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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

On The Record: Jesus "Chuy" Gonzalez

For this edition of On The Record, I spoke with Jesus "Chuy" Gonzalez, Chief of Staff for State Representative Richard Raymond.

How did you get started in politics? Did you come to it in your youth or later on?

My grandfather emigrated from Mexico and became a steel worker and an organizer for his union, so my immersion into politics came early in my life. I developed an interest in politics from casual conversations that grew into intense discussions at the dinner table with my parents. I learned early the importance of organizing resources to address a political goal. In that vein, I founded a non-profit right out of high school that targeted drug and gang prevention and intervention. The activities of the organization caused me to cross paths with community and political leaders, on whose campaigns I began to volunteer.

What was your personal progression from the role of activist to the role of Chief of Staff?

My community involvement broadened into donating my time and efforts on behalf of the Democratic Party in Webb County, and I volunteered to help Rep. Richard Peña Raymond. I then went to work for him and staffed him through the tough fights of redistricting, the budget cuts of 2003 and the constant fights involving school finance. The progression has been natural but tough. I have learned a lot along the way. However difficult things have been politically, they have prepared us for the greater and larger fights that lie ahead.

What would you say are the primary issues concerning Laredo?

Coming from South Texas, the education and schooling of my niece and nephews are of extreme importance to me. If the schools do not work, the future does not work. It is that simple. And if the security of the border is not stable, neither is economic development. Education feeds into everything else — public health, job creation and social progress.

How do local politics affect your family?

For me and my family, politics is family development. The future of our families depends on how we make politics work for the betterment of the community. If we can engage in making communities more acceptable to businesses, and we do so by making sure that a well-educated, healthy work force is available, then we go a long way to making sure that our families are productive and secure for the future. Politics is a means to a safe and productive future.

Do you have plans to run for any party office, or possibly even public office?

Currently, I want to do everything I can to make right what has been done wrong. The damage that has been done to our state and to our country by Republicans over the last six years borders on criminal. We have to change course, and I want to do everything I can to encourage and bring forward the watershed moment when Democrats turn the corner and return responsible leadership to Texas.

Who are some of your political heroes?

My political heroes are the individuals who work their hearts out during campaigns. Most of these folks have never been to the State Capitol in Austin or will never go to Washington, even for a visit. But they understand what is at stake. I'm moved when I see committed volunteers and workers go the extra mile to get things done in a campaign. These are democracy’s real heroes. They are not the ones who get quoted in newspapers or will have their words chiseled in slabs of marble. But they are the ones who do the work that will allow America to realize its true promise and potential.

What would you say has been the single most defining moment in your political life?

To date, it is staffing Rep. Raymond throughout the Tom DeLay redistricting battles. In the course of the first three days of the redistricting hearings, I had a combined seven hours of sleep. The fight was worth it. The extent to which Republican operatives were willing to subvert the Constitution and the rule of law was breath-taking. It was hard to fight from the minority, though in the end the struggle proved to me that if you learn to fight hard and smart against corruption you can win. The U.S. Supreme Court proved that, and it gave me reason to go on to this next phase of the political struggle.

What are you looking forward to in the coming cycle?

I am most encouraged by the prospect that the Democratic Party will see the electoral role that Hispanics can play in this state. If we do that we can turn the national political map on its head. The future is filled with opportunities, but it takes people with vision, know-how and guts to get things done in politics. The conversations that are on-going about how to get this done are exciting, and I think we will see the first fruits of it in the coming cycle.

What advice would you give to young people just getting into politics?

Aside from the usual of studying and working hard and getting real-life experience by volunteering and making things happen, I would suggest very, very strongly that people control their electronic histories. Political careers are going to be more and more determined, positively, by the development of web-based electoral strategies but, negatively, by what people do today on the Internet. People who want to be leaders need to become mature and wiser earlier than the leaders of the past. What you blog, what you post on facebook are reflections on you today, and will be reflections on you then years from now. That is very important for young people to think about and remember.

What one thing would you say a political organization never has enough of?

The easy and expected answer to that question is “money.” However, I think there is a rarer and more important commodity — that is people who can look at the lay of the land demographically and electorally, see things as they really are and not how they wish they were, and then think out of the box to devise creative ways to win. So many decisions that are made by well-intentioned individuals, both candidates and their staffs, are rooted in the realties of the past. A lot of it is derived from the shortages of resources that force people to make decisions based on how things have always been done rather than in how we can open new political markets.

What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in politics?

Follow through, follow through, follow through! No matter what the task, make sure you follow through with your commitment. There are many times that great plans are talked about meeting after meeting but the real difference is made when you follow through with what you set out to do.

Tell us a little bit about being a Chief of Staff, and what roles you feel like you fulfill, official or otherwise.

My role is providing my boss with what he needs to make him a better representative. And because we are for the moment in the minority, there are ideas and strategies that we develop to try to make the most of our current situation. The most anyone can do is what needs to be done. No task is too small or too big for a chief of staff. No chief of staff should think he/she is above filling up the empty paper tray in the office copier and at the same time should be able to see beyond next week. We are all honored to work for the people of the State of Texas and should never take that for granted.

Chuy Gonzalez


Nice interview with Chuy Gonzalez. One of the real good guys at the Capitol and one that has more than earned his spurs. Big things ahead for this hombre and his boss, too.


Chuy is a hit with the kids, and a progressive hero.

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