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Interview with: Marc Campos
Interviewed by: Megan Schneider
Date: April 18, 2008
MS: Today is April 18, 2008. We are here in the office of Marc Campos, who is being interviewed for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is Megan Schneider. I will be interviewing him. Mr. Campos, let's start with a little background. Could you describe the Houston of your youth?
MC: The Houston of my youth was not as much air-conditioning as we have nowadays. I am a Latino. I would like to talk about my involvement in politics and Latino politics. I got involved here in 1972. We were a small group, a vocal group, an active group, and a group that started to get dedicated to increased Latino political participation, electorally, voting, elected positions, public policy.
MS: What happened in 1972 that got it started?
MC: There was the McGovern Rules and a lot of us that were active and active through college, that was the year that, for some of us, you know, I was 19 years old at the time fixing to turn 20, the voting age had just been changed to 18 a year or so earlier and so there were a lot of us that were in school, decided to get involved. There was just something out there called Chicano politics, there was activism across the state of Texas, across the southwest, and the Democratic party had opened up its rules where no longer were party bosses going to pick who gets to participate. There were voter registration drives and so we just kind of like, a lot of people decided to get involved because we felt we could do something.
MS: So, were you in high school at that point or had you graduated?
MC: I was already in college. I was over at U of H. So, there were a number of us that were involved here locally, people like Ben Reyes, John Castillo, Leonel Castillo, Mary Castillo - John's wife, Al Luna, and they were exciting times. The McGovern campaign - I got to work on the McGovern campaign as a local organizer here in Harris County. Al Luna, who would eventually become a state legislator and who is now my best friend, he got to be put on the McGovern national campaign and did advanced work, you know. And so, there was just a whole lot of fun back then. Some of us are still active. Some of us that were there at the beginning are still active. Some kind of like went on to do other things or went on to other careers, did not stay involved in politics. Some got burned out, you know. John Castillo is still out there. Flumencia Reyes (sp?). Al Luna. There are some of us that have been doing this for a long, long time.
MS: So, what were some of your duties as a local community organizer?
MC: Well, back in those days, we kind of knew geographically where the Latino community was in Houston. It was neighborhoods like Denver Harbor, Northside, Magnolia, Second Ward. We went out there and went door to door and asked people to register to vote. Then the election came around - we asked them to get out and vote. We would open up headquarters for our campaign for our candidates. It would be the gathering place for all the political people. We would stuff envelopes, stamp them, make phone calls - pretty basic grass roots organizing that we did. We got involved in issues and we would hold a press conference to get peoples' attention. We were determined that here in Houston, that we wanted to be a part of any debate that went on, any public policy debate. We knew back then that the opportunities would be unlimited because our population was starting to grow and grow and grow. There is something about Latino families, you know, we grow it at a lot faster rate than others around here. And so, we got involved in campaigns. Ben Reyes was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1972 and so we had a voice there. We had Leonel Castillo who was the City Controller which was a city-wide position. Then, you know, we used what we were doing here to network with other Latino political groups throughout the state and started getting involved in state-wide campaigns. So, I think where things really changed dramatically was in the late 1970s, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of African Americans and Latinos because at the time, we felt that the way we elected our City Council members was discriminatory.
We had now become a part of the voting rights. We had finally got the camera out of the cover in folks in Houston. And so, we used the law to file a lawsuit against the City and we wanted a system where Latinos and more African Americans could be elected. So, the City settled and in 1979, we adopted a 9 Council district and 5 at-large Council members plus the mayor, 15 members on Council. Ben Reyes was the first Latino elected to the City Council. I ran his campaign. It was a pretty impressive victory. I think he ended up getting like over 60% of the vote. That opened up new doors for the Latino political and business community because one thing, you know . . . I am sure a lot will be said about Ben Reyes, you know, but he was a pretty good politician and a huge disposition on Council to make sure that when Council awarded big contracts for big municipal projects - construction or whatever - that Latino firms were included, Latino professional firms, Latino vendors. And so, that opened up new opportunities for Latinos and he used that position to encourage major contractors to do business with the City to start doing business with Latino-owned firms in their private business deals. And at the time, we saw the formation then of the groups like the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And so, it was important. We have people now in state government, state representative positions and now to have somebody over at the City really helped the Latino community grow in terms of politically and economically.
MS: What was it like working on that campaign or running that campaign that first . . .
MC: I have been fortunate to be involved in most of the important Latino political campaigns in Houston. I was involved in Ben Reyes' first bid for the Houston City Council. I was involved in . . . we have had some, I guess you would say interesting political races that have come and defined our community. I have been involved in every one of those. It is interesting - I was telling a group of engineers just the other day . . . Ben Reyes won . . . his district is called District I and after he was through with his service on Council and after he was term limited in 1995, John Castillo got elected. In 2001, Carol Alvarado got elected after John was term limited and after Carol was term limited last year in 2007, James Rodriguez was elected and I was either their campaign manager or their senior campaign strategist in every one of those races. And that race . . . it is interesting . . . District I which is the original Latino district, is the only position at city government of all the positions that are there right now, it is the only one that has never had a runoff election. Every other council district, every other council at large position, all of those council positions, the mayor's position, they have all had runoffs at one time or another. In District I, we never had a runoff there. Ben, John, Carol and James have all won without runoffs. It was kind of like something I brag about on occasion. But I think campaigns back then were . . . imagine campaigns without computers, a headquarters without computers, without fax machines - they were like, you know, that first race was . . . I give credit to Ben Reyes. I have never seen anybody work as hard as Ben Reyes in a political campaign. He would get out and go door to door. We would give him a list of voters and he would go door to door and talk to them. He only stopped going door to door if he had to come and make fundraising calls. And then at night when it was too late to go door to door, he would be with us in the headquarters, you know, stuffing envelopes. Then, when we would be through stuffing envelopes, he would take some of us to . . . we usually had a place where we made our signs and in those days, we actually made them by hand. We would silk screen them. We did not have the resources for fancy signs and so we would actually silk screen them and then lay them out in a big warehouse and let them dry. Then, we would go buy stakes and nail them on. And then, we built signs until about 2 or 3 in the morning. So, the 1979 campaign was that kind of campaign.
He had had a legislative career but it was not until he became a City Council member before he really started delivering for his community. And Ben was one of these people . . . I don't think he ever took a vacation. He may have gone out of town on business. His weekend would be spent either organizing clean up projects, tearing down abandoned buildings, cleaning up blocks. He was always doing something. You could always count on him on a weekend to be riding a tractor someplace, and the community became very, very impressed with that. Very, very impressed with that. You do not see that now with our elected officials. It is a different era.
MS: What did the creation of District I mean for that community?
MC: I think what it has meant is, and the standard he set was when you had an at-large system, even though Council members represented different systems, they did not have to deal with tougher constituents to deal with them but I think what Ben did and I think what other Council members saw and followed was people that had a voice, would go, "Hey, somebody needs to come pick up this dead dog. It has been on my street for a week now." Or, "Hey, they don't do us right when they pick up our garbage," Or, "How come we've got more potholes in our part of town than other parts of town?" And so, with that type of advocacy, the City started becoming a lot more responsive to peoples' needs. At least that was the perception out in that part of town in District I. But they finally had . . . because, you know, they did not have a voice at City Hall. And when you think about it, city government is probably the closest form of government that people have to deal with every day. They have policeman, they have fire, garbage. The first thing when you get up in the morning and you go to the bathroom, you flush the commode. That is a city deal, you know. And so, they finally had a real advocate that they knew where he lived. Everybody knew where he lived. Everybody knew what church he went to. And so, people felt that hey, you know, we've got a voice at City Hall, City Hall is finally paying attention to us. And so, I think other members of Council saw that, not just in District I but in other parts of the city and so, I think Ben really kind of blazed the trail in that regard. And at the time, you know, we had to deal with the Jose Campos Torres incident and a few other instances where there was alleged police abuse of folks, and it was important to have a steady voice like Ben up there that could talk to the police chief, that could talk to the mayor, that could express . . . and I kind of wonder, you know . . . we had the Moody Park riots and you have to wonder, you know, how it would have gone if we would not have had calming leadership out there to help deal with city officials.
MS: How old were you when the Moody Park riots went on?
MC: I would say in my late 20s.
MS: Was there a general consensus on that or did it really divide the Hispanic community?
MC: I think when Jose Campos Torres happened, I think there was outrage. There was outrage at the way, you know, the circumstances surrounding it . . . that was at a time when these types of instances were occurring throughout the southwest, throughout the state and it happened in Houston and it got a lot of national attention. I think the community was pretty united on that issue. It was not that . . . there was an injustice committee and at the time, the U.S. Department of Justice sent down a team of people. And so, it was an unfortunate incident but, you know, the community was pretty united on that.
MS: Were you there?
MC: No. I guess at the time I kind of took . . . I was, at the time, either would do statewide races and so I would be spending time up in Austin, and so I was not . . . I actually had an apartment up in Austin where I lived and spent most of my time. That was the period when I would do that but still got involved in local races. I had a relationship with Ben Reyes and Al Luna who replaced Ben in the legislature. And so, when politics had to be done, I would be summoned back and get involved in political campaigns.
MS: Tell me a little more about Campos Communications. How did it get started?
MC: In 1982, I went up and helped manage Mark White's campaign for governor of the State of Texas and so I got an opportunity to go work for Governor White. And so, I went up there and White got beat in 1986 - there were a number of factors involved - the real estate market was tainting and he had raised taxes and we were in an economic downturn, so he got beat in 1986. I came here, came back and decided . . . I was offered the opportunity to go work for the Democratic elected officials in Austin but, you know, I wanted to come back to Houston. This is my base. And I knew that things were happening in the Latino community here in Houston and I wanted to be a part of it. There were a number of other factors like I am a huge baseball fan and I miss the Astros and I wanted to come back. And so, my brother had started the firm and so I joined him and, eventually, so it is our firm. I run it now. He had started the firm one year earlier so I joined him, kind of like rather than staying in Austin. So, we got involved in a number of political races. We got involved in Bob Lanier's race in 1991 when he ran for mayor. It is really interesting - when he ran, Governor White also returned to Houston after he got beat. He is from Houston. And so, Bob Lanier was one of his appointees in state government. And so, Governor White decided he was going to help out Lanier and he asked me if I would help out. And so, I met with Lanier's operatives and I agreed to help his campaign, my firm would help out with Hispanic outreach, Hispanic voter identifications, and I asked him, I said, "Let me have your list of all your Latinos, all your Latino support." He said, "We don't have a list." I said, "Well, who are your Latino supporters then?" "Well, we've got 3." And I said, "Well, who are the 3?" As I recall, the only one I recognized . . . I knew all 3 of them but the only one I can recall was Ninfa.
It was Bob Lanier and Ninfa. But Bob Lanier, I give him credit in that we sat and taught and basically, he said, "You've got the resources to put together a campaign because I am not going to get there unless I have a significant number of the Latino votes," and this is a guy that had never been on the ballot before and he ended up getting 70% of the Latino vote and it helped him. The Latino vote is credited with getting him elected. We had people like Al Luna, Flumencia Reyes, a number of people that were helping him out and a lot of Latino business people. It is really like we conducted the campaign where he reached out and the Latino community responded and so, you know, we did that race. And so, we have kind of been known in town as a go-to firm for a lot of political races. A lot of people state wide. We have even gotten involved nationally. We were involved in the 2000 presidential race. And so, our farm is kind of like when people . . . you know, there are some folks in this business that do not like you or you go talk to Mark . . . we started as senior consultant to the original campaign that Rick Noriega for state representative, Jessica Ferrar for state representative, Mario Gallegos for state senator; of course, all the District I races, we were coordinating them. Victor Trevino, Constable. We ran his campaign. We were a part of Lee Brown's team. I was the lead consultant to Garnett Coleman's ________. We had done other races, you know, they weren't just not exclusively Latino but it is kind of like we probably know the Latino community politically better than anybody, certainly better than anybody in the state.
MS: Speaking of the Latino community sort of as one entity, a couple of years ago, you were quoted as saying that in terms of the Hispanic community, we does not exist anymore. Do you think that that is still true? Do you think that that has been sort of shifting throughout your time in politics?
MC: Where did you Google that one from?
MS: The Houston Chronicle.
MC: It said . . .
MS: The "we" of a Hispanic community does not exist anymore.
MC: Yes, I remember saying that. Well, in a perfect world, in a perfect political world, you would want to be able to have an orderly growth in politics here in Houston. I think there are some people that . . . it is kind of like this - there are actually some people in political campaigns and in the Latino community, too, even here in Houston, that when they get elected, they actually think they got smarter. And so, something about being an elected official - some folks can handle it, some folks cannot and so there is a tendency to, hey, it is either done my way, I get to pick the successor and so, early on in the community, there was always folks worked together but something in politics is always there, where there is always going to be a fight, a rift, a split. It happens in every community, just not Latinos. And that is what I was referring to, is we does not exist because at one point early on, I would say like maybe in the early part of the late 1990s or the early 2000s, you know, we were probably a more united group, a lot of us but I think, you know, there is some elected official that decided that . . . for instance, my role has often been challenged here. Some people don't like the fact that a lot of candidates come visit with me. Some people threaten candidates and you know, just kind of ______ and I just kind of like I have always been one . . . there is so much going on in our community that to encourage Latino voter participation, you know . . . we are still like when you measure other voting groups, Latinos still have the lowest turnout and so, I am always aware of that and I just always want to give them choices. Give them choices. Don't get mad if anybody runs against you or don't get mad if somebody disagrees with you. That is part of our growing process and I think some people politically here in town, Latinos, they want to be controlling and to me, all that does is kind of it is a penalty the entire community pays because they are not given choices.
MS: Speaking of how the Hispanic community has changed, how have you seen race relations change? Specifically, the tendency to have white and Hispanic coalitions versus Hispanic black coalitions?
MC: You know, I think we have truly been blessed that the city has not gone through a lot of the racial strife that other major cities have gone through in the United States and I credit two people and they are no longer involved in politics: Mickey Leland who died in 1989 and Ben Reyes. And they were friends and they worked together and they brought communities together, those two communities. And I think a lot of us learned there was no point in working against . . . you know, there have been some times where certain races, certain political races, certain voting groups you know went with each other but I think that is just the product of each individual campaign and there is no sinister group of people . . . I think there are some people that have wanted to exploit. For instance, when Lee Brown was running for mayor against Rob Mosbacher in the runoff, there were some Latinos who were carrying on this whisper campaign, hey don't elect the black mayor because they are not going to do anything for Latinos. We had to deal with that. Then, when Orlando Sanchez ran for mayor, there was a tendency to hey, you know, we can finally get a Latino ________ and run the blacks out of City Hall. We heard a lot of that. And they may kind of like test their assets for a political campaign but after the political campaign, you know, I think because the foundation that was set back in the 1970s with the leadership of Ben Reyes and Mickey Leland that a lot of us make sure that this stuff does not happen, that we are not going to inject race into our public policy debates, we work together, Latinos and African American political communities, to turn back the . . . when they tried to roll back Affirmative Action in the city. And there have been times when . . . we weren't together on this bond campaign, HISD bond campaign last year but we worked together on bond campaigns in the past. A lot of our community went with Hillary, the African American community went with Obama. After we left the precinct convention, nobody was upset with each other, so I don't think . . . we have been fortunate here. And I think, too, you have got to give credit to the current political leadership and the business community. Everybody has not just taught diversity, they have promoted diversity. Every now and then, you've got to slap somebody around for not doing their part.
MS: Tell me more about the Affirmative Action when they tried to roll it back in the City.
MC: I forget what year it was. I've got all my election files but there was a group of people that collected signatures that wanted to do away with Affirmative Action. During the Kathy Whitmire administration, they passed an ordinance that, through Whitmire's leadership, then Council member Anthony Ha (sp?), Council member Ernest McGowan, African American; Anthony is African American; Ben Reyes, they had an ordinance that on contracts that were awarded, that there had to be a goal of an MWBE component; you know, minority women, business enterprise component, there would be a goal. It wasn't a quota, it was a goal and they set up an Affirmative Action division in the mayor's office, the ______ businesses. And so, from now on, you know, if I was going to get awarded to design a new police substation, I was going to have to have in my team a minimum of 20%, 25%, whatever it was, set up. And so, that has encouraged a whole lot of folks who do business . . . well, what happened was some smaller owned white male owned firm thought that they were kind of like a form of reverse discrimination. They were no longer getting the sub jobs. They were going to minority women. And so, they felt that that was unconstitutional. So, they gathered some petitions, over 20,000 signatures, to force a referendum to do away with it. I want to say it was in either 2000 or 1999. It was when the mayor was still mayor and Lanier basically said, not on my watch. That is not going to happen. You are not going to eliminate it on my watch. And Lanier made a compelling argument. He said . . . I mean, Lanier is a member of the River Oaks Country Club, he lives in River Oaks and Lanier said, "Hey, you know, you do business with people you know," and when that happens, the minority businesses get cut out. And so, this program encourages folks to reach out and see other communities. And so, he put his mad dog, Dave Walden, to run the campaign with his chief of staff _______, hey, run this campaign. Let's beat these guys." And they ran the campaign and Affirmative Action is still there. And we all came out and busted our tails on that campaign.
MS: You were also involved in Lee Brown's campaign. What was that like?
MC: That was really a test because Lee Brown wasn't a politician. I mean, he served in the administration of Bill Clinton. But he was a police chief, he was an administrator. And so, he wasn't used to . . . he could be pretty stiff out on the campaign trail. But he was a good police chief and under his leadership, there was a growth of Latino police officers within the Houston Police Department, and he had good relationships with a number of our leaders but, you know, there were some that . . . I know Rob Mosbacher and it is interesting . . . there was Lee Brown in the race, Gracie Stein was in the race, and Rob Mosbacher. I like Gracie. I like her a whole lot. I admire her. I helped her when she ran for City Council in 1991. She surprised everybody when she won at large but in order to win a race like that, you've got to have money and you've got to have an appeal. She did not have the money, she wasn't going to have the money because you pretty much know where the money is coming from in the race for mayor. And so, her campaign never really got off the ground. A number of elected officials, Latinos, kind of stayed on the sidelines and some of us were kind of behind the scenes helping out Lee Brown knowing that if Gracie did not make the race, wasn't going to make the runoff, we had to get out there and organize in our community. And Gracie won the Latino boxes but the turnout was not there simply because the voter is not dumb. They knew, hey, she can't win. What is the point in going to vote? And so, we had to put together like a 5-week campaign for Lee Brown in our community and then we had a challenge and there were some operatives, Latino operatives that . . . Rob Mosbacher did not have anything to do with these people. Rob Mosbacher is a good guy. And they were basically putting out a whisper campaign, don't vote for the black because he is not going to do anything for our community. They are going to just take care of the blacks. We had to deal with that. But we ended up splitting . . . Mayor Brown won some of the Latino precincts, Mosbacher won the other precincts, so, you know, considering the life that Mayor Brown . . . he did not win by much. The fact that we were able to hold our own out there was important to us. One thing about him, he hired Carol Alvarado to be his transition chief and Carol Alvarado ended up a couple of months after that going to work on his staff. Lee Brown is probably as good a mayor as I have ever seen, making sure Hispanic owned firms were part of the deal out there and at the time, that was real important to us.
MS: How would you characterize the major issues that face Hispanic communities today versus, say, 30 years ago when you first got involved in politics?
MC: In Houston, the issues that we deal with today are, first, immigration. We've got probably one of the largest immigrant populations in the country and a lot of those are here without their papers. It is kind of like when you have a national debate on immigration, you know, you are really talking about to a large extent Houston's Latino community. I think that is an issue. We've got to deal with that responsively and not by rounding them all up and taking them across the border. We've got to solve it because they are a big part of our community. Along with that, you know, the whole issue of educating them. It is kind of like I worry that we are just on a time bomb because all these young kids and do we have the resources in place to educate them whether they are in private schools or charter schools or public schools, and the more we miss, the more we have to deal with it down the line. And then, with that comes, if they are not trained and educated, where are they going to get their jobs? Where are they going to work? Because we are seeing more and more jobs - the low scale jobs being exported to India or other countries like that - and so, what are these people . . . are there enough fast food places for them to work? And so, those are the things that I worry about. Back then, 30 years ago, our issues back then were empowerment. We want to be listened to. We want to be part of the decision-making process. We are like striving for bilingual education programs. Now, they've got to. It is not a question of . . . now, you have to, you know, because all the kids here, a lot of them have limited English speaking. So, we are pushing for bilingual education programs and then, you know, we are pushing for economic opportunities. We want some of the good paying jobs. How do we get the good paying jobs? We were just starting the formation of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and these people . . . hey, we want to be recognized. You fast forward to now and you've got Latinos owning taqueria chains, you have them owning computer companies, you have them owning administaff-type companies, you've got a major Latino firm that is one of NASA's biggest engineers. I mean, we are kind of like all over the place in terms of, 30 years ago, we were just like hey corporate America, listen to us. From the political community, we still have not achieved . . . there is still stuff . . . we are the largest Latino population group in the Harris County Greater Houston area that still does not have representation in Congress of all the . . . we are the largest Latino population group in the United States of America that still does not have a member in Congress. Everybody else, you know, they've got them. They got them in LA, in Arizona, New Mexico, San Antonio, but not yet in Harris County.
MS: What would you say first drew you to politics? You have been involved for 30+ years. What is it about politics that sucks you in?
MC: I guess, it is the contribution to be a part of change, of major public policy change. You know, I can hang it up today and feel that, hey, you know, I did all right. I was involved in some pretty heavy decisions in the shaping of our politics in the Houston area. I go to baseball games every night, Astros games, and I do not feel guilty about it. A lot of people go hunting, go fishing, go to Vail Colorado or whatever - I go to baseball games. I take my Blackberry with me. If anybody needs me, they can contact me and I will deal with a client or whatever. I can feel satisfied because of my involvement, what I helped create. What I helped create, you know, either through advising, you know, elected officials, structuring a campaign, is that we are going to be a part of every major public policy decision in the Houston area. We are, all right? We have to have that mindset. They are going to build a baseball stadium? We are going to be a part of it. They are going to build a light rail program? We are going to be a part of it. They are going to issue $800 million in school bonds? We are going to be a part of it. So, before it started out there, somebody had better make sure that the Latino community had input in the process, you know, and for the most part, a lot of that is going on. I won't hesitate to get on the phone and talk to an elected official or a leader and say, "Hey, I am hearing something is coming down. We need to get involved in it." And that is happening now. That is happening. Now, there are some, you know, that maybe think they are smarter than everybody else in elected politics, that, you know, oh, well, the Latino community will be supported, we are going to roll it out, you know, and we try to discourage these secret meetings of people that want to do it like the old way - we are just going to meet at the River Oaks Country Club and decide it. I hope that . . . the name of the game was kind of like participate _____________ participate at first. Then, as we matured, well, let's start being part of the decision making. I think, you know, that is what I like, that is what I get out of it, you know. And then when stuff does not happen the way it is supposed to happen, then I can truly say and I had said, well, we screwed it up.
We did not do . . . it was kind of like this. It is an interesting story. In 1993, then superintendent of HISD, Frank Petruzielo decided that he was going to leave and go back to another school district of Florida. And so, we at the time in 1993, we were already the largest student population group. And so, he was leaving and so some people started thinking, well, you know, maybe we can have a Latino school superintendent now. Hey, well, they will probably do a national search and we can come forward. Petruzielo made his announcement like mid November so kind of like we had Thanksgiving. So, the Latino leadership in this town, myself included, we got into Thanksgiving dinners and got into Christmas shopping, going to the Christmas party, spending Christmas with their family, and the school board met like the second week of January and unbeknownst to us, they had been having discussions - of course, they deny it now because what happened basically amounted to being illegal - and they were having discussions and they had decided that rather than go a national search and put together a search committee, whatever, they would appoint Rod Page, who was a school board member at the time, they just said, "Rod, why don't you be the school board superintendent? You are a Ph.D. and head of the Department of Education at TSU." And so, they organized basically, was a power play. We had two members of the school board that were Latino, and they were not consulted, and we had a third member who represented like a 50% Latino that was not consulted. And so, it was a power play and the Latino community went ballistic. They did this. They did this. And I remember telling some leaders here in this office, you know, I said, "You know, we screwed up. We should have demanded back then a search, a meeting, what is the process, what are you going to do, get them all on record." Instead, we fucking took it easy during the Christmas holidays and they pulled one over on us, you know? The school district's relationship with the Latino community, Latino leadership was strained for a few years after that. But that was our fault. As they say, we literally got caught with our pants down, you know. And so, it was a valuable lesson and so it is kind of like I enjoy . . . I don't enjoy being at the campaign headquarters anymore. I hate the smell of them. I would rather do . . . I detail somebody to run the campaign and I just oversee it generally. Sure, there is personal satisfaction like the fact that we never had a runoff in District I and that I am kind of like the candidate that I supported has always won in District I. There is the satisfaction of winning races. But I think the more that it is when they win and I sit with the elected official and I tell him, "Look, this is what you've got to do when you get there. You've got to be on. We are close to 50% of the city and so don't be afraid to let people know that and don't be afraid to give your opinion and don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to go to meetings even if you are not invited because that is how . . . we still have a long way to go but we need to make sure that we are part of every decision that is being made," and, you know, more and more that has happened, that is something that I have encouraged a lot. Other people take credit, sure.
MS: What about the recent redistricting issues with City Council like in 1991?
MC: You know, that was probably our big year. It is kind of interesting -- we used to all hate the at large system. Now, we've all gotten used to it and embraced it, so to speak. I guess people of color are getting elected. Lesbians got elected. And so, back then, in 1991, we felt that enough population gains were made to elect another district and that was one was District H, you know? The big fight was we wanted to eliminate the at larges but politically, we just could not get there because that was their venue for more African Americans to get elected so they were not on the program to do away with at larges. And so, I mean, we fought the good fight but the best we could do was convert H into a Latino district and that is the one where it was kind of interesting in that Dale Gorchinski who was representing H at the time, who is now JP, he ran for JP in 1992. And so, that means he was going to take off if he won. He was going to leave justice of the peace on January 1, 1993. And so, his seat was going to come open. So, at the time, the large changed ________ but the city council could make the appointment. And Ben Reyes was shooting to have the appointment of some sort of deal that nobody has ever given me a straight answer on and I doubt they will give you a straight answer today. But a deal has been cut to appoint Jamie Reyes, the wife of Flumencia Reyes. So, that did not sit well with some Council members because of Flumencia's involvement in litigation on redistricting. So, there was already some built-in opposition. And so, some of us thought it would be better if there was a compromised candidate, somebody that was not going to run again and then let the voters decide later on that year when the seat came open. And so, it was a close vote and the compromise candidate, sort of compromise, was Dale's wife, Cynthia Gorchinski. And so, she was appointed by Council, a pretty close vote - like 8 to 6 or something like that. She beat Jamie Reyes. And Jamie Reyes is still upset at some people for that. So then, they had an election that year. There were 3 major Latino candidates: Felix __________, Selena Garza and Liz Lara and Felix won. He was on the school board at the time and so he won the race in the runoff. And it is really interesting - that race, we went to sleep election night with Felix in first, Selena in second, and Liz Lara in third. Selena was leading Liz Lara by like a 13 to 12 vote lead, and Felix was probably 100 votes. Between the 3 candidates, there were no more than 150 votes difference. The next morning, they forgot to count a half of a ballot box. The county clerk threw them in the computer and counted them and Liz Lara was ahead of Selena Garza by 12 votes. And so, we had a recount and I was helping out Selena, and the recount got it up to Selena lost out by 1 vote. So, you know, you have heard the saying one vote can make a difference? So, Selena missed the runoff by 1 vote. Anyway, Felix ended up beating Liz and so he served on Council for 6 years.
MS: How would you compare today to the past in terms of recruiting young Hispanic leaders, training to get them to run for office?
MC: I think back then when we first got involved, a lot of people wanted to run for office and I think right now . . . but I think that running for office back then and now has changed dramatically. One of them being that, you know, I think _______ is the whole giving away of your privacy. I think young people have a lot more information at their hands nowadays and they know that hey, if I am going to go this route, you know, I've got to understand I am going to give up a whole lot of my life. There are a whole lot more demands of the elected official today than there were 30 years ago. And so, we actually probably have to do a little bit more aggressive recruiting to talk to people. I take pride in the fact that I am probably the only one in the business -- by business, I mean actively involved in politics, that goes out and encourages and helps out young people and helps them develop their talent. James Rodriguez worked here. There are a number of other folks that are involved in politics that have worked here. Carol Alvarado has never worked with me and I met her when she was in college and kind of like helped her and encouraged her. And so, it is kind of like people are like, yes, they want it . . . 'Yes, I might one to be a member of Congress. I might want to be a City Council member.' And so, you know, you sit with them and just tell them, "Well, hey, let me tell you what you are up against." So, it is tougher to find candidates than it was only because they know that, you know, the other sides is going to look up everything that you have been doing. Opposition research, so to speak, has become more of the thing to do. And so, they understand there is going to be more scrutiny. They understand that they are going to be giving up a whole lot more of their life. Now, there are plenty of benefits of being an elected official but I think it is a lot tougher than back then. But I think on the other side though, as long as we continue to grow, there are going to be more opportunities, more positions and it is not just being an elected official in politics. There are a number of appointed bodies in the Houston area . . . those are a lot more easier to recruit people for because you don't have to bust your ass to get there. I mean, there are some things like financial disclosure, things like that that you've got to do in a lot of these. And so, some of us do that. We talk to people . . . "Hey, what is your involvement?" And I remember under Lee Brown's administration, Mayor Lanier, I was used . . . though I never did go work in their administration. I stayed here at my firm. I was utilized on numerous occasions - all right, we need to go find a Latino for this position or for that position.
So, I went out and talked to a lot of people. I talked to them about whether they wanted to be involved in serving on the Port Commission, Metro, the Housing Authority, and then it is also, you know, again, observing young talent. Every now and then, I call Dr. Mendiola's office and say, "Hey, I am looking for somebody to come work here. Do you have anybody?" And he will send over somebody. Usually he will send over some folks. If you treat them right, they want to stick around. One thing about politics is that from the early days, I said earlier that some people just got burned out. They did not like the way they were treated as an elected official. Ben may have had a bad day and barked at somebody and scared somebody off. I have tried to . . . I saw that early on, how some people just got burned out. I always kind of live by, hey, you know, people that were involved - thank you for being involved, let them know what was going on, things like that. It is a lot easier not to let people know what is going on. All you had to do was punch in something in the computer and just shoot it out to them, you know, and to let people know that their involvement is appreciated and certainly is needed. We still have a long way to go. We don't have a member of Congress. I would like to be around. I think we are pretty close to fielding a Latino with a Democratic background to be elected mayor. We may at some point elect a Latino county judge. There are always positions . . . because of our growth, there are always going to be . . . I think one thing that we need to do, those of us that are involved politically and I have tried to encourage this with the elected . . . we need to be more aggressive on it, is there may be a disconnect between the growing Latino community particularly in Gulfton, Spring Branch, other parts of the community and what is known as the traditional north side Latinos, where a lot of your elected officials are. You talk to immigrant groups or you talk to immigrant leaders and they will kind of like basically in their body language tell you that we feel that those people over there are not representing us. There has got to be more of that because our growth, our Latino growth, is immigrant driven. It is immigrant driven. But our leadership, for the most part, our leadership is homegrown, and there needs to be a better job of melding and meshing the two, because if we are going to advance . . . in the old days, 30 years ago, everything was homegrown. It wasn't until we started experiencing all these waves of immigrants that were coming in, you know . . . but nowadays, you go to those parts of town, Spring Branch, Gulfton, that is foreign to a lot of our elected officials and we need to start addressing them.
MS: How do you think you go about doing that?
MC: You march with them. If they are going to march on . . . you are out there. When they have the immigrant marches, you start going out there and meeting with them and advocating what they want. They've got a lot of leadership that has been successful. A lot of the businesses that are operating out there are being run by immigrants. There are a lot of success stories out there. But they do not feel the connection with the community. You know, in Houston, we started out in this business - we only had 3 Spanish language radio stations. When we were first doing political campaigns, if we found the money, we would go to KLVL or one of the radio stations. Now, we've got 16 that are dealing . . . let me tell you something, unless ______ has a ton of money, it is a crap shoot of where you are going to put your . . . you cannot buy all 16 radio stations. You cannot do that. So, it is kind of like nobody will tell you this is the one that all the voters should listen to, you know, so you are just kind of like . . . and back then, we only had 3, you know? And so, maybe that is a project we will do here but there has to be a whole lot of talking between both groups in order for that next step, to be a Latino elected mayor, to be elected county judge because these communities are going to be . . . they may vote for you because you have a Latino last name but if you want them to get excited about you, they've got to know you. And I don't think they know him. A lot of these folks, they don't know each other.
MS: Do you mean the newer Hispanic communities do not know the older Hispanic communities?
MC: Yes. If you look at the map, the districts where we have Latino representation are over in this part of the county. Out there on Gulfton and out there in Spring Branch, other parts of the community, there are no elected ______. Latinos do not represent electively, you know. They've got Anglo reps, Asian reps, Asian members of City Council. And so, we need to do a job. And it is kind of like we are all over the place. We are spread everywhere. It is kind of like somebody will . . . I was telling somebody before we had the Super Tuesday, March 4, I was talking to a Latino voter think tank out of San Antonio and in Harris County, they rated us as the largest Latino population, Latino voting group, than any other county in the state. Harris County has the largest Latino voter registration than any . . . and I told her, I said, "Well, how come nobody knows this? How come people think it is San Antonio or the Valley?" and she said "Because ya'll are everywhere. Ya'll are all over the city." That is just one of the challenges we face, is we need to start figuring out a way to mesh better politically between the . . . I think I joked on it on my website, a little bit about the Go Tejano Day protest. Were you aware of that? Last year, at the rodeo, they always have Go Tejano Day. It is one of the most successful events at the rodeo. I have been to a couple of those. That place is just packed with Latinos. And for the last few years, they have not signed any Tejano music acts to be headliners over there. And so, some Latino leaders decided to protest that there weren't any Tejanos and so they organized a protest and a boycott and I just kind of like joked on my website . . . there are some people here that don't even know what Tejano music is. Latinos here. They are from Honduras, they are from Nicaragua, they are from . . . they don't know Tejano music. And somebody was telling me . . . I was reading the paper where one of the acts, something called Duranguessa (sp?) or something like that.
MC: Duranguesse (sp?)
MS: Yes, Duranguesse. And I had to ask her, "What the heck is that?" It is kind of like is it really necessary to have . . . I mean, they did not do away with Go Tejano Day, they are just not doing a certain kind of music. And it is just kind of like . . . and I wonder what folks in Gulfton were thinking about. "Why are they organizing a protest? That is the only thing we like about the rodeo, Go Tejano Day." It is just kind of like that is a challenge that we have and that is a challenge . . . the problem is that sometimes our elected officials become parochial in that all I want to do is deal with my district. ________. And everybody gets parochial. All I want to do is deal with my business. All I want to do is deal with my chain, deal with my organization. And we have yet . . . what we used to do back in 1990, 1991 was that Ben Reyes and myself and some other guys, Hector Deleon, a good kid who works for the Harris County Clerk, the press of the Harris County Clerk, they organize every Saturday morning something called Latinos Unidos. We meet at a restaurant. It was all Dutch treat. You pay for your own coffee and Mexican breakfast. And everybody would get up there and have their opinion. And the entire leadership would go out there on a Saturday morning. Ben Reyes. It was kind of Ben Reyes trying to drive it. Everybody would spew out the latest issue that was going on, spew off this and spew off that, and that kind of died off by 1994. The political fight and people got mad and so they kind of like disintegrated or people tried to carry it with their own agenda, and I have often thought, you know, are we ready to do something like that? Do we want to have a call to arms and say, hey, we are going to have a Latino summit or a meeting or whatever and just figure out what the heck is going on, who is doing what, you know? I have wondered logistically whether that could be pulled off, is it necessary? The more I think about it, the more I probably think that yes, you need to do something because when was the last time the entire Latino leadership from all segments - business, political, education, all came under one roof, you know? We are the largest population group, you know? I mean, why haven't we done it, you know? Thirty years ago, we did it. Thirty years ago, we did it but there weren't that many of us. I figure it was not a logistical . . . 30 years ago, we were all Mexican Americans, for the most part. Yes, there were some people here from Cuba and some other spots but we are all Mexican Americans. Now, we are from everywhere south of the border. Those are logistical challenges that we have got to deal with.
MS: Do you feel like Hispanic immigrants tend to section themselves off by regions _________?
MC: I think so. Of course. Hey, you come here - hey, where did they live? They want to go with a friend or a friend of a friend or a relative. Sure, that happens. Sure that happens, you know? I think though that, you know, whenever they go through the process and become citizens, they are a more disciplined voter. I think the studies have been proven that you don't bust your ass and get a citizenship and then don't go vote. But I think it is kind of like in 30 years, where we were politically - I do not want to say we were not as sophisticated as we are today, however, I do not think here in Houston, we have kept up with . . . we have done enough . . . we can do a whole lot more. We can do a whole lot more. We should not be content. And somebody needs to step forward politically or an institute . . . hey, we are going to take the next step. Right now, we are kind of like just out there.
MS: A lot of people have said that the party who can make the most ________ with the Hispanic community will define the state politically versus _______. What do you think about that?
MC: Well, that is kind of like that is not new. Dr. Murray and Dr. Stein have been saying that for 15 years now. The Republican Party actually has made an effort - it has been a lousy effort but they have actually made the effort. It is kind of like the Democratic Party is kind of like . . . I have kind of talked myself to death about this but there is always this talk that we are going to make Texas a blue state, less work. Let's say the Democrats have decided we are going to make the effort to make Texas the blue state. Well, you've got to start with Latino voters and if you are going to start with Latino voters, you go to the biggest Latino population and that is Houston. And they have not make the effort to make the ________. Yes, they are better on the issues, yes, the whole immigration issue scared off and yes, there is a whole lot of . . . 1 out of every 4 Democrats that participate in the primaries _______ Latino here in Houston, but you have got to put in the resources and it is just all talk right now. And so, you've got a community acting like . . . we have not gone, the party has not gone and said to its folks, hey, what do we need to do for the immigrant community, for this community? They have not done that. But it is kind of like either they are afraid to do it or they do not want to do it, or they do not know how to do it. And I kind of think it is a combination of both. I do not think they know how to do it. I don't think they know how to approach that community. You cannot go in there and send a mariachi band or something like that. Like I said, we have some tough challenges in integrating all the community. I mean, if you've got 16 radio stations that have different formats, you know, you obviously have pretty significant and complex communication challenges. I think we have 3 or 4 different TV stations in town, probably about a dozen publications, and so there are all sorts of ways you have to figure out how to communication with them. The first thing you've got to do is sit with them and I do not think we are doing that as a community right now. Only because our numbers are so huge.
MS: All right, well now that we have talked extensively about Hispanic politics in Houston, backtrack a little bit. You said you were born in Baytown. How long were you in Baytown and where did you live after that?
MC: I have been in Houston since . . . well, you know, if you are in Baytown, you are a Houstonian. And so, it is all my life.
MS: What other parts of town have you lived in, in Houston?
MC: Right by Hobby Airport, the old Broadway Square Apartments, and here in the Heights. I actually live here in my office. It is kind of a combination office and house. I did a couple of tours of duty in Austin working for Governor White and working for the Texas Democratic Party. I was a research director and got involved in campaigns. I have been here in the Heights since 1989 and watched kind of like the Heights evolve into what it is now. It is really tough to watch it evolve. It is kind of like because it happened and it is kind of like . . . I remember when that used to be a Claytons and not a Fiesta, you know? It is kind of like you see one house, a new house one day, and the next day . . . it has all been a blur to me.
MS: How would you characterize how the Heights has changed overall?
MC: You know, pretty dramatically.
MS: How so?
MC: Pretty dramatically. It is kind of like . . . I mean, you just look at the housing. I went to my precinct convention. Of course, precinct convention - I did not even know all those people there. I did not know we had these many Democrats. It has changed pretty dramatically. I still think it is a progressive neighborhood. If somebody did a study one time about people that live in inner cities, is that they decide they do not want to live in the suburbs, they say they do not want to live in Katy, but they know that there are challenges when you live in an inner-city, smaller yards and possibly more crime or whatever. And so, that makes a more progressive type individual and I translate that into a progressive voter.
MS: What high school did you go to?
MC: Baytown Sterling.
MS: What was high school like?
MC: Weird because it was a brand new high school at the time. I lived right across the street from Baytown Lee. Bob Lanier went to Baytown Lee and I went to Baytown Sterling. It was across town and did not have any windows. It was a brand new high school but it did not have any windows. It was a brand new high school and we did not have windows or anything like that. My parents still live in Baytown. They are in their 80s. My mom just had her knee replaced and her hip replaced but my dad still drives and they come over here once a week. They are retired educators. They used to come over here two or three times a week. Now, they are down to once, maybe twice a week. They come and volunteer in the office, help file stuff. My dad is still active in his precinct, still talks to people to get them out to vote. And Baytown is part of some of the districts that the folks, some of my clients represent. So, still have an active . . . my dad actually liked sued the City of Baytown to do away with their at large form of government. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It was Tony Campos versus the City of Baytown. In fact, it is interesting - when we filed suit in 1991 on the single ______ districts and I think the suit was actually filed in 1990, it was Jesse Campos versus the City of Houston. That is Esther. You interviewed Esther's husband. In fact, Jesse __________ and we had our precinct conventions the other day, our senatorial conventions and somebody emailed me a photo from an AP story. It was my Uncle Jesse holding up a sign that said "Veterans for Clinton." And so, my family has been pretty much involved in politics not only in Baytown but here in the Houston area. So, it is kind of like it is important when your family is involved. It makes it . . . I was familiar with it, you know. I am sure some kids, you know, particularly kids of immigrants whose family has been involved or they get involved in politics, you can kind of be a little bit intimidated at first but I was kind of acclimated to it. I would go with my dad to rallies, to meetings. I used to meet some of the elected officials.
MS: Did you have any local heroes growing up?
MC: No, but it is kind of like this: it is like not in the political sense other than not locally and let me tell you why. I wished I would have had folks like me around that had done this. I kind of like, you know, we are out there and had never done this. There weren't any like people that had worked on political campaigns that were Latinos. There weren't like, you know, folks that . . . well, what is going to work? What kind of message is going to work? Is this going to . . . a lot of this was hit and miss, running by the seat of your pants, and so I did not have somebody out there that had done campaigns, and I was doing statewide campaigns. I was one of the first people, the first Latino, with the major responsibilities working on the political campaigns, you know. And the same thing here in Houston. Being involved. I mean, there were people that have been involved like Alex Negrete and Leo Deleon, people like that, in advertising and they had themselves to work with and bounce things off of. But in terms of political campaigns, there were not a whole lot of us there. I think I was the only guy that . . . my heroes [1:29-1:56 blank on tape]
. . . where more of national score of guys like Bobby Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, George McGovern, Cesar Chavez - they weren't like any local people, you know, and I did not have mentors. There wasn't anybody there to . . . and I am not trying to feel sorry for myself. We just did not have it. Kids that get involved today, they all have . . . there are a number of people out there that can give them advice, and believe me, I give advice to a lot of young folks that are involved in this business. Back then, we didn't have - we were just kind of like I wonder if this is going to work, I wonder if this message is going to work, I wonder if . . . and we did not have like, hey, let's go there and let's see what is working in other places. You might read about something or you might go to a convention and you see a button - hey, that button might work, you know, that slogan might work, you know, and things like that but here locally, we were the . . . I mean, there were people in front of us that were involved. The Beba Kennedy Club, the Paso Organizations, but it wasn't until guys like myself and Al Luna and Ben Reyes came around where we actually started running campaigns where actually like part of it, were actually like deciding and that is when we started to see more elected officials, officials that represent the community get elected. And so, there weren't a whole lot of people after that. There wasn't a Mark Campos that was there ahead of _______ hey, this is what I did, this is going to work. Anyway, that is the story.
MS: Did you grow up loving the Astros or did that come later in life?
MC: I was a Yankee fan before there ever were Astros because when I was growing up, we had black and white TVs - we only could catch Yankee games and so I loved Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. And then, in 1962, the Houston Colt 45s were formed and my dad would take me to about 4 or 5 games a year at the old Colts Stadium. And then, in 1965, they built what I thought was the coolest place in the world, was the Astrodome, and my dad would take me to a handful of games every year. Once I got my driver's license, I started going on my own and, you know, a lot of my disposable income would be there. In 1994, I decided to buy season tickets and so now, I am a huge fan. I even actually did some work for Drayton McClain, the owner, back in 1999. He had a small PR problem that he needed a . . . he was accused by a member of the Spanish Language Media saying some insensitive remarks about Latinos. And so, it became kind of a national scorn. He was a baseball owner. And so, he hired me to help him deal with community leaders. And it ended up what he said was actually blown up, what he said amounted to a hill of beans, you know, and so, I developed a relationship with him because I had to work closely with him and his staff and we became friends and he will invite me to sit with him in his nice seats maybe a couple of times a year. We actually use those seats to bring in some Latino leaders to sit with him at games and get to know him. And now, he is a big supporter of Latino politics in this town. He will support an event. Also, the baseball stadium is in District I and so he had a good relationship with Carol Alvarado, still does, and a good one with James Rodriguez. James Rodriguez actually used to be a bat boy for the Astros. And so, he has some history there. And so, it is kind of like when you go to the ballgame, it is really interesting, too, the way they have a . . . I know some of the people that work there so every now and then, they will ask me for advice. But they recognize the demographic, too, and I told them a year and a half ago, I said, "Why don't you try selling fajitas?" And sure enough, they set up a fajita stand last year that became such a success, they opened up another one. They do a lot of stuff that is geared towards the Latino community which I think it is pretty cool. They are one of the few baseball stations that actually have their games on Spanish radio. There are not that many. You would think that all of them do but probably about 6 or 7 do it and the Astros have been doing it for a long, long time. They actually do a TV program once a week on Fox TV about the Astros. I like it.
MS: A few general questions about Houston. How would you describe the spirit of Houston?
MC: You know, you always overhear this stuff about, oh, I came to Houston with nothing and it gave me the opportunity. Kind of like a can-do type thing. And I would just say the spirit of Houston is kind of like let's try to keep moving forward. Not let's move forward or let's keep going. I think those are too more feel good . . . because we have challenges but it is kind of like let's try to move forward. Let's just try. It is kind of like I don't want to say we never give up because it's got a negative connotation but let's just try to move forward, you know? There have been some instances where . . . and I had a lunch yesterday, an interesting lunch with some business owners . . . Carol Alvarado dealt with some major business leaders here in town and they are kind of like I told them, I said, hey, you know, it is kind of like, when we want to get things done in this city, build a light rail or build a baseball stadium or try to get the Olympics or try to get one of the national party conventions here or get behind a _______, something big, try to get a major thing here, we all unite and say everybody feels good about it, we did it, you know. And I told them, I said, "You know, we still have a problem with our schools and we cannot just think that the superintendent of the school board is going to solve this and we can't just get out there and say hey, well, if we had more charter schools, we would handle it. You've got to do . . . we've got to roll up our sleeves and figure out a way to solve this people problem, this kid problem. We've got to educate our kids." And so, you know it is kind of like that is why I say let's try to move forward in everything. That would kind of be the spirit.
MS: What are the couple of things are your favorite things about living in Houston, just in general?
MC: Favorite things about living in Houston are we've got plenty to do here in terms of for fun. We've got plenty of parks, golf courses if you are into golf, professional sports teams, orchestra, and you've got room to do it all. You don't feel like you are in some sort of concrete jungle. We have good restaurants. So, that is one of the favorite things. I think the least favorite thing is that we are way behind on mass transportation. Way behind. And there is no one . . . let me tell you something - there is nobody that can convince . . . you are not going to win the argument that oh yes, we did what we could. No. We decided to go the highway route, freeway route, the big subdevelopments all over and now we are paying the price. People are hurting because of gasoline prices. There is only one light rail line. Probably by the time I die, we may have a decent, half-assed light rail system, you know, but we are way behind on that. And that is kind of like . . . I was reading the paper this morning where we are fixing to get to $4 a gallon of gas and I am thinking, could we have done better? Yes, we should have done better. We are real big about patting ourselves on the back - they had the foresight to build the Port, the big old dredge 50 miles out to sea and they busted their butt to get NASA and they have done everything they could to do the Texas Medical Center. We ought to admit it, you know, that we did not do a good job of putting together a mass transportation system. It was kind of like we took the easy way out and for somebody taking pride of who we are as Houstonians and Texans, we took the easy way out on transportation. We did the Gulf Freeway and thought that is going to be the solution to our problems. You know, come on! We talked about I-10. That is one thing that I don't like about our town is having to get on the freeway, because I don't know who likes getting on the freeway.
MS: Is there anything else that you wish I had asked or that you would like to cover?
MS: Thank you.
MC: Thank you.