A Quiet Lawmaker From San Antonio’s Southside Bids Farewell
It’s just before lunch on a weekday morning; State Rep. Joe Farias sips his coffee and reminisces about his time in the legislature and who will carry on his legacy.
Farias recalls a prior conversation with Austin Rep. Donna Howard: “Out of nowhere she says, ‘Joe what is the best part you like about being in the House of Representatives?’ and I said, ‘It’s constituent services’ and she says, ‘really?’ I said ‘Yeah I like working with people, I like to be around people.”
Farias had already been retired a full three years in 2006 from his job with CPS Energy before friends approached him to run for a seat vacated by Carlos Uresti who was moving to the Texas Senate. Farias was 61 at the time. But before Farias could began campaigning he says he needed to get permission from his wife Angie who had also retired with him in 2003.
“She said, ‘You’re loco, you’re crazy, why would want to do that?’ She said, ‘Get that out of your head, you’re retired you’ve been on the school board almost nine years.’ That same weekend we were going to look at Christmas lights and my wife starts asking me questions and bringing up suggestions of what I need to do before I start running. I said, ‘Are you suggesting that I run?’ She said, ‘Yeah you need to get it out of your system,'” Farias recalls.
After his first session, Farias said his wife encouraged him to keep running for office; it would be another nine years before Farias would, as his wife said, “get the legislative service out of his system.”
While Farias has not been the most vocal person in the House, he’s someone that members from both sides have respected and confided in on various issues. Houston Democratic Rep. Armando Walle is Farias' longstanding deskmate in the House.
“He’s the only one outside of my wife that can calm me down when I get irritated by people that say things on the front mic and back mic,” Walle told House members while honoring Farias’ service in the House at the end of this past session in May.
Farias is also a Vietnam vet and as a legislator identified most with the struggles military families face. He served on the House’s Defense and Veteran’s Affairs committee and helped conduct a study on veteran’s drug courts. He later passed legislation that expands this program as an alternative to jail for military veterans convicted of a misdemeanor drug or alcohol related offense.
This year, Farias also stopped legislation that he says would have gutted the Hazlewood Act, the state’s college-tuition reimbursement program for veterans and their families.
“I realized Hazlewood was going to be an issue, and since Sen. Van De Putte is gone, who first brought it forward, I took it upon myself. There’s nobody else but me that could take the lead on that effort. And so I made it point to study the issues and get an understanding of the funding,” Farias explains.
In the end, Farias was able to defeat the legislation aimed at defunding some of the college funding in the Hazlewood Act.
As for regrets, Farias says he wishes he could have passed stricter regulations on pay day lenders. He introduced the legislation every session.
“I think they take advantage of people in my community and in other communities like mine. And to be able to take someone and take their money, and ... get $800 on a $300 loan, that’s just not right,” Farias explains.
But even though he won’t be serving on the House floor, Farias says he plans to be back in 2017 to fight for the issues he values most. Speaking on the House floor in May, Farias said:
“You haven’t seen the last of me, I might not be in the House but I’ll probably be back visiting you during the session, maybe speaking in front of you in committees, cause I want continue help veterans.”
The competition is already tense for the candidates who want to replace Farias, and represent a district that stretches from Somerset through the South and Southeast-side of San Antonio and up toward Converse. So far, Farias' son Gabe has expressed interest in running but so has Senator Carlos Uresti’s brother, Tomas Uresti.
While Farias pretty much knows who he’ll be rooting for, he has this advice for his successor:
“Hazlewood is not going away. They are going to come back and go after it again. So I’d like to see him to continue the passion and continue the fight for our veterans,” Farias says.
With more time to spare, Farias says he’s considering writing a book about his time in office and life growing up inside the Southside community he still calls home.