Spotlight | Charles A. Gonzalez
submitted by, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
Few people possess the inherent commitment to become a public servant. It takes a particular type of human being, selfless and hard-working in nature, to take on such noble yet strenuous responsibility. Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez, born with public service in his blood, is one of those individuals who not only has the natural ability, but the passion and commitment to make impactful and positive change for the community.
As Gonzalez has ended his time in Congress after seven terms, we look back on the man and the many contributions he has made to our nation, to our community, and to the future leaders of America.
A Leader in the Making
Charles A. Gonzalez was born on May 5, 1945 in San Antonio, TX. As one of eight children of Bertha Gonzalez and Henry B. Gonzalez, he grew up in an environment full of opportunity, and one that placed great importance on the responsibility of being a leader.
His father, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, was an accomplished and well respected legislator for the Democratic Party. He was well-known for being a tenacious defender of his constituents and particularly for the advancement of the Latino community. During his long tenure as the Representative for Texas’ 20th District in San Antonio, “Henry B.” played a key role in the creation of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as one of five original founders, which helped to solidify the presence of Latino leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives and ushered in a new age for the emerging Latino community in the United States.
Growing up in this worldly context, young Charlie Gonzalez was exposed to political activism, which played an important role in his evolution as a man of unquestionable principles and wise leadership. Throughout his academic years, Charlie acquired knowledge while honing the leadership and people skills that would help propel his future public service career.
He received a Bachelors of Arts degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin in 1969. He later completed a Juris Doctor from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio in 1972.
Gonzalez’ next test of leadership would take him to the Texas Air National Guard, where he served as a technical sergeant from 1969 until 1975. After briefly serving as a 5th grade teacher in his native San Antonio, Gonzalez dedicated most of his professional career to the study and interpretation of the law. During this time, Gonzalez served as a private practice lawyer from 1972 to 1982, before becoming a Municipal Court Judge. He was later elected to serve as County Court at Law Judge from 1983 until 1987, before serving as an elected District Judge from 1989 to 1997.
As a judge, Charlie was recognized as one of the highest rated trial judges of the time. He tirelessly worked to modernize the courtroom with the latest technological advances and expedite the growing backlog of domestic violence cases. He also put to work his talents as an exceptional mediator to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. This had an important effect on the system, as it reduced the strain on an already overwhelmed court system.
“I have always felt a fundamental responsibility to give back to the community,” said Gonzalez. “The value I cherish most in an individual is a capacity to sacrifice self-aspirations to contribute to the greater good. I learned this value from my parents, and especially my father. I was able to see his passion as a Latino and as an American who wanted the best for his community and for his country.”
Following the Footsteps, Forging New Paths
With the announcement of his father’s retirement, Charlie resigned his court seat in 1997 and decided to seek election as representative for Texas’ 20th District. It did not take long for Gonzalez to demonstrate his ability to forge his own path as an elected official, quickly solidifying his presence as a member of a rapidly expanding group of Latino leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives. With a devout interest in civil rights and equality for Hispanics and all Americans, Gonzalez stepped right in and picked up where his father left off.
In his first term, Gonzalez was elected Vice President of the freshmen class. Since 1999, he has served as a Texas Regional Whip for the Democratic Caucus and as Chair of the Hispanic Caucus Civil Rights Task Force. In 2000, during the decennial census, Gonzalez took a leading role encouraging all Americans to participate in this crucial constitutional process. For his hard work, he was selected by the House Democratic Leadership to co-chair the Democratic Caucus Census Task Force.
That same year, Gonzalez was appointed to co-chair the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform and the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute, an initiative to ensure that all local, state and federal elections are conducted in compliance with civil rights laws, voting rights laws, and election laws. He was later elected to chair the Hispanic Judiciary Initiative for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a program developed by him to allow the CHC to identify and recommend qualified Hispanic candidates to fill federal court vacancies.
Throughout the decade he utilized his leadership skills to cast a wide net of influence through a vast number of committee assignments and legislative areas. Gonzalez served on the Energy and Commerce Committee, House Administration Committee, Judiciary Committee, Select Committee on Homeland Security and the House Financial Services Committee. In addition, he gave his time to provide a voice for Latinos and his constituents on several Congressional Task Forces that covered issues such as education, defense, financial services, business and economic development, and telecommunications, as well as serving on the 21st Century Health Care Caucus, the High Speed Rail Caucus, the Homeland Security Caucus, the Port Security Caucus, the Air Force Caucus, the Infrastructure and Transportation Caucus and the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus.
“It was an honor to serve with Charlie Gonzalez in the House of Representatives and to witness his passion for serving the people of his district, Texas and the nation,” said Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor and former U.S. Representative who served with Gonzalez from 2001-2009. “His leadership and voice for Latinos, immigrants and civil rights will be missed in Congress, but the imprint he and his late father Henry B. Gonzalez have left will not soon be forgotten. I wish him all the best and know that while he will no longer walk the halls of Congress, his efforts to improve our nation will not end here.”
Leading the CHC
Gonzalez was elected by his peers to serve as Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) for the 112th Congress. As Chair, he focused on forwarding an agenda that aggressively advocated for the needs of the Latino community as the fastest growing demographic in America. With Latinos disparately affected by the economic slowdown and housing crisis, the CHC led efforts to improve the economy, limit taxes on the working class, and work with the Administration to create jobs.
Gonzalez actively led the Caucus on immigration, working closely with Rep. Luis Gutierrez and others to push the DREAM Act. While efforts to secure comprehensive immigration reform continue, CHC efforts helped secure the Deferred Action program, allowing undocumented residents under 30 who entered the United States as children to apply to have removal actions deferred for two years.
Leading up to an historic election where Latinos voted in record numbers, Gonzalez was behind Caucus efforts to fight voter suppression efforts and voter ID laws in Texas and throughout the nation. The CHC also worked actively to help ensure Mari Carmen Aponte’s appointment to U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador passed in the Senate.
“In Congress, Charlie has fought tirelessly for a cleaner environment, Wall Street reform and more accessible health care for Texans,” said President Barack Obama. “As Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he has worked nonstop to deliver much needed relief to deserving immigrant families and to protect the civil rights of Latinos and all Americans. Michelle and I wish him and his family the very best and join the people of Texas in thanking him for his many years of service.”
Leading the Way for the Next Generation at CHCI
At the same time he took over as CHC Chair, Gonzalez assumed the chairmanship of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to develop the next generation of Latino leaders. His vision for CHCI was to continue its growth to keep the promise to the thousands of young people looking for opportunities to succeed.
Gonzalez successfully followed through on the previous chair’s (Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez) work to implement the organization’s strategic plan began in 2010. During the past two years CHCI dramatically diversified and grew its revenue to serve more students, continued to improve operations and implemented its new board structure to improve efficiency, increased its visibility, and its programs served the most Latino youth and young professionals in its history.
With Gonzalez’ leadership, CHCI focused on a national initiative to increase the Latino college-degree/certificate-completion rate to 60 percent of all adults in the U.S. by 2025. Education forums were held in cities across the nation to draw mainstream attention to the fact that Latino youth must be educated to reach that goal and ensure the nation’s future prosperity through an educated Latino workforce. In Miami, CHCI partnered for the first time with NBC’s Education Nation where the importance of Latino education featured on a national stage.
Among his most prominent contributions to CHCI’s programs, CHCI hosted its first ever High School Latino Leaders in DC program in 2011, expanding on its successful Ready to Lead® college readiness program, bringing 20 high school students from around the country to the nation’s capital for one week during the summer to learn the how the Federal Government works, the importance of being civically engaged, and how they can affect positive change in their communities. In 2012, that number doubled to 40 students.
Gonzalez also oversaw the organization’s first ever brand alignment study of internal and external stakeholders to identify its strengths and weaknesses and guide the organization’s future growth. He also initiated a feasibility study for a new capital campaign to ensure the organization’s future includes the necessary infrastructure to keep pace with the growing demands for its programs and services.
“I am very proud of the great work and accomplishments we made in the past two years,” said Gonzalez. “It’s amazing how CHCI has developed and grown in 35 years. When I first took office in 1999 and joined the board of CHCI, it directly served 46 students. In 2012, the organization directly impacted the lives of nearly 1,600 students and young professionals. I want to recognize the hard work of the board, alumni, staff and supporters who continue to make CHCI the leading Hispanic organization for leadership and education in the nation.”
Gonzalez also had the honor to serve as Chair during CHCI’s 35th Anniversary Celebration, honoring the pioneers who paved the way and encouraging those who will continue the fight long into the future.
We celebrate Gonzalez’s magnificent contributions to America, to Congress, to CHCI and to the Latino community as a whole. His great leadership, wise guidance and unwavering tenacity are a tribute to his father and the many great leaders that have paved the way for him.
“I am very proud of how far the Latino community has come since my father took office back in 1961 and I am grateful for having the opportunity to be a voice for the people,” said Gonzalez. “But we all know we have a long way to go and I have never been more confident in the next generation of leaders that will take us further down the road to equality and even greater opportunity.”
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a nonprofit and nonpartisan 501(c) (3) organization, provides leadership development programs and educational services to students and young emerging leaders. The CHCI Board of Directors is comprised of Hispanic Members of Congress, nonprofit, union and corporate leaders.