President, The Libre Initiative
Latino community champion
Key previous position: Office of Public Liaison, Bush Administration
Education: Central Washington University
Notable fact: Grew up as a seasonal crop worker
When Daniel Garza’s parents arrived in America, they couldn’t speak English, didn’t have driver’s licenses, and hadn’t graduated high school. Garza is now president of the Libre Initiative, a Koch-backed group that is perhaps the only national organization working to promote capitalist values among Latinos.
For Garza, it isn’t just about advocacy. It’s about eliminating the practical barriers, especially the three his parents faced, that keep Latinos from getting a fair shot in the free market.
A high school dropout, Garza never planned to work in public policy. He’d gotten his GED and become a police officer in Washington state when a desperate friend working in TV asked for a favor: Could Garza interview some politicians at the county courthouse?
He knew nothing about politics, but he did know one of these pols, Republican Rep. Sid Morrison. Garza had worked at Morrison’s company alongside his parents, picking cherries.
The experience led him to educate himself about politics. He ran for city council and was “shocked” when he won. He later worked on the George W. Bush campaign. When Garza eventually earned a job in the administration, he was scared to be exposed as “a kid from the sticks.”
He embodies one of Libre’s key strategies: making the message—and the messenger—relatable. He sees his younger self in the Dreamers he brought to Congress this year, who had never “had that kind of access … taking a massive amount of selfies.” Such access would be harder to come by should President Trump rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Garza has pushed back on several Trump policies, including reductions in refugee admissions. But while he acknowledges that many Latinos resent the president, that hasn’t stopped him from working with the administration. In September, he attended Trump’s Hispanic Heritage Month reception in the White House. He talks immigration reform with top aides like Marc Short and Jared Kushner.
But it’s his bipartisan network that makes Garza uniquely influential. He’s worked with the ACLU and Mark Zuckerberg on criminal-justice reform. He takes confidential meetings with “unlikely allies” hesitant to enter the political fray.
His biggest challenge is getting those on opposite ends of the political spectrum to trust one another. But while recent years have carved deep divides in Washington, Garza has found his job easier as Libre’s reach has grown.
“There’s a Spanish saying: ‘En pueblo hay fuerza—in numbers, there is strength,’” he said. “As Latinos, we’re just now finding our voice.”