Mar 31, 2010

Census Day: Morning Rally In The Valley

The McAllen 2010 Census Complete Count Committee, headed by Chairman and Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, is organizing a Regional Census Rally Thursday April 1, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., at the McAllen Convention Center.

All Valley cities and schools, community and civic organizations, and all Valley media outlets are invited to be part of the Regional Census Rally. The date coincides with National Census Day, when all Americans are asked to fill out and mail-in their Census Questionnaire.

The event, featuring school bands, public personalities and various activities, is expected to be broadcast live by TV and radio stations.

“Census counts form some of the basis for representation in U.S. Representative, State Senator, State Representative and City Commission seats. Census counts also form some of the basis for sharing federal funds such as public education, transportation and grants,” said Chief Rodriguez. “A complete count will assure us all the best opportunities for our communities. Please stand up, be counted and encourage others to be counted as well.”

The McAllen 2010 Census Complete Count Committee is hoping for participation from people and organizations from all four south Texas counties.

For more information, contact City of McAllen Public Information Director Roy Cantu at (956) 792-7779.

See you there!

TribBlog: McCraw Says Mexico Worse Than Colombia

The violence raging in Mexico’s drug war is worse now than the terror that enveloped Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s ever was, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state lawmakers Tuesday.

"Colombia was never threatened like the government of Mexico is with the level of violence," McCraw told the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness at a Capitol hearing.

The committee and its chairman, state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, focused many of their questions about the state's emergency preparedness on the current violence just across the border in northern Mexico, particularly in Juarez. "Each and every day we hear about killings, shootings, assassinations, kidnappings," said Peña, whose hometown is about 10 miles from the Mexican city of Reynosa. While McCraw said the violence will get worse before it gets better and has already outpaced the scariness of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel in Colombia, at least one border expert disagreed, saying that the United States would never let the situation in its neighboring country devolve into the lawlessness that plagued Colombia. “I think maybe he’s exaggerating,” said University of Texas at El Paso professor Howard Campbell.

Peña asked McCraw to compare the violence in Mexico to that during the drug war in Colombia. McCraw said the situation in Mexico is worse. The United States eventually intervened to help the Colombian government quell the violence and take down Pablo Escobar in 1993. “That hasn’t happened in Mexico,” McCraw said. Though Mexican President Felipe Calderon is trying to control the violence, McCraw said those efforts so far have not worked. “There has never been a more significant threat as it relates to cartels and drug and human smuggling on the border today,” he said. Juarez alone has seen more than 4,800 drug war deaths since 2008, according to recent reports in the El Paso Times, including at least 600 killings this year.

Lawmakers on Tuesday said their primary concern is preventing the violence from spilling over into Texas — or at least stopping more of it from spilling over. "Do you see this getting worse before it gets better, and what can we do as state to make it better?" Peña asked. McCraw said the war is likely to worsen before it improves and state legislators need to continue doling out dollars for state border security initiatives. Since 2005, lawmakers have spent at least $200 million for state-led border security efforts. "We can never be too good," McCraw said.

Alex Posey, tactical analyst for Latin America at Stratfor global intelligence company, agreed with McCraw that Mexico is now worse off than Colombia was at the height of its drug war. President Calderon’s plans so far have mostly amplified the violence, Posey said. What makes the situation in Mexico worse is the deep corruption. “From the federal security forces all the way down to the local mayor, corruption is completely pervasive throughout the whole spectrum,” he said. In Colombia, Posey said, the government was able to weed out some of the corruption that powered the cartels.

Another problem in Mexico, Posey said, is that the regions the federal government and cartels are warring over — primarily northern border areas — have never been truly controlled by the government. “This is the land of Pancho Villa,” he said. “People just go out there and run around and do whatever they want.” The Colombian government, on the other hand, never lost complete control over metropolitan areas where cartels once held sway, Posey said. With U.S. help, they were able to retake power.

And that’s the last big factor, Posey said: American help. The Colombian government was open to military help from the United States to bring down Escobar and the Medellin cartel. In Mexico, the government would face severe political blowback if it were to allow U.S. intervention. “As of now, U.S. military boots on the ground in Mexico is just not going to happen,” Posey said. “It’s a very culturally sensitive issue.” Until that intervention takes place or the Mexican drug cartels come to some internal agreement and then make peace with the federal government, Posey said he expects the bloodletting to escalate for the foreseeable future. “Definitely years,” he said, “decades maybe.”

But UTEP's Campbell — an anthropology professor and border crime expert — said Mexico has not seen the mass civilian casualties like those the Medellin caused with car bombs and airplane attacks. Colombia still has more than 2 million internal refugees displaced by drug-related violence, he said. Flight from the Mexican violence is increasing, he said, but nowhere near that level. And in Mexico, the cartels have not taken to murdering high-profile politicians and businessmen on the scale the Medellin did in Colombia, Campell said. While the violence in Mexico is certainly frightening and growing, and comparisons to Colombia are not unwarranted, he said, it’s not worse. Mexico is larger, more resilient, and closer to the United States. “The U.S. is not going to let Mexico fall as hard as Colombia,” he said.

By Brandi Grissom who joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she has been a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors 1st place award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her reporting about immigration issues. She previously worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and the Associated Press, and was managing editor at the Daily Texan. A native of Alliance, Nebraska, she has a degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin.

Mar 30, 2010

Texas Officials Address Border Security

Mexican Military Helicopter Incursions

Authorities have released photos from a second Mexican military helicopter sighting in Zapata County. It is reported to have occurred around 3:30 p.m., Sunday. The helicopter had the word “Marina” written on it and hovered in the area for about 5-10 minutes. This comes after another Mexican military helicopter was spotted in a nearby community about three weeks ago.

Today I spoke with Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Office of Homeland Security, about the matter. He said he had no credible evidence of a joint military operation occurring in the area. DPS and TOHS are therefore taking all the necessary precautions and investigating the alleged incursions into Texas and American air space.

Living in the area, I want to assure the citizens of our community that I will give this and other related matters top priority. Today we began our committee's work on border security and will soon bring the committee to the Valley. As always, my office is open to your suggestions.

First Hearing: Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness

Steve McCraw, Director of the Texas Office of Homeland Security testifies before the committee.

Jack Colley, Texas Division of Emergency Management testifies before the committee.

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court addresses continuity of government issues.

A Gavel of Mesquite

I could ask for no better monument over my grave than a good mesquite tree, its roots down deep like those of people who belong to the soil, its hardy branches, leaves and fruit holding memories of the soil. . . .”
— J. Frank Dobie, Texas writer

Of all the mesquite in the United States, 76 percent of it grows in Texas. My ancient ancestors used all elements of the mesquite: beans, bean pods, leaves, roots, trunk, limbs, bark and gum. Historians believe that mesquite was originally limited to extreme South Texas. It is this hardy emblem of Texas and the borderlands that caused me to bring this symbolism to today's hearing.

Today we had our first hearing of the Select Committee of Emergency Preparedness. Since so much of the committee's attention is on border security and my home region I thought it was fitting to use a gavel made of pure mesquite shaped from a native tree from the borderlands. During my last tenure as a chairman I used a gavel fashioned from the famed "Treaty Oak".

Just small mementos to pass down to my children along with, I hope, an appreciation for the history and culture of Texas.

Border Violence and the Committee Work that Lies Ahead

Reports indicate that in the last month over 100 people have been killed in the city of Reynosa. This hard working and once peaceful town has become the latest victim in the vicious drug war blighting northern Mexico from Chihuahua to Tamaulipas.

I live in Edinburg. It is where I raise my kids and serve as a state legislator. Like many in the Valley and the 2.3 million people in Texas who live along the border, my family has deep cultural, social and economic ties to our southern neighbors.

The upsurge of violence across the border cannot – and will not - be ignored. That's why I'm proud to have been asked by House Speaker Joe Straus to Chair the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness.

The committee is charged to help ensure we keep Texans safe by taking a good look at our current level of preparedness regarding criminal activity, natural catastrophes and major disasters. That means coming up with a plan so that we are prepared to prevent, respond to and recover from natural and criminal threats.

The committee's report - due in December - will look at things like the state's capacity for preventing violence in Mexico from spreading across the border, how local, state and federal law enforcement agencies can work together even more effectively to keep us safe, and how we should respond to potential threats from transnational cartels.

The committee will hold its first hearing today in Austin at the Capitol. Testimony will address border violence and other security issues. We will hold another hearing in McAllen on May 17th - one of many across Texas in 2010. The public is welcome to attend.

The extreme fear mongering that crop up in our media and politics serves no one. But the problem of border violence is real and it affects us all. Recently, a shooting and kidnapping in our home community is thought to be linked to the cartel battle. The U.S. State Department has issued travel advisories to certain cities in Northern Mexico and the Texas Department of Public Safety has increased its patrol, surveillance and tactical capacity along the border.

These events deserve a thoughtful, measured and intelligent response that makes Texas safer. That is what this committee is all about. Along the border, our stories and lives intertwine. We share a common past. I am confident the committee's work will contribute to us creating a shared, bright future.

Mar 29, 2010

2010 Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop

The 2010 Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop, the largest free public event of its kind, will take place on June 19 from 10 a.m. until 3 pm. at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The theme of the 2010 workshop will once again be Ready or we continue to stress that everyone must always be prepared for a major hurricane visiting our region of the Gulf Coast.

Focused on providing families with the information they need as hurricane season begins, the event has grown each year and will likely draw more then 3,000 attendees in 2010. During the workshop, an expert from the National Hurricane Center will give an update on recent improvements in hurricane forecasting and what the 2010 Hurricane Season has in store for Texas. Also, local Emergency Management experts will be on hand to explain the latest plans for hurricane preparedness along the upper Texas coast.

The popular kids’ area will once again feature interactive learning activities. The Energizer Bunny and Louie the Lightning Bug will also make appearances. Kids will learn about tropical cyclones and how to prepare for an approaching hurricane through a fun, educational experience that teaches them to respect,but not fear,these strong storms.

There will also be a number of vendors on hand displaying items related to hurricane preparedness. Many items will also be given away on a first-come,first-served basis,such as hurricane tracking charts, tip sheets, a comprehensive booklet on hurricanes from the National Weather Service, as well as other vendor-provided items.

The 2010 Hurricane Workshop is once again being sponsored by CenterPoint Energy,the City of Houston and the National Weather Service. Harris County Office of Emergency Management, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and the Weather Museum are also active participants in making this a successful educational event. The workshop is free and open to the public. Updates on the event program and registration information can be found prior to the event at

Migrant Students Receive Recognition

Austin - Outstanding high school migrant students from throughout Texas were recognized during a special ceremony on March 29 during the 23rd annual Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony at The University of Texas at Austin. Edinburg Economedes' Sofia Velazquez and PSJA's Rogelio Ortiz were awarded $2,000 scholarships and named students of the year. Carlissa Garcia of La Joya High School was recognized as a 2010 Exemplary Migrant Student and also received a $2,000 scholarship. State Rep. Aaron Peña presented the scholarships and awards to the students.

The ceremony, held at the university's Union ballroom, honored Texas high school students who completed distance learning courses through the university's Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program in the Division of Continuing & Innovative Education. The program provides flexible courses and support services that enable migrant students to meet or exceed high school graduation requirements.

The students' commitment and dedication to their studies has certainly paid off. These special recognitions and scholarships are a testament to values of hard work and perseverance. It was an honor to present these deserving young students with this special award and to recognize their parents for their commitment and support.

Sofia Velazquez is currently ranked second in her class of 696 at Johnny Economedes High School. Since her junior year, she has been a member of the Business Professionals of America, Spanish National Honor Society, Sky’s the Limit Migrant Club, University Interscholastic (UIL) Science Team, and the school’s cheerleading squad. Currently, Sofia serves as president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the Green Club, and team captain of the UIL Extemporaneous Speaking Team. Through these organizations, Sofia has accumulated more than 300 hours of community volunteer hours.

In spite of enrolling late each year at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, Rogelio Ortiz has an outstanding 99.94 grade average in his school’s most rigorous Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses. Rogelio’s challenging course load has not prevented him from excelling in sports. For the past three years, Rogelio has participated on his school’s soccer team, cross country team, and track team. Last year, Rogelio earned the Coaches Award for his achievements in track. In addition to academics and sports, Rogelio also finds time to engage in his school’s extracurricular activities. Currently the reporter of the Graduating Excellent Migrant Students Club, Rogelio is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Interact Club where he participated in community service projects. Rogelio also tutors migrant students at the school’s migrant lab.

With a 3.8 grade point average at La Joya High School, Carlissa Garcia ranks third in a graduating class of 505 seniors. As a freshman, Carlissa enrolled in two onsite-graded courses from the UT Migrant Student Program, Health Education and World Geography, and earned a 92 and 90, respectively. In addition to earning Honor Roll throughout high school, Carlissa was recently honored with the U.S. Border Patrol Head of the Class Award and was inducted to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Forty exemplary migrant students featured in the "2010 Exemplary Migrant Students" publication were recognized during the ceremony. Rep Peña presented college scholarships to five students, including the two Exemplary Migrant Students of the Year, the top two Exemplary Migrant Students and for the first time the winner of a creative award. All five $2,000 scholarships were provided by the Exxon Mobil Foundation, which has given annual scholarships to the program since 2002.

Since it began more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 25,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.

The Census: This is Your Future. Don't Leave it Blank.

The University of Texas-Pan American wants you to be counted in the 2010 United States Census. UTPA has been working on a marketing campaign focused on spreading awareness about the census to faculty, staff, students and the surrounding community. Check out their YouTube video above.

Our office has also done it's part to get the University community to get involved. Here's our PSA:

Mar 28, 2010

Good Morning!

What does the morning offer?
But a chance to hold your heart,
To lift your tears to the sunlight
And pray heaven will do its part.

Tears you cried in the darkness
Now mingle with dew on the lawn,
And sorrow fades away into vapor
At the start of a new day's dawn.

What does the morning offer?
But a chance to embrace where you are,
To cherish those who surround you
Every heartbeat … Every minute … Every hour.

Mar 27, 2010

Redistricting, Redistricting, Redistricting

Up early to join in the National Conference of State Legislatures's (NCSL) National Redistricting Law Conference being held not far from the capitol building.

As the Texas Tribune highlights, redistricting in Texas has some new realities and challenges.

Looks like I'm heading to Lubbock as the House Redistricting Committee heads West on Wednesday, March 31. The hearing will be held at the Texas Tech University School of Law in the Donald Hunt Courtroom, Room 156.

Mar 25, 2010

Tomorrow We Finally Break Ground On Our Drug Treatment Center

The Substance Abuse Treatment Center we dreamed and fought so hard to bring to our community has a "new" groundbreaking date. The ceremony will take place at the site of construction behind the Hidalgo County Health Clinic on 3105 E. Schunior at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, March 26th.

This time around, I am informed that I have been placed on the agenda and will be able to express my absolute joy that we are finally moving on this long overdue project.

It was May of 2007 when we got the news that our project was approved in our state budget and despite some unnecessary foot dragging by the previous county administration this groundbreaking marks a real turning point in the future development of this project.

If things go undelayed we should open doors sometime near April of 2011.

Please come as my guest if your in town.

The Monitor covered the event.

Mar 24, 2010

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and Drug Violence

I welcome the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to join the effort to meaningfully address the drug violence here on the border. Speaking for many in Texas, the U.S. Government has not done its part in securing our borders from the violence brought on by drugs. It would be a welcomed addition to have meaningful input from our federal counterparts. Texas has for far too long had to pick up the slack from an insufficient federal presence. The most recent request for an expedited hearing is welcomed.

I must emphasize that taking and being receptive to "local" input from the people who live here on the border is essential.

Here is our editorial on the growing drug problem.

Mar 23, 2010

WWII Hero Pedro Cano To Be Recognized at May 18 Ceremony

WWII hero Pedro Cano will be posthumously honored with the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Edinburg on May 18, 2010.

Today I am announcing that Governor Rick Perry will present the medal to the Cano family at the Edinburg Municipal Auditorium at 3:00 p.m. HCR 5, is the legislation that I authored that conferred the medal to the Edinburg soldier for heroic acts performed in service to country.

I am so proud the State of Texas has elected to recognize the bravery of Pedro Cano. More than a namesake for a road and an elementary school, this unassuming soldier from Edinburg exemplified the best in all of us. From the humblest of beginnings, he was one of our greatest.

Pedro Cano earned our nation's second highest military decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his heroism in WWII. Cano was presented the medal at a ceremony in Edinburg's town square on April 26, 1946. Thousands of residents witnesses the event. Tragically, Cano's life ended six years later in a traffic accident in Pharr.

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the State of Texas. It is designated by a concurrent resolution of the Legislature. It is awarded to a member of the state or federal military forces who voluntarily performs a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice involving risk of life that is so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the person for gallantry and intrepidity.

You may remember that we previously secured the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor for another Edinburg hero, Freddy Gonzalez. Edinburg now boasts the distinction of being the only city in Texas with two recipients of our state's highest military honor which has been awarded to six serviceman prior to Cano.

Everyone is invited to the free event. Please come as my guest.

Obama Signs Landmark Health Care Bill

Mar 21, 2010

Senate Health Reform Legislation Passes 219-212

The House of Representatives passed the Senate health reform legislation and a package of improvements, the first time in our country's history that a comprehensive health care bill has passed both houses of Congress. The vote was 219-212.

Mar 18, 2010

Drug Treatment Center to Break Ground

The Substance Abuse Treatment Center we fought so hard to bring to our community has a "new" groundbreaking date. The ceremony will take place at the site of construction behind the Hidalgo County Health Clinic on 3105 E. Schunior at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, March 26th.

Once it is completed the 11,000 square foot facility will serve as a substance abuse treatment center and primary care clinic. I secured the $3 million for the project during the 80th Legislature. Site work has already begun and construction is expected to be completed in April 2011.

Our community needs this facility to open and begin offering the critical treatment services for individuals and families battling addiction. There has been a lot of work at the state and local level to get this project to this point but we can not let up. We must continue to move forward and provide our counselors, doctors and treatment professionals the tools they need to combat substance abuse and its terrible effects on individuals, families and our community.

Hidalgo County will fund the operations of the clinic with local, state and federal dollars. Treatment, education and law enforcement are vital components in fighting drugs and its disastrous consequences to our community. State and local budgets must include more funding for substance abuse treatment and diversion programs for low level, non-violent offenders.

Law enforcement continues to work tirelessly to keep our schools and neighborhoods safe but it will never be enough. Educating our children and adults about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse along with providing access to meaningful treatment and rehabilitation services are key to our efforts in this fight.

I've been looking forward to seeing movement on this project for a long time. I hope to see many of you there.

Mar 17, 2010

The Civil Justice Award

I received a Civil Justice Award today at a ceremony held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. My thanks to everyone involved for the recognition. It was the largest crowd I have ever had at an event in McAllen. I must say it was a nice touch to present the wife with a bouquet of roses. That's worth an extra year or two in public service.

Mar 16, 2010

Heading Back To The Borderlands

My meetings here at the Capitol with legislative leaders on border security and with the Chief Justice on judicial issues were constructive and will surely lead to a productive first hearing on Tuesday, March 30th.

With that accomplished it's time to fly back to the borderlands. I am told I will be receiving an award tomorrow at the chamber of commerce. That should prove interesting.

If you want to stop by the office in the Valley, I should be in.

Mar 15, 2010

New Twitter Site to PrepareTexas

On this Ides of March it is essential to be warned to guard against a great peril on our doorstep.

With the news reported today of spillover violence in my home community, our neighboring Mexican city of Reynosa and the murder of the U.S. citizens at the American Consulate in Juarez, has caused my official Twitter site to be consumed with increasing reports of drug violence.

I have created another Twitter page entitled PrepareTexas in order to direct the valuable information.

It has become my regular practice to monitor the chatter from Internet sites from Mexico and other national security organizations. Because of the attack on journalists, the Internet is now the quickest and sometimes the only source of information coming out of the cartel controlled regions of Mexico. I have found many individuals providing valuable information on their Twitter accounts.

As our Twitter account name suggests, it is essential that we prepare Texas for all scenarios so that we can continue to enjoy our way of life and provide security for our families.

Please join us in our efforts; and I invite any and all comments and suggestions.

Good Morning From Under The Dome

I'm in the Capitol office all day today. If your in town please free to stop in.

Mar 14, 2010

Dance In The Rain

”Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Villa de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Reynosa

On this day our neighboring Mexican border city, Reynosa, was founded on 14 March 1749. It was originally named Villa de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Reynosa or the village of our lady of Guadalupe from Reynosa.

The pioneers of the Villa preceded from El Nuevo Reino de León, especially from Monterrey, Cadereyta, Cerralvo and El Pilón. The town was composed with 50 families. It was given the name of Reynosa as a tribute to the town with the same name in Spain.

So much of my own family history comes from the city of Reynosa.

It is the common history of the larger community here along the Texas/Mexico border that causes many of us living here great concern. The city of Reynosa and several other cities in Tamaulipas have suffered from the growing drug violence attributed to turf battles between the powerful Gulf drug cartel and their former allies, a gang of hit men known as the Zetas.

U.S. citizens, here and across the nation, are concerned about spillover violence and the larger human, cultural and economic effects on our nation.

On this 261st anniversary of a community that has such an impact on our region let us rededicate ourselves to the difficult work ahead and pray for it's salvation.

Mar 13, 2010

Another Push To Participate In The Census

Hidalgo County’s return rate for the 2000 census mailing was 58 percent, well below the national average of 72 percent.

Improving that rate is critical and that's why local officials and community leaders are giving another push for participation in the national census on the eve of the mailing of the survey forms.

The mailing of census forms to addresses nationwide begins Monday. The forms, which will be in English and Spanish in South Texas counties, include prepaid postage to be mailed back by April 1.

At my house we just received our census questionnaire and immediately sent it back.

Census-takers will be visiting addresses after that date to check up on households for which no form has been returned.

Here is our PSA aimed at the university (UTPA) in my district.

Spring Forward Into Daylight Saving Time

It's time for the first ritual of spring - it's time for Texas to 'Spring Forward'. It's time to change the clocks. It's Daylight Saving Time.

If you cannot remember which direction the clock goes, remember this saying, “Spring forward, fall back”. On Sunday, March 14, 2010, at 2 a.m. eastern standard time we will spring forward.

For lovers of history, here's a little history lesson on why we have and use daylight saving time.

Mar 11, 2010

Planning a Hearing on Border Drug Violence

With the nearly daily news of drug violence here along the border and the kidnapping of eight journalists from my neighboring city of Reynosa I am calling the new Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness membership to prepare for a hearing on growing border violence. Speaker Joe Straus appointed me chairman and it is my intent to confront this problem in our backyard head on with strong recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.

In the strongest terms I join in the universal condemnation of the kidnapping and killing of journalists.

It is tentatively set for May 17 at the new McAllen Convention Center. Official notice will be issued soon.

2010 Census: Edinburg, Stand Up And Be Counted

I urge everyone, but most particularly the residents of my hometown of Edinburg, to participate in the census. As the slogan goes we need to - "Count every Texan so every Texan Counts".

Mar 10, 2010

State Rep. Allen Vaught in Movie With Matt Damon

My collegue and former vice-chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Allen Vaught will be appearing in a movie across from Matt Damon - "The Green Zone". Here are the introductory paragraphs of the press release concerning his involvement in the movie:

State Representative and Iraq War Veteran Allen Vaught will have a part in the movie Green Zone which releases in theaters Friday, March 12, 2010. Green Zone is directed by Paul Greengrass, whose works include other films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93 and The Bourne Supremacy. The cast includes Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan and Jason Isaacs. The movie is unique in that it incorporates many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as actors in an effort to add authenticity to the film.

The film is based on the book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” which was written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the former Baghdad Bureau Chief of The Washington Post. Vaught and Chandrasekaran first met in Iraq in the summer of 2003 during an interview about operations in Fallujah. Vaught’s association with Green Zone began in 2007 when he was contacted about technical matters, such as uniforms and other historical aspects of the war. He was eventually offered a part in the film as a staff officer in a briefing scene.

Rep. Vaught also sits with me on the Select Committee of Emergency Response. Expect the representative in the Valley on May 17, 2010 when we hold a committee meeting at the McAllen Convention Center.

The Dallas Morning News has the story.

Here is a previous clip by CNN of the representative.

Here is a YouTube video from the movie with the good representative.

The Handy Vacancy

I have received a number of e-mails, calls, writings and comments regarding the vacancy of former Hidalgo County Commissioner, Sylvia Handy who left office yesterday. I wish to make it clear that I am not given the authority to make that replacement. If you wish to have your candidate or yourself considered then the only person who can help you at this juncture is the temporary county judge. No, not Ramon Garcia he is the popularly elected Hidalgo County Judge who absent an unexpected resignation won't take office till January. The appointed temporary judge, Rene Ramirez presently has that authority. He is claiming that the consideration process is open and that he has no pre-selected candidate. Please talk to him. Although I represent the Delta region along with outer portions of Weslaco and Mercedes it is, under present circumstances, rightfully or wrongfully his choice.

One day in the distant future the public will once again be able to make a popular choice instead of having have an appointment made for us.

The Monitor has an informative description of the "state of flux" by Jared Janes as to the current process. Here is another.

Best of luck.

Mar 9, 2010

Eva Longoria Parker Coming to UTPA - Edinburg

Eva Longoria Parker is coming to UTPA's "Festiba Community Festival" on 3/27/10. She will address the importance of education.

FESTIBA which means the Festival of International Books and Arts to increase the interest in reading, help improve the success in secondary and post-secondary education, and provide an educational opportunity for at-risk youth in rural communities. With literacy, reading, and cultural and civic engagement as the focus of FESTIBA, UTPA sought to foster a culture that appreciates and celebrates the arts and humanities within the South Texas community.

Now in its fifth consecutive year, FESTIBA has evolved into a regional event that brings together the most outstanding scholars, authors, and educators in their disciplines to UTPA and the surrounding community to contribute their expertise, encourage intellectual inquiry and exchange, and improve the capacity to teach and understand the arts and humanities. With the goal of fomenting cultural awareness, UTPA promotes the arts and humanities by engaging the community through books, poetry, drama, lectures, artistic exhibits, presentations in dance, theatre, film, musical concerts, Mariachi workshops, and much more!

In this video Eva Longoria Parker talks about the 2010 Census

Mar 8, 2010

Hidalgo County Commissioner Pleads Guilty

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas confirmed the guilty plea of Hidalgo County Commissioner Sylvia Handy. Handy plead guilty to two charges in federal court late Monday afternoon.

Public opinion was strongly against Handy and this coupled with the evidence mounted against her gave her little option than to take a plea deal over facing an angry jury.

I called for her resignation because of a lack of public trust and now that she has plead guilty the legal presumption of innocence is gone. Because she is and was guilty.

This closes another sad chapter of public corruption in the Valley. We can and must do better.

So, where do we go from here?

First, look for Sylvia Handy to resign her elected position tomorrow. This will happen because U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa allowed Handy to remain free on bond until her June sentencing, in exchange for promising to resign her elected position Tuesday. A few in public office may have to worry about what if anything Mrs. Handy may share with federal officers. Of course, if your honest you need not worry.

Secondly, as a community we have to do our part to see that our public officials are ones we can have confidence in. This cause will have it's first test starting tomorrow. After Handy's vacancy from the court, look for an immediate struggle to fill the vacancy. Rumor has it that a deal was struck months ago. Whether the interim county judge follows his own independent judgement or the deal allegedly struck months ago will be worth watching.

In sum a good start today much much more ground in front of us.

Feeling Down? Remember the Mayonnaise Jar

A little down in the weather today as I am still fighting off the effects of food poisoning. I'm out of the hospital but still bedridden. Times like these remind me of a story I once heard:

The Mayonnaise Jar

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough; remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began,wordlessly,he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and start to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else he asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous ‘Yes.’

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — The small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.


Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.
Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups.
Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap.

Take care of the golf balls first – The things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Please share this with other “Golf Balls.”

Mar 5, 2010

Hargill Students Celebrate Dr. Seuss Birthday

I had a wonderful time reading one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books to elementary school students at Hargill Elementary. The celebration was commemorating Dr. Seuss's 106th birthday. The parents and teachers at Hargill Elementary have done well with their children. This has been by far one of the best and well behaved group I have encountered.

Rep. Peña Joins Teach For America in Elsa

Rep. Peña was invited to participate in an educational program put together by Teach For America. He addressed eighty 10th grade students at Edcouch Elsa High School and spoke about his experiences as a state legislator. He also fielded questions by students on education and his professional experiences.

Groundbreaking at Elsa Water Plant

We broke ground today in Elsa for a $2.1 million dollar project at the city's water plant. Funding for the project was secured from the Texas Water Development Board and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The City of Elsa is moving forward with other projects designed to improve the it's water, wastewater and drainage infrastructure.

Mar 4, 2010

It's Time For Handy To Step Aside

The elections are over and with a number of fresh faces coming into local government there is a noticeable feeling of hope in the air. A new generation of elected leaders will be taking their oaths of office in coming months and I am looking forward to the opportunities in front of us. We thank those officials leaving office for their service and wish them the best.

The people have spoken and so now it is time to move forward with their choices and new direction. Sadly, in county government the federal indictment of Commissioner Sylvia Handy of Hidalgo County has brought a cloud over the court and the possibility of a fresh start.

I had a chance to talk to many of the newly elected following their primary victories. In some cases I paid my respects at their post-election events. I had the opportunity to meet at one of these events, Joel Quintanilla, the mayor of Mercedes. Others had described him as a good choice to run for the position now held by Commissioner Handy. He was articulate and well respected by those who know him. It would be sad to have to wait for a distant election contest to see competent leaders such as the mayor have a chance to take the reigns of leadership in a precinct starving for leadership and a new direction.

As an elected leader who represents much of the area now represented by Commissioner Sylvia Handy, I have heard the lamentations of citizens wishing to move out from under the cloud now covering her precinct. I agree that the Valley and Hidalgo County must move forward in a new positive direction and regain the trust lost by many of it's citizens. It is my firm belief that a new beginning of trust is best served by Commissioner Handy stepping aside and giving the people another chance to set the direction of the county.

Does anyone else agree?

Mar 3, 2010

Hidalgo County Results To Bring Changes

State Representative, DISTRICT 36
Sandra Rodriguez 5,093
* Sergio Muñoz, Jr 7,071

Hidalgo County Judge
* Ramon Garcia 25,339
Eloy Pulido 14,254

County Commissioner PRECINCT NO 4
Oscar L Garza Jr 4,896
* Joseph Palacios 5,846

Mar 2, 2010

Winds of Change Blow in The Valley

I've made it a point to play close attention to the trends affecting the political races here in the Valley this cycle. I've noted several that are probably worth a later more detailed discussion but there is one that I expect will impact a couple of races this cycle and could have long term consequences for cycles to come.

Prior to the changes brought about in the election of Hispanics to political office in significant numbers in the early 70's, this region was dominated by conservative rural Democrats. The Lloyd Bentsen (county judge) archetype was replaced by a more socially conscious activist archetype driven by his experiences of the late 60's and early 70's. Former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chairman and political activist, Juan Maldonado is a good example of the more liberal political figure that is still reflected in political offices around the Valley.

Following the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, conservatives in Texas moved in large part to the ascending Republican party. In the Valley, because of a lack of a competitive Republican primary election that meant that conservatives voted in the Democratic primary, where there are competitive elections, but then voted for Republicans in gubernatorial and presidential elections.

This phenomena had the effect in some parts of assisting the growth of a more centrist political class. One only needs to compare the political philosophies of Hispanic elected officials in Houston as compared to the more conservative Valley politician and the affect is apparent. Granted, the rural nature of the Valley and the proximity to a more culturally conservative Mexico is also at play but one should not ignore the moderating effect Republican voters have played in helping to elect moderate to conservative Hispanic politicians.

This cycle may be different. Individuals who more closely identify with Republican ideas have a number of competitive races this primary season. Republicans are not in large numbers voting in the Democratic primary. Republican primary numbers are on the rise in certain parts of the Valley.

In at least two close races this could be the difference. Long term the growth of competitive politics in the Republican primary, here in South Texas, may have an effect of diminishing the role of conservative voters in the Democratic primary. In turn, the Republican Party (if it doesn't screw it up) will see a growth in numbers.

Just a thought.

My U.S. Census Form Just Arrived

Moments ago I was handed my census form by a very pleasant John Dimas who was going door to door. Not a bad idea to have old-fashioned door delivery. Ten easy questions and a pre-stamped envelope that is self-addressed. Have to be pretty lazy not to fill this out.

After all this about our future and that of our children. Here in South Texas we are busting at the seams and someone is going to have to pay for that growth. These are our taxes and the feds have to figure out how to apportion infrastructure monies. I would hate to see taxes raised in Texas go to another state or have to find a way to fund projects that could have been paid for by a good count.

Texas itself will gain 3 or 4 congressional seats after the census, most experts agree. A good count brings us 4, a bad one 3. That's a loss of representation and funding we can little afford.

It being Texas Independence Day, Election Day and with the arrival of the U.S. Census form, a number of people have the chance to do their duty to their country, state and community. I did. How 'bout you?

Celebrate Texas Independence Day By Voting

Celebrate Texas Independence Day by getting out and voting.