“There’s a lot of fear and people are pushing back.” That’s Texas one month into the new law all but banning all abortions in Texas, according to Julián Castro, former HUD Secretary under Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, and, once upon a time, the youngest person ever elected mayor of San Antonio.
Castro is on the phone from Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. He will be in Santa Barbara speaking at UCSB this Sunday evening, October 10. There’s no shortage of things to cram into a brief interview, but somehow Texas’s new anti-abortion law gobbles up much of the time.
The new law bans any abortion after the fetus has exceeded six weeks in the womb with no exceptions for rape or incest. More startling, it creates a new bounty system in which tipsters can reap rewards as high as $10,000 for reporting on anyone who may have helped make such an abortion happen. The law went into effect September 1 after the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge.
“This is the first time people are now feeling the full effect of this law,” Castro said. “There are no exceptions, not even for rape, and Texas has more rapes than almost all other states. But people are really pushing back.”
Apple and one or two other companies, Castro said, are offering to pay their employees’ expenses to travel to other states to secure a safe and legal abortion. Apple, he noted, is on the cusp of becoming the largest employer in central Texas.
(Adding to the confusion, since this interview took place, a lower court has placed an injunction against the new law pending resolution of a challenge filed by the Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland.)
When Castro was younger, he said, he heard a lot about how “the Democratic Party left me” — mostly, he said, from people unhappy about the party’s position on civil rights. Today, he said, the Republican Party — at least in Texas — is experiencing similar challenges, though for different reasons, mostly Donald Trump’s lasting legacy.
In 2018, he said, Republicans lost two congressional seats to Democrats, 12 state legislative seats, and two state senate seats. Two years later, he added, the Democrats didn’t pick up any additional seats but didn’t lose any either. Already, former Texas congressmember Beto O’Rourke — former roommate, it turns out, to Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carabajal — has all but announced he’s ready to take on Texas’s conservative incumbent governor, Greg Abbott.
Abbott’s approval ratings, Castro remarked, have tanked in his home county in Texas, dropping from 43 percent positive to 20 percent negative. Castro attributed the governor’s precipitous fall from grace to his poor response to the violent storms that thrashed Texas this February, leaving hundreds of dead in their wake. Abbott’s response to COVID, Castro said, has made him friends with neither side. For the hard-core anti-vaxxers, he’s been seen as too much of an accommodationist, but to mandate supporters, Abbott will forever be blamed for taking his foot off the brakes way too soon and re-normalizing the economy. In addition, he sought to block local school boards from enacting their own responses to the crisis. And then there’s the new abortion law.
Castro has had sharp words for President Joe Biden’s policy of rounding up refugees at the United States’ southern borders — with whip-wielding and horseback-riding ICE agents rounding up no fewer than 15,000 Haitian refugees — saying it’s little different than Donald Trump’s policy. But as former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Castro had nothing but support for the president’s $3.5 trillion spending package, which promises $300 billion of federal funding for new housing and homeless programs.
When speaking of the latter, Castro said he was an adherent of the Housing First approach, getting homeless people into housing and then getting them the services and resources they need to stay there. As former mayor of San Antonio, Castro said he experienced firsthand the intensity of the NIMBY response to low-income housing proposals, adding that he had a hard time discerning the party affiliation of those up in arms.
“Just because they’re not people of means,” he said of such housing’s beneficiaries, “doesn’t mean they’re not people of character.”
He said the reality of such projects should reassure those with apprehensions that the stereotypes do not ring true. “We just don’t see the big spikes in crimes that some people project,” he said. He suggested such fears can be assuaged by highlighting how successfully many housing projects have integrated into their neighborhoods.
Castro — the first Latino to deliver a keynote address at a Democratic Presidential Convention (for Obama’s second nomination in 2012) — is the kick-off speaker for UCSB Arts & Lectures’ Justice for All series. Castro was elected mayor of San Antonio in 2001 when he was just 26. He livened up the debate circuit among Democratic candidates vying to run against Trump in 2020, espousing a strong social justice platform and arguing for Medicare for All, universal pre-kindergarten education, and a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants. Early on, Castro won rave reviews, but after he challenged Joe Biden with “Are you forgetting what you said just two minutes again?” critics attacked him for being mean and agist, and the bloom faded quickly from his campaign.
Julián Castro will be speaking at UCSB’s Campbell Hall this Sunday, October 10, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and free for UCSB students. They can also be purchased for home viewing. See artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.