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South Texas Politics - Interview with Chuck Stewart, President, McAllen Tea Party
Our series of interviews exploring South Texas Politics continues in McAllen Texas as I interview Mr. Chuck Stewart, President, McAllen Tea Party Association. I was surprised to learn this, but the Tea Party is strong and alive in the Rio Grande Valley. Stewart informed me there were also Tea Party groups in Brownsville, Harlingen and even the nation's first (if not only) Hispanic Tea Party.
We discussed why there are so many Tea Parties when the general understanding is Hispanics are Democrats. Stewart said, "Well, they are Democrats. The difference is they are conservative Democrats and there is very little conservatism left in the Democratic Party in the United States, so when they are forced to choose at the ballot box they go with what is familiar to them. They go with what they know, and they vote Democratic. So our challenge here, being the minority and being lambasted, if you will, every chance that the media gets to call us names, we are still committed to reaching out to the local community and getting them to realize that Democrat, Republican, well those are political Parties, we want to talk about values, we want to talk about their conservative values. Look at the family, look at their faith, look at their traditions; they all speak to the level of conservatism, so we want to touch them on that level."
Because of this, in order for the number of elected Conservatives to increase, many times the local Tea Parties will work with Conservative Democrat candidates in an effort to unseat more liberal incumbent Democrats. A case in point involves the race for the 15th Congressional District of Texas where long-time incumbent Ruben Hinojosa is facing strong opposition from a slate of Republican candidates. However, he also faces a serious challenge in the Democrat Primary this month from a strong Conservative candidate, Jane Cross.
Stewart said, "The Tea Party has already hosted or co-sponsored two candidate forums where we had four Republicans and two Democrats for District 15, and we're listening. We are listening real close, and Jane Cross for us offers a light in the tunnel, if you will. I'm not going to say at the end of the tunnel but in the tunnel in the sense that here we have a conservative Democrat, and the Tea Party even across the nation has this misconception in the media that we are an adjunct to the Republican Party and so we are constantly battling that mindset, trying to put ourselves forward as what we truly are. Jane Cross represents what we are. She is conservative and she has values that are in line with ours, so we have no problems supporting her."
TexasGOPVote's Bob Price and McAllen Tea Party President, Chuck Stewart
Jane Cross is not only suported by the McAllen Tea Party, but was selected by the Conservative organization, GOOOH (Get Out of Our House) to be their endorsed candidate in the race for CD-15. Stewart said this about GOOOH, "I personally believe that is one way we can take this country back to the House of Representatives. To elect politicians that don't intend on making a career out of it, that intend to do the will of the people that they support. Jane Cross offers that to us, and here is the real secret to this whole thing. For the Tea Party it's a win win. It's a win win. If Jane wins, woahh, do we want good or better, do we want best or better? And really it's going to be, if Jane wins the primary it's going to be a real provoking or provocative election decision for conservative Republicans..."
We also discussed other issues of importance of residents of the Valley. One of the foremost being border security and illegal immigration. Stewart lives about 20 minutes from the US/Mexico border. He told me there is much going on that the national media will not report on and the local media cannot for fear of retaliation. Stewart said, "The border violence is something we live with every day. The national media and even the state media will tell you it's over there. It's not, it's over here. It's in this border. It's in this area and we live with that every day. The immigration issue touches almost everyone family that is here."
McAllen International Bridge between US and Mexico
We also discussed the upcoming Republican Party and reforms to the platform. Many feel the 2010 Republican Party Platform was very hostile in its language towards Hispanics and immigrants. This has been used as a wedge by Democrats to further the myth that minority voters are not welcome in the Republican Party. Stewart said, "The subtleties of the argument that the Republican Party wants to makes to make in favor of Latinos or against any particular issue is sound but the way they convey it doesn't get there message across."
He continued, "If you want to reach out to the Latinos you have got to speak to them in terms they understand. So if the platform is offensive you have got to look at is it justified or is it there a misunderstanding."
The politics of South Texas is changing rapidly. In CD 15 we have two great opportunities to unseat a liberal Democrat, Hinojosa. First being in the primary with Jane Cross. If that fails, we have a second opportunity in the fall with one of the Republican candidates on the primary ballot. In CD 34, with the indictment of one of the leading Democrat candidates on federal racketeering charges, Adela Garza is poised to strike from the Republican side to made that district's first Member of Congress a Conservative.
We will continue to explore this region of Texas and report on more of the growing Conservative movement in South Texas.
Bob Price, TexasGOPVote blogger: Well, today we are continuing are exploration of South Texas politics and what's changing and going on down here with Chuck Stewart who is the president of the McAllen Tea Party Association, and I would like to talk to you about what's going on in South Texas. A lot of people may not even be aware that the Tea Party exists down here, what is the so called “Democrat Stronghold of Texas.” Tell us a little bit about what your organization is doing and what the other organizations in this area are doing as well.
Chuck Stewart, President of the McAllen Tea Party Association: McAllen Tea Party Association of course was born April of 2009 when all the rest of the Tea Parties across the US were born. We grew out of the grass. We are grass roots and there are actually four Tea Parties in the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande Valley is considered a many economic, social area of the country, and there is the Brownsville Tea Party, the Harlingen Tea Party, the McAllen Tea Party, and of course, the Hispanic Tea Party. When you take in to account that 90 percent of the households in the Rio Grande Valley are of Latino heritage, and 80 percent of those households have Spanish as their primary language, then it is a no brainer that a Hispanic Tea Party would work well. And I always have to mention that the only difference between the Hispanic Tea Party and the McAllen Tea Party is the fact that they speak Spanish so that we can talk to the locals who aren't necessarily actively involved in politics in a language that they will understand where they get the innuendos and the importance and the significance of the political conversation that is going on today in this country.
Bob Price: Much like if we were in Polish Texas at a local grocery store and we were having a conversation in Polish.
Chuck Stewart: Yes, or if you were in Fredericksburg, it would be in German. A lot of that goes on across the area.
Bob Price: The news media tells me that Hispanics are all Democrats, so why would they look at the Tea Party and the conservative side of politics?
Chuck Stewart: Well, they are Democrats. The difference is they are conservative Democrats and there is very little conservatism left in the Democratic Party in the United States, so when they are forced to choose at the ballot box they go with what is familiar to them. They go with what they know, and they vote Democratic. So are challenge here, being the minority and being lambasted, if you will, every chance that the media gets to call us names, we are still committed to reaching out to the local community and getting them to realize that Democrat, Republican, well those are political Parties, we want to talk about values, we want to talk about their conservative values. Look at the family, look at their faith, look at their traditions, they all speak to the level of conservatism, so we want to touch them on that level. That's what the Tea Party is all about. My saying here is, “we are no Party, but the Tea Party.” That's us. We are the Tea Party in McAllen and we are going to keep working on this project until we make a difference.
Bob Price: So without putting words in your mouth, I see what you are saying.
Chuck Stewart: There are plenty of them in there. You don't have to.
Bob Price: There is almost a two pronged approach to this. To take the current Democrats and some of the people, the elected offices there who would be more conservative as Democrats than the incumbents might be and to also increase the Republican Party and the conservative influence of the Republican Party down here as well. Is that right?
Chuck Stewart: Exactly, exactly, we have Democrats in our group. We are looking at the conservative values that this country was born with and founded on, and we don't look to Parties, so to speak, when it comes to candidates. We are looking at their values, their conservatism, what do they hold out to be for us in our “representative republic,” when it comes to keeping us on track to being the most powerful nation in the world, the shining light on the hill, if you will. And I don't want to wax philosophical, but the point is we don't care if they are Democrat and we don't care if they are Republican. If they are American first, we'll go with them.
Bob Price: Now down here in Congressional District 15 you have two opportunities to try and take out the very liberal congressman Hinojosa. One being Jane Cross who is running against him in the Democrat primary and then you have several Republicans running to become the Republican nominee to oppose Hinojosa if he survives the primary. Tell us a little bit about that race and what you are working on there.
Chuck Stewart: Well, the Tea Party has already hosted or co-sponsored two candidate forums where we had four Republicans and two Democrats for district 15, and we're listening. We are listening real close, and Jane Cross for us offers a light in the tunnel, if you will. I'm not going to say at the end of the tunnel but in the tunnel in the sense that here we have a conservative Democrat, and the Tea Party even across the nation has this misconception in the media that we are an adjunct to the Republican Party and so we are constantly battling that mindset, trying to put ourselves forward as what we truly are. Jane Cross represents what we are. She is conservative and she has values that are in line with ours, so we have no problems supporting her. She was part of the GO campaign, and I'm not sure if you are familiar with that. I personally believe that is one way we can take this country back to the house of representatives. To elect politicians that don't intend on making a career out of it, that intend to do the will of the people that they support. Jane Cross offers that to us, and here is the real secret to this whole thing. For the Tea Party it's a win win. It's a win win. If Jane wins, woahh, do we want good or better, do we want best or better? And really it's going to be, if Jane wins the primary it's going to be a real provoking or provocative election decision for conservative Republicans because all of the four major candidates and we just listened to one Thursday night in our meeting and spoke for thirty minutes telling us exactly what we wanted to hear, of course he's a politician, he's not, well he says he's not, but we've got all of this and then we got a Democrat over here too. So it's a win win situation the way I see it.
Bob Price: And that is really the ideal of the Tea Party. it's not an adjunct of the Republican Party. It's to promote conservative values and the traditional role of the constitution in the form of government, and the limited government, representative government.
Chuck Stewart: Exactly, you know, I'm glad you said limited government vs big government. You know the United States is a big country, it needs big government, but it needs big government with proper limitations. We need to get back to definition in the constitution of what are limited form of government is. The declaration of independence has 5000 words in it. You can read through that whole thing in one sitting. And if you connect the two, the values and principles in the declaration of independence, and the framework how to implement those principles that are outlined in constitution then you quickly come to the conclusion that we are way off track. We've got government doing stuff that it was not designed, was not created to do, and how does it do that? The way it does everything else. The only thing that the government does well is wage war. That's what it's for, to protect the interests of the individuals. I could go on and on about individual freedom, societal freedom, and liberties and things like that. The point is Jane cross offers a wonderful opportunity for the McAllen Tea Party and there are candidates across the country that are doing the same thing, and I think this is going to be a game changer, for the Democrats, there are going to get there acts together or they are going to be out of the game , remember the Republican Party was formed in 1854 in a little town Jackson Michigan 90 miles from my town because the the prevailing Parties couldn't get there act together and they called it the Republican Party that because it goes back to the values and principles that the republic was founded on.
Bob Price: Now here in your home we are 20 miles from the border of Mexico, how does the issue of illegal immigration, border security, other law enforcement related issues. How does that play into your daily life living down in this part of the country and particularly what the political aspect is.
Chuck Stewart: I'm glad you asked that. We have already discussed the make up of the society. The populous being majority Hispanic, or I prefer Latino. The border violence is something we live with everyday. The national media and even the state media will tell you it's over there. it's not it's over here it's in this border it's in this area and we live with that everyday. The immigration issue touches almost everyone family that is here. I can tell you for a fact that you can discuss all day long the details and all the faults in the system the reality is it is broken it needs to be fixed or scrapped or something and the person that comes up with the solution that solves the problem or gets us on a path to solve the problem without violence, without economic catastrophe for this area or the rest of the country will be the person that the Latinos granted it to. You cant be bashing Latinos with illegal immigrants, because like u said earlier they are different people here there are Latinos here that don't like there families and there relatives are illegal. And there used to be a mechanism in place so that wasn't possible. We have a statue of liberty that holds a torch, and what do we say? Stay out, we are going to put a fence up, we are going to put a wall up. National security is number one and we have to have that. There is no reason we cant have national security and an open policy. Not an open border, but an open policy. We live with it all the time, there is not a family in this valley that doesn't have a relative somewhere with border control immigration TSA or homeland security coming down here we saw sever homeland security vehicles that were driving around. it's interesting because you get the feeling when you drive in and you see the more increased presence of law enforcement you get the sense that it is a militarized zone, but not to that extent, and It might be very different living under those circumstances. When you have the city of McAllen buying a million dollar tactical 4 wheel drive vehicle, you wonder. And we have had instances were there were shots across the river against our border. it's a reality of what we have to deal with on the border It would be the same if Canada were to be a 3rd world country, the political situation in Mexico is dire and we don't know where it's going to go , they've got a presidential election coming up and there is a lot of contenders and the old guard that was there before, the new guard and the alternate guard and where it goes and how they resolve this is crucial to life on the border.
Bob Price: Now I understand South Texas will play a crucial roll in the pres election because there are so many Mexican nationals because of the violence on the South side of the river so many Mexican nationals that are living in the US and will be voting in the next Mexican presidential election.
Chuck Stewart: Sure the Mexican Government doesn't have any problem with dual citizenship either so there are a lot of people in that are the citizens of the united states if they chose they could vote in the Mexican presidential election.
Bob Price: They have to show a photo ID to vote.
Chuck Stewart: How about that.
Bob Price: Isn't that interesting?
Chuck Stewart: By the way did you show a photo ID when you came in?
Bob Price: I did.
Bob Price: We have to show one everywhere except for when we exercise are most cherished right and responsibility as American citizens well thank you for inviting us into your home to day and speaking with us it's there anything else you would to say to the readers about life in South Texas or the Tea Party movement down here.
Chuck Stewart: Come see us, come see what we are all about, I've lived here for 30 years. I was originally a Yankee from Michigan and this is indeed America's frontier, it's a different culture but it's rich. I raised my kids here, and I'm happy I did. On a national level scale there is one thing I want to say. We are trying to help connect the Latinos vote to their values and that is something we need to do that everywhere across the nation. People are crying for term limits. There are term limits in the Constitution and if we had an educated, informed participatory electorate we wouldn't be having that conversation, we need people involved and active in politics because if you don't get active in politics they will get active in you.
Bob Price: One last question for you.
Chuck Stewart: Yes questions are free.
Bob Price: The Texas Republican Party is having its annual convention or semi annual convention in fort worth in June and many people felt that the language in the last Party platform was very anti Hispanic in terms of rhetoric and tone. Do you see the people from the valley that are part of the Republican Party moving to change that language in the next Party platform?
Chuck Stewart: Could be. I have heard some conversation along that line. Again we are no Party but the Tea Party so what the Republicans do is up to the Republicans. Again I say that this goes back to understanding the culture. The Latino culture in South Texas comes from Mexico which comes from Spain and the locals that are there. And u know just like there language. The logic sequence is different. You and I say black car. They car black. If you take that on a grander scale, the culture of how they approach one another and view situations is fundamentally different. Imagine if you were trying to communicate with someone from Jupiter and they don't use verbs. How do you communicate?. The subtleties of the argument that the Republican Party wants to makes to make in favor of Latinos or against any particular issue is sound but the way they convey it doesn't get there message across. You can cut this if you want. When I was a flight instructor, the idea is to get whats in hear to in hear. The knowledge that's in my head into your head. We used to have a cartoon with an instructor standing over a student sitting in a chair with a funnel in his head. And he's dumping all that information into the funnel. So it's the same thing, if you want to reach out to the Latinos you have got to speak to them in terms they understand. So if the platform is offensive you have got to look at is it justified or is it there a misunderstanding. Make sense?
Bob Price: So, also in Texas we have a newly formed district. District 34 which is I believe a little bit further East. So, Adela Garza is one of the leading candidates in that race, obviously a Latina, can you tell us a little bit about her race and campaign?
Chuck Stewart: I cannot, but there is a Brownsville Tea Party and they might be able to tell you, or Harlingen Tea Party as well. I'm suffering from information overload. Our real challenge is to get a little bit West and talk to Henry Cuellar in 28 because we have a lot of our members that are from West McAllen and Mission, and we need to be addressing that place.
Bob Price: Does he have a Republican opponent?
Chuck Stewart: I don't think so.
Bob Price: Well, thanks again. Thank you very much for your time and your hospitality and we enjoyed the opportunity to talk to you about the Tea Party politics and look forward to having that opportunity again sometime in the future.
Chuck Stewart: Get the word out. Tell them we're their neighbors, not radicals.