District 3 City Councilman Roland Gutierrez recently announced his intention to run for the District 119 House seat being relinquished by State Representative Robert Puente. The district includes south-central San Antonio, Schertz, China Grove, Converse, and part of Live Oak. He spoke with the Current by phone from his office.
Representative Puente is considered a Conservative Democrat and has, in fact, aligned himself with Speaker Craddick. What do you say to those people who say an ultra-conservative Democrat can’t win in House District 119?
I believe that’s not true at all. This district is roughly 50-percent Democratic. When they vote, they don’t vote as “Craddick Democrats,” just as Democrats. People are looking at what you can deliver as their representative. I think that as the city councilman for this area for the last two-and-a-half years they have seen that and I’m honored that many have shown a great deal of support for my decision.
What is the major issue of your campaign?
Education. And, that’s not just a local issue, it’s a statewide issue — in fact it’s national and worldwide. One problem we need to address in Austin is getting us from the bottom 10 in the nation to the top 10 as far as education. We have 19 school districts in Bexar County, and the state has serious problems with education funding. I’m not saying I have all of the answers, but my number-one priority is to give every child access to education that is not just equitable but is excellent. We need to pay educators more, and allocate our resources in a better manner.
You’ve entered this race at a time of pretty significant turmoil in Austin, specifically with regard to the power of the Speaker of the House and Speaker Craddick himself. What are your thoughts on all of that?
Obviously, I believe we’re going to see some significant changes in that. We’ve got seven Republican state representatives, I believe, who aren’t going to run for re-election. And, Robert’s `Puente` decision not to run is, I believe, an important one in the sense of changing the tide. I hope that, when I get elected, God willing, we will see something very different going on in Austin from what’s going on now. Hopefully, we will see a move away from party politics where we try to look at the issues and give people what they need. I hope to arrive in Austin in a different time; if that isn’t the case, I’ll certainly make the decisions I need to once I get there.
Tell us a little about yourself and your political philosophy.
I was born and raised in San Antonio; I’ve lived in the district for the last 13 years. Both of my parents were immigrants. My father had only a third-grade education but he worked to make sure all of his kids went to college and me to law school. I went to law school at St. Mary’s and have been a practicing attorney for nine years.
As far as my philosophy and my politics, I think people will find in me a Democrat that is really more of a populist than anything. It’s not looking a “Democratic” or “Republican” so much as getting toward that populist movement of understanding what people’s needs are, and what a working family needs to live better off.
On social issues, I am fairly liberal, but on the economy — I believe we have to allow businesses to do what they need to do so they can employ people, pay them well, and make sure they are doing the business of doing business, but also doing it responsibly.
Since education is one of your major issues, what do you think of standardized tests?
I don’t know that standardized tests are the answer. We didn’t have standardized tests when I was a kid, and I turned out pretty well. We have teachers who are teaching to the test and we’ve forgotten social studies, and teaching kids how to be responsible adults because we are so worried and concerned about teaching to the test.
In my district, we had a pilot program to improve the TAKS test scores of fifth graders specifically in one school district. We spent a small amount of Human Development Services money on the project to help buy computer software for Connell Elementary. They were able to dramatically improve their test scores from the practice test to the real test. It shows if we spend a small amount and develop a partnership with teachers and parents, we are able to improve scores on the tests.
But, the test is not the “be all, end all.” We still have significant challenges, and teachers must have the ability to teach beyond the test. We’re trying to raise responsible adults, not just teach them how to read and write. •