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Sánchez Makes Education His Battle Cry

By Guillermo I. Martínez

June 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 HISPANIC MAGAZINE.COM. All rights reserved.

Tony Sánchez is not the typical Democratic Party candidate.

The 59-year-old Texan is a millionaire many times over, a banker and a venture capitalist. He and his family have an oil and gas exploration business. He backed and contributed to George W. Bush’s campaigns for governor and for the presidency, and has not apologized for doing so.

Yet this political newcomer, born in Laredo, of humble origins, is the first Hispanic gubernatorial candidate for either party in Texas. He could turn out to be the Republican Party’s worst nightmare as it tries to woo the Hispanic vote in Texas and across the nation.

Sánchez got his political baptism in a hard-fought and bitter Democratic Party primary election earlier this year. He had the money, and spent $20 million in the campaign. He ran an efficient campaign, one that evidenced his business background and organizational skills. He only lacked political experience.

In defeating four opponents, among them Dan Morales, a former Texas Attorney General, Sánchez got a taste of a no-holds barred political campaign. Morales accused Sánchez of running a campaign to become governor of a state in Mexico and not in the United States. He was criticized for demanding a gubernatorial debate in Spanish and for being a friend of President George W. Bush.

Nothing hurt him. On election day, Sánchez tripled the usual Hispanic voter turnout and won the primary with close to 60 percent of the vote.

"He has incredible populist skills," said Sergio Bendixen, the top Hispanic pollster in the nation and an advisor to Sánchez in the primary. "He brought out the Hispanic voter for positive reasons, not out of fear, as has been the case in other races in California and New York."

Joaquín Pérez, a Bendixen associate with many years of experience in Latin American politics, said he was tremendously impressed with Sánchez. "His ability to communicate with his constituency in both languages is amazing," Pérez said.

Today Sánchez now has a different opponent, a different challenge. Six months before the November election he is already running hard against Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking to retain his post. In May he was eight to 10 points behind the Governor in the polls. Sánchez believes he can catch up. "Last year he was up by 35 and as an incumbent he should be leading by 30 now," he said.

Sánchez has made education his campaign battle cry and says Texas needs more teachers and fewer administrators in its school system.

"I am very concerned about the educational system in Texas," Sánchez said. "Millions of children are being left behind and I worry about them." That is the main reason why he is running for office.

"That’s a part of it," he said. "I have been in business for 30 years and believe the Democratic Party can come back and come back very strong. I have a lot of experience that I can offer."

Sánchez has never run for office before, but says he is not a stranger to politics. "I have been around politics all my life." He does not deny that his profile is not typical of a Texas Democrat. When asked, he smiles and quickly replies: "That’s why I believe I am doing so well. My profile is usually found in the Republican Party and the profile of my opponent belongs in the old Democratic Party, when the Democrats had a party that was not pro-business."

Sánchez, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, considers his bilingual and bicultural skills a positive for his campaign. "I grew up around the border. I know the issues well," he said. "I believe I am going to be a good governor for all the people of Texas.

"The fact is that all I’ve done makes me different," Sánchez said. "Some of the liberal elements of my party did not like that. I supported the president when he ran for governor and when he ran for president. Primarily I supported his stands on education. Everything I do has an emphasis on education."

Sánchez is aware the Republicans have made a push for the Hispanic vote in Texas and across the nation, but he is confident he can bring them back to the Democratic Party.

"It’s almost comical how the Republican Governor has been in politics for 17 years and never done a thing for Mexican Americans. Now he has discovered us," Sánchez said. "We have only been here 300 years. I don’t know what took him so long to find us."

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