Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, right, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. Courtesy of   National Journal  .

Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, right, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. Courtesy of National Journal.

In January 2015, I published a double profile of Julián and his twin brother, Joaquin, the Texas congressman. The Castro brothers are the Jack-and-Bobby of our era, and the most promising young(er) figures in an aging Democratic Party with a shockingly small bench. The story remains the most comprehensive look at the brothers, their rise, and what comes next.


The Power of Two: Inside the Rise of the Castro Brothers
America has never seen a political team quite like the Castro brothers.
National Journal Magazine | January 23, 2015

ON A SUMMER morn­ing in 1999, Joa­quin and Ju­lián Castro pulled up in front of a double-wide trail­er a few miles out­side San Ant­o­nio. The twins, back home on break be­fore their fi­nal year at Har­vard Law School, had come to seek wis­dom and ad­vice from Li­onel Sosa, a Re­pub­lic­an polit­ic­al sage who ran the largest His­pan­ic ad­vert­ising agency in Amer­ica. (He was liv­ing in the trail­er while his fam­ily’s new home was be­ing built nearby.) Politicos across the coun­try knew Sosa as the ad man and con­sult­ant who’d helped Texas Re­pub­lic­ans win sub­stan­tial chunks of the His­pan­ic vote, and who’d led out­reach ef­forts for Ron­ald Re­agan’s and George H.W. Bush’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns. Soon, Sosa would be ad­vising George W. Bush dur­ing his White House run.

Sosa didn’t know the Castro broth­ers, but he did know not to ex­pect right-wing­ers. Their moth­er, Rosie Castro, had been a fiery com­munity or­gan­izer in San Ant­o­nio dur­ing the Chi­cano move­ment of the 1960s and ‘70s; after an un­suc­cess­ful run for city coun­cil in 1971, three years be­fore Joa­quin and Ju­lián were born, she’d re­mained a polit­ic­al force in San Ant­o­nio, chair­ing the county chapter of La Raza Unida, a Chi­cano third party, and run­ning oth­er pro­gress­ives’ polit­ic­al cam­paigns. The twins had grown up tag­ging along to ral­lies, parades, and polit­ic­al func­tions. As Ju­lián re­called in a col­lege es­say later pub­lished in an an­tho­logy called Writ­ing for Change, polit­ic­al slo­gans “rang in my ears like war cries”: “Viva La Raza!” “Black and Brown United!”

It was Rosie Castro who had reached out to Sosa; the two had met at a for­um on the fu­ture of Lati­nos in Amer­ica. Her boys, she told him, were plan­ning to re­turn to San Ant­o­nio and pur­sue some kind of pub­lic ser­vice after they gradu­ated. Would Sosa mind speak­ing with them?

Joa­quin and Ju­lián sat down in the trail­er, Sosa says, and began to pep­per him with ques­tions: Where do you think San Ant­o­nio is headed? Who should we know? After a while, Sosa turned the tables and asked them one: What did they see in their fu­tures? The way Sosa re­mem­bers it, the broth­ers broke out in­to big grins and told him, in uni­son, “We’re go­ing to be may­or of San Ant­o­nio.”

“We’re go­ing to be may­or?” Sosa said. “Which one?”

“One of us will,” said one of the broth­ers.

Sosa, who’s now semire­tired, can re­count little else about the con­ver­sa­tion that day, or what coun­sel he gave the Castros. But their joint reply, he says, stuck with him: “That’s the one thing that got seared in­to my mind. They knew what they wanted in life.” And they knew that they wanted to at­tain it to­geth­er.


I RE­CENTLY SPENT two months in the Castros’ or­bit, from just after Elec­tion Day to mid-Janu­ary, in­ter­view­ing and ob­serving them in Wash­ing­ton and San Ant­o­nio, to­geth­er and sep­ar­ately. They can be salty-tongued, charm­ing, funny, and with­er­ing, es­pe­cially when it comes to oth­er politi­cians. Former cam­paign staffers at­test to their fiery tend­en­cies—par­tic­u­larly on the oth­er’s be­half. “Any mis­take on Joa­quin’s cam­paign, and you are mess­ing with Ju­lián,” says Chris­ti­an Arch­er, who’s man­aged races for both broth­ers. The same goes for Ju­lián’s cam­paigns, when Arch­er says Joa­quin has been “as ag­gress­ive as I’ve ever seen him,” de­mand­ing fun­drais­ing totals or email ana­lyt­ics.

But I also found the broth­ers ex­ceed­ingly care­ful, even for polit­ic­al wun­der­kinds on the rise, to cloak their can­did sides. In al­most every con­ver­sa­tion we had, they danced back and forth between be­ing on the re­cord and off the re­cord—some­times from one sen­tence to the next. By the end of our time to­geth­er, I half-ex­pec­ted them to be­gin their lunch or­ders by ask­ing the waiter, “Can this be on back­ground?”

Maybe their reti­cence shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing; after all, they’ve now got a lot to lose. Fif­teen years after vis­it­ing Sosa, the Castro broth­ers’ polit­ic­al ho­ri­zons have broadened well bey­ond San Ant­o­nio. Joa­quin, after a dec­ade in the Texas House, won a seat in Con­gress in 2012 and soon be­came a fix­ture on Sunday talk shows, a go-to sur­rog­ate for Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­mig­ra­tion and eco­nom­ic policies. But the spot­light shines most in­tensely on Ju­lián, the San Ant­o­nio may­or who vaul­ted in­to the na­tion­al con­scious­ness with his key­note ad­dress—the first by a Latino—at the 2012 Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion. Last year, when Ju­lián left the may­or’s job to join Obama’s Cab­in­et as Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment sec­ret­ary, the move stirred wide­spread spec­u­la­tion that he was be­ing po­si­tioned as a po­ten­tial 2016 vice pres­id­en­tial pick for likely nom­in­ee Hil­lary Clin­ton. Bar­ring that, Texas Demo­crats have long en­vi­sioned Ju­lián—or maybe Joa­quin?—as the state’s first Latino gov­ernor. Or as a U.S. sen­at­or. Or maybe both.

“The whole idea that they could be gov­ernor, sen­at­or, vice pres­id­ent, pres­id­ent—it ex­cites people,” Rosie Castro told me. “Every­body is wait­ing for the first Latino gov­ernor of Texas. Every­body is wait­ing for that first Latino pres­id­ent or vice pres­id­ent.” And no two Demo­crats are bet­ter placed to real­ize such ex­pect­a­tions than Rosie’s sons. The Re­pub­lic­an Party, des­pite its struggles to at­tract Latino voters, has more Latino politi­cians with na­tion­al pro­files and pro­spects—Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Ru­bio, for starters, along with Govs. Susana Mar­tinez and Bri­an San­dov­al. For Demo­crats, at least for the time be­ing, such hopes hang mostly on the Castro broth­ers.

They are, it seems, the chosen ones: whip-smart, tele­gen­ic politi­cians who’ve ar­rived in the right polit­ic­al place at the right polit­ic­al time. Their life story has a fairy-tale qual­ity that re­port­ers and myth­makers can’t res­ist: Born on Mex­ic­an In­de­pend­ence Day. Raised by a grand­moth­er who im­mig­rated to the United States as an orphan with a fourth-grade edu­ca­tion and a moth­er who agit­ated, or­gan­ized, and was twice jailed for civil dis­obedi­ence in the cause of giv­ing the next gen­er­a­tion—her sons, in par­tic­u­lar—op­por­tun­it­ies she nev­er had. Worked their way up from the bar­rios to Stan­ford, then Har­vard, then one of the coun­try’s most pres­ti­gi­ous law firms. Elec­ted to polit­ic­al of­fices be­fore age 30. Wash­ing­ton darlings at 40. Even if Ju­lián nev­er be­comes vice pres­id­ent or pres­id­ent—even if neither broth­er ever wins a statewide of­fice in Texas—theirs is already so quint­es­sen­tial an Amer­ic­an suc­cess story that Eva Lon­gor­ia, best known for her role in Des­per­ate House­wives, has sold ABC on a polit­ic­al and fam­ily drama series she’s pro­du­cing based on the Castros. Work­ing title: Pair of Aces.

The broth­ers un­der­stand the power and use­ful­ness of the lar­ger-than-life stor­ies that have grown up around them. But there is at least one that they’re eager to shoot down: the “we’re go­ing to be may­or” an­ec­dote that Li­onel Sosa tells. “That’s not true,” Ju­lián Castro says flatly. “I was nev­er so ar­rog­ant to say that I would someday be may­or. Maybe I said, ‘Oh, I’m think­ing about run­ning for city coun­cil.’ ” Sure, he says, “I cer­tainly think that’s [Sosa’s] re­col­lec­tion. But I ser­i­ously, ser­i­ously doubt that.” It’s the type of fable, he says, that “people de­vel­op in their mind, and it sounds good. But it’s the stuff of em­bel­lish­ment.”

Then again, Ju­lián may be for­get­ting something him­self. In 1997, two years be­fore the broth­ers met with Sosa, they had been pro­filed in a San Ant­o­nio news­pa­per as they headed off to Har­vard Law (head­line: “Double the Tal­ent, Twice the Am­bi­tion”), and Ju­lián had spoken about even high­er goals than the one Sosa re­calls: “We do not con­sider the of­fice of gov­ernor or [U.S.] sen­at­or an im­possib­il­ity,” he told the re­port­er.

Today, the Castro broth­ers take pains to be humble. But they’ve al­ways had am­bi­tion in abund­ance. Their pre­cip­it­ous rise has been the res­ult of lofty as­pir­a­tions, care­ful cal­cu­la­tion, fe­ro­cious loy­alty, and deep polit­ic­al prag­mat­ism—qual­it­ies the broth­ers have long shared and mu­tu­ally cul­tiv­ated. “Grow­ing up, I think what’s helped my broth­er and I is, we were so com­pet­it­ive with each oth­er,” says Joa­quin. “Be­cause we’re in the same field, it’s al­lowed us to talk al­most daily. Lets you identi­fy strengths and weak­nesses in your ar­gu­ments.” Colin Stroth­er, a Texas polit­ic­al con­sult­ant who has worked on Joa­quin’s cam­paigns, puts it more bluntly. “You see this syn­ergy with Bill and Hil­lary,” he told me. “Steel sharpens steel.”


EVEN FOR TWINS, Ju­lián and Joa­quin were un­usu­ally tight-knit from their earli­est days. They played the same sports, stud­ied the same sub­jects, and, in middle school, even dated girls with al­most identic­al names: Veron­ica Gonza­lez and Veron­ica Gonzales. They com­mu­nic­ated with each oth­er in of­ten-un­spoken ways that fre­quently were bey­ond the ken of every­one around them.

They nev­er truly grew apart. “It is one of the most in­tense re­la­tion­ships that two people could share,” Arch­er says. Even after mar­ry­ing, start­ing fam­il­ies, and fol­low­ing their dif­fer­ent polit­ic­al paths in San Ant­o­nio, Aus­tin, and now Wash­ing­ton, they re­main in­cred­ibly close. (Ju­lián wed Erica Lira, an ele­ment­ary school teach­er, in 2007; they have a 5-year-old daugh­ter and a son who was born in Decem­ber. Joa­quin mar­ried Anna Flores, who works for a San Ant­o­nio tech com­pany, in 2013; they have a 1-year-old daugh­ter.) “They’re not easy people to get to know,” says their long­time friend Diego Bernal, who served on the city coun­cil when Ju­lián was may­or. As chil­dren, they “were the whole world to each other,” says their moth­er, Rosie. It was “hard to pen­et­rate that.”

Neither of the broth­ers is nat­ur­ally out­go­ing; they’ve had to learn to mas­ter the glad-hand­ing, baby-kiss­ing, money-ask­ing skills re­quired of politi­cians. Ju­lián likes to say that in high school he would of­ten talk to two or three people the en­tire day—and one of them was his broth­er. “I was not the life of the party,” as he puts it. “Still am not.” Joa­quin was al­ways the slightly more so­ci­able one: He’d make friends, who would, in turn, be­come Ju­lián’s friends as well. “Ju­lián has al­ways been more in­tro­spect­ive,” Rosie says. “If I had let him, he’d stay home, hang around the house. Joa­quin, too, but he also likes an es­cape, be­ing out in the world.”

Spend enough time around them, talk to enough of their friends, and you pick up small dif­fer­ences: Ju­lián speaks more softly, in a slightly deep­er voice; Joa­quin’s face is slightly thick­er (though the clue I used, when both broth­ers were present, was the Fit­Bit that Joa­quin wears). But the twins seem to share al­most everything else—in­clud­ing the fact that they have per­plex­ing tastes in mu­sic. As a teen­ager, Ju­lián once took a CD of theme songs to TV shows like The Golden Girls and Cheers to a New Year’s Eve cel­eb­ra­tion, and he’s been known to jam to Kenny Ro­gers and Barry Ma­nilow. Joa­quin’s tastes range from Joan Baez to Taylor Swift, with a par­tic­u­lar af­fin­ity for bands (Match­box 20, Count­ing Crows) from the late ‘90s, which he once called “a renais­sance in mu­sic.”

In part, the broth­ers grew in­sep­ar­able be­cause they helped to raise each oth­er. Rosie was the op­pos­ite of a heli­copter mom; she was stretched thin, between work and polit­ics and single-moth­er­ing, but she was also de­term­ined to push “the guys,” as she calls them, out in­to the world. Her im­mig­rant moth­er, Vic­tor­ia, made $8 a day as a maid, cook, and babysit­ter on the north side of San Ant­o­nio; and while her moth­er worked, Rosie’s guard­i­an held tight to her as a child, for­bid­ding her to even walk next door to play with the neigh­bors. (Rosie did some­times ac­com­pany her moth­er on her three-bus com­mute to work, however, and re­calls spend­ing time pick­ing ticks off the dogs that be­longed to one of her moth­er’s em­ploy­ers.) Rosie en­cour­aged Joa­quin and Ju­lián to en­joy the kind of free­dom she nev­er had as a child; they both still re­mem­ber, the sum­mer when they were 9, rid­ing the bus down­town by them­selves to see The Kar­ate Kid at a sketchy theat­er no few­er than five times.

HUD Secretary Julián Castro.  Flickr/ LBJLibraryNow

HUD Secretary Julián Castro. Flickr/LBJLibraryNow

Their fam­ily wasn’t all that far re­moved from the poverty of Rosie’s youth, es­pe­cially after Rosie and the twins’ fath­er, a Chi­cano act­iv­ist and math teach­er named Jesse Guz­man, sep­ar­ated in 1983 (they nev­er mar­ried). Joa­quin and Ju­lián were 8 when their dad left. They moved with Rosie and their grand­moth­er to a mod­est house near one of Rosie’s cous­ins. The Castros went without a car for years, and for a while, when the boys were in high school, had to rely on money from friends after Rosie was laid off.

The boys still saw their fath­er pretty reg­u­larly on week­ends and took sum­mer fish­ing trips to Garner State Park. When I spoke to Guz­man in Decem­ber at a west-side Mex­ic­an joint called La­guna Jalisco, he talked about his pride in the twins—”I’m very humbled by everything they do”—and re­called one big dif­fer­ence he no­ticed between them. “Ju­lián had a grace­ful way of cast­ing his line out there. Have you read A River Runs Through It? Re­minds me of that book. Ju­lián brought all his tackle and was very or­gan­ized. But Joa­quin didn’t like fish­ing.”

Ju­lián and Joa­quin pushed each oth­er to ex­cel. They stud­ied Ja­pan­ese (Ju­lián) and Ger­man (Joa­quin) at a lan­guage-in­tens­ive ju­ni­or high school in the in­ner city (a child­hood friend de­scribes it as a “max­im­um-se­cur­ity middle school”). They en­rolled in night classes and sum­mer school so they could fin­ish high school a year early. “Part of the reas­on that we were so look­ing to­ward the fu­ture, to­ward suc­cess, is be­cause we had grown up of mod­est means, and we were al­ways wor­ried about fall­ing back,” Joa­quin says. “You want to be sure—I’m go­ing to be OK, I’m go­ing to be OK.”
The ela­tion that Joa­quin and Ju­lián felt upon open­ing their ac­cept­ance let­ters to Stan­ford in the spring of 1992 was re­placed by sad­ness and raw nerves on the morn­ing of Sept. 23—even now, Ju­lián re­calls the ex­act date—when they waved good-bye to their par­ents and a crowd of friends and well-wish­ers who’d come to see them off at the San Ant­o­nio air­port. Their fath­er, as Ju­lián tells it, must have pur­chased “the cheapest tick­et on South­w­est Air­lines he could find”; the flight con­nec­ted twice, in El Paso and San Diego, be­fore it reached San Fran­cisco. “It was the first time we’d been away from our fam­ily,” Ju­lián re­called last year in a talk at Notre Dame. “We cried halfway to El Paso on the plane, sit­ting next to each oth­er.”


WHEN LU­IS FRAGA gazed out on the room­ful of stu­dents in his urb­an polit­ics course, he no­ticed something that gave him a start: two look-alike broth­ers seated dead cen­ter in his classroom. Be­fore long, Fraga, the only Latino polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist on Stan­ford’s cam­pus at the time, came to know Joa­quin and Ju­lián Castro as two of the sav­vi­est stu­dents he’d ever taught. “It was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent to me,” Fraga says, “that they had an un­der­stand­ing of polit­ics that was deep­er than any oth­er col­lege sopho­mores I’d come across.”

The broth­ers ma­tric­u­lated in Pa­lo Alto as the first high-tech boom was be­gin­ning. Oth­er Stan­ford stu­dents at the time in­cluded Peter Thiel, later the icon­o­clast­ic founder of PayP­al, and Dav­id Sacks, who would go on to sell his com­pany, Yam­mer, for $1.2 bil­lion and own the most ex­pens­ive house in San Fran­cisco. Sil­ic­on Val­ley’s high-rolling eco­nomy and en­tre­pren­eur­i­al eth­os was a far cry from life on the west side of San Ant­o­nio, and the broth­ers felt some cul­ture shock—plus a bit of de­fens­ive­ness about where they came from. “I had a chip on my shoulder about San Ant­o­nio,” Ju­lián says. The broth­ers doubled down on their ho­met­own pride, ur­ging their en­tre­pren­eur­i­al class­mates to “con­sider San Ant­o­nio” after gradu­ation. But they also learned new ways to think about solv­ing so­ci­et­al prob­lems, Fraga says. “It was an at­mo­sphere of cre­ativ­ity and think­ing about tech­no­logy as a po­ten­tial source of solu­tions for all kinds of things. That made a big im­pres­sion on Ju­lián.”

In their ju­ni­or year, both broth­ers ran for the stu­dent sen­ate on the left-lean­ing People’s Plat­form—and an­oth­er myth­mak­ing mo­ment was born. There were 10 seats open, in a mul­tic­an­did­ate race. Joa­quin and Ju­lián cre­ated sep­ar­ate cam­paign fli­ers, but pos­ted them in the same stra­tegic spots around cam­pus—bath­room stalls. (Fraga, who be­came their seni­or ad­viser and then a friend, still calls them the “Stall Twins.”) On elec­tion day, the broth­ers earned ex­actly the same num­ber of votes—811—on their way to be­ing the top vote-get­ters. A front-page story in The Stan­ford Daily posed the broth­ers sit­ting back-to-back in the uni­versity’s his­tor­ic Me­mori­al Court. Read­ing the art­icle, you can prac­tic­ally see them rolling their eyes at the re­port­er’s “What’s it like to be a twin?” ques­tions. “We don’t par­tic­u­larly sub­scribe to twins hav­ing ESP,” Ju­lián is quoted as say­ing. “We get asked that ques­tion mil­lions of times.”

Some day­light began to ap­pear between the broth­ers at Stan­ford. While they mostly took the same classes, they chose not to room to­geth­er. The sum­mer be­fore their ju­ni­or year, they were sep­ar­ated for months when Ju­lián went to Wash­ing­ton as an in­tern in the Clin­ton White House. In the fall of their seni­or year, when Joa­quin was hired as a res­id­ent as­sist­ant in his dorm­it­ory, he felt, for the first time, the weight of fol­low­ing in his broth­er’s foot­steps. (Ju­lián had been an R.A. the year be­fore.) “I don’t think I did as well in the job,” Joa­quin says, “be­cause I felt like I could [only] get the job be­cause he had done it.”

In polit­ics, too, it was be­com­ing clear that Ju­lián—the eld­er broth­er by one minute—would go first. By their third year at Har­vard Law, Ju­lián had already de­cided to run for the San Ant­o­nio City Coun­cil. (Hence the vis­it to Li­onel Sosa, who knew San Ant­o­nio polit­ics as well as any­one.) Dur­ing their fi­nal year, the broth­ers launched the cam­paign from Cam­bridge. They called neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation lead­ers, wrote let­ters to loc­al busi­nesspeople, and flew home on week­ends whenev­er they could to meet and greet pro­spect­ive voters at com­munity gath­er­ings and gar­age sales. (Joa­quin, who doesn’t play golf, still owns an an­cient Ben Hogan 3-wood he bought at one of the sales for $5.) Just be­fore gradu­ation, their law-school class­mates threw Ju­lián his first fun­draiser. The fol­low­ing May, three dec­ades after Rosie lost her own cam­paign at age 23, Ju­lián be­came the young­est coun­cil mem­ber in San Ant­o­nio his­tory at 26.

It wasn’t long be­fore Joa­quin fol­lowed suit—but on a dif­fer­ent track. Both broth­ers had been hired out of Har­vard by the white-shoe law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (Ju­lián’s City Coun­cil gig was not a full-time job), but neither had learned to love cor­por­ate law, to say the least. Years earli­er, loc­al act­iv­ists had tried un­suc­cess­fully to draft Rosie in­to chal­len­ging a Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent in the state House—a long­time pol who, ac­cord­ing to Rosie, had de­veloped a do-noth­ing repu­ta­tion. Now Joa­quin de­cided to take him on. Though he says he “ag­on­ized” over abandon­ing his six-fig­ure salary, he rel­ished the idea of go­ing to Aus­tin to work on “big-tick­et is­sues” such as high­er edu­ca­tion and health care. He also wanted to es­cape his broth­er’s shad­ow and strike out, at least some­what, on his own. “He was now on coun­cil,” Joa­quin says, “and I wanted to do something dif­fer­ent.”

With Rosie and Ju­lián help­ing to run his cam­paign, Joa­quin dis­patched the Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent eas­ily, win­ning the primary with 64 per­cent of the vote. In the gen­er­al elec­tion, he held off a Re­pub­lic­an who’d been gen­er­ously fun­ded by some of the biggest Anglo donors in the state. The Castro fam­ily cel­eb­rated an­oth­er vic­tory, but Joa­quin’s tim­ing could hardly have been worse; 2002 was also the year when Re­pub­lic­ans won their first ma­jor­ity in the Texas House since Re­con­struc­tion. “I came in,” Joa­quin says, “when it all went to shit.” So much for push­ing “big-tick­et” ideas. That would be­come his broth­er’s forte in­stead. But not un­til Ju­lián had ex­per­i­enced, at the tender age of 30, his first ma­jor polit­ic­al set­back.


JU-LI-ÁN! JU-LI-ÁN! Ju-li-án!” The chant rose up in the San Ant­o­nio City Coun­cil’s cham­bers on April 4, 2002. The coun­cil was vot­ing that even­ing on $52 mil­lion worth of spe­cial tax breaks for the de­velopers of a new golf re­sort and up­scale-hous­ing pro­ject called PGA Vil­lage. Com­pet­ing fac­tions had filled the cham­ber seats, wear­ing stick­ers that said “PGA No!” or “PGA Yes!” A few months earli­er, Ju­lián had quit his job at Akin Gump. (The firm’s law­yers had draf­ted the de­velopers’ con­tract.) It was the highest-pro­file is­sue of his early days in of­fice, and he was hell-bent on mak­ing the most of it. Ju­lián seized the spot­light at the hear­ing, sharply in­ter­rog­at­ing the de­velopers’ rep­res­ent­at­ives over their claims about the pro­ject’s en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact (low, they said) and eco­nom­ic po­ten­tial for the city (sky high, of course). The “PGA No!” crowd ate it up, but Ju­lián’s per­form­ance went for naught: Only one of the 10 oth­er coun­cil mem­bers voted with him to block the deal.

The loss did noth­ing to dim Ju­lián’s en­thu­si­asm for city gov­ern­ment. Des­pite the mea­ger pay—$20 a meet­ing—he rel­ished the non­par­tis­an world of coun­cil polit­ics. He didn’t mind that con­stitu­ents would call at all hours to com­plain about bark­ing dogs or their neigh­bors’ un­kempt lawns. He was happy to at­tend your neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation meet­ing next Wed­nes­day at 7 p.m. He even lent a pa­tient ear to the cast of gad­flies who reg­u­larly came to coun­cil meet­ings to air their griev­ances for the al­lot­ted three minutes each. Jaime Castillo, a San Ant­o­nio Ex­press-News colum­nist who would later be­come Ju­lián’s deputy chief of staff, took no­tice of the po­lite at­ten­tion the young coun­cil mem­ber gave the com­plain­ers. His at­ti­tude, ac­cord­ing to Castillo, was: “These people are here to speak to the body. By God, they’re go­ing to get their three minutes, and I’m go­ing to listen.”

But Ju­lián couldn’t serve on the coun­cil forever. At the time, San Ant­o­nio had among the strict­est term lim­its in the coun­try; coun­cil mem­bers couldn’t serve more than two two-year stints. (The rules have since been loosened.) In 2004, with the ex­pir­a­tion of his second term loom­ing, Ju­lián de­cided to run for may­or.

Ju­lián Castro was known to San Ant­o­nio voters, if he was known at all, for three things: his youth, his fam­ily, and his loud op­pos­i­tion to PGA Vil­lage. All three would be used against him in what be­came a bruis­ing cam­paign—one that would ul­ti­mately lead him to dra­mat­ic­ally re­in­vent his polit­ic­al iden­tity.

His chief op­pon­ent, a re­tired ap­pel­late judge named Phil Hard­ber­ger, was backed by the city’s busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment, which was highly sus­pi­cious of the young Castro. After two coun­cil mem­bers were ar­res­ted on bribery charges, Hard­ber­ger used it to turn Ju­lián’s in­ex­per­i­ence against him; the coun­cil, he ar­gued, needed a wiser old head to clean up the mess. Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign also man­aged to drum up the closest thing to a polit­ic­al scan­dal in the Castro broth­ers’ ca­reer—an af­fair dubbed “Twingate” in the loc­al press. In April 2005, it seems, with the may­or­al cam­paign in full swing, Ju­lián and Joa­quin were both sched­uled to ride and wave atop the city coun­cil barge in the an­nu­al River Parade. At the last minute, though, Ju­lián says he de­cided to at­tend a neigh­bor­hood-as­so­ci­ation meet­ing in­stead. Whatever the reas­on, Joa­quin ended up rid­ing on the barge alone. Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign man­aged to turn the in­cid­ent in­to a story of de­cep­tion and polit­ic­al cun­ning, ac­cus­ing the Castros of pulling a fast one on the den­iz­ens of San Ant­o­nio by swap­ping one broth­er for an­oth­er in the parade.

Wheth­er or not Twingate doomed him, Ju­lián lost. The de­feat hit him hard—the first time in his life that he’d truly tasted fail­ure. “Elec­tions are so de­term­in­at­ive in that way,” he says. “There is no, ‘You wanted an A+ but you got an A,’ or ‘You wanted 100 per­cent but you got a 93.’ The people either ac­cep­ted or re­jec­ted you.” But this re­jec­tion would be­come a ma­jor turn­ing point in the story of the Castro broth­ers.

A few months later, around the time of the broth­ers’ 31st birth­days, Joa­quin dropped by Ju­lián’s house with a present. This wasn’t typ­ic­al: As close as they are, the Castro broth­ers are far from ex­press­ive. They only oc­ca­sion­ally ex­change birth­day gifts, they’ve nev­er been big on “I love you’s,” and Ju­lián told me that he could re­mem­ber hug­ging his broth­er only five or six times in their 40 years. Joa­quin’s gift was a small volume titled How to Be Pres­id­ent. Part spoof, part dummy’s-guide-to, the book pur­por­ted to an­swer the fun­da­ment­al ques­tions about life as com­mand­er in chief: Where’s the bath­room? When do you get to fly on Air Force One? How do you or­der pizza de­liv­ery to the Oval Of­fice?

Joa­quin meant it partly as a joke, he says—not a pre­dic­tion that his broth­er would ac­tu­ally end up in the White House. At the same time, there was a mes­sage in the gift, which Ju­lián says he un­der­stood as: “I still think you can do whatever you want.”

The broth­ers, char­ac­ter­ist­ic­ally enough, were already work­ing on that. Not long after the elec­tion, Chris­ti­an Arch­er, who’d run Hard­ber­ger’s cam­paign, spot­ted the Castros eat­ing lunch at their fa­vor­ite Mex­ic­an res­taur­ant, Ros­ar­io’s. He hadn’t seen them since Ju­lián lost, and he tried to make him­self in­con­spicu­ous in hopes of avoid­ing them. They spot­ted him any­way. “I give them a pleas­ant wave,” Arch­er re­calls, “and Ju­lián jumps up and runs over and grabs me and says, ‘Would you mind hav­ing lunch with Joa­quin and I?’”

The three men sat and talked for two hours. The Castros wer­en’t bit­ter; they were curi­ous. What did we do wrong? they wanted to know. How did you choose this mes­sage, that line of at­tack? “I came away from that with the ut­most re­spect,” Arch­er says. “That took some real nerve and mox­ie to say, ‘Help us un­der­stand this.’”

Ju­lián was con­vinced he couldn’t mount a suc­cess­ful comeback if the busi­ness es­tab­lish­ment con­tin­ued to dis­trust him. For the next four years, when he wasn’t work­ing per­son­al-in­jury cases for the new Law Of­fices of Ju­lián Castro—Joa­quin joined the firm, of course—he worked on chan­ging that im­age com­pletely. Ju­lián broke bread reg­u­larly with busi­ness lead­ers, and, when the time came for his next shot at the may­or’s of­fice, he hired Arch­er and the rest of Hard­ber­ger’s ‘05 team to run his cam­paign. (Be­cause of term lim­its, Hard­ber­ger couldn’t run again.) Ju­lián ran as an ally of the real-es­tate de­velopers and bankers and tech en­tre­pren­eurs, and a cham­pi­on of pub­lic-private part­ner­ships as the way to im­prove the schools and at­tract new jobs. And he cruised to vic­tory, win­ning 56 per­cent of the vote in a five-can­did­ate race. One year later, when The New York Times Magazine pro­filed Ju­lián as the fu­ture Barack Obama—the Latino who’d break Amer­ica’s next ra­cial bar­ri­er to the pres­id­ency—it dubbed him the “Post-His­pan­ic His­pan­ic Politi­cian.” Ju­lián bristled a little at the monik­er, but even so: mis­sion ac­com­plished.

May­or Castro gov­erned as he’d cam­paigned. He opened a pub­lic-private col­lege-prep cen­ter called Café Col­lege, and a sim­il­ar site for as­pir­ing en­tre­pren­eurs. He em­braced the use of tax abate­ments to lure large em­ploy­ers to the city. He led a pub­lic-private cru­sade to re­vital­ize San Ant­o­nio’s urb­an core. And when he em­barked on his most am­bi­tious ef­fort, a city­wide ex­pan­sion of pre­kinder­garten edu­ca­tion called “Pre-K for SA,” he per­suaded the two biggest CEOs in San Ant­o­nio—Charles Butt, founder of the HEB gro­cery chain, and Joe Robles, head of the U.S. Auto­mobile As­so­ci­ation—to spear­head the cam­paign to pass a $30 mil­lion sales-tax in­crease to get it rolling.

By the time the voters em­braced Pre-K for SA in Novem­ber 2012, the Castro broth­ers had two feet in Wash­ing­ton. Joa­quin had found his tick­et out of the sad minor­ity in the Texas House, win­ning his first con­gres­sion­al elec­tion—only to join an­oth­er new Demo­crat­ic minor­ity in the U.S. House. Ju­lián had de­livered his Demo­crat­ic Con­ven­tion key­note that sum­mer, lead­ing to all kinds of buzz and in­ter­view re­quests. Shortly after the elec­tion, Obama and seni­or ad­viser Valer­ie Jar­rett met with Ju­lián to gauge his in­terest in join­ing the Cab­in­et; they didn’t spe­cify which de­part­ment, but it was clearly Trans­port­a­tion, which didn’t ap­peal to him. He said no, but the idea of tak­ing a post in D.C. had been planted.


THIS PAST SPRING, Pres­id­ent Obama and May­or Castro were fea­tured speak­ers at the LBJ Pres­id­en­tial Lib­rary’s 50th an­niversary cel­eb­ra­tion in Aus­tin. Back­stage, Ju­lián re­calls, the pres­id­ent sidled up to him. “He said, ‘I’ve been mean­ing to give you a call. Let’s talk soon.’ Prob­ably a week later, he called, and we had [a] con­ver­sa­tion about pos­sibly join­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion.” This time, the of­fer was to run HUD—a de­part­ment closer to Ju­lián’s heart, giv­en his urb­an-de­vel­op­ment ef­forts in San Ant­o­nio. The broth­ers also un­der­stood per­fectly well that there was no chance that the may­or of San Ant­o­nio would be tapped as vice pres­id­ent. But a young Latino Cab­in­et mem­ber with Clin­ton-style mod­er­ate polit­ics and a ton of great press? Maybe.

It wasn’t an auto­mat­ic call, though. Leav­ing Texas would take Ju­lián off the path to the gov­ernor’s of­fice that so many ex­pec­ted him to fol­low when his fourth two-year term as may­or (that was now the term lim­it) ended in 2017. The tim­ing had once soun­ded plaus­ible. Polit­ic­al pun­dits and op­tim­ist­ic Demo­crats had long ex­pec­ted fa­vor­able demo­graph­ic trends—a whole lot of young people of col­or be­com­ing voters, that is—to make statewide elec­tions win­nable by then, es­pe­cially for the right can­did­ate. (And if there were ever a “right” Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate, most agreed, it was Ju­lián Castro.) But with the much-hyped gubernat­ori­al bid of state Sen. Wendy Dav­is headed to­ward a his­tor­ic rout—she lost by more than 20 per­cent­age points—the re­viv­al of Texas Demo­crats had be­gun to look like a far more dis­tant pro­spect.

When Ju­lián asked Rosie what she thought about Obama’s HUD of­fer, she said, “This is the second time he asks you. He’s not gonna ask you again. But is this something you want to do?” He wasn’t sure. Some ad­visers thought HUD was a dead-end job. Oth­ers poin­ted out that Ju­lián would be join­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing its lame-duck phase—not the op­tim­al time for launch­ing am­bi­tious pro­jects that could boost his na­tion­al pro­file. It would be, said Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune, “like John Stamos join­ing ER in the 13th sea­son—show’s over, man.”

Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas).  Flickr/ Texas Public Radio  .

Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). Flickr/Texas Public Radio.

When he took the job any­way, it was a sure sign that the Castro broth­ers had de­cided that Texas wouldn’t be com­pet­it­ive for Demo­crats any­time soon. It also ap­peared to be a bet that Ju­lián’s pres­ence in Wash­ing­ton, and his new role, would make him more ap­peal­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton if she be­came the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee.

Still, the broth­ers know that vice pres­id­ent is a long shot—es­pe­cially be­cause, they in­sist, the ru­mors about their cozy links to Bill and Hil­lary are pat­ently ab­surd. Their re­la­tion­ship with the Clin­tons is friendly, they say, but far from in­tim­ate. Ju­lián’s only in­ter­ac­tion with Pres­id­ent Clin­ton dur­ing his White House in­tern­ship was a photo ses­sion. The broth­ers en­dorsed Hil­lary over Obama in 2008—at the be­hest, they say, of old Clin­ton pal José Vil­lar­real, a fam­ily friend and the part­ner who’d hired the twins at Akin Gump. Bill Clin­ton al­ways re­mem­bers the Castros’ en­dorse­ment and thanks them when he sees them, Ju­lián says, but that’s only been on “a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions.” The broth­ers have in­tro­duced the former pres­id­ent at fun­draisers in Cali­for­nia and Texas, Ju­lián notes, and “I’ve spoken with Hil­lary Clin­ton twice”—once at an event at the Uni­versity of South­ern Cali­for­nia in 2013, and once at a 2014 be­ne­fit for the Bronx Chil­dren’s Mu­seum, which Justice So­nia So­to­may­or in­vited them to. Last Au­gust, Ju­lián dined with Bill Clin­ton at the couple’s home in Wash­ing­ton. “A lot of people try and brag about long, close re­la­tion­ships with the Clin­tons,” Ju­lián says. “We don’t have a long, close re­la­tion­ship.” But, he adds, “I think we’re on the same page about a lot of stuff.”

While Ju­lián thinks na­tion­ally, his broth­er’s mind keeps drift­ing back to Texas. In Decem­ber, Joa­quin Castro and I sat at the top of the 750-foot-high Tower of the Amer­icas, gaz­ing out on San Ant­o­nio, chat­ting about the broth­ers’ past and pos­sible fu­tures, Texas polit­ics, and the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race. (Joa­quin ranks Mike Hucka­bee as the most nat­ur­al politi­cian of the po­ten­tial GOP field, say­ing he could “walk away” with the nom­in­a­tion “if he wasn’t so odd.”) The con­gress­man, fresh off an easy reelec­tion, poin­ted out some not­able spots: the broth­ers’ old neigh­bor­hood, the spire at Our Lady of the Lake Uni­versity on the west side, the place nearby where Woody Har­rel­son’s fath­er killed a fed­er­al judge by the name of “Max­im­um John” Wood Jr. Over soup, salad, and iced tea—both broth­ers’ drink of choice—Joa­quin talked en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally about his new pro­ject to re­sus­cit­ate Texas Demo­crats.

“I’m al­ways think­ing about polit­ics,” he says. “What is go­ing on here? What’s miss­ing here?” In Texas, what’s miss­ing is pretty ob­vi­ous on one level: Demo­crat­ic voters. Des­pite the ad­vent of Battle­ground Texas, a well-fun­ded ef­fort led by former Obama cam­paign brass de­signed to re­gister and turn out new voters, Joa­quin says there’s only one way to view the 2014 elec­tion: “We got our ass kicked.” The party’s situ­ation just keeps grow­ing more dire, he says; between 2008 and 2012, Re­pub­lic­ans went from oc­cupy­ing 2,400 loc­al elec­ted of­fices in Texas to own­ing 3,400. “We nev­er learned how to come back,” he says. “We still haven’t figured out the for­mula in Texas.”

Joa­quin doesn’t want to sup­plant Battle­ground Texas, he ex­plains, but to com­ple­ment it with some well-fun­ded, year-round hard­ball polit­ics. The Le­gis­lature meets every two years for 140 days, and every ses­sion Re­pub­lic­ans cut more deeply in­to fund­ing for so­cial ser­vices, he says—yet they’re nev­er held ac­count­able for it, come elec­tion time. “For ex­ample, a few years ago they wanted to cut fund­ing for nurs­ing homes,” he says. “I mean, that’s per­fect! You could run that on the ra­dio all day. You need to sear it in people’s brains, so the next time they go, ‘Hey, I re­mem­ber—these are the guys who wanted to cut your nurs­ing-home fund­ing!’”

An­oth­er key, he ar­gues, is ex­pand­ing the usu­al tar­gets for a polit­ic­al party. “What cam­paigns do is, they tar­get likely voters, con­sist­ent voters, right?” he says. “You need an or­gan­iz­a­tion that com­pletely flips the script. I don’t want to talk to likely voters; I want to talk to people that are com­pletely, or al­most com­pletely, dis­en­gaged.”

His road map for Texas Demo­crats is still in the early stages, but if he had to put a price tag on it, he’d es­tim­ate up­wards of $50 mil­lion. Joa­quin had meet­ings sched­uled in Janu­ary with po­ten­tial donors in hopes of get­ting things rolling. (He would not say who those fun­ders might be.) When I ask how he’s plan­ning to run a Demo­crat­ic-re­new­al pro­ject in Texas while work­ing 12-hour days in Con­gress, rais­ing his young daugh­ter, and coman­aging his broth­er’s polit­ic­al fu­ture, he ad­mits that he some­times thinks fondly about leav­ing his minor­ity caucus in Con­gress. “Some of the things I want to do and be in­volved with in bring­ing Texas along, it would be easi­er not to be an elec­ted of­fi­cial,” he says. “Spe­cific­ally, not to be a con­gress­man.”

He knows, of course, that noth­ing would be­ne­fit his Texas pro­ject like a broth­er on the na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic tick­et; that would make rais­ing $50 mil­lion a snap. “If he as­cends, that helps me too,” Joa­quin says. It works both ways, of course: If Joa­quin makes any not­able head­way with his Texas pro­ject over the next year and a half, the pro­spect of put­ting a Tex­an on the Demo­crat­ic bal­lot would make more stra­tegic sense for the party’s pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee.

While the broth­ers still har­bor blue-sky am­bi­tions, they’re also real­ists. They know that in the likely event Ju­lián doesn’t get the VP nod, their polit­ic­al path for­ward sud­denly van­ishes, at least un­less Texas someday be­comes com­pet­it­ive again. “Sure, I’ve thought about it,” Ju­lián says of hav­ing nowhere to go when his HUD ap­point­ment ex­pires. “It’s very pos­sible. I’ve thought about go­ing back to Texas and writ­ing, and per­haps prac­ti­cing law.” He’s also open, he says, to “stick­ing around some­where in the Cab­in­et” if Clin­ton, or an­oth­er Demo­crat, be­comes the next pres­id­ent. “Most days, I’m ex­cited about pub­lic ser­vice, but there’s some days, like in any pro­fes­sion—there’s the down days when I think about just go­ing back home and hav­ing more free­dom, you know? So we’ll see what hap­pens. The good thing is, I’m gonna be 42 when that day comes. Still a lot of time left.”

But there is also a sense of ur­gency to the broth­ers’ polit­ic­al plans. When we met for lunch in Decem­ber at one of his fa­vor­ite Mex­ic­an res­taur­ants in San Ant­o­nio, Ju­lián said he felt in­creas­ingly op­tim­ist­ic that he made the right move in go­ing to Wash­ing­ton. “Joa­quin and I were talk­ing a couple of months ago,” he said, “and I told him, ‘I feel like the world is com­ing to­ward us in a pos­it­ive way. More now in our lives than it ever will again.’”