Picking up the trash with Tommy Calvert (S3E11)

Sometimes when you’re a county commissioner you just have to get out in the streets and clean’em up. That’s what Tommy Calvert did on day 1 in San Antonio, Bexar County. He’s is one active and busy county commissioner with a long record of good government service. Get ready for a lively conversation with a mover and shaker.


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Tommy Calvert: It’s a real honor to serve. Kind of everything out of the sun can come under a commissioner, but I think it’s probably the most powerful political position in the state of Texas. A politician is probably five years behind. Most people in the neighborhood about what we’ve done.

There are so many stories that are not told, and it’s sometimes the what’s not written or said that needs to be said. If your intention in your heart is not just some political gamesmanship, you can work with anybody and try to get something done. If you are a servant leader.

I didn’t think I’d grow up freeing slaves. I didn’t think I’d ever starting a radio station. So I stopped over planning and just go where I need it. So I don’t know where the future will be, but I’ll go where I think I’m needed.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode, we’re having a conversation with one of the more dynamic county commissioners I’ve met. First, I’ve been lucky, and you’ve been lucky to the people I’ve met doing this show have all been impressive in one way or another. But Tommy, as you will hear, Hero, Tommy stands out.

That’s probably why I met him in the first place. First, he’s tall and he sort of commands a room. He’s hard to miss. As you’ll hear, Tommy made some campaign promises in his run for better county commissioner. This is in San Antonio, Texas. He said on day one he would be out in the community and working on garbage collection and meeting people.

And as you’ll hear, he kept his campaign promise. No introduction can cover all of his achievements, and you’ll hear about a few of them. He established an anti-slavery group. He worked on human rights in the new nation of South Sudan and in Burma. He negotiated with the U.S. Air Force and kept Randall’s Air Force base from closing. Keeping one of the county’s largest employers, he got outside foreign investors to build a new four star hotel.

That’s part of a whole renovation project. He started a community radio station. He was even listed as, quote, one to watch by a local newspaper. He continues to help people get into their own homes with different housing programs. And while he used to host dinner parties, he’s a little bit too busy for that. But he’s still ready to cook up some local Tex-Mex.

So join me for a lively conversation with Commissioner Tommy Calvert of San Antonio, Texas. That’s coming up right after this.

The good government show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling, law enforcement, water and sewers. In most of the country, those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across the U.S. Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices.

Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m Dave Martin. And I’m very happy to have Tommy Calvert with me. He is a county commissioner from Bear County, which is San Antonio, Texas. Welcome to the show. Welcome to the Conversation.

Tommy Calvert: It’s good to be with you from our days in Maryland, up in the capital area. Yes.

David Martin: Yes. We met a couple of conferences ago in in Maryland at a NACO convention. And one of the reasons why I really wanted to talk to you and I wanted to include you in this was because you told me a pretty incredible story. I’m going to get to that in a minute. But first, let me just if you would, just kind of run through.

You have a lot of jobs here, a district for county commissioner. What else are you doing for the county? Yeah.

Tommy Calvert: So as pressing for commissioner, you know, every county in the United States is different, right? Their systems are different. In Texas. We’re in charge of homeland security and emergencies were in charge of roads and bridges and law enforcement for areas that are not in a city we call those unincorporated. I think you have that in a lot of counties around the United States.

We oversee elections. Marriage, divorce, the justice system. So we oversee the budget. So probably the biggest thing that we do, the district attorney, the sheriff, the probation, juvenile probation constables, justice of the Peace, County Court judges, the entire system of justice and health care. So we have a Bear County Hospital district known as University Health in our brand name, but that’s got a huge hospital.

I’m building two new hospitals, two $500 million hospital building.

David Martin: Two hospitals?

Tommy Calvert: Yes, those are my babies. I worked seven years on one in Selma, in my precinct, we bought 41 acres of a racetracks old parking lot. We’re about a six story, $500 million hospital. This was kind of in response to the pandemic. I was concerned about staffed hospital beds and ICU and and then one by Texas A&M, San Antonio on the very deep South central area.

But we’re in charge of mental health care. We’re in charge of the agricultural extension service and venues and flood control. So there’s many, many things we oversee annually in San Antonio, Bear County, about $6 billion worth of stuff dissipated amongst a couple of different pots of funding. And it’s a real honor to serve. Kind of everything under the sun can come under a commissioner, but I think it’s probably the most powerful political position in the state of Texas, because for every bill a congressman can pass, I can fund and then create about 300 programs with all the work they have to do.

With 45.

People. And the president I actually just have five other or four other commissioners that I have to get, you know, three votes and then I’ve got what I need done. So we do a hell of a lot very responsibly. It’s kind of like the Senate of local government, and all of us are equal for commissioners, one county judge.

But we all sit on the diocese of the quote unquote commissioners court as equals. So like the Senate, we have the ability to put things on the agenda, take things off the agenda, block it, things like that. So it’s it’s a great position.

David Martin: And you’re also the county judge.

Tommy Calvert: I’m an interim at the moment. Our county judge was at the Capitol testifying because unlike a city council person, I can’t create new ordinances if I want to get a new law or ordinance, I have to implement the laws of the Texas legislature locally. So I have to get the entire Texas House and Senate and the governor to sign it.

I did with our trash program that you and I talked about.

David Martin: But we’re going to in just a minute. Yeah.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah. He was up in Austin testifying and he had a fall back fall where he he tourism meniscus. He fractured his ankle and, you know, he’s on payment. So he transferred his power to me in the last commissioners court meeting. And so yeah, I am doing two jobs at the moment but enjoying it.

David Martin: Well from what I’ve read of your résumé, you have more than two jobs, but we’ll talk about that. So. So one of the things that when we met, you know, I told you what we were doing, the good government show. We’re looking for government projects. And you told me. I thought it was a pretty incredible story. You ran on a campaign issue and you kept your campaign promise on day one.

So what was your promise and what did you do?

Tommy Calvert: I promise that the day after I was elected, I’d be back on doorsteps getting to work. And I did that.

David Martin: And I always do that. What was the work you did?

Tommy Calvert: Well, we went into the most crime high area in my precinct where trash was literally stacked six feet high because the counties, the unincorporated county, you know, the most of it, one, one, one is especially the guy from Brooklyn, New York. How do you have trash piled six feet high?


David Martin: We got a dirty garbage strikes here, but that’s okay.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah.

There you go. That’s one way to look. The other way is the majority of the state of Texas is rural, Right? So I said I implement the laws of the Texas legislature. So most of the state of Texas doesn’t want heavy handed government saying you need to have a trash mandate to clean it up. They’ll bernado composted. They’ll do whatever.

So we’re a big urban county. We have over 2 million people. And so we had to say legislature, give us trash authority. But I went that comes later, but I went the day after and I and I began to again survey and how it and I asked people, what are your top three issues and concerns? It was raining.

I was very tired.

But, I mean, you know.


David Martin: Is the day after you won your election, your first election. Yeah, it.

Tommy Calvert: Was it was documented by ABC News here as well. Okay. So I send you some some article about that for your B-roll, if you will.

David Martin: I think I’ve watched it, but yeah, I could please set it again.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah. And, and so I’m very proud of the fact that we have been able to turn around that neighborhood because we did get. All right.

David Martin: So you slow down on the best part. You walked out. So you get elected. Probably you find out sometime after ten or 11:00 at night, you’re the new county commissioner. What time are you on the street? The next morning.

Tommy Calvert: I think it was 2 to 3. I’m in. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I didn’t start right away.

David Martin: Okay, that’s all right. I’ll give you a little rest.

Tommy Calvert: Probably had a little champagne afterwards. Okay.

David Martin: Baby.

Tommy Calvert: It was like the Triple Crown. You know, I just. I had to defeat eight opponents in my overall race. Three rounds of election. So. Yeah.

David Martin: And so you picked up garbage?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, yeah, I picked up garbage many, many, many times in my precinct.

David Martin: But that day, the day after you got elected, you were out there with trash bags and volunteers and picking up garbage. Is that right?

Tommy Calvert: Well, it wasn’t that exact same day that we did the garbage. What we did is we talked to neighbors. Yeah. Every resident in the neighborhood that had been crime infested. And we began to get basically intel where people could report anonymously, where they saw crime, where they could talk to me about the things the community needed, whether it was job help or maybe there was a sex offender that they were afraid of for their kids.

I heard all I heard and saw it all. So we were there looking at where a problem spots are trying to identify, where do we need to put, you know, cameras to stop illegal dumpers. But yeah, there was a lot of survey where we were tuning to the fact that sometimes children didn’t have beds to sleep on. I got the Police Officers Association to give out 200 beds for the children in the neighborhood.

Whatever it was. We were we were there triaging.

David Martin: And how quickly were you back in the neighborhood picking up the garbage?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, you know, this is eight years ago now. So I am right. My sense of time is a little bit funny. But, you know, I did a lot of my first 100 days. I did a lot. I had a commissioner who served on my court for 34 years and he said, you got more done in two and a half years and your predecessor did in 16.

And so I, I told people that I would be one of the most prepared county commissioners are that I would be the most prepared county commissioner they ever elected. And I think they found that to be true, not because I’m the best thing since sliced bread, but because I come from a community organizing standpoint. So I believe that people have the answers that politicians need to implement.

And so the reason I survey people and that I follow through on what I ask about is because a politician is probably five years behind. Most people in the neighborhood of.

What can be done.

David Martin: And so I live in that neighborhood.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, Yeah. As an activist, I said, let me take that approach. This board down in the neighborhood level. So even today I do 3000 meetings a year. I do house calls, I go out on, you know, wherever. And I have a big precinct. I mean, my precinct has rural farmlands, the inner city. It has, you know, military bases.

And just everything that makes up Texas in the United States is found in my prison is a where people think, oh, here’s a black commissioner or he has a black prison. No, my precinct’s not majority black, it’s majority Hispanic. And blacks are the third largest demographic in my state.

David Martin: Well, you say you’re not the greatest. You know, I think I can’t remember exactly what you said about the greatest county commissioner ever. But however, you have been cited as being one to watch, one newspaper said you were at another paper, said you were a wonderkid. You’re making noise. How do you what do you attribute your success to?

Tommy Calvert: I had a great foundation because my father was a social and ski organizer and my mother was a real stickler for education and sacrificed tremendously to send me a kid from off of Martin Luther King Boulevard to the top private school in San Antonio. So the combination of being around folks who were way outside our income strata, but also still being on as a child, literally going down to city hall, fighting for streets that weren’t paved or drainage where people died or banks to invest or equality for LGBT Americans.

Just having that kind of made me a Jedi of government that that allowed me to literally from being pushed in a stroller and marches up to continuing community service. I became a public speaker at 14 because of a speech I gave at the Martin Luther King March. And so I honed in that oratory and developed that as a high school student.

You know, I was asked to speak at high schools for the Black History Month program. I was speaking at churches and synagogues even as a teenager. And so that gave me a very large group of people in which to listen to, to learn from. And so I would say I’m a community child. There was a lot of people in the neighborhood associations.

There’s a lot of older Americans who have retired. So their wisdom, they they they imparted that to me. And so that’s.

David Martin: Relocation. Great background.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

David Martin: All right. Okay. So you got over your shyness right away because it’s certainly gone now.

Tommy Calvert: I am a shy person by nature. I’m not going to as my father pushed me to introduce myself in meetings.

David Martin: All right. Okay. So, you know, there’s a there’s seems to be a lot going on. This is something I did not know until I did a little research before we spoke. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in America.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, that’s why we’ve got 1.5 million people moving here in the next decade. So we’ll be a county of about 3.4 million people. We’re over 2 million as we speak.

David Martin: And you said you have your your district, your your district for what? What part of San Antonio is that?

Tommy Calvert: Yeah. So pressing for is where you come to visit the Alamo and the river walk and the town. All right, let’s you. Yeah, we stretch up.

David Martin: Doing both of those things. By the way.

Tommy Calvert: I thank you for putting a little coin in our.

Tax coffers.

David Martin: It was a while ago, but I’ve been there.

Tommy Calvert: Nice doing business with you.

David Martin: Yes, I say. Hey, listen, I was like, Oh, this is the river walk, All right. Oh, these are the San Antonio missions. Go over. Oh, my God. I have a I’ve shown people I took a really beautiful picture of the Alamo at night with and it had just rained. So it was like kind of looks slick and everybody looks at it, said, Wow, When I was there, it was crowded.

How do you see the picture with no people? And, you know, you stick around long enough and you wait.

Tommy Calvert: There you go. Yes.

You’re media man. You know what you’re doing.

David Martin: Yeah, I do.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah.

David Martin: One of the things that I noticed about your district is and something you had a hand in Randolph Air Force Base, a very large military facility in San Antonio and kind of in America. What’s it like to deal with the air Force and how did you work with them?

Tommy Calvert: It’s been a great joy. You know, there are a number one employer and Randolph Air Force Base in particular is our sixth largest employer and military overall as a military city, USA. One time we had five military installations here, but we’ve had some transition and closures of some. And so what I did helps. I say, well, let me just give you the back backup.

At the time, in 1938, Randolph was way in the periphery of the city. Nobody was really out there. It’s a great place to put air education training command. The Air Force always worries about a potential plane crash and loss of life. And so they don’t want people near the runways. Good. The fast forward to 2015. When I got into office, someone tells me, Hey, commissioner, one of your duties that you have to chair is this joint land use study to get consensus with the development community, the neighbors, the cities, the community at large military base about how do we use the land around Randolph.

And we were able to do that. We acquired about 75 acres of land and what they called a clear zones and accident potential zones. And as a result, Randolph went from where the secretary of the Air Force told the commander, General Eisler, who I worked with, to prepare to move the Air Education Command for the Air Force from San Antonio, elsewhere.

And then we we were able to save it. So that’s my that is my proudest moment as a as a an elected official.

David Martin: Were there any people that you had to move, relocate?

Tommy Calvert: Everyone was willing to, yes, but everyone it was a volunteer program. It was out of force. Eminent domain thing. People raised their hands and said, yes, I’m interested in someone purchasing. And so we went through the process and and.

David Martin: It’s no, it’s all over the landing strip. Sorry, I said, it’s no fun to live at the end of a landing strip. So I’m sure they were happy. You move, right?

Tommy Calvert: You kind of sign up for that. I mean, to give you a perspective of how many airplanes fly out of Randolph Ah, San Antonio International Airport has 14,100 flights, probably more. Now, the last time I looked back then, it was like 220,000 flights coming out of Randolph. Just to give you a little perspective. So we call that that jet black blasting off the sound of freedom.

David Martin: Positive spin. Very nice. Is it a challenge as a county commissioner to work with another branch of the federal government, the U.S. Air Force?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, sure.

David Martin: I mean, are they good partners? I mean, how’s that relationship?

Tommy Calvert: I was very fortunate that the relationship I mean, we are a military city, USA, because we embrace and and really tell our military. We know sometimes you can’t lobby for certain things or say certain things because of your your rules. But if you want to whisper it to us, somehow a little birdie tells us, Go advocates. And that’s what we did.

We, we we tried to maintain that fairness. And I think the military has been an incredible asset and I still have to work with them on a day to day basis. I’ve been blessed that they gave me a position as honorary commander of Randolph and Lackland Air Force bases and have given me some, you know, advanced education at the Air Force War College.

Just to get a sense of all the factors that go into our armed services and the kind of joint base movement that has happened around the country or the integration of various branches, work together for various missions and even get a chance to see how our allies, through the Defense Language Institute from around the world, integrate into common defense for freedom and democracy around the world.

So I consider it a great honor.

David Martin: It’s a very unique challenge. I mean, not not not most county commissioners have a military base in their backyard that they deal with on a if not daily regular basis.

Tommy Calvert: So it’s they’ve got to used to have three.


David Martin: It does that does that make it more difficult? Is it a hard thing to manage?

Tommy Calvert: I haven’t found it hard, but maybe that’s because I specialize in my academic background in global conflict, peace and negotiation studies.

David Martin: So I.

Tommy Calvert: I but yeah, there’s big challenges because, for example, the legislature got rid of restrictions on fireworks. And so all of a sudden after they passed a bill that just let firework stands go up anywhere, they were outside of Air Force bases airstrip And the Air Force was like, oh, legal. Oh, man. Give us a little.

Bit of distance.

For your pyrotechnics. And so I had to go back in the legislature and get some amendments and things like that. And but but I don’t consider that hard. I mean, it’s just trying to do the right thing.

David Martin: There’s a lot of stuff that you’ve been a part of. It seems like one of the things I wanted to ask you about is the Thompson Hotel. Tell me a little bit about how that came together. And I understand there was a lot of foreign investment. That’s pretty heady stuff for a county commissioner and, you know, one city in Texas.

Tommy Calvert: So about 1800 jobs were created because we were participants. We were very fortunate to be participants in a federal program that I love other people in government to know about. It’s the EB five program. And what that does is it allows high net worth foreigners invest a half a million or $1,000,000 in an American business or nonprofit. They’ve got to get their return within nine years.

In exchange, they get green cards. A lot of these foreign folks invest because they want their children to go to American colleges and have the opportunity of the great education that our colleges bring. And so we were able to add $140 million, 21 story building. We were able to get about $88 million to supplement our local ownership, which was from the San Antonio and Houston area.

And what it also does is it pays down the debt service on the $140 million building very quickly. So you’ve almost from the day you opened got more than half of your of your building paid for. And so it really is amazing and it created eight I used to say 1300 jobs, but they gave me an update recently that it created 1800 jobs for San Antonio.

And so what I simply did was go to Vietnam and China.

David Martin: What I did was go to Vietnam in China. Simple. Okay.

Tommy Calvert: Well, and I and I.

Offered the hand of friendship. And I talked about our economic trajectory. So my background was in international relations and economics. And so I put together a marketing piece that talked about how strong our hospitality industry was and the strength of our housing economies. And I told them basically government’s going to get out of the way or help this project, which they need to hear because in a lot of places, if government doesn’t like the project, then it’s going to be not a good investment.

And San Antonio is not really on the global map. We have not played in that. You know, Houston in New York, they’re in the global map, but San Antonio was not. So I’m really proud that this was one of the largest foreign investment projects to help local business people. And I hope we do a lot more to do projects in San Antonio for that.

I mean, look, there’s green all over the world. You might as well leverage it to your own good.

David Martin: Fair enough. Are you on radio or you just managed the community radio station?

Tommy Calvert: I used to do the morning show on therapy and maybe it helped me get elected a little bit.

David Martin: You do have a little bit of a radio voice.

Tommy Calvert: Thank you.

And and so I don’t go on air as much. Most of my background is just as the general manager and founder of the radio station San Antonio Community Radio, KIRO, which stands for Restore Our Voice. But I am I am feeling the need to get back into broadcasting and media because there are so many stories that are not told.

And it’s sometimes what’s not written or said that needs to be said. And so, you know, I kind of came in to my job. I think like Senator Franken, when he was you know, he was on Saturday Night Live, he’s a media guy. He didn’t want to be on the press all the time. He just went to work and he wanted to let people know I’m really here to work the job.

I’m not here to be a Twitter politician or whatever media mogul. And I did the same thing. I had a lot of relationships in media, but I really did not do a whole lot of interviews. I did not I probably didn’t get covered as much for the things that I did. I just did the work. And so eight years later, people now know I’m a workhorse on a show horse, okay?

And so I feel the need to go back into broadcasting in whatever limited way I can, but maybe managing people to help really tell stories that are going to advance to the benefit of people’s lives.

David Martin: So we’ve talked a lot about things you’ve done. What are the things you’re working on now? What’s what, what good government are you bringing to the people currently?

Tommy Calvert: Well, I think that our our climate change in the environment is very serious. And so we want to increase our tree canopy. When you get in 1.5 million people moving into your community, there’s a lot of trees that are cut down to make room for that growth. And I think that that is an important element. We’re also working on a rail line between Austin and San Antonio and seeing if we can get some options there.

The governor has a lot of power to make that happen. We’ll see in this budget in the next three months if he does okay, it is something that would take 8 million cars off the road and give a lot of a lot cleaner air. We’re continue to work on affordable housing and homeownership. Our homelessness problem continues to be something that I’m focused on permanent supportive housing, that is housing with all the wraparound mental health job training services that someone who’s experiencing homelessness needs.

Crime issues are big right now, and we’re trying to increase law enforcement and mental health. We created a smart unit several years ago where mental health clinicians respond to certain crimes. It’s been very successful. We may need to look at other things that we expand that for and of course, more beds for treatment. We’re expanding. We spend a lot of our American Recovery Plan Act, the largest, I think the largest pot of funding that we spent was on mental health and expansion of mental health beds and treatment beds.

And so the long term for children to make sure that these increases in their dropout rate don’t create a school to prison pipeline. It’s very important to me, our county judge is extremely wise about how we can put our county resources into helping families not fall into poverty and crime, because he was a children’s court judge where he saw abused and neglected children in the worst of circumstances.

And so he and I are going to work together to bring the nonprofits, the faith based community, the health care and mental health care community, the schools to try and figure out how do we put families and kids in the best position to be successful.

David Martin: We don’t really get into politics. But since you’re in Texas and you’re a Democrat, I just, you know, need to ask. I know that I’ve talked to other county commissioners around the country. There are places where working together and across the aisle is a problem. How are you handling that in Texas? How are you handling that with your with your board members?

Tommy Calvert: I believe very, because I worked in human rights. I worked freeing slaves in Sudan and Berman all over the world. And I pushed freedom and democracy all around the world. I will never take for granted the blessing of freedom and this democratic system that we have in America. Never, ever. So I have always had it, partly because I went to a school like St Mary’s Hall, where everybody was Republicans.

I was one of one type Democrats, right.

And I was the class president three times.

David Martin: So you’re used to being surrounded?

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, I am used to working with Republicans, and I have a ton of Republican supporters. In fact, the time before last I ran, I was unopposed. I’ve been to Republican precinct chair meetings, which I don’t think any Democratic politician in the state of Texas has ever done and come out without. You know.

David Martin: I’m scared. Let’s just say I’m scares.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, I did. Yeah. That’s a better way to say okay so so but my my point in saying that is if your intention in your heart is not just on political gamesmanship, you can work with anybody and try to get something done. If you are a servant leader. The problem right now with the Republican Party in Texas is fascism is a very strong political strain in their in their party and gamesmanship of squashing the woke or whatever they think they are doing is taking away the local powers of local governments to govern themselves.

And this is going to be a very big problem. They’re making us look more and more like Russia every day. Russia was a command and control system. That’s what the governor and the legislature want to do. They want to command and control what we do. It’s funny, sometimes the far right and the far left, I mean, at the same place in politics.

And I think that for the future of government and politics in America, the two strands of energy that we have to fight are socialism and fascism. They’re both going to be where the energy of the parties go. And America has been a a a steady ship because it has not gone all the way one way or the other.

It’s tried to stay pretty well in the in the middle and so when we start tampering with the institutions and the the the constitutionality of the way we play between the executive legislative and judicial branches of government, you you’ve got a real problem on your hands. But I’ll be there as someone who has fought against systems of fascism, dictatorship and socialism to give Americans a little history.

Let me give you the best book you can read about this right now. The fascism by Madeleine Albright, her book, Fascism. And the reason I say that is because, of course, Madeleine Albright was a Czech refugee during World War two, and she lived through it. And she gives the specific wording that was used by Mussolini and Hitler that’s now being used in the Republican Party.

Today. She comes from a professor standpoint at Georgetown, of course, our distinguished secretary of state. So you will not find someone who has all three of those lived experiences educating you on what fascism is doing to American politics. You need to everybody needs.

David Martin: To read fascism by Madeleine Albright. So I see a picture of a basketball team behind you. What do you do for fun? You’re a busy guy. What do you do for fun?

Tommy Calvert: I used to play basketball when I was a little younger.

I, I.

I had one game with Mike Hooley and Castro. I was a deputy campaign manager for him. And I look like a king. I mean, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I made like 17 points in the game, but that’s like a total fluke because I was a defensive player, an offensive. It was just how bad the rest of my old team was.

But yeah, so I like to travel. I used to cook a lot, but I don’t have a lot of time. I just have dinner parties and things like that. But yeah, I like to have a good time with friends and family.

David Martin: And where do you travel to? Where have you been lately?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, so I just got back from New Mexico. I took my mother on vacation.

David Martin: All right.

Tommy Calvert: I actually despair of my stepfather who has dementia. And I said, Mom, you need a break. And so we went to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and Chimayo, the Church of Chimayo. But, you know, I tend to even go places around the world. I was in Egypt right before the pandemic and I travel to many countries around the world.

I’m an international relations guy and I love to see different cultures. So I’m hoping Greece this year, I’m going to get there.

David Martin: All right. I’m walking. I’m going to Spain in October.

Tommy Calvert: Oh, I love Spain walking.

David Martin: I loved walking the Camino Santiago, not the entire park, just a little bit of it.

Tommy Calvert: So I like Madrid.

David Martin: I’ll I’ll be in Madrid. Over. I think I do tonight. Two days on the way and one out of the way out. So I promised your staff that this would be about a half an hour conversation. We’re out of half an hour now, but now it’s time to get to the questionnaire. We have the list. This is going to we’re going to talk about your philosophy of government.

We’re going to hear really at the inside scoop from you. So you’ve been a county commissioner, I think you said eight years. You’ve been around government for longer than that. From where you said define good government.

Tommy Calvert: Well, it is servant leadership where big money special interests is not put ahead of the majority’s community needs. It is listening to the needs of communities and prioritizing them. It is making sure that people are empowered, not just have government do everything for them, but to empower people to petition their government to make it work for them. So I think that it’s a dichotomy.

You know, for example, when I lived in France, I studied the building of the European Union in college, and I wanted to do a book report on community service. And my my teacher, we struggled with this term because in France there is no such thing as community service because it’s a socialist democracy and the government does everything for you.

And so I think there’s something very powerful that unlocks in the human spirit when we can help each other. I think in many ways government should be doing more to help people. But at the same time, when we have community service organizations and NGOs are filling those gaps, there’s something very powerful about the connectivity of each other and humanity that that is a mark.

David Martin: So how do you judge your success in providing good government? What what do you use as your personal yardstick?

Tommy Calvert: I have used did I follow through? Did or if I made promises, did I did I keep them? And I’m very proud to say I have I have kept all of my promises since being elected eight years ago. So I probably have to make a few more.

David Martin: Well, I guess this isn’t a problem for you, but the next question on our questionnaire is if you if your citizens if your voters if your people in your district aren’t getting good government and feel like they’re not, how should they hold you accountable?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, tell me. You know, and I haven’t the most activist radical kind of area. Yeah. And kind of on both sides. I have very conservative sides in my farmlands. And I have like, you know, people like my father who used to just take 2000 people in D.C. to take over the EPA or the Bankers Association or we went to like the mayor got in Chevy Chase when I was a child.

So I’m used to it, but I do not get ripped as much as most electeds because we do try to be responsive and people know that. But they I absolutely am happy to take a licking If if I earned it, I earned it.

David Martin: All right. So if people feel like they’re not getting good government, should they do? What should the citizens do?

Tommy Calvert: Well, first. First is make sure you do your homework. And with research can lead it. Sometimes people are asking the wrong level of government for that help, and they don’t know that that they’re necessarily doing that. Once you do a little bit of research is try to not be a lone ranger, try to find other folks who have that similar concern and come in as a as a group to represent that you are not just speaking for yourself, but for others.

Now, smart elected will understand when when when a constituent comes and they know that this affects a lot of people, but a people power makes a difference. And so working as a group, as a larger group, can be very effective to gaining attention because the two strands of political power are people power and money. Power. So if you ain’t got money, better racing people.

David Martin: Okay, so you eight years, County commissioner, what would you like people to know about how government works about the inside of government?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, Lord, that’s a book.

David Martin: Should I start taking notes?

Tommy Calvert: I think government is as good as you. And we make it. It is for and by the people. And when when people don’t pay attention to what their elected officials are doing and they think they’re all the same and the cynicism sets in, that’s not a good thing. The elected officials are only as good as you let them get away with what’s going on.

And so it is supposed to be it is supposed to be transparent and it is supposed to do the people’s work ahead of the powerful. So I think that we need to really study our Constitution, know that we are very fortunate because I have traveled to many countries where you can’t speak a negative word against your leadership, where you can’t protest and organize, like I just mentioned, with your fellow neighbors.

And we have to keep that flame of liberty and democracy alive because it’s much under threat. And if every one of us in a democracy, every citizen, it is it is your duty to make sure that you defend democracy wherever you are. If it’s being a precinct chair and making sure that people are purged from voting rolls or purge as precinct chairs, which we had happened in Bear County, and I spent about $60,000 in legal fees defending that institution or whatever it is to make democracy remain.

It isn’t up to the next person to draw the line and stand for democracy. It’s up to you. The most powerful person in democracy is not the president. It is the citizen. You are the boss and make government work for you.

David Martin: Do you like when people show up at your town hall meetings and community meetings is go, Hey commissioner, wait a minute and start, you know, arguing with you intelligently?

Tommy Calvert: Sir, I think that debate is very healthy. You know, if you knew my father, you would understand. Many dinner table discussions were not all in.

The same opinion. Yeah, I’m.

I think that is a fine thing. And and I look, I have the things we’ve done are because we had those conversations. So for example, I had a senior citizen in the southeast part of my precinct at a neighborhood meeting say, Hey, Commissioner, I’ve heard you say you voted for for four tax cuts in four years, but you’re over the university health system.

And and they haven’t given any senior property tax relief like the city or whoever. Why? Why, why shouldn’t we have something? I said, Well, you know, that’s a really good idea.

So I was left a little bit of that.

But from there I got a $10,000 homestead exemption that expanded to a $35,000 homestead exemption for seniors. If they hadn’t said something, I couldn’t have acted. So that’s healthy.

David Martin: All right. So you’re you’re on for a.

Tommy Calvert: Good debate on the to debate champion of Texas. I don’t really turn that skill on because it’s not nice. I’m I’m a servant. So you don’t see that side of me. But. Well, you’d like to talk. We’ll talk.

David Martin: You’re you’re sitting down and you’re. Oh, you’re on camera. People. I’ve met you in person. You’re a tall guy. You sort of stand out of the room when you go out into your district, into San Antonio. Are you constantly sort of like, Commissioner, I want to ask you about this. I want to ask you about that. Is it hard sometimes to go to the store and get milk and bread?

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, but that’s what you sign up for. And I will go to different stores and different restaurants intentionally to check in different areas. Just and I go to different churches in my precinct on a on a regular basis just to let people know I’m still here. If you need something. We began constituent work right then, yeah, sometimes you want to be off, but if you want to be turned off, stay at home and don’t go out.

David Martin: But if dinner for friends, bring them to.

Tommy Calvert: Order, order takeout.

Or something.

But when I’m out, I circulate myself on purpose just to make sure that the community knows I’m not hiding from them.

David Martin: Is it largely friendly?

Tommy Calvert: Oh, yeah. Okay. I had no.

Idea where I was at the grocery store. I was at the grocery store on Sunday, and I’m not trying to brag, but this is a true story, guys. He speaks Spanish, doesn’t speak very good English. He’s not in my precinct. I’m not in a store. Am I preaching? I just happened to be in the area and stopped in.

And he goes, You’re doing a good job. You’re the only one in town. So thank you, sir. Thank you very.

David Martin: Much. How’s your Spanish?

Tommy Calvert: Good. I I’m proficient in Spanish, so I. I speak Spanish on doorsteps and to constituents all the time, which is surprising.

David Martin: How’s your French.

Tommy Calvert: Looking? Probably.

I’ll say it was very poor La Victoire.

David Martin: I have no idea what you just said.

Tommy Calvert: Okay. Somebody out there does good.

I know a to get around.

David Martin: All right. Okay. All right. Well, that’s what other languages you speak.

Tommy Calvert: Well, I used to speak when I was younger. I mean, I. I spoke a lot of them, but I’ve forgotten a lot of the stuff. So I started singing in a boys choir. So we. We began at a very early age, learning Latin and German and Japanese and French and, you know, all these different languages. But I forgotten a lot of that stuff.

So I can, you know, remember a little bit, you could.

David Martin: Probably order dinner in several.

Tommy Calvert: Countries. I better be able to do that.

David Martin: So other than your dad, obviously, who are your political heroes Nelson Mandela?

Tommy Calvert: I wish I could have met him before he passed because he is such an inspiration to have spent 30 plus years in a prison just for trying to be treated equally and then the way he governed to try to reconcile and turn the page on, you know, the way he he allowed Desmond Tutu to set up the truth and reconciliation, to let people air out what was done wrong, closed that chapter and turn a new page.

There’s still a lot of racism, South Africa and other places, but those barometers of speaking to our better angels are models for me. So yeah, yeah, he would be one of my greatest political mentors if, you know, if I ever got to be mentored. But I’m not going to read.

The Presidential records.

David Martin: It sounds like your dad was pretty influential as well.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah, I mean, my family, I hit the jackpot when it came to parents because, you know, I had this mother who is corporate IBM woman who was, you know, kind of she grew up in the country of East Texas amongst 12 kids and had this love for education, ended up because she cared so much about me. She actually left she actually left her high paying corporate job at IBM to become an adjunct professor.

Took like a $100,000 pay cut because she didn’t want to move me to the corporate headquarters headquarters of Bethesda, because they were asking her my sophomore year to move. And so, you know, she’s taught me a lot about listening. She’s the Polish, right? She’s my dad is the fire and brimstone and, you know, blow up the bad boys.

Then my mother is the OC. Let’s speak constructing the new city and bring people together and figure out how do we do this together? Well, they both were about doing things together. But I think she balances out my radical the radical side, what you need. So people don’t always know whether I’m going to be the diplomat Tommy, or whether I’m going to be the radical communist.

David Martin: All right. So you lived in San Antonio or your lives in Texas most of your life. Obviously. You said you went to school in France. You spent a lot of time in Asia.

Tommy Calvert: You refer to.

David Martin: Africa as well. I’m coming to your house for what are your dinner parties with friends? What are you making? What are what are we having? What’s your what’s your Texas Dell?

Tommy Calvert: If you’re coming, my brother, we’re not.

We’re going to have a smorgasbord. What I will do, I’ll make you some cheese enchiladas with a little chili and onions on top of you, Some scallops with a sherry DeJong orange zest. I’ll make you a nice steak. Get that bad boy out of 500 degrees in the oven and, you know, put some salt on that bad boy.

Flip that thing. I’ll get you some barbecue chicken and ribs in Dallas.

David Martin: I think I’ll have some fish.

Tommy Calvert: I’ll have a smorgasbord. Whatever you want.

David Martin: That’s where you where do you have a couple of go to spots in in San Antonio. Where you out. What are you looking for?

Tommy Calvert: I’m going to give a political answer because there are a lot of good places. You know, if you kind want the high end new American sushi, that’s just you can’t go wrong. There’s a place called Bliss. You will be in bliss. Okay. That you know, it’s it’s a little on the pricey side, but it’s not it’s not overboard.

Pricey, especially if you’re from the East Coast.

David Martin: It’s probably out.

Tommy Calvert: There. You know, you might want to go to Meteora for a good enchilada. So it just depends on what you want. We have improved our culinary scene exponentially after we got one of the five Culinary Institute of America here in San Antonio. So we are now a city of gastronomy. We owe that to Mayor Ed Garza, who who just was on a trip refinancing bonds for the city of San Antonio.

He walks into the Culinary Institute. He says, Hey, I’m the mayor of San Antonio. I’d like to talk to you about putting a culinary institute in San Antonio, because we need improve our cuisine.

David Martin: This is San Antonio, Sort of like ground zero for Tex-Mex.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah. Oh, man, you will not find any better in the United States. And I don’t care what San Francisco. Well, Tex-Mex is Tex-Mex. So if you’re trying to do Tex-Mex in California, good luck to you.

David Martin: But that’s different. Yeah, Yeah. But I mean, this isn’t like Somalis or something where they, like, discovered or.

Tommy Calvert: You.

Get Tex-Mex tamales, enchiladas, you know? Yeah, the.

David Martin: Old Somali queens. I mean, they work San Antonio, the square. And that was the place to go, right?

Tommy Calvert: You you don’t have to just go to the square. You can throw a stone and you’re going to find a good Mexican restaurant.

David Martin: So you’ve been a county commissioner for eight years. You talked about your background in public speaking. Did you want to always go into elected office?

Tommy Calvert: Not always, but as.

David Martin: Guess you want to be president when you were growing up?

Tommy Calvert: Well, you know, I thought about it for a little bit when I when I saw the Constitution, my dad came home from being a delegate for Jesse Jackson in 1988 and spoke to my third grade class and explained to us, you know, the process of being a delegate. And he brought back the cool hat and I thought I was pretty cool.

But, you know, I’ve had a lot of iterations of work. I, you know, run a global human rights organization. I’ve had a business in advertising and PR, I’ve done a radio station and I’ve done business consulting. And so, you know, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about private sector and public sector things. I didn’t being a commissioner was on my plan.

I had a I had a $9 Million television show on MSNBC called Slave Hunter, and I was getting ready to take the leading role in that show and have my book published by Simon and Schuster. But, you know, as as the good Lord would have it, there was a change. And my predecessor decided to run for county judge.

And the seat became open and I was trying to recruit other people. And I didn’t I wasn’t planning to run for the show, so this was not on my plan. So I learned to kind of meditate and pray and go where I’m needed. I didn’t think I’d grow up freeing slaves. I didn’t think I’d ever regret starting a radio station.

So I stopped over planning and just go where I need it. So I don’t know where where the future will be, but I’ll go where I think I made it.

David Martin: Did you want to run for County Commissioner? Well, you really talked into it.

Tommy Calvert: I thought I would run for state rep first, to be honest. Okay. But people at the time, yes, I wanted to, but. And I was being encouraged to. But I also was I was always fortunate when I was helping people and trafficking out of those circumstances. So I thought, you know, this door, because that stage of my life doing that on a full time basis had been on hiatus for maybe five or plus years.

I mean, little intermittent things I would do in the movement. But I thought, okay, I’m being called to, you know, really come back and help this cause. And in in a way that will impact it in a big way. That’s where I’m needed in New York. And long short of it is I ask God for a sign. I’ll tell you I’ll tell you what happened.

We had a lawsuit filed against our show that we were going to be the Thanksgiving weekend special for Miss NBC. And we had a lawsuit filed like on I think we were going to air Saturday. We had a lawsuit filed like Wednesday or Thursday of that week. It was bogus, never amounted to anything. It was just complete baloney.

But at that time, the president of NBC was in his first year and there were two other lawsuits. One was a class action on a mount Everest reality show where people died. And there was another one. Then I was ah. So he was afraid that three lawsuits in his first year, he could be out.

David Martin: It would be his last year.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah. I had to meet with the senior VP’s as the chairman of the board of this nonprofit in L.A. that had the contract. And I had to, you know, let them know that this was baloney. So I think I had that meeting on like Monday or Tuesday and the filing. So it was like December 9th was the filing deadline to run for commissioner.

And I think I had that meeting on December 5th. And people are like, Tom, you got to run, you got to run, you got to run. And I just didn’t think I had enough gas. I had given a lot of money to start the nonprofit radio station. You got to raise a lot of money, you know, over half a million dollars to run for commissioner.

I just thought I was out of gas. You know, I’ve made a lot of sacrifice. I had a car repo. I mean, I was I was really not in a financial circumstance to do it. And so I said, gosh, I literally was doing the morning show at like 8:00. I prayed and I said, God, if you want me to run for this position, you’re going to have to move.

The filming of the show past the March Democratic primary. At 1:00, my assistant, Don in New York called the same day and she goes, Well, congratulate Patience, Tommy. So you exactly at NBC have decided to resume the filming of the show. I said, when she goes, they’re not exactly sure. But sometime past March, I got bumps.

I look up to God. I didn’t want you to tell me that.

That’s when I decided to run for commissioner.

David Martin: I guess that’s a pretty strong signal.

Tommy Calvert: Yeah.

All right. And I now understand why I was supposed to run for commissioner.

David Martin: All right, so we like to wrap it up on a positive note. Tell me some good government projects that’s going on right now. You’re a part of.

Tommy Calvert: We’ve got an urban farm, a ten acre urban farm. We won a National Association of Counties Award for it. We gave away £25,000 of fresh vegetables, some fruits during the pandemic. But we’re expanding to build a $17 million office for our AG extension service. We will have tons of classes, everything from how to make all kinds of vegetables to falconry, to financial literacy, to leadership courses, you know, be beekeeping.

All that kind of stuff will be taught out at the farm. So we are opening.

David Martin: So what are we going on? The ten acre farm?

Tommy Calvert: It depends on the season. Okay. So of course, some seasons you’ll be growing broccoli and collards and, you know, just depends on the squash and it just depends on your season. So pumpkins and cantaloupes and so it’s going to be year round and it’s it’s first phase is opening outdoor classroom in April here coming up of 2023. And I also have a pressing for satellite office to be more responsive to constituents It’s opening near near Randolph, actually.

So excited about both of those things.

David Martin: Well, Tommy Calvert, it has been an absolute joy talking with you. I really appreciate it. And as I said, I hope to get out to San Antonio this year and see some of the good work you’re doing in person. And I think what you said, some barbecue shops take care of everything else. I took notes.

Tommy Calvert: Depending on the day, I will have it all brought to us. I may not be able to.

Get a bootleg.

Real estate tour for you when you come in town. I’ve got to wheel drive you around and we’ll show you around the press.

David Martin: You said here. And has the garbage gone away? Is that garbage problem been cleaned up for good?

Tommy Calvert: We we we still have intermittent illegal dumping, but in terms of trash piled street upon street six feet high. And that’s those days are gone.

David Martin: Those days are gone. Well, that’s great to hear. Listen, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. I look forward to meeting with you again. Keep up the good work and thank you very much seeing us.

Tommy Calvert: And thank you. Your your show is very important. Thank you for reminding people of this great place that we live. And hey, it’s up to all of us. This is an important show to keep this system of democracy and freedom going.

David Martin: Thanks for saying that. We just wanted to show that there is good government out there somewhere and thanks for providing that.

Tommy Calvert: There is.

David Martin: The Good Government show is sponsored by our CO. That means our community. Our CO has found a way to make government even more effective. Article provides a platform that blends in-person and digital interactions and that connects people with their government, their mobile app transforms meaningful conversations into reliable data, and the result is actionable insights that inspires a positive change.

It’s sort of like having a flagpole. Do you want to know if the community would rather have a dog park or a bike trail? Arco can get you an answer immediately from the folks in your community. With our CO, you can engage your citizens or any group, learn what they want and build programs and policies that advance your county, your job creators and your constituents.

So visit our COCOM. That’s 0urco dot com and learn how they do it. And while you’re there, book a demonstration. I’m a workhorse, not a show horse. Those are Tommy’s words. Great words to live by if you’re a county elected official and as you heard, Tommy keeps active and it’s good to see he keeps his promises, or at least he’s constantly working on that checklist, going down that list, checking off the things he’s accomplished, and that was a great conversation with someone who’s clearly working hard for the people of Bear County, Texas.

And I really do hope to visit him. It’s just a question of which story are bringing good government to the people. I’m going to, but I look forward to the visit and to the Tex-Mex. So join us again on the Good Government show for another conversation with another government leader talking about what makes for good government. Join us again, wherever you’re hearing me now.

I’m Dave Martin. Thanks for listening to the Good Government show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions, Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic. This is a good government show. Thanks for listening.


**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.