20 Questions with Marc Campos
I decided to send some questions to Democratic consultant Marc Campos because he generally tells it as it is. Less spin, more candor. Over the course of his career, he's had a hand in almost every elected Latino's campaign from one time to another all the while being one of the more frank commentators on Houston politics. His website is here, and he issues an always interesting daily commentary.
1. Rick Perry vs World: In my research for this interview, I found relatively little about your background and how you got into politics. I read something that implied that your father got you interested in politics growing in Houston's East End. Somewhere along the line after that in 1979, you got elected chair of the statewide Mexican American Democrats. Later it seems like you worked for Mark White, the SVREP and Ben Reyes, though probably not in that order. Then eventually you struck out on your own. Can you fill in the lines for me of your political biography?
MC: Here is a sampling of my political resume: I was Deputy Director in 1976 for the Texas Democratic Party GOTV effort. That was the last time Texas voted for a Democrat for President – Jimmy Carter. In 1977, I served as Research Director of the Texas Democratic Party. In 1978, I was part of the leadership team for the Bob Krueger for U.S. Senate Campaign. We lost to John Tower. I ran Ben Reyes' campaign for city council in 1979. From 1979-1981, I was chair of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas. In 1982, I handled Mark White’s Latino voter outreach effort. I spent the next four years as his Special Assistant. After we lost in 1986, I decided to consult. I've worked primarily on local races (mayor, city controller, congress, state house, state senate, city council, school board) although we did get hired in 2000 by the DNC to put together Truth Squad press events in battleground states during the presidential election.
2. What's your favorite campaign story from those years in politics?
I have a bunch like when Bob Krueger ripped into John Tower in Spanish and English at the 1978 State LULAC Convention in Laredo right before Tower spoke. I got Krueger to turn Tower's "con nosotros" slogan on him. Tower was really pissed off. In 1980, during the Kennedy vs Carter Texas presidential primary, a number of Latinos were supporting Kennedy against a sitting Democratic President. Kennedy came to a rally at a church in Denver Harbor, a Latino neighborhood in Houston. We were sitting behind him and he recognized us by calling me "Marv" Campos, State Representative "Hal" Luna (his name is Al Luna), City Councilman Ben "RayASS" (his name is Ben Reyes), and finally then State Reps. Gonzalo Barrientos and Paul Moreno were also seated with us and Kennedy said "and my good friend Representative Gonzalo Moreno" and Paul, who is confined to a wheel chair, leaned over and told Gonzalo "hey you stand up."
3. When you wrote your political bio, I remember reading during my research a few quotes from you saying mildly unflattering things about Mark McKinnon's involvement in the Krueger campaign. Does it surprise you that he flipped to working for W or did you see seeds of it back then?
I always have a problem with media consultants making a lot of money off of candidates and campaigns, and when their candidate loses, they blame the candidate. When you get beat 2 to 1, there is plenty of blame to go around. I think Mark was the guy that did Krueger's Terminator ad.
I didn't see the seeds. I always just thought Mark went for the big bucks.
4. In my view of American history, immigrant groups (with one important exception) have eventually become assimilated to the political center, whether they started out right or left. If so, in the long-term, the trend should eventually be that Latinos eventually trend more towards the center (that is, a greater percentage vote Republican) as they become second and third generations. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Since I've been professionally involved in politics, there has always been a debate about the percentage of Latinos that vote Republican. The debate has always centered around the 20% to 45% range. I think a lot has to do with income levels. However, I always get back to this – of all the Latinos elected to office in Texas – from school board to congress, how many vote in the Democratic Party primary versus the Republican Party primary. I would suspect it would probably be 9 to 1 Democrat. I would say it is going to be this way for a while.
5. The term Hispanic has always confused me a little bit, since I don't think anyone identifies as Hispanic. Any thoughts on why the use of Hispanic persists in American politics instead of Latino?
Hey we used to be Latin Americans, then Mexican Americans, then some became Chicanos, then Hispanics, now Latino. I just don't think that the community has ever had a true debate on what we should be called. We've been worrying about more pressing issues. I'm hoping we can eventually agree on Latino.
6. You write quite frequently about immigration policy. If you could write US immigration laws, what would they be?
The DREAM ACT and pathway to citizenship for those that have been here without proper documentation.
7. What is the single most important foreign policy change (outside of immigration) that the US should make vis a vis Latin America?
We need to continue to change our policy on Cuba. US policy on Cuba has been held hostage by the politics of Florida. It is ridiculous.
8. You lobbied for Mexico in favor of NAFTA once upon a time. If I counted right, half of Texas Latino Congressman voted against CAFTA. Does that surprise you?
No not really. In 1991, the NAFTA negotiations were started by Bush and in 1992, NAFTA was supported by Clinton, so when Clinton was elected and the vote came in late 1993, it had a more bipartisan look. CAFTA was a George W. Bush initiative and when the vote came around in 2005, it was a more partisan atmosphere.
9. You've written some complimentary things about the Harris County GOP East End efforts? What would you do differently?
I don't think I've been complimentary. I just give them credit for at least being out there. Here is their problem. There really aren't that many Latino GOP elected officials, so the folks they send out to engage the Latino community are hired Latino guns. They need to send the County Judge and maybe some of their statewide elected officials like their U.S. Senators, Lieutenant Governor and Comptroller - folks that are truly involved in shaping public policy to engage these communities and listen to what they have to go through in life. There is a huge gap between GOP policies and the best interests of Latino communities. They have no idea what is going on in our schools or what is discussed at our dinner tables.
10. If Tony Garza woke up tomorrow and decided he wanted to win the Texas governor's mansion in 2014, do you think he could do it?
Nope. I don't think he could get the nomination from his party. I don't think he being a Bush appointee would be a plus among the tea party faction of the GOP. I don't think his ambassadorship to Mexico would be a plus either. He has pretty much been off of the state scene for the past decade. Grass roots GOPer don't know who he is.
11. Critique this ad (Bill White's spanish-language ad).
Bill White speaks Spanish. They are going to need a lot more than that to get the Latino vote enthused.
12. If you were running statewide as a Republican, who would you hire?
The guy that is running Rick Perry’s campaign. I’d also bring on Jessica Colon from Houston.
13. How long do you think it will be before Democrats control both branches of the Legislature?
I'd have to see how things look after redistricting. I will say that we will probably win the House back before we win the Senate.
14. As a Democrat, what's the one thing you hope Texas Republicans don't do with regards to Latino voters?
I hope they don't stay off of Spanish language TV and radio. If they get on Spanish language TV and radio, it will force Democrats to do the same and we could have a real good Spanish language air war and Latino voters might feel wanted and come out to vote.
15. It hasn't been very long, but so far Annise Parker seems to me to be the best mayor of Houston since I started paying attention. If you were to rank Houston's last 4 or 5 mayors, including Annise Parker, how would you put them?
I think she's done a real good job, but I don't think six months in office is enough time to get you to the all time best list. If I start ranking them, I'll get in trouble. I think Bob Lanier was bold. He gets the credit for marshalling the resources to save the city's affirmative action program when it was assaulted by the right. I think Lee Brown's administration was the most inclusive. White gets good marks for how he handled the hurricanes.
16. I've had a soft spot in my political heart for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ever since I saw him at a candidate forum. In unfriendly territory, he didn't pander a single bit. You've written some complimentary things about Judge Emmett. Is he your favorite local Republican? If not, who is?
I guess I would say that he is my favorite Republican. He decided early on that he wasn't going to be rabid on the immigration issue and I appreciate that. I like what he said on this issue before the State GOP Platform Committee hearings.
17. It's amazing to me that Houston has never had an alcalde latino. Sanchez came close (although you helped run efforts against him). Obviously we probably have 6 years before the next real mayor election, but how long do you think it will be until we have a Latino mayor in Houston?
Keep an eye on Council Member James Rodriguez. I can see a scenario for a Latino getting elected in 2015. Some folks will say that it can't happen because Latinos don't come out to vote. They'll come out if they think they can make a difference.
18. In your series on the 2010 Latino Vote, you shared stats on national origin. My sense is that over the last decade Central Americans have slightly increased in the overall proportion of Houston Latinos. Over the next decade or two, do you think the national origin will change or remain relatively the same in Houston?
Probably relatively the same.
19. What percent of Houston Latino voters do you think get a majority of their political info from Spanish language media?
That is hard to say. It depends on what you mean by political info. Campaign and candidate info? Policy debate info? Houston Latino voters read newspapers, watch the newscasts, tune into Jorge Ramos, go on the internet, listen to talk radio, and discuss issues and politics with their family, friends, and co-workers. I will say that the local Univision station’s evening news ranks high in the ratings. I am going to out on a limb and say that most of their viewers speak Spanish. There are a number of political info sources so I would not say we get the majority from the Spanish language media, rather a substantial.
20. I've always been surprised that there hasn't been more of an effort to challenge Gene Green in a primary. Would you support adding precincts during the next round of redistricting that would make it easier for that district to elect a Latino?
I'm going to stay away from commenting on what I would like to see in redistricting at the congressional or state legislative levels. It is not my intention to get involved there. My redistricting involvement will be with Houston City Council and HISD trustee districts.
Well done, Evan. You're more of a journalist than any of the hacks at the major dailies, and you actually know what the pressing political issues are in Texas--all while posting without bias.
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