Alum John Garza says Hispanics and GOP have a lot in common
Marco Rubio isn’t the only Hispanic politician challenging the paradigm of party allegiances. In the Texas Legislature, Rep. John Garza read more…
Marco Rubio isn’t the only Hispanic politician challenging the paradigm of party allegiances.
In the Texas Legislature, Rep. John Garza recently wrapped up a session defined by contentious cuts to health care and education.
As a freshman legislator, there’s a lot to absorb in Texas politics — especially when the body meets no more than 140 days every two years unless a special session is called.
“The folks here don’t like government. Period,” says Garza’s chief of staff, Art Martinez De Vara. “They figure the less they meet, the less damage they can do.”
But Garza hopes to do wonders for his party in terms of its relationship with Hispanics.
For decades, conventional political wisdom held that Hispanics were the domain of the Democratic Party. One of Garza’s main stances is to challenge the perception that Hispanics don’t vote Republican.
“I love my Democratic counterparts and they tolerate me,” he says, “but the Republican Party does a better job of gravitating toward the principles I believe in. Coming from a Hispanic background, I think we’re more conservative than people know. We’re an entrepreneurial people. We’re faith-based. We’re family-oriented. We’re conservative on a lot of the social issues.”
Garza ran for state representative in a district that encompasses the south and western outskirts of San Antonio as well as the western rural portions of Bexar County. He took the seat from a Democrat in 2010.
Martinez De Vara says Garza is a pioneer of sorts.
“His district is 68-percent Hispanic,” he says. “John was part of a wave of Republicans, and he’s kind of leading the way on a new trend, being a Hispanic Republican.”
As a freshman, Garza is still getting used to the game of legislation. He references the tediousness and temptation to compromise in getting legislation passed, but says he has gone through the process with his principles intact — principles he has acquired through his varied life experiences.
Born in 1955 in Herlong, Calif., Garza was a self-described “Air Force brat” and spent much of his childhood living in international locales such as Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines.
“It could be difficult, but we had many rights and privileges. We had a maid and a gardener,” Garza says. “Growing up in a foreign country expands your vision of who you are. It gave me this perspective that I carry with me even today.”
After settling in San Antonio, Garza graduated high school and set his sights on college. The University of Denver seemed an unlikely fit — Garza didn’t really have a connection to the area — but a full scholarship sealed the deal.
“My parents didn’t have the ability to send me to college, so it was a pretty easy decision,” Garza says.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 1977 and tried to break into the local radio or television stations.
Frustrated by gatekeepers who told him to spend a few years in menial positions before doing anything related to his studies, Garza instead utilized his background as a musician and hit the road.
For the next few years, he traveled the country playing in show bands and country-western bands.
His own group — “Garza Graff” — played Hiltons and Ramadas in many states and was never away from a Las Vegas gig for too long.
“I made money, traveled the country … it was fun,” Garza says.
The wandering musician bit was a blast as a post-college placeholder, but Garza eventually recognized he needed to move on. Adult responsibilities were calling.
In a fairly condensed few years, Garza opened a Mexican seafood restaurant in San Antonio, got married and started a family, eventually having five children.
The restaurant did well enough to allow Garza to expand his business into affordable housing and real estate.
For the past 25 years, he has held positions within that field in areas as varied as sales, ownership and executive management.
His faith, family and business experience in leadership would lead him to get involved in politics.
“In the course of church work, raising five children and being in business and growing communities and developing neighborhoods, I grew into this sense of leadership,” he says.
Politics, he says, is like any job: “Do the best you can, set the highest standard. If you know who you are and what and who you represent, and perform that task with truthfulness, honesty, and integrity, that objective will prosper in real life.”