AUSTIN — Before the House gavels in each day, freshman Rep. Rick Galindo moves across the floor to shake as many representatives’ hands as he can.
A political novice, Galindo, 33, is in his first elected office and his first session as a legislator.
“Part of the reason I’m doing this is I realized my community needed real leadership and a strong voice in the Legislature, and we weren’t getting that,” Galindo said.
Galindo, R-San Antonio, works as a risk manager for a San Antonio property management company. He said he became interested in politics at St. Mary’s University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in finance.
At the Capitol, his lack of political confidence shows on hot-button issues in the Latino community. He has no stance on proposals that would outlaw sanctuary cities or would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s permits but not licenses.
This session, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed a bill that would ban sanctuary cities, which prohibit police from asking about a person’s immigration status during traffic stops or investigations.
“I know about it. It’s an interesting topic,” said Galindo, who shied away from saying how he felt about the issues.
But when it comes to repealing the Texas DREAM Act, a move that most Republican lawmakers support, Galindo said he would not be in favor of it. The DREAM Act allows undocumented immigrant students to attend public universities and pay in-state tuition rates.
“That’s not on my agenda to repeal that,” Galindo said. “I think every person who comes here should have an opportunity to become something great.”
Despite his inexperience, Galindo thinks that District 117 can benefit from having a fresh pair of eyes in the Legislature.
“I’m not a product of the political culture here in Austin, and that’s not something I want to be a part of,” Galindo said. “I think that’s what my district needs … someone who can relate to the everyday person.”
In November, Galindo beat incumbent Rep. Philip Cortez. Galindo received 52.7 percent of the vote, compared with Cortez’s 47.3 percent.
The seat is in a swing district that has flipped between Republicans and Democrats every election cycle. Neither party has held a seat for two consecutive election cycles since 2006.
According to state records, Galindo spent roughly $310,000 to unseat Cortez. Two-thirds of every penny used to help him win came from two powerful special interest groups — Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Associated Republicans of Texans. TLR, a powerful Austin lobby, contributed almost $133,000 for mailers, media training and polling. Associated Republicans of Texans gave Galindo contributions totaling $95,000, with the bulk going toward mailers and polling.
Galindo said a priority this session is public education, a topic that is close to him because his wife is a teacher in Northside Independent School District. He was assigned to the Public Education Committee and the House Committee on Government Transparency and Operation.
So far, Galindo has filed two bills relating to public education. The first would require schools to make the November general Election Day a staff development day if they are functioning as polling places.
He also filed House Bill 742, which would make changes to the statewide testing requirements. It would eliminate the state-mandated writing assessment that fourth- and seventh-graders are required to pass before advancing to the next grade level. It also would cut the required social studies end-of-course exam for eighth-graders.
Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said he thinks his party will fight for the District 117 seat again next cycle and that Galindo will have to work hard to keep it.
“Even if it’s a steep learning curve, he’s got to be acting with a sense of urgency,” Rodriquez said.
Rodriguez, who was just a freshman legislator last session, said the relationships a legislator makes in his or her first session can be critical.
“One of the things you hear often is as a freshman, it’s better to be seen than heard,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve told him you’ve got to spend time getting to know your colleagues, particularly the more experienced ones.”
Galindo visited Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph with Rodriguez and Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. Galindo came away saying legislation to protect local military bases will be important for San Antonio this session.
Larson is the only other GOP representative from San Antonio, other than Speaker Joe Straus. Larson said Galindo will be able to hold the seat if he works to establish relationships and credibility.
“You go to your weakest points and try to strengthen it, and see if you can get some of the independent voters,” Larson said.
Galindo is already looking ahead to 2016.
“Nobody owns this seat because this is the people’s seat,” he said. “This isn’t the Rick Galindo seat. If I do a great job, then yeah, I would consider doing this again.”