraclub.org
* Environment Texas, Alejandro Savransky, http://environmenttexas.org
* IndependentTexans, Linda Curtis, http://indytexans.org
* Houston Tomorrow, Jay Crossley, http://houstontomorrow.org
* Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC), Robin Holzer, http://ctchouston.org

When: Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

Where: East steps of the Texas Capitol, Austin, TX

That would be just like TxDOT, wouldn’t it? I hope they listen to the call to slow down.

UPDATE: The Observer has more about TxDOT and the fast one they’re trying to pull.