“What I think of when I think of the Constitution is the Preamble. We promote the general welfare. We don’t guarantee it.”
Rodriguez is no amateur when it comes to the way people deal with the federal government. The 62-year-old president of the San Antonio Tea Party started working with the Justice Department in Washington in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was president.
He also was a Reagan appointee who worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison.
Rodriguez criticized government programs which are supposed to help people climb out of the cycle of poverty. In most cases, he said, those programs only encourage the beneficiaries to stay poor.
Politicians all have the same message, “You vote for me and I’ll get you this,” Rodriguez said as he criticized recent comments made by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. “When you reach a point where you’ve been in office 15 or 20 years, you learn how to take care of people.”
The speaker knows his subject. He once worked down the hall from the office of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who sat in the Senate 68 years. In 1989, Rodriguez worked with Jack Kemp at Housing and Urban Development during the first Bush administration.
Born in Laredo and raised in San Antonio, Rodriguez graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, before going to Washington.
After working with Congressman Tom Delay and Sen. Orrin Hatch on a number of issues, Rodriguez retired and lives in San Antonio again.
Speaking of politicians from the local level to the halls of Washington, Rodriguez said elected officials have a problem that comes with holding office.
“These people begin to get it in their heads that they are special. The same thing happens in Austin. Well, the same thing happens on the school board.”
Rodriguez mentioned two Bee County commissioners, Carlos Salazar and Eloy Rodriguez, who previously called the Tea Party divisive.
“The Tea Party is not divisive. Pitting people against each other is divisive. Are we being divisive or are they being divisive? The only thing we are asking for is for politicians to be accountable.”
One example Rodriguez used to stress accountability was a statement made by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she spoke in support of Obamacare.
“She said we have to pass the bill to know what’s in it,” Rodriguez said.
The former chairman of the Juan Seguin Society, an organization of conservative Hispanics, said it is important to reach voters with Spanish names.
“It’s a cultural thing,” Rodriguez said of Hispanics. “We have a tendency to be quiet, to not say anything.” Hispanics tend to be conservative. They believe in God, they oppose abortion, they support the military, they believe in working and supporting themselves. “But they are never told they are not liberals.”
“We’re (Tea Party members) not racists,” Rodriguez told the small crowd at the library. “Look who’s here,” he said pointing out that half the people listening to him were Hispanic.
“I was born in public housing,” Rodriguez said. “But I only lived in public housing for two years. As soon as my father had enough money to make a down payment on a house, we moved out. Now you have several generations of the same family all living in public housing.”
Rodriguez said the culture of poverty is passed on from one generation to the next. “We have to tell these liberals, this is enough.”
The Tea Party leader said when he was working at HUD with Kemp, the Republican wanted to put the residents of public housing in charge of their complexes.
But the managers opposed it. “It’s an industry of welfare,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an industry of poverty and they don’t want to give it up.”
Rodriguez said Hispanic communities need to focus on moral issues and on not breaking the law. “It’s become more important to be cool than to be successful,” he told the audience.
The speaker also criticized Beeville residents for allowing a school board election to be held in which only one candidate was running. He urged local Tea Party members to become more involved in politics and in the community.
“Don’t be discouraged,” Rodriguez said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.