Cooperation and respect for others among lessons learned at GPA by alum.
James Cargas, who graduated from The Grosse Pointe Academy in 1980, is running to be representative of the 7th Congressional District in Texas.
In today’s strongly bifurcated political environment, it is maybe rare to find a politico who is running for a seat in the federal government who says he longs for the “golden era,” when those on both the blue and red sides got along well enough to actually accomplish something; a politico who also thinks good manners and respect—lost arts perhaps—would go a long way in getting things done today.
James Cargas, a 1980 graduate of The Grosse Pointe Academy, currently is chasing the 7th Congressional District seat in Texas. He is running against the district incumbent who Cargas says is falling short in delivering what its citizens need.
“The 7th Congressional District now is an excellent example of an entrenched member of Congress who has lost touch with the district,” Cargas said. “He has a pattern of voting for purely political reasons and against his constituents’ best interest.”
And keeping constituents’ best interests at the forefront is why Cargas is running this year, he says.
He also says that even as far back as his lower school days at the Academy, some of the lessons learned then still help inform his modus operandi when it comes to compromise and cooperation in the real world of government and politics.
“Having first, second and third grades in one area of the school was a wonderful experience in community and collaboration among students with different needs and abilities,” he said of those days at the Academy. “And so when elected, I plan to work very hard to duplicate some of that atmosphere of community and collaboration in Congress.”
Journey to Washington goes through Texas
Cargas’s long and impressive educational career thus far has taken him from the Grosse Pointe Farms campus of GPA, through University Liggett high school in Grosse Pointe Woods, to Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan and finally to Washington, D.C., at American University’s Washington College of Law, where he earned his law degree.
During that time, Cargas has had more than a taste of how government works—from the local level up to halls of Congress in Washington.
While in law school in D.C., Cargas focused on energy and environmental law, served as president of the Environmental Law Society, and wrote a monthly column called “Law of the Jungle” in the student magazine. A job with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission led to positions with a major D.C. law firm, an interstate natural gas pipeline company, and ultimately the Clinton White House on the President’s Council on Sustainable Development.
“I finished out the Clinton administration at the U.S. Department of Energy under Secretary Bill Richardson,” Cargas said. “In 2001, when President George W. Bush was elected, I found a great job as an energy and environmental lawyer in the energy capital of the world, Houston, Texas.
Then, in 2008, Bill White, who was Houston’s mayor at the time, hired Cargas as the city’s energy counsel responsible for advising the mayor on all aspects of energy procurement and energy transactional matters. Under Mayor Annise Parker, White’s successor, Cargas was city attorney and also advised the City of Houston on contract, environmental, real estate and regulatory matters.
Boy Scouts and pine trees
This compulsion to serve his fellow citizens, according to Cargas, started when he was in the Boy Scouts, which is where he first got a taste of politics volunteering with now-retired Congressman David E. Bonior, who represented Michigan’s 10th and 12th Congressional districts.
“As a scout, I often volunteered for Bonior’s campaign by passing out pine trees door-to-door, which is what David and his volunteers often did during his campaigning,” Cargas said. “Then, while at U-M, Rep. Bonior offered me a summer internship on Capitol Hill. In order to earn college credit, I enrolled in American University’s summer program and lived in their dorms. It was a great experience during that summer, seeing how legislation was crafted, hearings were held, and votes were taken. Rep. Bonior was part of the Congressional leadership at the time and I had the opportunity to meet Speaker Tip O’Neill, Sen. Claude Pepper, and many other national leaders.”
After Cargas graduated from Michigan, Bonior needed a deputy press secretary and offered Cargas the position, which he accepted and held before starting law school. On Bonior’s staff he said he had some of his most fulfilling early legislative experiences.
“When I was on Rep. Bonior’s staff, Jim Wright of Texas was the house speaker,” Cargas said. “We worked with certain Republicans on some bills and they opposed us on others. It was never personal; just each member doing what was best for their individual districts. It was how Congress had operated for over 210 years. Looking back, it seemed like a golden era of cooperation and democracy.”
Bonior, for his part, remembers Cargas well.
“Very early on, way before he came to Washington, I worked with James and his family in my district in Michigan as a liaison to the Greek community,” Bonior said. “His family was very well respected. James was a thoughtful, persistent, fine young man, including the time he was part of my communications group. If elected, I believe he will do a fine job for his constituents.”
Cargas said he is well-entrenched in Houston, loves living and working there, and is most especially grateful for the city because that’s where he met his wife, Dr. Dorina Papageorgiou, a neuroscientist who works at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience.
He also said his devotion to and interest in energy and environmental issues make Houston, which has more than 70 wind and solar energy companies, the perfect place for him. In addition, despite Texas currently being a very “red” state in terms of politics, it has a strong history of Democratic leadership.
“Texas gave America many powerful national Democratic leaders,” he said. “People like President Lyndon Johnson, House speakers Sam Rayburn and Jim Wright, Governor Anne Richards, Senator and Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Sen. Ralph Yarborough, and Representatives Mickey Leeland, Martin Frost, and Barbara Jordan, to name a few.”
He reminds that Texas was a deep blue state before it was a deep red state, and urban areas such as Houston remain Democratic-leaning communities with Democratic mayors.
Cargas said that when he gets to Congress — it’s not “if,” it’s “when” — he’ll have a lot on his plate. For his district, he wants to bring light rail westward, return funding for biomedical research to formerly high levels, and implement comprehensive energy reform.
For his country, he said he wants to work across the aisle to balance the federal budget. “As an alum of the Clinton administration – the last administration to balance the budget — I know this is difficult, but the benefits will be well worth the effort,” Cargas said.
He also includes targeted tax cuts for small businesses, innovative unemployment insurance reform, making the payroll tax cut permanent, and preventing the layoff of teachers, police, firefighters and other essential public servants important components of his Congressional to-do list.
Asked about any further memories from his time at The Grosse Pointe Academy, Cargas, whose sister, Vicky Steensma, also attended GPA, said there is something from the Academy he will always hold close.
“Some of the most lasting lessons that GPA teaches young people include manners and respect for others,” he said. “I recall losing a baseball game at the Academy in second or third grade and being rather upset. But the coach took the time to talk to me about sportsmanship, the importance of leaving the competitiveness on the field, and looking forward to a rematch tomorrow. Those are heavy concepts for a six year old to take in, but I did, and it has stayed with me today and will be with me probably forever.”
The Grosse Pointe Academy is an independent, coeducational day school serving children age 2-1/2 through Grade 8. We foster an inclusive environment that respects all cultures and religious beliefs. We seek to remain faithful to our heritage as a former Academy of the Sacred Heart and to those who through their Catholic faith and perseverance sought to preserve and enhance the legacy of this past for generations. Incorporated as a non-profit institution, The Grosse Pointe Academy is directed by a Board of Trustees working together to serve the Southeastern Michigan community.