Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's political scene.
Over breakfast tacos at a Leon Valley taqueria, Democratic State Rep. Ray Lopez explains why so many people these days are confused about political labels and where they identify on the ideological spectrum.
“Righteous really doesn’t have a spot on that [spectrum],” he tells me. “You can be on the far right or far left and still be righteous.”
I ask him, “Righteous to whom?”
“To yourself,” he answers. “I’m the last person to sit here and quote the Bible to you, but I can tell you God tells you, ‘Love yourself, and love me as you love yourself.’ I’m Catholic. I have the Bible read to me. I don’t sit down and read the Bible. I’m joking, but…” His voice trails off as he chuckles.
The Catholic doctrine has been a constant in Lopez’s life.
Born in 1949, he spent the first 10 years of his life in the small town of Charlotte, Texas. His family attended a Catholic church every Sunday and he served as an altar boy. He didn’t understand the Latin used in the mass. He simply read his script.
After graduating high school, Lopez joined the U.S. Air Force. When he returned home, he applied for a job at Southwestern Bell as a phone installer. That job wasn’t available, but a lesser-paying position as a service rep was. After 34 years, he retired as an executive from the company, now AT&T, armed with communication skills that would help him navigate the world of Texas politics.
Lopez began his foray into public office before his retirement, first as a member of the Northside Independent School Board and then on San Antonio’s city council, where he served four terms representing the District 6 seat now held by Melissa Cabello Havrda.
I ask Lopez how he feels his Catholic background influenced his decisions as an elected official.
“Religion influences everybody’s political perspective,” he says between bites of his carne guisada taco. Lopez explains that he struggles when religious views, which are “very finite,” cause him to be “for or against something.”
He cites divorce, abortion and homosexuality as examples. However, he adds, as people mature, they often discover that issues aren’t all painted in black and white.
“Abortion, that’s a hard one. Especially as a Catholic male,” he says. “To me, it’s really tough to be pro-choice. [But] at the end of the day, [a woman] has the right to make that decision.”
Lopez was elected to the Texas Legislature on March 12 to fill the unexpired term of Justin Rodriguez, who left to replace the late Paul Elizondo as District 2 county commissioner. House District 125, which Lopez now represents, covers much of San Antonio’s West Side.
Lopez jumped right into the 86th Session and was forced to make quick decisions about what he would focus on. Before making those tough calls in the past, he would ask himself how his policy decisions would benefit his mother.
Lopez says that he believes lawmakers sometimes make bad decisions with the right intent.
“And one’s intent matures and evolves over time,” he says.
An example of that evolution occurred in 2005, when Lopez first ran for the District 6 council seat. While speaking to the local chapter of the Stonewall Democrats, an LGBTQ political group, a man stood up and congratulated Lopez on his 30-plus years of marriage.
“It’s not easy to be successful for that long period of time and have an environment around you that nurtures love,” he remembers the man saying. “Would you begrudge me that same happiness regardless of who I choose as a partner?”
Lopez said he gets a chill thinking about the moment, which gave him the opportunity to reflect on where he stood on marriage equality.
“That changed my mind,” he says.
“I have to look at it through a different prism, because now I’m going to be making decisions that are going to govern other people’s lives,” he continues. “You’re not passing judgement; you’re setting the rules by which judgement will be passed.”
When working with other lawmakers, Lopez said he frequently calls on his phone company experience, especially handy psychological profiling techniques that he used while working in sales.
One involves remembering that everyone wants to feel that the person they’re speaking with has empathy for their position. The phrase “I appreciate how you feel” is a good place to start.
“That’s just an approach for overcoming objections,” Lopez says. “After a while, it just becomes you.”
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