AUSTIN, Texas – The framework by which Texas history will judge Carlos Truan’s role in public life begins with a long-forgotten fact which most people now living find difficult to believe.
It was a misdemeanor criminal offense to speak a foreign language in the Texas public schools when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
As a freshman House member, a young Carlos Truan authored the bill that repealed that horrible relic of a different era. He also fought many an early legislative battle on behalf of farm workers when that was not a popular cause, and certainly not one advocated by politicians seeking to advance their careers. And he often stood very much alone on the floor of the Texas Senate in opposition to the dominant predatory economic interests seeking to exploit for their own financial advantage the bays and estuaries along the coast. Those difficult and lonely battles were fought when establishment forces didn’t even pay the lip service they do today to environmentalism.
But those were only a few indicators of what was to follow in Truan’s long and remarkable tenure in both the Texas House and Senate. He was the quintessential reformer and modernist, one of only two of his generation who was a member of both of the memorable legislative insurgencies of the 20th century, the Dirty Thirty ethics coalition in the House that followed the Sharpstown Bank Scandal and the Killer Bees in the Texas Senate. And yet he was not a policy wonk but the quintessential people-oriented politician who was focused on delivery of services to the people who elected him. He was an early advocate and key leader in the 1980s higher education South Texas Initiative that uplifted the universities in South Texas and the Valley and brought them into the UT and A&M systems. While higher education had a number of other regional leaders in the Legislature, Carlos Truan stood almost alone as an early environmental stalwart when the environment had very few allies in Texas public life. Without fear of contradiction it can be said that only Carlos Truan was a champion of both the farm workers and the Sierra Club. That is his unmatched legacy.
Carlos Truan personified a synthesis of both the post-war Tejano movement that swept South Texas and the populist insurgency led by Ralph Yarborough that had its historic roots in East Texas. Anyone who takes the time to look at the Truan papers in the South Texas Archives at Texas A&M University -Kingsville, will soon find that the two became political allies early in their careers. The common bond that united both Truan and Yarborough was that they were fighters for the public interest against the special interests. In turn, both had to overcome the opposition of the politico-economic power structure and the business and social elites. With legislation to increase the minimum wage to bills outlawing the use of the short handled hoe, Carlos Truan was always in the front ranks seeking to help the least of these.
Upon entering that special precinct of heaven reserved for those who have fought the good fight in Texas, we can rest assured that the greeting Carlos Truan received was, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”