By Griselda Nevarez, Voxxi
One of the most well-known and respected members of Congress, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio, is weeks away from stepping down and ending half a century of representation in Congress by the Gonzalez family.
“It’s the end of an era, but I think it’s a proud one,” Gonzalez told VOXXI. “I think there is a lot to be said about what it produced and how it opened doors for a lot of people.”
Last year, the 67-year-old Democratic congressman announced he would not seek re-election and would step down after serving in Texas’ 20th Congressional District for 14 years. His decision not to run for an eighth term this year meant that for the first time in 50 years, the San Antonio ballots did not include a member of the Gonzalez family running for Congress.
The congressional tenure by the Gonzalez family began in 1961 when Charlie’s father, Henry, took office. He went on to serve for 37 years before stepping down in 1999 due to health issues. He passed away in 2000 at age 84.
Charlie Gonzalez stepped into his father’s shoes in 1999 and has served in Congress ever since. Before being elected as a congressman, he served as an elected county and state district judge in San Antonio for more than a decade.
Now, he wants to pursue another endeavor, one that does not involve running for office again.
“I would like to be based in San Antonio doing something that I truly believe serves a good public purpose,” he told VOXXI. “If I can do that, that would be wonderful. If I can’t, then I would look for something that would be more private in nature but still doing the same kind of work that I think makes a big impact in people’s lives.”
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez said the most rewarding part of serving in Congress was the satisfaction he felt after helping his constituents.
He recalled ensuring veterans were given the medals and ribbons they deserved, witnessing how immigration laws reunited families and sponsoring a workshop to help undocumented youth fill out their applications for deferred action.
“To think that you are helping people better themselves is just empowering and so satisfying,” he told VOXXI. “I will miss that, because I cannot think of another job that gives you that opportunity.”
Gonzalez said voting against giving former President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq was his best “no” vote because he believes the United States should have never invaded Iraq. Voting to approve the Affordable Care Act was his best “yes” vote because he said the healthcare law makes health insurance coverage available to millions of families that would never have had it.
Gonzalez said the biggest lesson he learned as a congressman is one that his father taught him by example. He learned that all elected officials are public servants to every citizen and resident living in their district and that they can’t always please everyone.
“When you start trying to please everyone, you no longer can be an effective representative, because you have to make decisions and you can’t make everyone happy,” he told VOXXI. “But as long as you’re honest with people and explain the reasons why you voted a certain way, they will respect you.”
“That is the lesson my father taught me, and I’m hoping that I’ve been able to meet that particular challenge,” he added.
Charlie Gonzalez said that when he was first elected to take over his father’s seat, he felt “tremendous” pressure to protect the reputation of the Gonzalez family name that his father had built over the years.
“My father left me the greatest legacy that any child can get from a parent and that’s the parent’s good name,” he told VOXXI. “I always felt like that was a very precious thing that you can lose at any moment if you don’t protect it.”
Henry Flores, a political science professor and dean of the Graduate School at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said Gonzalez has done more than just guard the reputation of the Gonzalez family name.
“He picked up the mantle his father left behind and has been expanding the Gonzalez reputation ever since,” Flores said of Gonzalez.
He said the transition from father to son was “very smooth” because Gonzalez shared a lot of the same values as his father, who Flores describes as “a great leader with a great reputation and a lot of courage.”
Flores added that much like his father, Gonzalez has been “very accessible” to his constituents, is “very reasonable” and has “a lot of integrity.”
Mickey Ibarra, chairman of the Latino Leaders Network, said that in Washington, D.C., Gonzalez is seen as an “iconic figure” who represents the needs of Latinos. Ibarra’s group awarded Gonzalez the Eagle Leadership Award this month for his contributions to the Latino community during a luncheon in the nation’s capital.
Ibarra described Gonzalez as someone who is “a workhorse, not a showhorse” and as someone who is courteous and has great listening skills. He added that as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for the last two years, Gonzalez was “a unifying force that brought the caucus to a new level of unity.”
“There aren’t a lot of people like him in Washington,” said Ibarra, who has lived in the nation’s capital since 1984. “He’s surely going to be missed.”
Gonzalez’s decision to step down marks the end of an era as a new face rises to take the congressional seat that the Gonzalez family has held on to for more than 50 years.
Joaquín Castro, the twin brother of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, was elected this year to succeed Gonzalez. Before running for the congressional seat, Castro served in the state legislature for 10 years.
Flores said that while Gonzalez will be fondly missed, the people of San Antonio are confident Castro will represent the people of San Antonio well.
“A couple years ago, people would’ve said he was too young,” Flores said of 38-year-old Castro. “But he proved himself at the state legislature and showed that he can work with both parties to get things done.”
Gonzalez told VOXXI that come January, he will leave Washington knowing his seat is in good hands.
This article was first published in Voxxi.
Griselda Nevárez is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington D.C.
[Photo courtesy U.S. House of Representatives]