Texas State Rep. Larry Gonzales, A Leader in the State House and a Model of Conservatism

During the first day of the 83rd Legislature of Texas, I interviewed Republican State Rep. Larry Gonzales. Rep. Gonzales just recovered from major surgery, and I was very happy to see him strong and well. Rep. Gonzales is no doubt a leader in the state House, a model of conservatism, and is willing to start the dialogue on the tough issues facing our state. Below is the vIdeo and the trascript of my interview with the second longest serving Hispanic Republican ever in the Texas House.

You can click here to also view the interview I did with State Rep. Larry Gonzales during the 2011 Legislative Session.

Full Transcript of Interview:

Adryana Boyne: Hello we’re here with TexasGOPVote and VOCESAction.org, and I am so excited to be here for the beginning of the new session at the Texas Capitol with State Representative Larry Gonzales. It is so good to be with you.

Larry Gonzales: Thanks for having me today.

Adryana Boyne: First of all, I wanted to congratulate you for your election as a state representative, and also we are very glad that you are back healthy after your major surgery. It’s so good to have you back.

Larry Gonzales: I am, I had major back surgery this summer, but I’m feeling stronger and better than I have in a very long time.

Adryana Boyne: Well Representative Gonzales, one of the questions that I would like to ask you today is in regards to this new session. You know, all the time I’m being asked what the Republicans have on the table and what legislation are they looking forward to. Can you share a little bit with our friends about what is coming up from you and from the Republicans in general?

Larry Gonzales: I think one of the biggest things that drives our entire session is going to be the budget, as always, everything starts and stops with the budget. We’re in a little bit of different shape this time. In Texas we have a little extra money, so it’s nice to have that there, but it doesn’t mean we have to go out and spend everything. We need to carefully consider our priorities, and we need to determine what we are going to fund and at what levels and be very careful that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money. While we have extra money, it doesn’t mean it’s just free spending. We have to be very frugal with that money and very careful with that money. So the budget is always there first and foremost. Then you have to look at, I think, public education. They were snipping cuts to public education last time, the question this time is do we put funds back, how much do we put back: maybe fund fast growth districts first to cover those fast growth areas, that’s an idea as well. We’re going to be talking a lot about water and water infrastructure. You heard that mentioned a few times today in early speeches by the Speaker of the House and the Governor of Texas. So water infrastructure is something we’re desperately going to address this session as well. And then we’ll look at some other issues that have come up in the past, there is always transportation infrastructure, more people are moving here all the time, and you have to have the infrastructure ready to greet them and to serve them. That takes money up front. It’s a delicate balance between the growth coming here and having to pay for that, but also being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and that’s our task to be sure and strike that balance between the two.

Adryana Boyne: That’s right, well one of the things, Representative Gonzales, that I’ve been thinking about, I know that most people are suspecting that you as a Latino, you are one of three Latinos in the Republican Party in the House, what are the things you’re thinking about. We know that during election time, the Latino vote was a very important vote and also that we lost the Latino vote and the people are asking what can we do? Certainly sometimes we hear that the left in the media are saying that we don’t like Latinos, we don’t like the people even though they have conservative values. I know that’s not the case, and I know that you personally have in mind certain things that are going to change our regards of some of the immigrants here, and not only Latinos, as you will probably explain to me, but the fact that we have undocumented people here in the United States who are going to school, they are receiving in-state tuition and they came here because their parents brought them. So what are the plans that come to your mind when you talk about this, and can you share with me a little bit more about what you have been thinking about? Not only in this case, but all the types of problems that we have with the people who are here and are looking for a job here?

Larry Gonzales: Yeah, I consider myself a Republican legislator who happens to be Hispanic, not necessary a Hispanic Republic legislator. It’s an issue, it’s a part of my life, but it’s not all encompassing for me. There are many issues we’re looking at when it comes to the immigration issue, but I’ll say this: the Federal Government has failed us. The Federal Government has chosen not to act and what happens is the people start looking to the state for answers, and quite frankly, there is very little we can do as a state to address true immigration reform. Our hands are tied in many different regards, so what we do is we help where we can, and then we bring up issues to the Federal Government that we think they should address. So one of the questions that was asked on the house floor was “What is the biggest thing you can do in Texas for this population for undocumented kids?” The biggest thing we can do is not do anything at all, which is, keep the in-state tuition. One of the biggest arguments against that is that they haven’t paid into the system, but they have, they’ve paid taxes, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax, for years they’ve had to be qualified to be here for a certain amount of time, and for years they’ve put into the system. If you don’t make it affordable and accessible, you wind up with a population of kids that are uneducated and are poor. What does that do for your infrastructure? It’s terrible, it’s going to add cost on either our social services or criminal justice. That’s not what we want, we want these kids to be productive working members of society. There is something that we call in higher education called Brain Drain. What this refers to is intelligent, hard working people, innovative, creative, who have gotten there bachelors, masters, and PhD’s here, who used to stay here and create jobs here and go to work here and bring all that innovation to our country. But as the rest of the world has become industrialized, specifically China and India, these students come here and get these PhD’s in engineering, lets say, but they can go back home now and they can practice in India and China where they’re from. All of a sudden they’re bringing all these tools to their countries. In a sense we’re exporting knowledge and talent to other countries. We’re subsidizing it by paying for their education, but we’re not doing enough on this end to keep them here and this is not just an immigration issue, these are kids from all over the world, young adults from all over the world who come here to our schools, we need to see what we can do about capturing them and having them stay here with an affordable education and use that innovation here to help this country stay great and create jobs.

Adryana Boyne: I think that this is an excellent idea, and I know that there will be other people who will be asking. That is wonderful, these are the people who have an opportunity to have a higher education, but recently on the Republican Platform, we passed the Texas Solution, a solution for those who are more likely to fall in the blue collar work area. What would your thoughts be for guarding those workers who are doing those jobs in construction, who are doing yard work? I always tell the ladies, what is the best treasure that we have at home, and it’s our children and many of these children that are being taken care by the immigrant nannies and all of those people are not set to be doing the jobs that they are doing. What are your thoughts about the Texas Solution and the opportunity for those who are in the work force at the firm level, but are very needy of jobs?

Larry Gonzales: Well, as you know, in Texas we’ve passed the Texas Solution. So take Texas, the reddest of the red states, with the 9,000 of the reddest of the red delegates, we actually passed a temporary guest worker program. We recognized a need for that here in Texas. There is a threshold to be met to qualify for the program and the threshold is pretty high. A couple of instances, it says that the employer of the guest worker must pay all their private insurance. The guest worker waives any and all rights for entitlement programs, they must have a course and be proficient in English, they have to take an American civics course, the employer must pay all necessary taxes, withhold taxes. So there’s a really good threshold in order for them to work here, it’s not something easily attained, but it’s out there and this is Texas’ way of saying we’ve come to the table and we’ve talked the issues and it’s important we’ve passed it because in my opinion, the Democrats will never come to us to fix this solution for us. They won’t do it because the unresolved immigration issues are more powerful to them than resolved. They can win more elections, and they can rally more votes, and they can stir more fear and blame toward Republicans if the issues stay unresolved. Resolved, they have little leverage against Republicans. So the significant of passing the Texas Solution is it puts us in the position to say “We’ve started the conservation, please join us,” but I guarantee they won’t because it’s just better for them as a party for those issues to stay unresolved…It gives them a rallying call. It might not of been perfect, there may be things you like or don’t like, but it is an opportunity to say we’ve started the conversation, join us, and let’s see if they do.

Adryana Boyne: The Republicans are a majority here in the House and also in the Senate, so now the question is will someone bring the Texas Solution or a modification of it as a bill to the floor during this session?

Larry Gonzales: Well there is going to be a resolution that basically outlines every single point of the Texas Solution. You know the difficulty is well I can say all that, but in Texas we have little to no authority to do anything about it. It’s a federal issue, so the resolution is being written, we can talk about it and we can point the federal government in the right direction, but at the end of the day it’s their responsibility to act on it, and we just can’t implement those types of laws on the state level.

Adryana Boyne: Right, you mentioned education a little while ago, and something that caught my attention is that I do know for a fact that there is not a Republican agenda to get rid of in-state tuition, and I’m so glad to see you say the best thing is to do nothing because it should remain. I just hope to see that the majority of Republicans are in agreement with you on this. Sadly, the Democratic side, all the time is just only publishing those few in the minority who are against these type of implementations. Representative Gonzales, how do Republicans look at the immigration issue?

Larry Gonzales: I think it is very important that we are careful on this. Yes laws were broken and as Republicans we believe in the rule of law and that must never be overlooked, but at the same time we are the most generous and Godly country on the face of this Earth. The undocumented population with a very humble spirit, must admit their guilt, offer to make it right by paying any necessary fines and penalties and hope that America has the level of grace and forgiveness that none of us deserve. A divine grace from God to the people in need. You talk about the rhetoric and you often hear the Republican parties need to tone down their rhetoric on this issue. I don’t disagree, but the rhetoric tone has to go both ways. I think there are many, many pro-immigrant groups who are almost militant in their protests and their dialogue. They also need to realize that that doesn’t get you anywhere. If the Republicans need to tone down how they talk about things and use a different rhetoric, so do the immigrant communities. You’ve seen it many times on television, some of these protests are rants, and they’re almost violent in nature. It’s just amazing, what does that get them? To any group, be very careful with the rhetoric you use. To the people who say the Republican Party has to be more careful with their rhetoric, I don’t disagree, but that goes both ways. Someone needs to sit down with the immigrant groups and let them know that rather than chanting and screaming and yelling, that coming here with a humble spirit and asking forgiveness and saying we’ve broke the law we’re willing to make it right, what do we have to do, what are our steps, and then count on a very generous and forgiving country to say here’s what we need to do, but as long as the rhetoric is that difficult on both sides it’s hard to do that. So on both sides, I would say be careful with your tone, be careful with your rhetoric, if you can sit down and have a conversation, that’s what we’re looking for. Very agreeable, very calm, and have a grown up conversation.

Adryana Boyne: Also, I do believe that photo voter ID is important, what will be your thoughts about this session? Will Republicans bring this up so we can have transparent and clean elections?

Larry Gonzales: I would imagine so, yes, what we’ve passed here with Voter ID has been done in other states, we’re not out on an island trying something for the first time. Voter ID is implemented in several states across the country, but Texas has a higher threshold to go to because we have a historical history of voter oppression so we have to abide by a bit stronger threshold of law. So we can pass something and did, that can be passed somewhere else exactly the same, yet ours is not good enough and theirs is. So we’ll look at it again and again and again because we fundamentally believe that it’s about making sure that every vote legitimately counts and that your vote isn’t cancelled out by a fraudulent vote. There should be nothing difficult about Voter ID and voter participation. Many of the arguments democrats make, if you just continue the conversation longer than the sound bite, don’t hold very much water. We’ve exposed that again and again. I was deposed in a federal lawsuit, I was deposed by the Obama administration for seven hours, and it was the most racially bated conversation. It starts and stops with race, again I said earlier, I just don’t see the world like that. I don’t know why that has to be a race issue, but they make it a race issue because that’s how they get more play out of it. Voter ID has nothing to do with race, it has everything to do with legitimate ballots being casted. But the Democrats are very good at making everything about race because that’s where they can stir the pot and make everyone upset, but it’s not about that. We’ll follow it again, we’ll see what the courts say and we’ll be back at it, maybe some changes here and there if the courts point out some other things that we need to do differently, but there is nothing wrong with the bill we passed, the bill we passed is just fine, we believe that, that’s why we passed it, the courts disagree with us, but at the end of the day, this is Texas and we think we know what is best for Texas and the federal government doesn’t. We have many battles with the federal government here in Texas, this is just one more.

Adryana Boyne: I appreciate this so much, one of the things that when I travel the country that people get so surprised about Texas Politics is when I am in other states like Illinois and California, they get very surprised to know that state representatives and state senators do not get paid much money to be representing Texas. So certainly I do appreciate you so much because I know you are doing this because you love your district, you love your state, but just for the people who do not know, can you share a little bit about what you do in your regular life besides being a state representative because you don’t make money being a state representative, you are giving to the state.

Larry Gonzales: For eighteen months out of every two years, I make twelve dollars a day to be a state representative. That’s my income at 600 dollars a month minus taxes and insurance. I happen to live within 50 miles of the capitol, so I’m taxed even more heavily, so yes, it’s a service. ¬There is no doubt about it. I made my living for years as a graphic designer. Self taught, and just got on a computer in the early 90’s and just started poking around and dragging and dropping some images here and there and throwing some text on it. We’ve been very blessed for a very long time in that field, but you come here and the demands on this are difficult. The demands on your time are very difficult, this could easily be a forty, fifty hour a week job, no doubt about it, but at the same time you’re balancing making a living and your family life. I still have to be daddy and husband as well, and so when you’re not getting paid, that’s a significant problem with that formula. My wife and in-laws continue to do soccer practices, and girl scouts, and piano lessons so that I can do this. Credit to them for keeping the trains running back home while I’m here.

Adryana Boyne: Well thank you and your family and your wife and all the sacrifices all your kids and everyone does so that you can be serving us and the people of Texas. Thank you very much Representative Gonzales.

Larry Gonzales: Absolutely, thank you very much for having me.


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