Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's elections.
Entering Sabinas Coffee House, located in the heart the city’s West Side, an acrylic painting by D. Ellis Phelps entitled “Beyond Boundaries: Message One” captures my attention. It’s an image of a woman in several vibrant colors, holding a vase. This is part of the backdrop for my first-time meeting with Queta Rodriguez, candidate for County Commissioner Precinct 2.
For the first few moments of my arrival, she seems herself like living art.
Before I enter the adjacent room, I see her sitting alone at a table, perfectly still, except for her fast-moving fingers. She’s writing a text message. Teeming rays of afternoon light pour through the window, giving her profile a rich glow. When she looks up, she immediately puts her phone down and greets me with her signature smile. Everything about her is just as I imagined from looking at her campaign picture – the welcoming face, the long black hair that falls down her back and the irrefutable essence of her mother, former District 3 City Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan, who I interviewed in 2011 during her unsuccessful re-election bid. Seven years later, I’m sitting with her daughter who’s locked in a runoff with nine-term incumbent Paul Elizondo for the Democratic nomination.
Elizondo is one of the closest things constituents have to a precinct patrician. He works from his office high up on the tenth floor of a building that bears his name, and is now seeking an unprecedented tenth term.
By the same token, Rodriguez could be considered a member of a political dynasty. Galvan served on the dais from 2007 to 2009, and her father, Henry Rodriguez, is the nationally-recognized founder and director of the San Antonio chapter of LULAC Concilio Zapatista 4383.
Rodriguez, who'd never run before for public office, now represents the younger, fresher alternative after reeling in more votes than climate change activist Mario Bravo, the progressive Democrat who earned 25 percent of the vote on March 6. Rodriguez would need the support of Bravo’s base in order to win the runoff against Elizondo. Bravo has endorsed her in the May 22 election.
All this month, Rodriguez, a passionate orator, will be standing in the spotlight, talking about her track record of leadership. She’ll almost certainly be eloquent. As a child, she would recite poems on a microphone at senior centers, which prepared her for block-walking and phone-banking with her parents. She was the president of her high school drama club and, in 1984, she performed in the play “La Victima” at the Guadalupe Theatre.
After she graduated from Lanier High School, Rodriguez enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and rose through the ranks. From Japan to the Middle East, our conversation hops over two decades of military service. She served as an intelligence analyst, and, later, as a commissioned officer in administration. She even found time to get a bachelor’s in government and politics from the University of Maryland, and considered going to law school. She did all this while raising four children, most times as a single parent. She retired as a Marine captain in 2012.
Since 2013, Rodriguez has led Bexar County’s department of veterans services. “I served for twenty years. Now I get to serve those who served,” she says, proudly adding that she’d always planned to return to the West Side to serve her community in some way. She feels that many of the precinct’s areas are just as neglected as when she joined the Marines – a point she relentlessly drives home in her campaign videos.
Rodriguez says she never left the West Side in her heart, but the self-discipline she sought in her military career is engrained in her public persona. One of her takeaways from those formative days is a quote from four-star Marine general turned Secretary of Defense James Mattis. She recites the quote slowly, but perfectly: “‘To think like men of action, and to act like men of thought. To live life with intensity, and a passion for excellence,’” she says. “That kind of epitomized things for me.” When I suggest the notion that future historians may look back at the Trump presidency and credit the generals with keeping the nation in one piece, Rodriguez nods and says, “Yes, I absolutely agree.”
Rodriguez says a few elected officials have stealthily approached her and whispered, “You’re a very brave woman” for her decision to run against Elizondo. She’s nicknamed them “the whisperers.” She says another would-be backer told her, in tears, how she couldn’t support her candidacy because she was “trying to get a county contract.” Rodriguez is disappointed that some feel the need to “fall in line out of fear of retribution.” Her mother reminds her to focus on the things she can control. And for now, that’s block-walking, which can be hard.
But between her family, career and community work, Rodriguez is used to making hard decisions. When I ask her what she feels she’s given up to follow her political dreams, she answers without hesitation. “Time with my kids,” she says.
She looks up and takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she says with a gentle point of her finger. Tears are welling up in her eyes. “I’m gonna get emotional.”
After a long pause, she continues. While military life gave her and her family the benefit of world travel and invaluable cultural experiences, the children, too, she says, “sacrificed a lot. Because of our service – a lot of it is my own work ethic – I missed things. My kids will tell me, ‘Mom, it’s not a big deal.’ It was a big deal to me.”
Though she’s clearly campaigning for office, she says she really sees her run as “a sort of movement.” Her campaign, she says, is part of the same progressive movement that’s painting the nation in vibrant colors.
Rodriguez believes that she has the temperament and the discipline “do what needs to be done.”
I ask if that means winning the election.
“Not just the election,” she says, “but to make a transformational change in the community.”
Like the painting, she's poised and seems full of possibilities.
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