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HINOJOSA, Rubén

HINOJOSA, Rubén
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1940–

Biography

Beginning in 1997, when he took over the U.S. House seat previously held by a powerful Democratic committee chairman, Rubén Hinojosa was a tireless champion for progressive education policy and financial empowerment. Hinojosa’s deep family roots in his South Texas district, along with his commitment to furthering the interests of Latinos across the United States, made him an outspoken advocate for reforming immigration and trade policy. Over 10 consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, he crafted an agenda that balanced local economic development with a commitment to government programs designed to create educational and economic opportunities for working people.

Rubén Hinojosa was born on August 20, 1940, the eighth of 11 children. His parents had been born in Mexico but fled the Mexican Revolution in 1910 settling in Edcouch, Hidalgo County, Texas.1 Hinojosa’s parents established a major food-distribution company in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Their leadership in the business sector soon made them a powerful force in the city of Mercedes.2 English was a second language for the entire Hinojosa family, and Rubén attended a segregated elementary school before graduating from Mercedes High School. He enrolled at the University of Texas, Austin, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1962, and went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas–Pan American in Edinburg in 1980. His first marriage ended in divorce. He later married Martha Lopez Hinojosa and has five children: Rubén Jr., Laura, Iliana, Kaitlin, and Karén.3

After college, Hinojosa went to work for his family’s company, a prominent employer in the region, eventually serving as its chief executive. In addition to his business career, Hinojosa served on the Mercedes school board from 1972 to 1974, and on the Texas state board of education from 1974 to 1984. He returned to the University of Texas–Pan American as an adjunct professor in its business school and was elected chairman of the board for South Texas Community College in 1993.4

In early 1996, long-serving Representative Eligio (Kika) de la Garza of Texas announced his retirement from Congress. His predominantly Hispanic and rural 15th Congressional District was solidly Democratic.5 It stretched northward from the U.S. border with Mexico, curving up and to the east between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.6 Given Hinojosa’s prominent position in the South Texas business community and his work on the board of education, he emerged as an early front-runner to replace the longtime chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Hinojosa made educational initiatives in South Texas his top campaign priority and promised to “support legislation that benefits the small and large businesses” throughout the Rio Grande Valley.7 Hinojosa failed to capture a majority in the Democratic primary (34 percent) but took the runoff election with 52 percent of the vote in early April 1996.8 He cruised to an easy victory in the general election later that fall with 62 percent of the vote.9

Hinojosa’s closest election occurred in 1998 when he won with 58 percent. It was the only serious challenge he faced until his final election victory in 2014, when he garnered 54 percent of the vote (Republican Eddie Zamora won 43 percent that year). He ran unopposed or faced nominal opposition in most primary and general elections, and received at least 58 percent of the vote in eight out of 10 House campaigns.10

In the House, Hinojosa spent his entire career on the Committee on Education and the Workforce (renamed the Committee on Education and Labor from 2007 to 2011). For the majority of his time in office, he was also a member of the Committee on Financial Services (107th114th Congresses [2001–2017]). In addition, he briefly served on the Small Business Committee (105th–107th Congresses [1997–2003]), the Resources Committee (108th Congress [2003–2005]), and the Foreign Affairs Committee (110th Congress [2007–2009]).11

From the start of his House career, Hinojosa was a staunch advocate for the interests of Latinos in the United States. He joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and was chosen to head its education task force during his first term.12 He identified economic inequality as a significant impediment to educational opportunities in the United States, particularly for Latinos and other minorities. Hinojosa sought to remedy this situation by bolstering funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and providing additional resources for Latinos to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees.13 His first legislative success increased federal funding for HSIs from $45 million to $80 million.14

Hinojosa employed a range of strategies to improve the economic prospects of his South Texas district. As a co-founder of the Rural Housing Caucus, he advocated for improving access to affordable housing in rural America. To promote regional economic development, Hinojosa supported legislation designed to inject funds into job training programs and infrastructure projects.15 He was also the primary sponsor of a December 2002 law amending the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Resources Conservation and Improvement Act of 2000. Uniting economic and environmental issues, this law provided $55 million for irrigation projects and water conservation measures to improve the water supply in his district.16

International trade was crucial to the long-term economic interests of his South Texas district, and Hinojosa touted the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He was also one of 15 Democrats in the House to vote in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005.17 Furthermore, he voted for legislation that provided funding to assist small businesses in his district access loans and deal with the complexities of international trade.18

In the early 2000s, Hinojosa was at the center of two significant changes in U.S. trade policy. In 2000, he played a key role in President William J. (Bill) Clinton’s efforts to gain congressional approval for permanent normal trade relations with China, even traveling to China on a “fact-finding” mission to observe working and living conditions.19 And in 2002, Hinojosa voted for legislation that granted the George W. Bush administration “fast track” authority to negotiate international trade agreements. He was one of only four Texas Democrats to support this legislation, which allowed Congress to approve or reject trade deals negotiated by the President while restricting revisions and amendments.20

As part of the New Democrat coalition, Hinojosa cultivated a centrist voting record in the House.21 Overall, he was largely supportive of the Bush administration’s free trade agenda and its energy policy.22 He voted in favor of expanding domestic oil production, and sided with Republicans on issues such as offshore drilling and limiting access to abortions.23 He was less amenable to Bush-era Republican proposals on immigration and border security. He rejected calls for construction of a border fence and was adamantly opposed to a more aggressive border policing strategy.24 In each case, he was concerned that cross-border trade would be stifled by tighter security measures.25

Throughout his career, Hinojosa consistently offered bills to increase funding for federal education programs and promoted education policy as a key component of economic stability. He considered the No Child Left Behind Act a “tremendous hope” for students in poverty-stricken schools, but was disappointed in its implementation.26 Perhaps more than anything, he wanted to improve schools and educational resources for the country’s underprivileged communities. “We must refocus our energies on the unfinished business of providing for the education of our youth,” he said in 2003, noting that Hispanic-American children were particularly at risk of being overlooked by Congress despite their growing demographic significance in the United States. “If we do not invest in education and training for this emerging population, we put our nation’s economic foundation at risk.”27

When Democrats gained control of the House at the start of the 110th Congress, Hinojosa was appointed chairman of the Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness.28 From this position, he helped write the 2008 higher education bill that provided more aid for HSIs, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and colleges and universities on tribal land.29 Hinojosa supported bills that funded grants for Latino students in college programs studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.30 He also promoted the Department of Education’s efforts to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged students through support services and counseling.31 In 2010, he co-sponsored legislation that reduced interest rates on federal student loans and increased the maximum value of Pell Grant scholarships.32

In addition to his extensive work on education policy, Hinojosa attempted to strengthen the country’s financial system through regulations, financial education programs, and consumer protections. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, Hinojosa supported the 2008 plan to inject $700 billion into the financial services sector to shore up Wall Street. He also backed President Barack Obama’s efforts to fund an economic stimulus bill early in his first term.33

Following the 2008 economic crisis, Hinojosa intensified his commitment to reforming the financial services sector. He co-founded the Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus and welcomed the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Board.34 Hinojosa aimed to promote financial empowerment by opening up access to credit and offering federally funded financial education programs.35 Hinojosa identified Hispanic Americans and African Americans as facing “similar barriers to prosperity,” and tried to reform the banking industry accordingly. He advocated for “culturally relevant” financial literacy programs and fewer barriers to checking and savings accounts for “unbanked and underbanked consumers.”36

Hinojosa also worked to reform the country’s immigration policy. He called for the federal government to establish a legal process for undocumented immigrants to acquire American citizenship, and supported the Obama administration’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.37 Hinojosa pushed for Congress to pass legislation conferring citizenship on those who earn a college degree or serve in the armed forces. He also believed that undocumented students should have access to financial aid to pursue a college education. “We should help them achieve their dreams, the same dreams we would want for our own children.”38

As an outspoken advocate on issues important to Latinos in the United States, Hinojosa was eventually elected to leadership positions within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). He served as vice-chair of the CHC for the 112th Congress (2011–2013) and was elected caucus chair for the 113th Congress (2013–2015).39

In 2015, Hinojosa announced he would not stand for reelection to an eleventh term in the House. Reflecting on his long career, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California described him as “one of our most dedicated champions for advancing the education and opportunity of all Americans.”40

Footnotes

1Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 951.

2“Footnotes,” 31 October 1999, Houston Chronicle: State, 2.

3“Rubén Hinojosa,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000636; “Biography,” on Representative Rubén Hinojosa’s official website, accessed 10 May 2012, http://hinojosa.house.gov/biography (site discontinued); Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 947; Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Washington, DC: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 1570–1571; Emily Cahn, “Hinojosa Puts Education First,” 6 April 2011, The Hill: http://thehill.com/special-reports/professional-development-april-2011/154437-hinojosa-puts-education-first (accessed 10 May 2017).

4“Rubén Hinojosa,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present; “Educational Biography,” on Representative Rubén Hinojosa’s official website, accessed 10 May 2012, http://hinojosa.house.gov/about-me/educational-biography (site discontinued); Politics in America, 2012: 947.

5Almanac of American Politics, 2000 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 1999): 1553.

6Politics in America, 1998 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1997): 1404; Politics in America, 2012: 947.

7Gary Martin, “Hinojosa to Seek Input on Education Proposal,” 18 February 1997, San Antonio Express-News: B1; Gary Martin, “Hinojosa Named to Education Committee,” 26 November 1996, San Antonio Express-News: A8.

8Catalina Camia, “Primaries Set Stage for Fight to Control Congressional Delegation,” 11 March 1996, Dallas Morning News: A10; “Primary ’96,” 14 March 1996, Houston Chronicle: A36; Stefanie Scott, “Ex-Demo Laughlin Loses GOP Runoff Bid,” 10 April 1996, San Antonio Express-News: A1; Almanac of American Politics, 1998 (Washington, DC: National Journal Inc., 1997): 1374.

9Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

10Ibid.

11Garrison Nelson and Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1993–2012 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011): 757.

12Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005): 994.

13“Texan’s Bill Would Pay More to Colleges Serving Hispanics,” 22 September 1997, Austin American-Statesman: B5.

14Miriam Rinn, “Hispanics on the Hill: In the Lead on Education,” 21 May 1999, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education: 16.

15Hearings before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, The Southeast Crescent Authority, the Northern Border Economic Development Commission, and Southwest Regional Border Authority, 110th Cong., 1st sess. (2007): 44; Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, “Transportation Bill and Export-Import Bank Boon,” 8 December 2015, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX): 4.

16Chris Roberts, “Bill Signed by Bush Dedicates $55 Million for Water Conservation,” 17 December 2002, Associated Press: n.p.

17Politics in America, 2012: 948.

18“Small Business Round Table Discussion Held,” 2 May 2011, Alice Echo-News (TX): n.p.; “Texas Ranks #1 in Ex-Im Bank FY ’11 Small Business Financing,” Export-Import Bank of the United States, accessed 23 May 2017, http://www.exim.gov/news/texas-ranks-1-ex-im-bank-fy11-small-business-financing; Hinojosa, “Transportation Bill and Export-Import Bank Boon.”

19Craig S. Smith, “Wined, Dined, Wooed on Trade: Just 2 Lawmakers Travel to China,” 2 May 2000, New York Times: A1; Gary Martin, “Texans Wheeled and Dealed to Help Pass Trade Legislation,” 25 May 2000, San Antonio Express-News: 12A.

20Politics in America, 2012: 948.

21Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2015): 1765.

22Politics in America, 2014: 951.

23Ibid.; Politics in America, 2012: 948.

24Politics in America, 2012: 947; Gary Martin, “$400 Million Reallocated to Construct Border Fence,” 23 September 2008, San Antonio Express-News: 4A.

25Politics in America, 2014: 951.

26Dana Calvo, “Funding for Poorer Schools Lacking, Congressman Says,” 2 November 2003, Boston Globe: A9.

27Rubén Hinojosa, “Hispanics’ Prosperity Depends on Education: Key Programs Need More Money,” 3 September 2003, The Hill: 30.

28Gary Martin, “S. Texas Lawmakers Have More Sway in Congress on Key Panels,” 31 January 2007, San Antonio Express-News: 5A.

29Charles Dervarics, “Hinojosa Keeping the Focus on Access,” 5 April 2007, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education: 10; Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, Public Law 110-315, 122 Stat. 3078 (2008). See also High Education Opportunity Act, H.R. 4137, 110th Cong. (2007).

30Politics in America, 2014: 951.

31Politics in America, 2012: 947; Politics in America, 2014: 951; “History of the Federal TRIO Programs,” U.S. Department of Education, accessed 22 May 2017, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/triohistory.html.

32House Committee on Education and Labor, Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, 111th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 232 (2009): 57.

33Politics in America, 2012: 948.

34Politics in America, 2014: 952.

35Karen Blumenthal, “Getting Going: Is There a Cure for Financial Illiteracy?,” 19 June 2010, Wall Street Journal: B8.

36“Financial Literacy Biography,” on Representative Rubén Hinojosa’s official website, accessed 10 May 2012, http://hinojosa.house.gov/about-me/financial-literacy-biography (site discontinued); Politics in America, 2012: 947–948; Honorable Rubén Hinojosa, “Financial Literacy,” in National Urban League, 2014 State of Black America: One Nation Underemployed (New York: National Urban League, 2014): 108–109.

37Politics in America, 2014: 951.

38Politics in America, 2012: 947; Rubén Hinojosa, “The DREAM Act Offers Hard-Working Students a Path to Citizenship,” 21 September 2010, The Hill, http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/homeland-security/119935-the-dream-act-offers-hard-working-students-a-path-to-citizenship-rep-ruben-hinojosa (accessed 10 May 2017).

39“Congressional Hispanic Caucus Elects Leadership for the 112th Congress,” 24 November 2010, La Prensa (San Diego, CA): 3; Alan Fram, Associated Press, “10-term Texas Democrat Hinojosa, 75, Not Seeking Re-election,” 13 November 2015, San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-ap-sources-10-term-texas-democrat-hinojosa-to-2015nov13-story.html (accessed 10 May 2017).

40Mike Lillis, “Rep. Hinojosa Announces Retirement,” 13 November 2015, The Hill, http://thehill.com/homenews/house/260055-rep-hinojosa-announces-retirement (accessed 10 May 2017).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Rubén Hinojosa" in Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2013.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Education and Labor
    • Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness - Chair
  • House Committee - Education and the Workforce
  • House Committee - Financial Services
  • House Committee - Foreign Affairs
  • House Committee - Resources
  • House Committee - Small Business
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