There are almost two dozen Democrats running for president. There may be more by the time you finish reading this sentence. It is a diverse group, even among the 13 white male candidates, but other than their differences in gender, race or life story, what sets them apart from each other? What do they bring to the table other than the prospect of defeating President Donald Trump a year from November?
One thing they all should bring is ideas — and specifics on how to pay for them and to make them politically viable, too. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are often cited as the leaders in this area, and are earning reputations as the field’s “idea candidates” through plans on how to tackle a host of issues. But this ignores Texas’ own Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary, who has also put out robust policy proposals that merit attention.
Immigration and education are big, divisive national issues on which Castro comes by his expertise naturally. Texas is a border state where its 4 million foreign-born residents have boosted its fortunes immeasurably, and which has the second-highest number of people in the country illegally, after California. And, as San Antonio mayor, Castro led on early childhood education, establishing a program to fund pre-K for disadvantaged children that has become a model for many proposed pre-K programs in and out of Texas.
Castro’s ideas are worth examining, and his example like Sanders’ and Warren’s is one that other candidates should emulate. A campaign without ideas is an empty promise.
Castro breaks his immigration plan into three broad sections: He addresses immigrants already are here illegally and those who are coming, as well as offering support for Central American countries from which so many asylum-seekers are fleeing.
He would include a pathway to “full and equal citizenship,” protection for Dreamers, changes to make it easier for families to reunite, stop the deportation of veterans, and strengthen labor protections for workers. These proposals would allow the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally to emerge from the shadows, as well as end the uncertainty and anguish millions of mixed status families live in, when they can never know when their luck will run out and a family member will be detained.
Castro would also take the immigration courts away from the Department of Justice and place them within the judiciary. He would also adequately fund to those courts so they can hire enough judges and other workers to process immigration cases and asylum requests more quickly and more fairly.
It is a smart, pragmatic approach that is worthy of debate among the Democrats. It also reveals the president’s recently unveiled immigration efforts as unfocused and lackluster, and directly counters Trump’s claims that Democrats want “open borders, lower wages” and “lawless chaos.”
Castro’s education plan is also forward thinking and comprehensive.
He would launch high-quality, full-day preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide in an expanded version of San Antonio’s Pre-K 4 SA. Studies have shown that the most cost-effective investment in education is high-quality pre-K, which better prepares children for school and gives them the emotional tools they need to have a better chance at success later in life. Disadvantaged children who benefit from early childhood education are more likely to finish college, are less involved in crime and have better health outcomes.
Castro proposes big changes in higher education, too. He would eliminate tuition at public universities, community colleges, and technical and vocational programs. He also proposes student-loan reform, including some debt forgiveness. The plan also boosts teacher pay, encourages parent involvement and extends the community schools model, which brings much-needed services to poor communities.
The other Texan in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, Beto O’Rourke, should take note of Castro’s specifics. So far, the former El Paso congressman has focused on broader ideas and big-picture platitudes. Even his recent announcement, carried over the weekend on HoustonChronicle.com, that he favors smart gun control lacked the kind of specifics that make such proposals most credible.
There are dangers with telling people who you are. Castro’s education effort comes with a $1.5 trillion price tag over 10 years, which he’s suggested would be paid by rolling back and replacing the 2017 Republican tax cuts. The right won’t like his push to end immigration agreements between federal and local law enforcement agencies and the far left will not like that he reforms, but does not abolish, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But it takes courage to stake out a claim and hope your opponents don’t take that stake to your heart. It’s just that kind of guts and big ideas that the country needs.
Thanks to their willingness to spell out their proposals in detail, voters know where Warren, Sanders and now Castro stand on these issues. Where are the other Democrats?
An editorial from the Houston Chronicle.