A few months back, on the anniversary of my historic loss, I posted the following to Instagram. At the time Instagram was the best platform I had for long form posts. Now I have a blog and I want to expand on that post just a bit.
How it started
When I was a freshman in high school I ran for class president. I won that election. My platform was simple. While other students ran promising new rules allowing for shorts at school and better food in the cafeteria, my message was more simple. I argued that things like shorts in school and cafeteria food were decided at the district level and that a class president couldn’t do much to change things like budgets. As class president the most important thing we had to do was fundraise for prom. I promised to start planning for prom with fundraisers and to represent our class well. Simple? Yes. But that message seemed to resonate with the students at Stevens high school. After I won a friend told me, “I always knew you’d be class president.”
I fancied myself a leader. My sophomore year I couldn’t run again because my grades were bad. (To think of all the things I couldn’t do in school because I refused to do homework. Yikes.) A girl named Zarah served as class president for the three years to follow and, while she was a friend and did a good job, I always looked at her and thought, “you’re lucky my grades are bad or I could definitely take your spot.” I was competitive. Just not competitive enough to study.
Beginning to take things seriously
Since I was young I always wanted to do influential things. I gravitated toward leadership roles in most organizations I was involved in. I was on student council in elementary school, president of the Christian fellowship in our middle school, squadron commander in JROTC. After high school I became a leader in my community as a ridiculously young youth minister. As I progressed into adulthood I entertained the idea of running for office. I was excited when I learned how low the age requirements were for elected office in the state of Texas. 21 years-old to serve in the Texas House of Representatives. 26 for the state Senate. 18 for San Antonio City Council. When I first realized I was old enough to run for city council I joked about it on Twitter. A handful of people said they would vote for me if I ran. I think that was when I decided to run someday when I was old and wise enough. When enough people knew my face. By the year 2016 I had served as youth minister in a large parish, I had volunteered on the local and state levels advocating for pro life causes, and I had made friends with enough people who [also] loved politics and government news like myself. When I “joked” about running in 2016 (testing the waters, of course) these friends expressed enthusiasm for the idea. As I watched Donald Trump win the strangest election I’d seen I decided I would run. I decided this would be the last election where nobody on the ballot represented me. I decided the only reasons I shouldn’t run weren’t good enough. I told a handful of people what I was planning to do. The ones who weren’t supportive were asked to explain themselves. Only one, a friend who works in the Democratic party, had specific reasons. I wasn’t convinced by them. On February 10th, 2017 I went to the office of the City Clerk and applied for a spot on the ballot. I was officially a candidate for city council in San Antonio’s District 4.
Learning as you go (…and from a tocayo)
A friend I admire once posted a picture to Facebook. It was in the style of an inspirational poster with an image and a quote. The image was some beautiful, mountainous landscape. It said something like, “an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.” I like that. It served as a mantra during my campaign. I jumped in and hoped I had the virtue and intelligence to figure my way out of any difficult situations. I didn’t have a team of people to help me. I had one friend, Jason, who agreed to be my treasurer with whom I would strategize. My first event was a homeowners association meeting. They invited all of the candidates in district 4 and, to my surprise, they all showed up. I looked at Jason and we both shared shocked expressions when we saw the incumbent, Rey Saldaña, there chatting with everyone. I had hoped to have a few events under my belt before going head to head with him. He made a presentation on the bond which was on the ballot that year. He was amazing. He referred to me as his “tocayo,” (which means “namesake.”) and that made me giggle. I made my pitch. I introduced myself and explained why I had decided to run. I probably did a poor job of it, but I ended on a laugh. When I closed I looked to Rey and said, “May the best Rey win.”
Truth be told I have a lot of respect for Rey Saldaña and it turns out running against someone you respect is difficult. Rey Saldaña grew up on the southside of San Antonio. He earned a B.S. in political science and communications as well as an M.S. in policy organization and leadership studies at Stanford (THE Stanford), where he also played baseball. He was elected to city council at the age of 24 and has won reelection easily every two years since. Part of the reason I decided I could run for city council is because I first watched him do it at a young age. Rey does what every politician says he will do, but hardly ever does; he remains active after election day. Rey Saldaña is a regular at homeowners association meetings in San Antonio. He stays busy making his rounds wherever he is invited. He’s smart and seems to be a good guy. I have to admit I felt as if I blushed in that HOA meeting when he walked up to me, shook my hand, called me by my name and asked about my work. (He had done his research.) I thought I had better ideas and a greater sense of urgency regarding economic development for San Antonio’s constantly neglected south side, but I never had much of a problem with Rey Saldaña. During the campaign that followed my inability to speak ill of him must have been a hindrance. The San Antonio Express News wrote the following about me and the other challenger. “Saldaña is facing two challengers, Johnny Arredondo and Rey Guevara. Both are nice people, but neither demonstrated an understanding of city issues, much less why they could better serve the district.” What can I say? He’s a cool dude.
After working my way around the room talking to everyone I stepped outside with Jason to debrief. Rey passed us by on the way to his car and offered encouragement. I joked with Jason about “what a jerk that guy is.” I only saw him once after that at an interview with the editorial board at the San Antonio Express News. I showed up for the interview and Rey was standing in the lobby. I hadn’t understood that all three candidates would be in the same room for the interview. I’m proud to say, honestly, that I did better that day than my fellow challenger. But Rey was the clear favorite in the room. He knew more about the issues in city hall, obviously, and he had given more thought to projects for the future. Still, aside from letting a “taxation is theft” slip (one of my few regrets from the whole campaign), I’m proud of my performance that day. The Express News ended up endorsing Saldaña in the race (shocker), but they were kind to me in the article that followed.
Finding my way, or, battles won and battles lost
Over the next few weeks I accepted every invitation I received to speak with voters and organizations that cared about municipal elections. I spent many nights typing away working on questionnaires for various groups. I loved working on those. I sound better when I’m typing than when I’m speaking. I’d look at a questionnaire and think, “now you sound like a candidate.” I have many stories to share about that time and those interactions, but I will limit myself to two stories for now.
The first story involves the Republicans. I don’t consider myself a Republican. When I was a little bit younger I toyed with the idea of identifying as Republican because of my pro life views and my views on fiscal responsibility in government. I voted for Rand Paul in the last presidential primary. I wanted to be part of something big (who doesn’t?) and “the two” political parties are big things to be part of. However, after the 2016 election I felt there was no place for me in the Republican Party. When I began my campaign for city council, I did expect the Republicans would be on my side. Saldaña was a liberal darling and I, though not a card-carrying member of the party, ran on a platform that I felt Republicans would get excited for. Less spending. Lower property taxes. As I began talking to potential supporters it became clear that I was a favorite for many people on the right. I was told time and time again how this or that person or group had written off the possibility of a conservative candidate in district 4. Going into my first meeting with the Republican Party of Bexar County I figured I had secured Republican support.
Yet there were other factors to consider. The Texas legislature was working on two controversial bills that year. SB 4, which threatened elected officials in “sanctuary cities" and allowed for local law enforcement to take on the role of immigration enforcement. The “Bathroom Bill,” which existed in a few forms that year, was an attempt at pandering to the Republican base by alienating LGBT Texans. I unequivocally opposed both. I still do. At that first meeting I was paraded around to various donors and leaders who would be willing to support me. Many of them asked my stance on the bathroom bill, SB4, “the wall,” and of course, the president. I answered honestly. Many times answering with a variant of, “I’m too conservative to support that big of a government.” No one seemed impressed. The other challenger in district 4 was an older Latino man who was more than willing to identify as Republican. For the remainder of the race most of the support (and money) from the right went to him. A handful of people from those circles kept in touch with me and helped me out from then on. Still, I felt nothing but disappointment as I left that event. I knew I would be fighting an uphill battle from then on.
The second story, as you might imagine, involves the Democrats. Specifically a group called the Stonewall Democrats. The invitation to join their candidate endorsement forum served as my introduction to the group. They are an advocacy group within the Democratic Party, advocating on behalf of the LGBT community. “Stonewall” is a reference to the Stonewall Inn and the violent events associated with it. In the sixties homosexuality was still thought of not only as taboo, but immoral and even illegal. One night the New York City Police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan. Raids like this were not uncommon, but the response on June 28, 1969 was. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn resisted the police with violence. The Stonewall Riots are considered to be the start of the modern LGBT rights movement. (Quick sidebar: in 2017 I visited New York City for the first time. I happened upon the Stonewall Inn and the national monument constructed outside its doors. LGBT Americans have come a long way in a short amount of time. As a person of color I felt a certain comradery standing there.)
The Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio invited me, along with every other candidate, to a candidate forum at Metropolitan Community Church. A good number of candidates were in attendance including the future mayor and the other challenger in District 4. Saldaña was out of town. I sat and waited for hours while the other candidates spoke and answered questions. I took notes of what went well and what went poorly for the audience. I sat with fellow dark horse candidate Kevin Roles, who was running for mayor. He was one of those Republicans who had taken a liking to me. He admired that I was running on a pro life platform in a race that didn’t have much to do with life issues. I liked that he used the 90s Spurs’ fiesta colors for his campaign materials. We quietly observed and commented on each candidate as they spoke. He shared his extensive notes with me and answered questions I had on specific issues. When it was his turn to speak he did well. He and I were both conservative voices in our respective races and I didn’t expect the crowd to be receptive to his ideas. But they were. As he answered questions I saw the Stonewall Dems in the audience nod in approval. When it was my turn to speak I felt confident I could turn in a similar performance.
As an introduction the host read from my questionnaire. I was embarrassed as he read my response to a question about the rights of citizens to refuse service to those they don’t agree with. I said something about how everyone has the right to run their business how they want to and how I believed the market would take care of the ones who exercised bigotry. My final statement in that response was read out loud in front of me. “I believe in personal freedom. Even the freedom to be an asshole.” The crowd chuckled, releasing some of the tension in the room. I felt better because of that as I walked to the podium. I gave a speech, about three minutes, on who I was and why I was running. I said I was a fiscal conservative with none of the social conservative hangups. I talked about how I stood against the bathroom bill even though it was costing me support and money. I talked about how bigger government always uses its power to oppress minority groups and how my campaign focused on empowering groups that have been historically considered minorities with preferential treatment in regards to education and economic policies. (in the first months of his term Mayor Nirenberg would unveil what he called an “equitable budget,” which prioritized funding and development first in economically challenged areas of the city. I’m not saying I know where he got the idea. I’m just saying we both had some good ideas.)
When I finished the floor was opened for questions. The first few questions were easy enough. Basic questions about my platforms and about city issues and funding. I felt like things were getting boring when another candidate raised his hand. He asked how my views on small government and deregulation would address bullying in the city. I was shocked. In all my preparation I had never considered that question. I had prepared to answer questions on transportation funding, the Vista Ridge pipeline, zoning, but bullying? I had no idea what to say. I stumbled over my words saying I didn’t know of any law that could be passed that would prevent bullying. That assault was already illegal and that schools should be empowered to press charges when that happened.
It wasn’t a great answer and I knew that as I was speaking. When I finished the moderator spoke to me on the microphone. He hadn’t addressed any candidate directly the entire afternoon, even when some of the particularly crazy ones were derailing the event. He said something like this: “Mr. Guevara. I would challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of a middle school boy who is being beaten. Who has his head slammed into the ground so many times that he is bleeding. I challenge you to put yourself in my shoes next time you think about bullying and I challenge you to still say what you just said.” And then he moved on to the next candidate. He didn’t leave time for me to say anything back to him, which was fine because I had nothing to say. I was flabbergasted. It was maybe the only time in my adult life that I ever felt like I wanted to run out of a room crying. I swear I almost did. But I thought that behavior is precisely the sort of thing that ruins campaigns, so I walked to a pew in the back of the church and sat by myself wondering what I had done wrong.
A few minutes later a man who had been taking pictures for the Stonewall Democrats came and sat next to me. He introduced himself saying he had worked somehow with juveniles or prosecutors of some sort. I can’t remember anymore what his job had been. He told me there had been discussions at the state and local level about specifically criminalizing certain behaviors for juveniles. Things that bullies do but that prosecutors, school administrators, and parents have little or no recourse against. He said that, as a prosecutor, it's difficult to help kids who are being bullied and that having laws against it would allow people like him to keep bullies away from their victims. That’s the gist of the conversation anyway. He offered specifics, but I don’t remember them very well now. He told me that he could tell as I was being torn to shreds up there that I didn’t know what they were referring to. I confirmed that I did not know they were referring to something specific and that, had I known, I would have been supportive. That I was supportive of those ideas. He said, “Yeah. I figured. I’m sorry it happened that way.” I thanked him as I shook his hand. Then he went back to taking pictures. I stayed for the rest of the public portion of the event. As I left I tried to speak with the host, but he avoided me and I honored the fact that he didn’t want to see me. Some of the candidates apologized and encouraged me before we left.
I hadn’t expected the comradery I experienced among the candidates. There were more people running for city council and mayor in 2017 than I can remember having run ever before. A lot of us were fighting hard for very little exposure in a sea of candidates. It bound us together in a lot of ways. There were some tough times on the campaign trail and I was pleasantly surprised to be rejuvenated and encouraged so much by the competition.
All good things must come to an end
Elections were held May 6, 2017. I took the day off to hang out at election sites and make one more push for votes. I overslept and only made it out to Pease Middle School for a few hours at the end of the day. That’s where I took the photo at the beginning of this post. It was a fitting end to the campaign. I was exhausted. I had the feeling that I had done everything I could and there wasn’t much left to do but wait for the inevitable. I knew when I woke up that day that I would lose. I felt fine. I enjoyed that last moments I had as a candidate there in the parking lot of my old middle school. Later that night I took an Uber downtown to my birthday dinner. (Treat yo’ self) The uber driver asked what we were celebrating. I said I was celebrating a birthday and the end of an election campaign. He thought I was kidding. Most people did, of course. As I walked through Rivercenter mall I passed a restaurant with outdoor seating and a tv playing local news. There I was on the news. My picture was next to those of my opponents. Rey Saldaña, Johnny Arredondo, and me. Not only had I lost, but I had earned the least votes. 316 to be exact. Seven percent of the vote. Saldaña had won with an overwhelming 78% of the vote. Johnny, with the support, financial and otherwise, of the Republicans had earned 14 percent of the vote. I smiled awkwardly outside that restaurant until a man noticed me. I pointed at the screen and explained, “That’s me. I lost an election today.” He looked at the screen and then to me and said nothing. I walked away thinking that felt about right. Sitting in the Hooters a few minutes later (fun fact about Rey: I LOVE Hooters) my friends cheered every time my face popped up on the screen. I allowed them to buy me as many drinks as they pleased. The rest of the night, I’m sure, was a lot of fun.
It’s been a year and a half since then. I regularly Google myself and read the articles that were written about me during that time. It may have meant nothing in the political landscape of the city, but it meant a lot to me. For years I’ve felt useless and powerless to do good. I feel that way now more than ever. It almost feels like the election never happened. Like that Rey was a different person. Maybe he was. But I like that person. He had balls. And people gravitated toward him. 316 people, for whatever reason, believed in that person. I spent no money on the campaign. I didn’t know how to. I like to think those votes were all people I met and spoke with personally. People I impacted in an interview or article somewhere. People who were personally affected by me. Useless as I feel now there are 316 San Antonians who once trusted me to do some good on their behalf. That thought has brought me out of some bad days.
I gave my last interview on election night. I spoke over the phone with a reporter who asked if I had plans to run again. I joked that I could take a hint. Then responded it wasn’t off the table, but I’d have to spend some time thinking about it. I didn’t know, and still don’t know if I have enough energy to spend on a campaign again. At the same time I have learned so much about how to run for office it would seem like a waste not to do it again. This term will be Rey Saldaña’s last. District 4 will elect a new city councilman in 2019. I still don’t know if I believe in myself enough to run. If I’m being honest, I hope I do. I’d love to live it all again.