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Future Political Wars
President Bill Clinton meant to placate Hispanic leaders with his visit to an eastside community center here last week, but the visit's main effect may have been to sharpen a developing 21st-century rivalry between two Houston politicos. Backers of state Senator Mario Gallegos claim that although he helped secure the President's presence at the Magnolia Multi-Service Center for a panel on the upcoming census count, the White House showcased Congressman Gene Green and snubbed Gallegos because the congressman's staff had warned that Gallegos was a potential rival for Green's seat.
Congressman Green denies that charge, and claims standard etiquette gives a congressman the lead role in introducing a president on home turf. When the President comes to Sheila Jackson Lee's district, quipped Green, "No one else gets to introduce him."
Green claims his staff had included Gallegos on the list of luminaries forwarded to the White House for the Magnolia center event, and calls the speculation about a growing rivalry with the state senator "needless conflict."
Still, Green agrees that he did not include a Gallegos backer, Dr. Tatcho Mindiola, on his recommended list of census panelists. He notes that the director of the Center of Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston has published articles saying Green, an Anglo, should not hold the District 29 seat because it was intended for a Hispanic.
"If I had said that, it would be considered racist," said Green in a phone interview from Capitol Hill in Washington. "So I don't think Tatcho brings a lot to the table."
Mindiola did get a seat on the panel, and used it to recognize Gallegos in the audience and credit him for getting the President to make the visit.
Mindiola says White House advance planners contacted him a day before the census meeting and said they had gotten calls from Green's congressional staff protesting his presence on the panel. When they asked the educator what the problem was, he replied that he had supported Green's congressional opponent six years before. "That's it?" one of the planners asked Mindiola, and then told him not to worry about it.
As for Gallegos's exclusion from an official role in the Magnolia center event, the state senator says he has no proof that Green's staff was involved. "To me, all the signals are coming from the White House. But Tatcho saw the reason the President comes to Magnolia Park, and I think he gave credit where credit was due."
Gallegos had been part of a group that threatened to protest outside Clinton's forum on race and sports conducted at the Wortham Theater a few months ago. Recent White House decisions to drop Ruben Guerrero from consideration for a federal judgeship and Roland Garcia from nomination for U.S. attorney here led Gallegos, lawyer Frumencio Reyes and others to protest that Houston Hispanics are getting the shaft in Clinton's appointments process.
Gallegos political consultant Marc Campos accuses Green's congressional staff of pressing the White House to downplay the state senator's role in the visit because of the likelihood that Gallegos will challenge Green for the seat in 2000.
Campos says that the estimate of a Green-Gallegos match is off by a few years. "Once they do redistricting again, that's our seat still," opines Campos. "No doubt about it, when we're good and ready to run a Hispanic for Congress, Senator Gallegos is the guy who would be our candidate."
In response to a suit by conservatives challenging racial gerrymandering of the district, federal judges redrew the 29th District lines and weakened Hispanic political clout in the district.
Gallegos doesn't rule out running for Congress in 2002, but allows that it would have to be a differently configured District 29. "I reserve that right," he says. "You never know what might happen and you never say never." Gallegos will sit on the Senate committee that redraws the district lines in 2001 for the 2002 congressional elections. He expects to play a major role in the redesign of Green's district.
"I sit on that committee, and a lot of congressmen come by and see us," he comments. "We will go by the census, and I can tell you Hispanics are growing by leaps and bounds, especially in the eastside."
For his part, Congressman Green seems unalarmed by the prospect of a new Hispanic rival to replace his previous three primary jousts with former councilman Ben Reyes. "In 25 years in office, I've seen a lot of different opponents," says the congressman coolly. "Nothing surprises me now."
Professor Mindiola has this bit of advice for Green. "Let's face it, his days are numbered.... Someday, a Hispanic is going to hold that position, and if I have to make a judgment on it, I hope it's sooner than later."
If Gene Green has any say, that comment should disqualify Mindiola from presidential panels for years to come.
Something Phony This Way Comes
Carol Alvarado is the highest-ranking Hispanic in Mayor Lee Brown's office and is considered a promising up-and-comer for elective office. That may be the reason someone tried to embarrass her last week by circulating a bogus press release. It trumpeted the formation of an exploratory committee for an Alvarado candidacy against embattled Hotel Six defendant John Castillo, the City Council District I incumbent.
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