Jan 30, 2009

Committee Preference Cards

Cue the jeopardy music, as legislators from the Texas House have until Monday at 5 o'clock to turn in their choices for the committees on which they wish to serve. I will be turning my choices to Speaker Straus today.

If your curious this image is from one of the actual cards members will use.

UPDATE: Here are the Senate selections.

Jan 27, 2009

Leroy and Landon

During the State of the State, I had the pleasure to sit next to a recovering soldier and his little boy. Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger, was one of the soldier's recognized by Governor Perry during the state of the state address for his perseverance and service to country. Leroy has been receiving medical attention at Brooke Army Medical Center. His right hand was blown off by a grenade.

I took a moment to thank him for his service. He explained his injury and his presence in Texas, he is from Washington state. Interestingly he has what most would describe as a "bionic" hand, or advanced articulated mechanical hand that was as impressive as Mr. Petry's attitude about his circumstance.

His son Landon was a bit shy with all the attention he and his father were receiving from the different House members and other guests but I was able to snap these pictures.

Our thanks to all the military service men and women who were present today and to all those quietly going about their service to our country. Your service is greatly appreciated.

State of The State

Governor Rick Perry is about to give his State of the State speech in the Texas House chamber. Here is a video link via the Monitor newspaper.

Paul Burka sets the stage for the speech.

Jason Embry at the Statesman does the same.

Jan 26, 2009

Cuz' Gets Big Job With The Vice-President

My dear little (47) cousin, Moises "Moe" Vela Jr., was recently appointed as director of administration for Vice President Joe Biden. Not bad cuz'!

This wasn't such a big surprise to many of us in the family though as he was previously a Clinton-Gore staff member at the White House in 1993 and, in Vice President Gore's second term he was chief financial officer and Gore's senior adviser on Hispanic affairs from 1996 to 2000.

In those glory years, Moe gave many of us from South Texas, incredible constituent service. I remember many a visit to the White House in those years.

The news was recently in the Monitor newspaper but I was first told by Moe's brother, Manuel "Manny" Vela, an attorney for Valley Baptist Health System, who welcomed us on the recent Rio Grande Valley legislative bus tour. I am shown here with Manny (far right), who once served as the chairman of the Cameron County Democratic Party and Harlingen mayor Cris Boswell.

Both cousins are sons of former Cameron County Judge Moises Vela and nephew of the late U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela.

Fewer House Committees Under Proposed Rules

"We should soon have an idea how well the Texas House will function under new Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A proposal Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, released to his colleagues this morning, recommends reducing the number of committees to 35 from 40 last session. If Solomons’ proposal is accepted there will be fewer chairmanships to go around and many House members with enough seniority or qualifications will be left out, making life a little difficult for Straus."

The rest of the story by Enrique Rangel at Lubbock Online Blog.

The committee I chair, Criminal Jurisprudence is consolidated with the Law Enforcement Committee under the proposed rule changes. Late word is that there is some talk of unbundling these two committees on the floor.

Jan 25, 2009

Farewell To the 2009 RGV Bus Tour

We commend to God (adieu) the good people who organized another successful Rio Grande Valley legislative bus tour. Our appreciation is extended to Rep. Hubert Vo and the other legislators who traveled to deep South Texas to learn about our growing area of the state.

A special thanks to our newly elected Speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst for participating in the visit to the Rio Grande Valley. Further thanks should be given to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, and state Sens. Eddie Lucio, Florence Shapiro, Leticia Van de Putte and Dan Patrick for their participation.

Here are a few pictures:

Jan 23, 2009

Legislators' Valley Bus Tour

This is day two of the Valley legislative bus tour.

Tonight at 7 p.m. legislators travel to the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) and the South Texas Veterans Healthcare Center with our Speaker of the House for the State of Texas. Rep. Eddie Lucio, III and I share the RAHC in our districts.

Before we sit down for dinner, Leonel Vela, M.D. MPH, dean of the RAHC, and Larry Alva, director for the South Texas Veterans Healthcare Center, will give provide tours of their facilities.

Jan 22, 2009

"Purplegate" and the "Purple Tunnel of Doom"

The inauguration ticket debacle marred an otherwise successful inauguration. Here is the troubling story described in recent press accounts. This inauguration misfortune occurred to more than one person well known to this representative and recent law enforcement admissions of missteps has failed to diminish the frustrations still held by many who traveled to yet failed to witness the historical inaugural.

If this happened to any others who happen to be reading this post, one option available is to join a Facebook group called: Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom.

A second option if you were part of the inaugural debacle is, "according to the Washington Post (which is quoting an internal congressional staffer email), purple (blue and silver) ticket holders who were denied access on Jan. 20, 2009 should not only email the JCCIC @ feedback@jccic.senate.gov with your stories and information to assist in the investigation, but also need to include your name and address if you would like to receive whatever “compensatory” items that the Committee decides to bestow upon us (if any)."

The Huffington Post has the story.

Jan 21, 2009

Gone To Texas

With the new president sworn-in, it is time to get to work. In Texas we have work of our own as the Texas House reconvenes on Thursday. As pioneers of days gone by have proclaimed I have - "Gone to Texas".

Jan 20, 2009

Inauguration Night

It was a night of celebration. There were over hundred balls and galas last night but the most sought after tickets were the ten official balls visited by the president and vice-president. I gave up my tickets to my son, Aron and his former Georgetown roommate Kurt Adams, who attended the Southern Inaugural Ball.

President Obama and the First Lady did indeed arrive at the ball, addressed the audience and did dance. Here is their entrance to the event.

Best Photo of the Day

President Barack Obama Sworn In

"A front seat to history," that's was my mantra to my children as we fought the bitter, below freezing temperatures at the inauguration of our 44th President of the United States. Very early this morning we joined millions as we traversed the crowded and at times clogged Washington landscape.

After several hours of walking and standing in line we finally made it to our seats. My desk mate did well because our seats were very very close to the swearing in ceremony. As a result, my daughter took some great photos. Here is one, as the president takes his oath of office.

The view behind us on the national mall and the sense of hope and opportunity contained in the millions present are one of the most enduring occurrences of this inaugural.

Satellite Image of Inauguration

This half-meter resolution image of the United States Capitol, Washington D.C. was collected by the GeoEye-1 satellite on Jan. 20, 2009 to commemorate the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. The image, taken through high, whispy white clouds, shows the masses of people attending the Inaugural Celebration.

Jan 19, 2009

Witness To History

Tomorrow is the big day. At this time, in this very place, tomorrow our country breaks one cultural barrier and moves into a new chapter of history. I brought the family to be a witness to history. They were there when Obama came to Edinburg at UTPA and I brought them here to see this historic effort come to its full fruition.

It will be near freezing. My hope is that with the millions present and the positive energy generated we just might literally and figuratively move the thermometer of the nation upward.

History At The Lincoln Memorial

My daughter and I enjoyed a day at the Lincoln Memorial. Here is a photo that someone took after the program ended. The opening ceremonies was filled with positive energy with a sense of the overwhelming potential for our future. At a time when our world is confronted with such tremendous challenges it is indeed a good way to start.

Jan 18, 2009

The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial

President-elect Barack Obama will kick off the schedule of official inaugural activities in Washington, D.C., with a welcome event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday afternoon. The event will be free and open to the public.

The concert at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring Beyonce, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and other stars, is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET. Gates allowing access to the area open at 8 a.m. ET. (A recording of the show will be broadcast nationally at 7 p.m. ET.)

Jan 16, 2009

Adios Señor Bush

President Bush gave his farewell speech last night. Our man from Texas is coming home. History will not likely be kind to President Bush. Strangely, without George Bush we would not have witnessed a Barack Obama elected at this moment in time. For that we can be grateful. Without a Ying there is no Yang. Such are the curiosities of history.

The country has moved on and is ready to turn the page. The inauguration on Tuesday marks the formal beginning of what I hope are more productive times. Adios Señor Bush.

Jan 15, 2009

Leaving Town Alive

The Texas House of Representatives adjourned today. Like in previous sessions, many members will be out of town for the inauguration and Martin Luther King observances.

The small break should help some deal with the pressure that comes with the job here under the dome.

I have accepted an invitation to attend the swearing-in of our new president, Barack Obama, and I very much am looking forward to it. The weather may not cooperate and could make the hours in front of the capitol uncomfortable. Regardless, this is a historic moment that shouldn't be missed, the weather be damned.

I will do my best to join the millions blogging and tweeting about this historic event.

Upon returning I will participate in bringing fellow legislators and our new Speaker down for the Valley Legislative Bus Tour. Our primary focus will be in the lower Valley but we have a scheduled event in Hidalgo County as well.

Jan 13, 2009

Everyone Needs a Mini-Me

It's true. Everyone in life deserves their own mini-me (children that is). You haven't hit the big time until you got one following you around, asking to go to the bathroom in the middle of your big swearing-in, or following your every move on the floor of the House of Representatives.

My mini-me got so much into the full spirit of today's ceremony that he swore himself in when they told everyone to raise their hand for the oath. My grandson, Aaron Austin Peña (3), took to his feet and started repeating the words of the oath of office. My thanks to W. Joe Deshotel, Rep. Joe Deshotel's son, for having the presence of mind to take this priceless photo.

W. Joe Deshotel, is also a blogger at Pollabear.org where he comments on the latest in political issues of interest.

The only thing left is for him to break out into rap and say that he is holding the world for ransom for the sum of, "100 billion dollars".

The kid is already racking up the bucks with the merchandising and print sales.

Keep Hope Alive!

The 81st Regular Session Has Begun

Austin - Texas State Representative Aaron Peña was sworn in to his 4th term today at the State Capitol in Austin. After the ceremony House members quickly moved on to the important business of electing Representative Joe Straus the new Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

"Joe Straus is a good friend and I congratulate him on his unanimous election as our new speaker," said Representative Peña. "We have been able to succeed in the past because of our willingness to work with members on both sides of the aisle. In these dire economic circumstances and with our state facing a grim budget outlook it becomes so much more important to put aside partisanship and do what is best for the state of Texas. That is why I invited Speaker Straus to join our colleagues in a tour of the Rio Grande Valley."

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership will be hosting legislators from across the state in a tour of the Valley from January 22nd through January 25th. Representative Peña has secured a commitment from Speaker Straus to join the tour. This year's tour will emphasize communities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley but will include a stop in Weslaco in Hidalgo County on the evening of January 22nd. The Speaker and the legislators will meet for a reception with mayors of Hidalgo County at 7:00 p.m. at a private residence.

"While the Partnership usually alternates visits to the lower and upper Rio Grande Valley I thought that it was important that our new speaker and the other legislators on the tour have an opportunity to meet with community and business leader from Hidalgo County," said Representative Peña. "In the past the strength of our Rio Grande Valley delegation has depended upon regional cooperation. I look forward to continuing to work for a stronger South Texas."

Representative Peña was elected to a fourth term as State Representative from House District 40 after securing a victory in the Democratic Primary. He did not face a challenge in November. House District 40 includes the communities of Edcouch, Edinburg, Elsa, La Joya, La Villa, Sullivan City and northern Hidalgo County.

"It remains a great honor to serve my community in the Texas House," said Representative Peña. "With the opening of every session there is a wonderful opportunity to do great work for our citizens. I thank my constituents for their faith in electing me to represent them. I look forward to another session in service and as always my office remains open to any suggestions or ideas."

For further information on the legislative tour contact Veronica Villegas at 956/458-6557.

Jan 12, 2009

Comptroller says State Revenue will Drop $9.1 billion

State revenue will drop $9.1 billion in next two years according to State Comptroller Susan Combs. The biennial revenue estimate was released this morning. This revenue number is worse than many expected.

The revenue estimate covers the 2010-2011 fiscal years and is based mostly on sales tax forecasts. The figure does not include the $6.7 billion in the state's "rainy day fund."

The Biennial Revenue Estimate is available here: http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxbud/bre2010/

Jan 10, 2009

HBO To Cover Inaugural “Opening Celebration” at Lincoln Memorial

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that HBO will exclusively televise WE ARE ONE: THE OBAMA INAUGURAL CELEBRATION AT THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL, the Opening Celebration for the 56th Presidential Inaugural, a celebration of America to be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on SUNDAY, JAN. 18 (7:00-8:30 p.m. ET/PT). HBO will televise the event that evening on an open signal, working with all of its distributors to allow Americans across the country with access to cable, telcos or satellite television to join in the Opening Celebration for free.

As an aside, I have been asked to inform those traveling to the presidential inauguration in Washington that one of our own has a Washington D.C. hotel (Embassy Suites - Convention Center) reservation available for purchase (at cost) for the Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 17-18 checking out 19) before the inaugural. Call 956-533-6330 for info.


On Friday I attended the ceremonial open house dedication of the new 92-bed Hidalgo County Substance Treatment Facility. The event was covered by the Rio Grande Guardian.

The open house, was sponsored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which funds the facility, the Hidalgo County Board of Judges, Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, and the Adult Probation Department. I am shown here with our local district judges: Rose Reyna, Israel Ramon, Letty Lopez, Juan Partida, Mario Ramirez, Ricardo Rodriguez and Bobby Flores. Also present were Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas.

The Monitor also covered the story.

Photo credit: Joey Gomez

Jan 8, 2009

Countdown to Texas Inaugural

Five days and counting down to the ceremonial induction of individuals elected to serve in the 81st Regular Session of the Texas Legislature.

Please accept this invitation to join me in the inauguration festivities of the 81st Legislature in Austin. The Texas House will swear in its membership at noon on January 13, 2009. Thereafter we will follow up with electing a new speaker to lead the Texas House. Rep. Joe Straus (shown here in a Christmas photo I took of him and his family) is the presumptive speaker we are expecting to lead the body in the upcoming session.

The House Chamber will open its doors to the public at 10:30 am for seating in the gallery. We will have tamales, pan dulce and other refreshments in my office, E1.512.

I am looking forward to seeing as many friends from South Texas (or anywhere else for that matter) that our gallery can hold. As always, your State Capitol and our office have an open door throughout the year.

Please feel welcome to come by and join us.

Spiderman and Obama Team Up For Inaugural

NEW YORK - To celebrate the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama, Marvel is proud to present an all-new story teaming up one of the world's most recognizable political figures with the world's greatest super-hero as President-Elect Obama joins Spider-Man in Spidey Meets the President!

This all new story written by Zeb Wells and art by Todd Nauck and Frank D'Armata takes place in Washington , D.C. on Inauguration Day and finds one of Spider-Man's oldest foes attempting to thwart the swearing in ceremony of the 44th President of the United States . The story will be featured as a bonus story in Marvel Comic's Amazing Spider-Man #583, available in comic book shops nation-wide on January 14th, 2009. A special variant cover by artist Phil Jimenez featuring the President-Elect and Spider-Man will be available for this issue.

"When we heard that President-Elect Obama is a collector of Spider-Man comics, we knew that these two historic figures had to meet in our comics' Marvel Universe," says Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada. "Historic moments such as this one can be reflected in our comics because the Marvel Universe is set in the real world. A Spider-Man fan moving into the Oval Office is an event that must be commemorated in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man."

For fans of Spider-Man and those wanting to own a part of this historic moment in American history, visit your local comic book retailer on January 14, 2009 to purchase the issue.

Living Presidents Gather With Obama

In the build up to inauguration day, President George W. Bush poses with President-elect Barack Obama, and former presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Jan 7, 2009


“I phoned Aaron on Sunday morning about 10 a.m. .... In an earlier interview with the Guardian, Peña, D-Edinburg, gave a different account of events."

That statement, made by a South Texas bigwig, to imply that I lied to him and the public in a news story, is completely false.

As the photo indicates his call came on Monday at 7:30 a.m. not Sunday morning (when the breakfast meeting took place). On the previous day I was at the breakfast meeting in question with at least two others in attendance (easily verifiable). Thanks to technology and this blog I can show that my accuser is mistaken. Unfortunately, I was not asked at the time by the reporter to respond to the accusation before it was broadcast to the world.

I am sad to say that in the political world deflecting personal attacks is now a run of the mill event for most political figures. Is it any wonder why "good people" stay out of politics. Although the coarsening of public discourse continues to increase most elected officials simply ignore petty personal attacks. I normally do that. But must one continue to do that after the third or fourth event?

Creative politicians like Barack Obama have websites like "Fight the Smears" that respond to attacks instantly. I guess this is a similar attempt.

It is probably relevant at this time when many at the state capitol are talking about an end to retribution, personal attacks and in finding forgiveness to examine an age old debate that I have had with a member of my staff: In the political arena, that is for the most part driven by reward and punishment, what is the role of forgiveness? How many times must a Christian officeholder, for example, turn the other cheek when individuals personally attack him repeatedly? Biblical teachings have one answer:

Matthew 18:21-22

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Friends coarsely remind me, "Yes, and Jesus is dead and he was killed by religious, political types!" In order to be a successful public figure must one become the type of elected official that one despises? I don't think so.

In my real world I called the local bigwig who made the statement, a person I call a friend, and told him his attacks were not constructive and more importantly based on incorrect facts that were fed to him (by good ol' South Texas political thugs). He said he would re-explore his statements and be the first to apologize if he was mistaken. He told me he would call me back.

Thank God for technology. There, I feel better already.


Mi Valle 2008

Before moving on to a new legislative year let's take a look back. Courtesy of the Rio Grande Guardian, here is the year 2008 in pictures for our South Texas.

Jan 6, 2009

Inaugural Galas

Here are the events:

Sunday, January 18th
President-elect Barack Obama will kick off the schedule of official inaugural activities in Washington, D.C., with a welcome event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday afternoon. The event will be free and open to the public.

• Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring Beyonce, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and other stars, is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. ET. Gates allowing access to the area open at 8 a.m. ET. (A recording of the show will be broadcast nationally at 7 p.m. ET.)

Latino Inaugural Gala
Date: January 18.
Location: Union Station.
Time: 7:30 PM.
Hosts: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), the Democratic National Committee Hispanic Caucus (DNC), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), and Voto Latino.
Size: 3,500.
Program: The event will feature performances and entertainment by Marc Anthony, Alejandro Sanz, Lila Downs, Angelica Vale, and others.
Food and drink: Hors d'oeuvres and limited open bar with beer, wine, Champagne and a signature cocktail.
Ticket price: $200.
Tickets are available here.

Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball
Date: January 19.
Location: Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
Time: 7 PM.
Host: Texas State Society.
Size: 13,000.
Theme: All-things Texas. The centerpiece of the event: A Texas State Fair with vendors from the state on hand selling everything from boots to belt buckles to Texas wines.
Program: Texan performers, including Tracy Byrd, Jack Ingram, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Kevin Fowler, Dale Watson, and more, will put on a country-music extravaganza.
Food and drink: An open bar and Texas-inspired hors d'oeuvres will be available all night long.
Ticket price: $225 for TSS members; $300 for nonmembers.
Tickets are available here.

• Monday's "Kid's Inaugural: We are the Future" concert at the Verizon Center begins at 7 p.m. ET. Doors open at 5 p.m. ET. The Jonas Brothers are among the entertainers at that show. (The Disney Channel will broadcast from the event, starting at 8 p.m. ET.)

The Southern Inaugural Ball
(Regional Inaugural Balls)
Date: January 20.
Location: Throughout the city.
Host: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
• The Eastern Inaugural Ball, for guests from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, will take place at Union Station.
• The Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball, for guests from Maryland, Virginia, DC, New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia, will take place at the Washington Convention Center.
• The Midwest Inaugural Ball, for guests from Kansas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Missouri, will be held at the Washington Convention Center.
• The Southern Inaugural Ball, for guests from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, will be held at the National Guard Armory.• The Western Inaugural Ball, for guests from Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, and Guam, will be held at the Washington Convention Center.
Ticket price: $150.
Tickets will be available to invited guests.


What a game! That sure burned off some of the remaining stress from our little capitol episode from this past weekend. My son and I drove by the U.T. Tower last night to see it lit up in all it's glory. There were people whoopin' and a hollerin'. Now if we could just get that #1 up there that would be the icing on the cake.

How the Speaker's Race Was Won

Laylan Copelin from the Austin American Statesman has a revealing and accurate description of how Rep. Joe Straus won the race to be Speaker of the Texas House. It is worth a read. One humanizing story comes out of the January 2 meeting of the ABC's where they were going to chose their "consensus candidate":

"The lawmakers tried to burn the ballots in Cook's fireplace. They joked about the "white smoke" that signifies when a pope is selected. But they had forgotten to open the damper, and the smoke set off a smoke alarm."

I like the Sistine Chapel/white smoke metaphor for picking our Roman Catholic Popes. I know I used the same metaphor back in December and several posts back, but it is the humbling description (setting off the fire alarm) Copelin lays out that reminds us of our human fallibilities in the face of significant events, that I found compelling. By the way my good friend Joe Straus is Jewish not Catholic, so our metaphor was a bit off base.

What was not off base was the turning point described in the story. It is fairly accurate. One day this small bit of history will be fleshed out in greater detail. Until then, read Copelin's story. Reality is always stranger than fiction, I always say.