Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo "Ric" Sanchez is running for the Democratic Party's nomination to the U.S. Senate, which would put him in contention for the seat now held by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Sanchez was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and had a 33-year career in the U.S. Army that included a stint as the top military officer in Iraq. He retired as a three-star general in 2006. Earlier this year, after Hutchison announced plans to leave office at the end of her current term, he jumped into the race.
Sanchez talked with the Tribune on Wednesday about that race, about why he thinks a Democrat has a chance in a Republican state and why he thinks current government policies might be referred to as "the new segregation." An edited version of the interview follows; a recording of the conversation is embedded.
TT: I guess the first question is the obvious one: Why are you running?
Audio: Ricardo Sanchez
Sanchez: The key thing is that I've led a life of service to country that gave me perspectives that most people don't get, having been involved in international and national decision-making and the accomplishment of national and international political and diplomatic and military objectives. As I looked at the landscape here over the last five or six years since my retirement, it became pretty obvious to me that, first of all, [with] the experience that I had and the needs of the country, given the political state both at the national and here within Texas, there was a contribution that I could make. And then I started looking at some of the specifics of that and saw the tremendous assault on the American dream, and I figured, hey, look, I am a product of the opportunity this country provided, and I understand the challenges of the middle class and the lower class, and I clearly understand the dynamics at the highest levels of wealth within the country and across this global world. It became clear to me that I could represent the people of Texas — I could represent those people, that segment of society that I came from.
TT: When you say "the assault on the American dream," what are you talking about?
Sanchez: I'm talking about the tremendous cutbacks on education, the tremendous difficulties that the middle class and the lower class are having in maintaining living wages and the state of the economy — the tremendously disruptive and regressive policies that are being put into place to continue to isolate our minorities. All of that. I heard a term yesterday that I didn't originate but that a gentleman I was talking to used — "the new segregation" — in referring to this tremendous assault on our educational system, to the crisis that American education is in.
TT: Do you think that's too strong a term, or do you think that hits close to the mark?
Sanchez: I haven't had enough time yet to really assess whether that is the case, but I think there is some validity to it. I do know that the effect of the tremendous cutbacks on education that we're seeing are going to create a major problem for the country if we don't provide that opportunity to a huge swath of our society. These impacts are going to have an effect across national security, it's going to have an effect across our social services, and of course on the economy, in broad terms. So there is, I think, at least a level of concern that we ought to have at this point in our history.
TT: A lot of that is handled at the federal level, and a lot of it at the state level. Did you think about state office?
Sanchez: I never really thought about state-level office. I thought, given my experiences over the course of my general officer time, that I had a pretty good understanding of national decision-making, the synchronization and the integration of all of the elements and how they interface with each other, whether you're talking security issues, whether you're talking economic issues. To answer your question: No, it was about federal office.
TT: Tell me how you think this will go.
Sanchez: Well, obviously, a significant challenge. There are no rose-colored glasses here about the battle that lies ahead. There is an element of history here that we've got to be very well aware of in terms of Democrats being able to win in the state. But I think there are also opportunities for us at this point in time.
What you have is going to be a very tough Republican primary where the eventual nominee is going to have to push the envelope to the right as far as he can to be able to come out of there as a winner. And when you look at the existing environment, the policies that are in place and the state of the constituencies and the electorate and the people of the state, I think there is frustration. I think there is anger, and I think there is the desire for different kinds of independent leadership out there. What I think I represent is a patriot who has no political baggage behind him that has dedicated his entire life to serving America and all segments of our citizenship. I think I bring an element of appeal to a very broad spectrum of Texans to include veterans, the middle class, the lower class and the Hispanic population, obviously. But, also, I think there is this leadership quality that has to be taken into consideration.
TT: Do you expect to have a primary challenger?
Sanchez: You always have to assume that you will. At this point, I can't answer the question. There are still quite a few weeks and months before that determination is made. I would expect that someone is going to jump into the race.
TT: How does that change your plans? Are you raising money with a March race in mind?
Sanchez: I don't think it changes the strategy at all. We continue to work the fundraising both within the state and across the country to raise the amounts of money that are going to be necessary. If we have a competitive primary, then that adds significantly greater pressure because of the larger expenditures that we'll have to make. I mean, the ideal condition would be that we do not have a competitive primary that then allows us to focus resources on the general election. But there's always that possibility.
TT: It's a presidential year, and that often has an effect on other races. Did that influence your decision at all?
Sanchez: No, I don't think the fact that it was a presidential year affected my decision to try to serve. Clearly it can have an effect one way or the other. Depending on how that race shapes up and the eventual nominees from the Republican Party, that effect could be assessed as going, probably, either way. There is a huge strain from a fundraising perspective. There is a competing demand there that clearly impacts on what we do here in the state. But, then again, you have the opportunity to leverage and take advantage of some of the complementary races that are being run across the state and across the country.
TT: Tell me what you're doing now.
Sanchez: I think we really started in our fundraising about five weeks before the end of last quarter, and we're going pretty aggressively, trying to peg our donors during this quarter and do an extensive travel schedule that will allow us to have good effect. In terms of the campaign, I'm working very hard to set up my structures. I'm beginning to speak. I have engaged in different parts of Texas up to this point, and I'm putting my people into place — my finance director and a couple of different consultants. I'm looking at setting up a campaign manager and putting him on board as quickly as I can so we can begin to be more aggressive here.