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The QueQue

Incendiary local Tea Party president George Rodriguez lays out his go-local approach

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

San Antonio Tea Party president George Rodriguez: fiery instigator or quiet lobbyist?

with his deep commitment to free-market capitalism. "At some point, you've got to divorce yourself from the past, from victimhood. … That was my headache, that's what I learned," he said. "I kept hearing liberals and Democrats use the victim card. I kept hearing 'pobrecitos, pobrecitos, pobrecitos' constantly. … That's what changed for me."

After community relations posts in both the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations within the White House and the Department of Justice, he joined the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before retiring in 2010 to move back to San Antonio. Now Rodriguez says he's pushing the local Tea Party "to focus on these non-emotional issues. … It's all about economics, we don't really want for things to be so heated."

Yet Rodriguez has stepped up numerous times to push the hard-line Tea Party stance on immigration in decidedly heated ways, most notably when he joined a local panel on immigration reform with Democratic Congressman Charlie Gonzalez and Benita Veliz, a St. Mary's grad brought into the country illegally by her parents at age 8. Rodriguez's message and tone were harsh. "There's a responsibility for the person who has broken the law," he said, looking at Veliz. "I'm tired of hearing how sad it is that this poor young lady is in her situation. … We should be putting the onus on her parents." Later in the fall, at a Texas Public Radio-sponsored debate on immigration, Rodriguez, one of two immigration-hardliners at the dais, drew this response from an angry Kennedy High School teacher: "You could just say what you are — a Nazi."

Rodriguez and the Tea Party haven't steered clear of emotional, moral debates locally either. At last year's budget debate at City Hall, Rodriguez and the Tea Party members helped pack hearing after hearing to decry the city's descent into moral decay — all because of a tiny sliver of the city budget that would grant domestic partner benefits to gay and straight city employees. "There are morals, and there is right and wrong," Rodriguez declared. The measure passed, though critics got three council members to vote no.

Over lunch last week, Rodriguez downplayed the culture-war overtones that racked the debate. "When it came to that issue, I don't really care who you sleep with. What I care about is my taxes being spent on that, especially when people aren't married." But the reason for the policy is primarily because there's no gay marriage in Texas, I respond. "And so our argument is we should wait till there is," he laughed. "Come on, that's a cop out," I remarked. Grinning, he shrugged his shoulders.

Despite a professed fiscal approach, Rodriguez is quick to slam Mayor Julián Castro's "liberal social agenda," professing that "the institution of marriage is very, very important and sacred."

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