Hispanics in Government

Houston Institute for Culture 
By John P. Schmal

Eighty-Seventh U.S. Congress (1961-1962)

In 1958, Senator Henry B. Gonzales ran for the office of Governor in the Democratic primary, but lost. However, in 1961, Congressman Paul Kilday, a Democrat, was appointed to the federal bench by President John F. Kennedy. This left his congressional seat with the 20th District vacant. In 1961, Henry B. Gonzalez was elected in a special election to fill this position and won by a margin of 10,000 votes, becoming the first Mexican-American representative to Congress from Texas in the Twentieth Century.

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In his subsequent reelection bids, Congressman Gonzalez faced very little opposition, usually winning at least eighty percent of the vote and running unopposed a number of times. Although he supported and initiated legislation for the welfare of Hispanic Americans, Gonzalez avoided running on a Chicano platform. He served as a congressional representative from 1961 to 1999 (the 87th to the 105th Congresses).

Fifty-Eighth Session (1963-1964)

Tejano representation in the 58th Session dropped from six representatives to five. In addition, with Henry Gonzalez having moved from the Texas Senate to the U.S. Congress, no Tejanos held office in the Upper House.

Representatives Alaniz, de la Garza, and Esquivel all continued to represent their constituencies in Bexar and Hidalgo Counties. Joining them in the House was Amando F. Canales of San Diego, Duval County, who represented the 70th District. He would serve through two sessions from 1963 to 1967.

Joining the others in the House was the Laredo native, Honore Ligarde. Born in 1920 as the son of Amedee Ligarde and Sara Saenz, Honore had been raised in the Laredo area. He entered the service in 1941 as an Aviation Cadet with the Air Force and left the service in 1945 after serving in the 321st Bomb Group, 12th Air Force. For his service, Ligarde had received the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters and the Presidential Unit Citation. Honore Ligarde was elected as the Representative of the 59th District of Laredo, Webb County. Representative Ligarde would serve in five sessions from 1963 to 1973.

In 1964, an important piece of federal legislation would bring about the end of the Texas poll tax. On January 23, 1964, the U.S. Congress ratified the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- originally proposed on August 27, 1962. The 24th Amendment banned the use of poll taxes in federal elections, stating that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

For two more years, the poll tax still existed for state and local elections in Texas. For this reason, different ballots had to be provided for voters qualified for all elections and for those voting only in federal elections. But, early in 1966, in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the Supreme Court held Virginia's poll tax to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. This ruling judicially invalidated the poll tax for all state and local elections.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 2 of this act prohibited any state or political subdivision of a state from using any ³standard, practice, or procedure,² including a redistricting plan, "which results in denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color" or membership in a protected language minority group. On a Federal Level, this Act made illegal the Texas redistricting policies of recent decades.

Eighty-Ninth U.S. Congress (1965-1966)

After serving six consecutive terms as a representative in Austin, Kika de la Garza was elected in 1964 to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Texas' 15th Congressional District, which primarily included McAllen and Edinburg (Hidalgo County) and Kingsville (Kleberg County). When the 89th Congress convened in 1965, Representative de la Garza took his seat as a Democrat, effectively ending a thirteen-year career in the Texas House of Representatives. Kika would served in Congress from January 3, 1965 until the January 3, 1997 (the 89th to 104th Congresses).

Because he hailed from a district with a large agricultural base, de la Garza became a member of the Committee on Agriculture. In 1967 he served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Department Operations and Foreign Agriculture. And from 1981 to 1994, Congressman de la Garza was the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, becoming the first Hispanic since 1917 to be the Chairman of a standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fifty-Ninth Session (1965-1966)

After Kika de la Garza moved to the U.S. Congress, his seat in 38th District, Position 3 (Hidalgo County) elected an Anglo named A.C. "Bud" Atwood to replace him. However, even with the loss of Kika's District, the number of Latinos serving in the Texas House of Representatives increased from five in the 58th Legislature to nine in the 59th Legislature.

In the new session, Representative Alaniz continued to represent San Antonio, while Ligarde continued to represent his people in Laredo. In the meantime, two more Hispanic representatives came onto the scene as a delegate from Bexar County. Joseph J. Bernal (born 1927) was born in San Antonio and attended public schools in the area. He joined the infantry in 1945, taking part in World War II. After he was honorably discharged in 1946, Mr. Bernal took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and obtained a bachelor's degree in education at Trinity University in San Antonio. A few years later, he started a 13-year teaching career in San Antonio.

In 1964, Joe Bernal defeated Rudy Esquivel, a Democrat, in the election for District 68, Position 2 (San Antonio, Bexar County). After serving for one session, Representative Bernal was elected in 1966 to the Texas Senate, where he served from 1967 to 1973. During his years in the Senate, Mr. Bernal was the primary author of several bills. He authorized the first minimum wage law in Texas and expunged from state statute all laws supporting segregation of the races.

The third Tejano representing San Antonio in the 59th Session was R. L. (Bob) Vale. Born in Roma, Texas in 1931 to Joseph J. Vale and Maria Garcia and the nephew of Arnold Vale, Robert Lee Vale attended law school and served as a Lieutenant in the Army during and after the Korean War (1954-1956). After practicing law in San Antonio, Mr. Vale ran for Representative of District 68-6, replacing C. Jim Segrest. Bob Vale would have a long career in politics, representing the 68-6 District from 1965 to 1979 through seven terms.

When Bob Vale left the House after 14 years, he was ranked eighth in seniority of the 150 members. In 1979, Representative Vale began serving in the Senate from 1979 to 1985, representing District 26 (Bexar County) for another three terms. Senator Vale died in 1992.

In Nueces County, the attorney Tony Bonilla broke new ground with his election as a Democratic representative to District 38-1 in November 1964. Born in Calvert, Texas in 1936, Tony Bonilla had attended college in Corpus Christi before receiving his law degree from the University of Houston. After his election, Tony Bonilla stated, "I am very proud to be today the first state representative of Mexican ancestry to be elected in Nueces County." But, he added, "I am cognizant of the additional responsibility such a privilege places upon me. I will represent all the citizens."

While Amando Canales continued to represent Duvall County, Honore Ligarde represented Laredo. Although Raul Longoria stood up for Hidalgo County, a new Tejano came onto the scene, also as a representative from Hidalgo County. Gregory F. Montoya was elected to serve District 38-2 (Elsa, Hidalgo County), replacing William Coughran in office. Mr. Montoya was served his district off and on for more than a decade.

In the 59th Legislative Session, El Paso once again sent a Tejano representative to Austin. Born in Floresville, Texas in 1932 as the son of Raul R. Muniz and Beatrice Trevino, Raul F. Muniz had served in the Armyıs 97th Engineers during the 1950s. When he took office as the Representative of District 74-4 (El Paso) in 1965, he replaced Malcolm McGregor. Muniz would serve the 74th District from 1965 to 1971 (59th to 61st sessions).

Sixtieth Session (1967-1968)

In the 60th Legislative Session, the number of Mexican American legislators in Austin increased to eleven: ten representatives and one senator (Bernal). While Ligarde continued to represent Laredo, Longoria still represented part of Hidalgo County and Muniz stood up for El Paso. Bob Vale continued to represent San Antonio, and Joseph J. Bernal moved to the Senate. In the meantime, Kika de la Garza and Henry Gonzalez represented the only two Tejanos to represent Texas in the U.S. Congress.

However, a whole generation of freshmen delegates now entered the Texas House of Representatives for the first time. Joining Raul Muniz in representing the people of El Paso County were Paul Moreno and H. Tati Santiesteban. Humberto Tati Santiesteban was born in 1934 as the son of Ricardo Santiesteban, Jr. and Carmen Leyva. A native of El Paso, he attended the New Mexico Military Institute and was on active duty with the Army from 1956 to 1959. He attended in law school, and in 1967 became a member of the House, representing District 67-1 of El Paso. Santiesteban would serve in the House from 1967 to 1973 and in the Texas Senate from 1973 to 1991.

Paul Moreno, a native of Alamogordo, New Mexico, was raised in El Paso. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years and was decorated for his service in the Korean War. Paul Moreno was first elected to the Texas House in November 1966, taking office the next year as the Representative of District 67-3. Representative Moreno has embraced this job and was reelected in 2002 to serve his eighteenth two-year term in the House.

J.A. Garcia, Jr. was elected to represent the 48-F District (Raymondville, Willacy County) for the Sixtieth Legislature. Joseph Alexander Garcia, Jr., was born in Brownsville in 1936 as the son of Joseph Alexander Garcia, Sr. and Bertha Champion. He would serve the people of Willacy County for three sessions until 1972.

Henry Sanchez, Jr. was elected to represent District 47-2 (Brownsville, Cameron County) and served for four sessions from 1967 to 1975. Henry Sanchez had served four years in the United States Air Force. As the owner of a weekly newspaper, he had become a civic leader and activist in the Brownsville area. He died suddenly in 1995 at the age of 63. Representative Sanchez became the first Hispanic to represent Cameron County in many years.

In the 60th Session, Oscar Carrillo, Sr. became the Duval Countyıs second Tejano representative, following Amando Canales. Born in 1921 in Hebbronville (Jim Hogg County) as the son of David Carrillo Chapa and Emma Peña, Mr. Carrillo served in the U.S. Army during World War II, winning the Bronze Star for his service. In 1947 at age 21, Carrillo became the youngest Mayor of the City of Benavides. Although he was proud to be a rancher and farmer in Duval County, Mr. Carrillo ran for Representative in 1966. He was elected to serve as Representative of District 50 (Benavidez, Duval County) and held that position through three sessions from 1967 to 1973. Representative Carrillo died in 2003 at the age of 81.

The major eastern urban area of Houston was also able to gain a Hispanic legislator in the 60th Legislative District. Born in 1933 in Beaumont, Texas, Lauro Cruz was the son of Manuel Cruz and Margarita Menchaca. He attended the University of Houston and served in the Marines during the Korean War (1950-1953). With the support of LULAC and the GI Forum, Lauro Cruz ran for the position of District 23-5 and won, making him the first Mexican-American to win representation in Houston.

Sixty-First Session (1969-1970)

In the Sixty-First Legislative Session, all ten of the incumbent Tejanos held onto their respective seats in the House, while Senator Joseph Bernal continued to serve in the Senate as the lone Tejano voice in that chamber.

However, the Latino representation in this session increased to a total of 12 (counting Bernal in the Senate). The lone newcomer to the House was Carlos F. Truan. A native of Kingsville, Truan had earned a business degree at Texas A&I University in 1959. In 1968, Truan was elected to serve District 45-2 (Corpus Christi, Nueces County), succeeding Travis A. Peeler in that position.

Representative Truan would have an illustrious career in the Texas Legislature, first serving four terms in the House (1969-1977), then moving on to the Texas Senate where he served from 1977 to 2003. As the representative of Senate District 21, he served a constituency of eight counties and 650,000 people and, by the end of his career, had become the longest serving member of the Texas Senate. In the 69th Legislature, his colleagues in the Senate had elected him to the post of Senate President Pro Tempore during three sessions. Truan himself felt great pride in the fact that he had sponsored the Texas Bilingual Education Act and the Texas Adult Education Act.

İ Copyright, by John P. Schmal, All Rights Reserved. Read more articles by John Schmal.

John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002). He has degrees in History (Loyola-Marymount University) and Geography (St. Cloud State University) and is a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He is an associate editor of SHHAR's online monthly newsletter, John is presently collaborating with illustrator Eddie Martinez on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."