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Profile: Reyes says varied background is an advantage in District 50 race

Thursday, October 3, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Rico Reyes’ run for the vacant District 50 State Representative seat rests firmly on his desire to give to a community he claims to know more intimately than his competitors.


If roots were votes, Reyes might automatically be front-runner. He was born in Austin, his grandfather worked as a janitor for Del Valle High school, his father was the director of the Montopolis Neighborhood Center and he notes that his mother was an active community organizer within District 50.


Despite such political pedigree, Reyes doesn’t like to say he would be “better than” any of his opponents for the seat. He does, however, referring to the theory that the all-over-the-map district is a result of Republican gerrymandering, say the district must have been gerrymandered for him.


“I do think it helps me relate to people of all stations in life,” he says. “It’s different when you’ve actually been there. Too often, politics is filled with people of means who don’t have these experiences. It’s hard for someone who has never had those experiences to relate. And it’s also harder for the people to relate to someone who’s never been where they are.”


District 50 stretches from as far north as Round Rock to as far southeast as Webberville. Reyes’ upbringing aligns with the experiences of some who live in parts of the district today. Reyes was born in Austin, started off in the Montopolis area, and grew up modestly in Bastrop County where, according to his campaign web site, at one point his family relied on a well for water, a wood burning stove for heat, and an outhouse in the back yard. Valuing education, Reyes earned a high school valedictorian distinction, went on to Harvard where he obtained a degree in government, and returned to Austin and the University of Texas where he earned a Master’s degree in business administration and a law degree.


A U.S. Marine reservist and former Travis County Assistant District Attorney, Reyes is a member of the Texas Bar Foundation and the Texas Lyceum. He helped establish the Veterans’ Court – a program that helps veterans charged with non-violent offenses – and he has participated with Leadership Austin.


Reyes met his wife, Natalie, at a church in Bastrop when both were 12 years old. They have two daughters who attend Pflugerville schools. Reyes is attempting to master the art of juggling family, full-time work and politics.


“Even though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an activist, I would say I’m a family man who is deeply involved in my community,” he says. “You cannot stay up all night, and also tuck your kids in to bed and read them stories. I’m not what you might call a Democratic activist, but no one else in this race has the depth of education and leadership experience I have.”


Reyes says his life experience has given him the tools necessary to tackle each of District 50’s varied issues. He’s campaigning on what he views as pillars that propped him up, allowing him to build his own American dream: Public education, health care, and middle class jobs. Transportation and water issues are also high-priority concerns.


Reyes says a genuine understanding of the diverse needs of the district is key.


“In Webberville, there are a lot of folks who still use that Lone Star card at the grocery store and there’s no public transportation out there,” he said. “It’s not the same as when you’re talking to people on the Wells Branch interchange where traffic, transportation and congestion are the big issues.” Reyes says people who live in eastern Travis County view water issues in a very different way than do developers in Pflugerville. And while security and joblessness may be top of mind for those who live closer to I-35, in the Jollyville area residents may tend to focus more on family issues like special needs assistance or higher education funding assistance options for the middle class.


Reyes says when it comes to the unique matters of the District 50 community, “someone has to stand in the gap. And I’m ready to be that candidate.”


Long-time Austin legislator former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos is ebullient in his support of Reyes.


“I knew Reyes before he came into the world,” he said. Barrientos and Reyes’ parents worked together as community activists and political organizers years ago in Bastrop. “I guess some of the things we were doing back in the 1960s – helping people reach the American dream – rubbed off on him. The other candidates are fine people, but as you can see I’m part of the Reyes family. And Rico wants to serve.”


Reyes will face fellow Democrats Celia Israel and Jade Chang and Republican Mike Vandewalle in the Nov. 5 election. See In Fact Daily tomorrow for more profiles.


To read more about Reyes, go to

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