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Julián Castro Ran for President on a Police Reform Platform But Wasn’t Invited to Give DNC Address

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The Democratic National Convention faces criticism over the lack of diversity in its primetime programming during this year’s virtual event, even as Latinx voters are slated to make up the largest bloc of nonwhite voters in 2020. Only a handful of Latinx speakers and no Muslim speakers are appearing during the broadcasted convention, while Republicans like former Ohio Governor John Kasich were given slots. “There were 35 primetime speakers, and only three of them were Latinx, and I raised a concern about that,” says Julián Castro, former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and the only Latinx candidate in the race. “I don’t think that represented the beautiful coalition that the Democrats put together.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the DNC began the four-day convention Monday night with a focus on racial justice and President Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, the Democratic Party faced criticism for a lack of diversity in its primetime lineup, with only a handful of Latinx speakers and no Muslim speakers, while Republicans like former Ohio Governor John Kasich were given slots. The first night was moderated by the actress Eva Longoria. New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is set to speak tonight for 60 seconds.

For more, we’re joined by former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, the only Latinx candidate who was in the race. Castro served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Obama from 2014 to '17. He was not invited to speak in primetime at the DNC, unlike many of his rivals. He's joining us from San Antonio, Texas, which may be a battleground state this November.

Secretary Castro, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Our condolences on the loss of your stepmother to COVID-19.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Thank you very much, Amy. It’s good to be with you.

And that testimony that you played, that was shown last night, from Kristin, was just tremendously powerful and, I think, resonates with a lot of people out there. I know, for me and for my family, we certainly understand the seriousness of this virus and also understand that a lot of this could have been prevented.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julián Castro, I wanted to ask you your initial reaction to the first night of the convention. And especially, many of the speakers were talking about why it was important to vote against Donald Trump, the decency of Joe Biden, and his experience and his respect for science. But Bernie Sanders was one of the few who actually went into the content of what Joe Biden is standing for, his platform, as well, and why it’s important for progressives to vote for him.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah, I think that Senator Sanders did a wonderful job. I think Michelle Obama was very powerful last night. But you’re right with Senator Sanders that — look, one of the things I noticed out there right now is that whether people are liberal or conservative, they’re Republican, Democrat, independent, what they want are solutions. And I think what Bernie did well in highlighting was this is what electing Joe Biden is going to mean for you and your family — raising the minimum wage, healthcare, a number of other things that are going to make people’s lives better. That’s what I think people want to know. You know, how is this person going to make my life and the life of my family and the country better than it is today?

I think we’ve gotten to a point that because there’s so much back-and-forth on cable news, because people are so polarized, that folks that don’t love politics, that don’t follow it all the time, they sort of — they tend to shy away from it even more than usual right now, shy away from that conversation. And the best way, I think, to get their attention is to say, “OK, well, this is how it’s going to be different in a positive way.” And he did that, which was great.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I also wanted to ask you — one of the big issues of the night, and obviously of this election season, is the issue of the right to vote, whether it’s under assault or not, and also the issue of mail-in ballots. Now, there was a recent poll that shows that in your state of Texas, a majority of Latinos would prefer to vote in person rather than by mail-in ballot. I’m wondering your sense of this issue. And are there — independently of what you may think of President Trump, are there some concerns about all mail-in ballot in terms of being able to assure the integrity of the vote?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Look, what I believe is that people should have options during this time period. They should not have to choose between their right to vote and risking their health. So, universal mail-in ballots should be available. If there is in-person voting, if that is going to be an option, as well, that that be made as safe as possible, because, you’re right, you know, growing up here in a largely Mexican American community in San Antonio, I can tell you, I mean, what I would hear along the way is, “Oh, oh, I’m not going to vote early. I’m going to vote on Election Day. I’m going to go vote in person.” And so, this practice kind of precedes the controversy that we’re having around mail-in balloting.

At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact, of course, that this president is trying to suppress the vote as a strategy to rig this election and win. And so, there are going to be a lot more people that want to use the mail to cast their ballot this time. And there are states like Colorado that rely on universal mail-in balloting as their sole form of the way to vote. We have to make sure that the post office is well invested in, that it is functioning properly, that it can handle a greater volume than usual of mail-in ballots.

AMY GOODMAN: The brothers of George Floyd led a moment of silence during Monday night’s Democratic National Convention in honor of their brother and other victims of police violence. This is Philonise Floyd.

PHILONISE FLOYD: My brother George was selfless. He always made sacrifices for his family, friends, and even complete strangers. George had a giving spirit, a spirit that has shown up on streets around our nation and around the world — people of all races, all ages, all genders, all backgrounds — peacefully protesting in the name of love and unity.

It’s a fitting legacy for our brother, but George should be alive today. Breonna Taylor should be alive today. Ahmaud Arbery should be alive today. Eric Garner should be alive today. Stephon Clark, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, they should all be alive today. So it’s up to us to carry on the fight for justice.

AMY GOODMAN: And with that, they went to a moment of silence at the convention. Another part of the DNC last night, Joe Biden in conversation with a number of people, including Gwen Carr, the activist and mother of Eric Garner. This is part of what they said.

JOE BIDEN: Most cops are good. But the fact is, the bad ones have to be identified and prosecuted and out, period. Gwen, how are you doing?

GWEN CARR: Well, I’m doing pretty well, as well as can be expected.

JOE BIDEN: You know, I’m sure that the words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe,” were not new to you, and they echo in your mind every single day. It was six years ago when your son died, but we can’t let this keep happening. What do you think the next thing we have to do, Gwen?

GWEN CARR: Well, first of all, I know when my son was murdered, there was a big uprising, but then it settled down. We can’t let things settle down. We have to go to the politicians, and we have to hold their feet to the fire, because, otherwise, the big uprising is not going to mean a lot. So, I’m just asking that if you become the president, that you make sure that we get national law, as well as state and local law, especially when it comes to police brutality, because that has been an age-old problem.

JOE BIDEN: Well, I may be kidding myself, but I think the people are ready. I think people are ready. We’ve just got to keep pushing. We can’t let up.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Joe Biden speaking to Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. Julián Castro, I think you had the earliest plan for dealing with police. Can you lay that out and what you think the Democratic candidates need to do right now, what Joe Biden needs to do to deal with this critical issue of police brutality?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, I mean, first, Amy, I would say I was very — I was very glad to see that exchange last night and the fact that Vice President Biden and the campaign are dealing squarely with this issue, not shying away from it, not walking away from it, not letting up on it. What Gwen said there, that we can’t let it settle back down, I thought those were some of the most powerful words in the entire convention from last night, because that’s usually what happens.

Fortunately, Vice President Biden, very early on, after the murder of George Floyd, put forth a series of policy proposals, from banning chokeholds to a national use-of-force standard to more transparency, that he called a “down payment on change.” Many of those were reflected, are reflected, in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that the House of Representatives passed.

On top of that, I’m glad to see local communities across the country that are engaging in deeper thinking about investing in mental health counseling, social workers, housing opportunity, because so many of the calls that police officers are asked to respond to are for people that are homeless or have a mental health issue, that they don’t need an armed cop. The vast majority of them are not violent. What they need is they need services, so that they can get onto a better life. And cities across the country, whether we’re talking about Los Angeles or San Francisco or Austin, Texas, just up the road from me, recently, are moving in that direction. And Joe Biden has said that he wants to work with local communities as they do that. All of that is positive. And as he said, we need to keep pushing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Julián Castro, I wanted to ask you — you may be reluctant to talk about your own personal role in this, but it must be bittersweet to see all this emphasis now of the national party on the issue of police abuse after the murder of George Floyd, when you were out there early in the campaign raising these issues, and also that you, in a past convention, had been a keynote speaker of the Democratic convention. Now many Latino leaders feel you’ve sort of been slighted in the lineup here of the four days of the convention. Your thoughts, if you have, on that?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, look, I mean, I know they have a very difficult challenge, because the networks condensed the amount of time that they’re giving the parties this year, I think, in one or two hours a night. Usually that’s three or four hours. So, you know, it’s understandable that you’re going to have a limited number of speakers.

And more importantly than me or any one person speaking, politician speaking, I really think that you get value, that the voters get value, the people get value, from hearing the powerful stories like Kristin’s and like Gwen’s, that are first-person stories that really connect why it’s important to elect Joe Biden to the lives of everyday people out there. I think that’s the most important thing. I think that’s probably also politically the most effective thing.

So, I know I’ll have my time to speak, whether it’s on this show or other shows or other opportunities, but America needs to hear how this president has badly impacted the lives of people around this country, and, more importantly, how Joe Biden is going to make a positive difference for them.

AMY GOODMAN: But even talking about representation on the panel, just following up on what Juan said, I mean, the primetime slots include Bernie Sanders; of course Kamala Harris, who was one of your rivals but now the vice-presidential candidate; Buttigieg; Klobuchar; Warren; Booker; Yang — not you, though. Were you asked?

JULIÁN CASTRO: To speak in primetime?


JULIÁN CASTRO: No, I was not. No, I was not. But, look —

AMY GOODMAN: And there’s been a — go ahead.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah, no, I spoke a few years ago, and I had a wonderful time doing it. And, you know, I’m going to continue to speak out on issues that matter for our country. And also, most importantly, I’m going to do my part to help ensure that Joe Biden gets elected and we defeat Donald Trump in November.

I do think — I agree with you on the issue of representation. You know, last week, I think the count had been that there were 35 primetime speakers, and only three of them were Latinx. And I raised, you know, a concern about that and also, at that time, a lack of representation among Native Americans and Muslim Americans, because I don’t believe that that represents the — that represented the beautiful coalition that Democrats have put together.

Fortunately, in the days since then, over the weekend, there were announcements that were made that were, I think, much more diverse, which is a positive. And when you actually look at the programming, the nonpoliticians that are speaking, which I think people maybe even pay attention to more, they’re very diverse, whether it’s the family of George Floyd or Kristin, the young woman who gave testimony about her father passing from COVID-19. That’s very important.

AMY GOODMAN: But, you know, the polls do show, for example, Texas Hispanics favor Joe Biden, but Donald Trump still leads statewide electorate in presidential race — just one headline. How should that be addressed, Julián Castro? What can Joe Biden do? What does he have to watch out for, what he has to make sure he doesn’t ignore — for example, like immigration?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, when it comes to the Latino community, I think that the campaign needs to continue to invest in voter outreach, registration efforts, speak to the issues that matter. And just recently, the campaign released a Latino agenda for America, which I thought was a good thing to do and will resonate. But also, you know, all of the issues that people care about — healthcare, about small business, about educational opportunity for their kids, addressing the fact that the Latinx community and other vulnerable communities have been the hardest hit during this pandemic — and Joe Biden has been squarely addressing many of those issues, and I’m sure the campaign will continue to do that. On top of that, it’s going to require a lot of other work from the nonprofit organizations that do voter registration, like Voto Latino and a number of others, to get folks out in what is going to be a very unusual year in terms of the mechanics of voting.

AMY GOODMAN: You famously said to Biden, “I’ve learned the lessons of the past, but you haven’t.” Do you think he has now?

JULIÁN CASTRO: I’ve been pleased with what Vice President Biden has put out in terms of his immigration plan and then also on healthcare. You know, he and I did have our conversations on the debate stage, and that’s the nature of a primary debate, right? You’re going to go back and forth on how you differ. And I don’t expect that everybody I support is going to agree with me completely. If they agreed with me completely, I would be that candidate, right?

So, but what I think is important for folks to realize out there — and now I’m speaking, you know, directly to the Latinx community — is that it’s night and day with Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been the cruelest, most ill-intentioned president when it comes to not only immigrants, migrants, but the broader Latino community, scapegoated the community, otherized the community, uses it as a political piñata. And Joe Biden is somebody who brings compassion, who brings understanding, and, most importantly — because what you want to judge politicians on is, OK, what are you going to do, and what is your track record — has a track record of expanding opportunity, with Barack Obama. The Affordable Care Act expanded healthcare to 4 million — more than 4 million Latinx folks in this country. On educational opportunity, on violence against women, on housing opportunity. I remember going to Delaware with him — I think it was Veterans Day of 2016 — and marking the effective end of veteran homelessness there in Wilmington, and seeing how much that meant to him. So, this is somebody that is going to work to make life better for everybody in this country, in a way that Donald Trump — as Michelle Obama pointed out, Donald Trump just isn’t up to it and doesn’t want to do it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Julián Castro, just in our final few moments that we have, I’m wondering your assessment, going back to Texas, the second most populous state in the nation — your assessment of Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to reopen the state early on? And also, could you tell us about your thoughts for your future? Any possibility of a run for governor at some point?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah, I mean, Greg Abbott has been in the same boat as Donald Trump and governors like Ducey in Arizona and DeSantis in Florida. It’s this putting right-wing ideology over the public health and science.

So, when he reopened the state in early May, he made three mistakes, reopening too early. When they reopened, they didn’t have the two things in place that public health experts tell us you need to have in place, which was robust testing and robust contact tracing. In fact, at the time, Texas ranked 48th per capita in terms of the number of tests that were happening. And then, third, when communities across the state begged the governor to be able to tailor their own safety precautions, require masks or do other things, the governor said, “No, my order supersedes you. You can’t do that,” opened up the bars and restaurants, and then basically made it worse here in the state of Texas for everybody, and has hurt the economy because of that — and admitted, for instance, that he made a mistake in opening the bars up too early. So, it’s just, you know, we can’t rely — in the middle of a global pandemic, you cannot rely on people that are putting their own political ideology and interests ahead of basic science and the public health. That is in nobody’s interest. That’s exactly what Greg Abbott has done.

In terms of my future, this is the first time in a long time that I’m not aiming for any office. You know, after I got out of the Obama administration, I pretty much knew that I was going to probably run for president. Right now I’m working on People First Future, which is an effort to support bold, progressive candidates that are running up and down the ballot, from Congress down to school board, to help build a bench of progressives in our country. And I’m going to continue to use my voice to be supportive of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and help get them elected. And then we’ll see what happens, you know, whether a jump back into politics at some point soon or just wait for a while. Right now I don’t feel compelled necessarily to jump right back in.

AMY GOODMAN: Julián Castro, I want to thank you for being with us, former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Obama. Prior to that, he was mayor of San Antonio, where he’s speaking to us now.

When we come back, today marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing women’s right to vote, though many Black women would not enjoy that right for decades. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “If I Was President” by Las Cafeteras, performing here at Democracy Now!, their song featured during the Democratic National Convention’s Hispanic Caucus meeting yesterday.

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