IssuesLocal News11 Texas Local Leaders Under 40 Discuss Their Priorities, Goals, and Future Plans

The Texan identified and interviewed a group of young up-and-coming local leaders who might one day be the future of Texas politics.
July 25, 2019
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As Texas’ electoral demographics appear to be changing, so too do the people looking to lead their respective party and movement into the future. 

After all, today’s known political quantities will only last for so long. Eventually, they will be replaced by elected officials and leaders yet to come. And the parties themselves are always looking for fresh, new faces to advance their ideas and policies. 

For a look at who this next generation of state elected officials might include, The Texan identified a number of up and comers that could one day be in high-profile decision-making positions in the Lone Star state.

While far from a definitive list, these young elected officials The Texan identified are in local positions looking to make a difference in their respective positions and possibly make a name for themselves in the process.

Erick Aguilar (Council Member, Clute)

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Born in Villahermosa, Mexico, Erick Aguilar’s parents brought him and his older brother to the United States when he was three. Fast forward almost 19 years and Aguilar sits on the city council for Clute, a small city in Brazoria County.

To Aguilar, local government is the most important level of government because it “affects the everyday lives of the people living in your city” more than any other. 

Aguilar says one thing that drove him to run for city council was what he observed as the unfamiliarity Clute citizens had with their representatives. He wanted to break that trend and help steward his city of fewer than 12,000 people past the “roadblocks” his fellow citizens told him they were concerned about.

Aguilar didn’t identify any specific issues Clute is facing, but spoke more broadly on a couple of themes. One theme Aguilar touched on repeatedly was a lack of direction for Clute. The key to alleviating this problem, Aguilar said, is to identify “a 10 to 20-year plan for the city” that will serve as a unifying goal.

The other theme is the very issue that drove him to run in the first place: a lack of community. 

Aguilar said the city government has a strategy planned to improve community involvement, such as hosting more festivals, community movie nights, concerts, and other events. “It will take time but having the community involved in all aspects of our local government is the only way we are going to make real change,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar believes he provides a new perspective separated from traditional partisanship for Clute.

In the near future, he remains focused on finishing school and joining the workforce. But Aguilar is determined to remain present in his community — whether it is on the council, coaching soccer, or any number of other roles he fills — continuing to bridge the familiarity gap between citizen and representative.

Scott Bowen (At-Large Member, Clear Creek ISD)

After graduating from Texas A&M, Scott Bowen moved back to the Houston area to work as a chemical engineer. At 29, Bowen now serves as a board member for Clear Creek ISD.

Upon becoming dissatisfied with his school district’s decisions “regarding grading systems and legislative priorities,” Bowen started to explore options. After looking into it and finding that his eventual opponent voted for every motion in front of her in the last six years, Bowen concluded: “decisions were being made with little debate and diversity of opinion.”

He added, “Ours is a country that has always rewarded high achievers, and it needs to stay that way.”

Bowen then tried to recruit someone to run against that member, but had no such luck, so he took it upon himself.

He said, “being a career politician does not appeal to me.” But he does see himself being involved in public life in some capacity wherever he goes — whether it’s as a volunteer, donor, or some other capacity.

As far as his current job, Bowen says “reducing waste and fiscal responsibility are big priorities.” 

But also to “resist the trend I’ve seen in lots of districts toward vague grading systems and elimination of ranking.” He believes a comprehensive plan can help his school district adjust to unforeseen problems and succeed without using a large number of resources.

Newcomers, Bowen believes, aren’t “soaked in conventional wisdom” which makes it easier to “ask big questions and serve as a sanity check on the whole process.”

“Longtime incumbents have often hired all of the administrators they’re supposed to be overseeing,” Bowen said, adding, “so it becomes hard to ask tough questions and push back on misguided ideas.”

Bowen said he doesn’t see himself leaving Clear Creek — a community which he adores — and added, “I’m blessed to be able to contribute to it in such a unique way.”

Joel Castro (Council Member, Alvin)

Joel Castro won an election in 2018 at the age of 18. A feat he attributes to his “fresh perspective and a dedication to improving the quality of life that is unmatched.”

He decided to run because “I have a vast love for my city and the people who call Alvin home.”

Castro said he’s known for a while that he wanted to run for public office, and it stems from how much he “loved serving people in church, school, and in the community as a kid.

Overall, Castro says he wants to “make Alvin a great place to grow your family and your business.” 

More specifically, Castro hopes to “improv[e] infrastructure like roads and drainage, enhance our City’s beautification, spur economic development in a responsible way,” all while “being fiscally conservative.”

Castro believes his new and energetic perspective makes him not “afraid to implement new ideas in order to get the best outcome.” He also stressed his desire to create solutions that “go across the aisle” to ensure the best course is charted for his constituents.

Up until he ran for office, Castro says he didn’t see himself as a council member. But he said he hopes to continue to serve in his current capacity “serving my community continu[ing] to work diligently to improve it for our taxpayers.”

Dan Davis (Council Member, Manvel)

Dan Davis is a Boston native but has been a Texan since his family moved here while he was in the fifth grade. At 26, Dan holds a spot on city council — for which he ran to “help mak[e] Manvel a city that [others would] want to raise their families in.”

After the 2016 election — which he described as the moment it became clear to him politics “[had become] more about a headline rather than working together on meaningful legislation” — Davis decided he wanted to be involved as a counterexample to what he observed.

Just south of Houston. Manvel is a burgeoning town whose population has nearly doubled since 2010. Davis sees his role on the council as one to help bridge the gap between Manvel’s past and future. As an up-and-coming town, the priorities of the longtime residents and those of the new ones do not always line up.

Davis finds much of his time spent on council dealing with flooding and drainage preparedness — which was quickly swamped by Hurricane Harvey. Other priorities of his are “ensur[ing] fiscal conservatism, community engagement, and governmental transparency.”

As a devout Christian — who even served as a missionary to Japan in 2015 with his family — Davis felt called to public service. As a newcomer to politics, Davis is glad to add his unique perspective on the issues facing Manvel. But his best approach, he says, is making sure to listen and observe intently.

Davis says he’s leaving his political future up to God and focuses on being a good father, husband, son, brother, friend, worker, and neighbor. “At the end of the day if I achieve those things then I can rest easily at night.”

Davis lives in Manvel with his wife and two children. He is also a member of perhaps the luckiest subsection of a fanbase in sports: young New England Patriots fans.

Mike Floyd (Board Member, Pearland ISD)

At the time of his election in 2017 to the Pearland ISD board, Mike Floyd became the first Democrat to win in Brazoria County in 35 years. The victory over then-board president Rusty DeBorde cemented Floyd as not only the youngest elected official in Brazoria County history and but also one of the youngest in the country.

Two years later, Floyd is 20 and balancing school, his responsibilities on the board, and serving as the Texas Democratic Party’s Treasurer.

Floyd said there was a myriad of reasons he decided to run for office.

According to Floyd, the district’s unstable financial situation led to calls for cuts. Meanwhile, elected officials at the state level advocated for increased privatization and vouchers — two things Floyd believes would not only be detrimental to education but also the economy. 

Floyd also alluded to the famous (or infamous, depending on whom is asked) “Bathroom Bill of 2017” as a motivating factor saying, “Transgender students were, and are, being demonized, dehumanized, and discriminated against in our schools and our society.”

As a board member, Floyd’s priorities are in his words, “expanding opportunities for our young people and increasing the investments from our community into our schools.” 

Not shying away from his partisan position, Floyd is also focusing on “elect[ing] Democrats in every race, from schoolhouse to the White House” and “raising a lot of money to turn Texas blue.”

“Newcomers bring reinvigoration and energy,” Floyd said. Having run on his unique perspective as a recent student, Floyd says he has brought that into his job. “I can show people what works, what is broken, and what is missing,” he added.

Floyd is planning on attending law school soon.

He concluded, “I wanted to play a role in my community in which I could give back for the great quality public education that I was fortunate enough to receive.”

Karla García (Board Member, Dallas ISD)

At age 23, Karla García is a board member for the Dallas ISD. Being the daughter of Mexican immigrants who moved into Dallas, she became a first-generation college graduate — graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in public policy.

García said she decided to run for school board because “our zip codes should not define our destinies and [that] it’s time to stop asking students to overcome the odds and it’s time we start changing the odds.” 

She added, “Serving in elected office is the opportunity to invest right back into the community that raised me.”

García said her interest in public service “began with questioning inequalities well before deciding to study public policy in college.”

Her priorities in office include funding pre-kindergarten programs; ensuring students “feel safe, valued, and whole;” and expanding post-secondary opportunities for students.

García believes “Newcomers have fresh ideas, a different perspective, and an invigorating energy” that give them an edge in the political office.

“The tension [that having a newcomer in office] can create in existing power structures is healthy and oftentimes necessary for everyone,” García added.

Without spurning a potential run for something else down the road, García said: “For now, I’m dedicating myself wholeheartedly to my term as DISD Trustee.”

She concluded by saying, “I ask that older adults take the time to listen to the communities we both want to be a part of and to contribute in making.”

Adrian Hernandez (Council Member, Pearland)

With perhaps the most uniquely interesting background of anyone on this list, the 36-year-old Adrian Hernandez is a tea and coffee expert who legislates on the side. Additionally, he serves as executive director for Keep Pearland Beautiful which operates the Stella Roberts Recycling Center.

Hernandez said he’s always been interested in serving his community, and that “Not only does it provide a sense of shared purpose, it also provides opportunities to continuously learn and improve my skills and perspective on the world.” 

After being involved in his community for some time, Hernandez decided his background and experience would suit the City of Pearland well.

As a council member, Hernandez says his top priority is improving communication between government and its constituents. Hernandez wants to “make information more accessible, palatable, and digestible for the average resident in order to provide more opportunity to find areas of importance and whereby increase public engagement.”

His second priority is to improve the economic environment of Pearland to attract more businesses.

Hernandez believes what newcomers offer is up to the individual, and that, “Until one finds his or her niche or lane where one can have the greatest impact, a new councilor can bring forward just the right amount of naivety to expose information that may not have been brought forth in open discussions.”

He added that this prevents a “single ideology of governance from dominating the process for too long and forces compromise.”

Hernandez says for now his focus is on his current role, but that should another opportunity arise it must be something “where I might be impactful and help bring about positive change to the lives of others.”

Cassandra Hernandez (City Representative, El Paso)

Cassandra Hernandez first gained an interest in the public sector as a child whose family received government aid and lived in subsidized housing. Hernandez majored in political science at UTEP and then went on to earn a masters degree in public policy and management. 

At 32, she sits on the El Paso City Council.

Having previous experience working for city officials, Hernandez decided “there needed to be changes with the existing administration,” and thus, to run for office. A decision, she said, was tough because she has two young children of her own.

She made the decision to run because she “had seen a decline with the progressive mindset on council.” Hernandez described herself as an elected official with a “progressive vision [that would] help make El Paso competitive.”

Hernandez said she has many priorities in office, a few of which are keeping bond projects on time; ensuring transparency and ethical practices; improving mobility and infrastructure; and “standing up to Trump.”

To make herself more accessible to her constituents, Hernandez says she holds bi-monthly meetings, interacts with them on social media, and hosts block parties. She says her youth allows her to better connect with younger people and get them to engage more with their government.

Instead of avoiding discussion of her future plans, Hernandez straightforwardly stated she plans to run for mayor of El Paso. Hernandez stated that, because El Paso has an average age of 32 years old, she believes “young Latino/Latina voters will come out in November 2020 to support young progressive leaders in El Paso.”

Hernandez concluded by stressing how proud she is that the El Paso City Council is both a young and a majority-female one.

Christina Martinez (Board Member, San Antonio ISD)

As a San Antonio native and the daughter of two educators, Martinez seems destined for her current position on the San Antonio ISD board. As a mother who has served as Vice President of External Relations for Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, Martinez’s life is centered around children and their education.

Martinez says she has always been interested in public service. And two years ago, she fulfilled that desire by filling an empty board seat for her neighborhood. 

Faced with an 11.5 percent drop in enrollment since the 2011-2012 school year, Martinez believes the solution is to create an environment that “meets [students] needs academically and socially.”

Specifically, she sees a lack of navigability for parents within the schools their children attend. 

Martinez emphasized that parents are the customer and their needs should be met. “Schools must have the best customer service skills so that families are made to feel welcome,” Martinez added.

School board is a largely thankless job with minimal benefits — other than the occasional Pollos Asado provided at meetings — but one that Martinez finds fulfilling. She especially enjoys attending graduations, putting on full display the culmination of her district’s student’s hard work.

Martinez finds herself filling a role that she says is underrepresented on school boards including San Antonio ISD: that of a parent of students in the district. 

“The idea that school boards don’t often include a parent is scary,” Martinez said.

As for the future, Martinez approaches it with the mantra “whatever will be, will be.” For now, Martinez is happy in her current role serving the district which her children attend.

Luke Orlando (Council Member, Pearland)

After graduating from the University of Texas in 2016, Luke Orlando returned to his hometown of Pearland, a city whose population jumped 160 percent from 2000-2017.

Disillusioned by the “division and tribalism that has consumed our national politics trickling down into nonpartisan, local races in my hometown,” Orlando decided to run for city council. 

Embarking upon an “ideas-oriented campaign” that “presented a unifying vision for the city,” Orlando found his way onto city council at age 25.

As a councilman, Orlando sees his main concern to be coping with the population boom Pearland has experienced and all that comes with it. Orlando says Pearland is prospering — which the population growth would indicate is accurate — but it comes with side effects.

Stemming the growing city debt and fostering a sense of community are two big challenges Orlando sees before him. Orlando believes that being a young conservative Republican allows him to “translate conservative values into modern solutions that are relevant to an America that looks very different than even a generation ago.”

Orlando became enthralled with politics on election night in 2000. This lit a fire within him that pushed him to become more involved, including “flipping burgers to pay for myself to go to leadership and political conferences across the country” and volunteering on campaigns in his community. 

He even worked for Congressman Pete Olson (R-TX-22) and state Representative Ed Thompson (R-Pearland).

Orlando isn’t sure what the future holds, but he relishes being a public servant. 

Orlando concluded by saying, “I’ve always had a strong sense that life is about more than maximizing my own wealth or happiness and that the most fulfilling route lies in creating value for other people.”

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca (Vice President, Houston ISD)

Although she isn’t a native Texan, the 38-year-old vice-president of the Houston ISD board is as passionate about Texas’ education system and her students as anyone. She says her goal is to “ensure that students have access to rich, engaging, and personalized learning experiences that equip them with the skills to succeed in their chosen career after high school.” 

Holly has worked as a teacher and for other organizations.

About her motivating force, she said: “Education made an enormous difference in my own life, and I want to see that opportunity shared by all HISD students.”

Houston ISD is one of the largest districts in the state, and Flynn Vilaseca says the district is facing “structural budget concerns, which were exacerbated by the massive damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.” 

Additionally, she says the board is working to improve underperforming schools, of which The Texan has written about previously.

Flynn Vilaseca’s top priorities include “holding our interim superintendent accountable for the academic performance of our schools,” “ensuring our Chief Audit Executive’s office has the resources necessary to conduct their work independently,” and utilizing data-driven decision-making to maximize efficiency within the district.

She believes newcomers bring a valuable approach to the political process, including, “hope, energy, and an eagerness to challenge the status quo.”

Flynn Vilaseca said she plans on continuing to push the envelope and ask the hard questions designed to provide the best education for her students. This will require, she says, “continued support from the Texas Legislature to properly fund public education while maintaining local control of our schools.”

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad chairing the Edmund Burke fan club.