NEW YORK – When Democrat James Cargas ran for Congress for the first time in 2012, citizens’ anger at Congress was running very high. John Culberson, the 14-year incumbent, won, but Americans are even less happy with their representation in Congress, and Culberson himself has not exactly burnished his record since then.
Cargas, who won his March 4, 2014 primary with 62 percent – a wider margin than his 2012 victory, likes his momentum for the November 4 general election. He is gathering his team and raising funds, building on his name recognition and networks of donors and volunteers.
He will benefit from a new group, Battleground Texas, run by a former Obama campaign official, which will pour millions of dollars into registering and getting out the Texas vote. The Washington Post also recently reported that Texas cannot be considered either a red or a blue state.
Cargas, like his father, was born and raised in Detroit, and his mother is from Lansing, MI. He grew up working in the family restaurant, studied at the University of Michigan and later graduated from American University’s law school. His sister Victoria Steensma was a nationally-ranked figure skater.
He served in the Clinton Administration in the White House and later under Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, and when the latter returned to New Mexico, Cargas decided to bring his passion and belief that “we can keep the lights on and protect the environment at the same time,” to America’s energy capital.
After arriving in Houston, he became Houston’s Senior Assistant City Attorney for Energy. He now lives there with his wife, Dr. Dorina Papageorgiou, who is from Athens and is a neuroscientist and Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Neurology doing cutting edge brain research, They are members of the Cathedral of the Annunciation.
He told TNH that his first run was prompted by the ascendancy of the Tea Party, which appears ultimately to promise only even greater gridlock in the nation’s capital.
His goal is to work with his fellow Democrats and Republicans to make Washington work again.
Regarding the Tea Party, among the groups that have turned compromise into a dirty word, he believes they have peaked in Texas, but its candidates have not moderated, exposing the Republican Party in general elections.
His own opponent, this year as in 2012, “hasn’t moderated at all…he was ecstatic about shutting down the federal government, which cost the taxpayers billions. What kind of principle is that? If you are really a conservative, wasting taxpayer dollars is what you are against.”
The gridlock has led to post WWII record-breaking lows in legislative accomplishment as measured by bills that have come into law. “They are not taking care of the people’s business…but they’re collecting paychecks…and the need to change the House is even greater.”
During Culberson’s 14 years in Congress, only one of his bills was passed.
Like the Eagle Scout he is, Cargas brings pragmatism and idealism to the campaign trail, the former tempered by experience, the latter founded on science and facts.
He believes the top issues in the campaign are a comprehensive energy policy and funding science and public transportation, areas of dramatic difference with his opponent. “He has blocked mass transit money from coming back to our Metro. That is just mind boggling, that any member of Congress would prevent money from coming into his district, and he votes against science funding. He consistently votes against NIH – those are jobs for his district.”
Cargas nevertheless also seeks to balance the Federal budget and points out that the last administration to do that was a Democrat’s. “Clinton made some tough decisions,” he said, pointed out the damage that blind austerity can do, for example, in Greece.
Regarding healthcare reform, he believe “a big part of healthcare cost in America that you don’t see overseas are the administrative costs,” and that’s were more progress can be made.
He had some interaction with George Stephanopoulos and Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Obama’s nominee for HHS secretary in the Clinton-Gore White House. “She had a reputation for providing good numbers. Integrity and solid thinking so I think she will do a phenomenal job.”
Energy is also a major local and national concern. The risks that accompany the good generated by the gas produced by hydro fracking, a technique pioneered by the late Greek-American, George Mitchell, who also supported its regulation, demands a careful approach. “Most operators do the right thing, but there are a few who cut corners and don’t care, and if they get in trouble they just file for bankruptcy and move on.”
Regarding regulation in general, he abhors the rhetoric that ignores disasters in places like China where regulation is weak. “So the voters must decide that they want. That’s the difficult part of the job that I am running for, striking that balance,” and he says it is done by looking at things on a case by case basis.
He wants America to strengthen its manufacturing base, but he and Dorina also spoke in detail about the knowledge-based jobs generated by the Medical Center. She emphasized how difficult it has become difficult to get funding for advanced biomedical research, “killing a lot of opportunities to advance different types of research” – and the collateral jobs research generates, Cargas added.
The Texas Medical Center and what is known as the Energy Corridor are the economic engines of the district, and Cargas makes the case that the incumbent is not representing them well.
His big challenge – and opportunity – is that voter turnout tends to be low. Cargas said that in 2012 there were 278,000 citizens of voter age who did not vote, half of whom wer not registered, so they will devote a large portion of their resources to a registration drive.
The couple also expressed their appreciation for the support of Greek-Americans.” They have been very good to me…they open up their restaurants for free events, and they are a foundation for reaching out to the non-Greeks, “and he said Congressman John Sarbanes has been very helpful.