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Mayor Joe Ochoa, shown here on Thursday, February 7, delivering the State-of-the-City address, says Edinburg in 2007 continued with positive economic growth and a high quality-of-life, and the future remains bright. “When unfortunately other parts of the country are struggling, Edinburg is blessed,” Ochoa told the audience at the Public Affairs Luncheon, which was hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “Construction activity, economic development, sales tax revenues, population, and labor force are all on the rise.” See story later in this posting.

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Leonel Guerrero, featured in this portrait with his wife, Leslie, kicked off his campaign for City Council, Place 3 on Wednesday, February 6, by promising to do away with alleged favoritism and intimidation by the powers-that-be in municipal government. “I want to be your next city commissioner for Place 3 so I can be your voice to stop any group or personal agendas that benefit the few,” Guerrero told the gathering of supporters at the University of Texas-Pan American. “The practice of ‘old time politics’ services few, and doesn’t answer the problems of our modern and global society. I am here to tell you I will bring about the end of ‘old time politics’.” Guerrero, a pharmacist, is challenging incumbent Gene Espinoza, a sales manager with Rio Grande Steel, L.T.D. See related story.

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Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, featured left with Wanda Garza, executive officer for Workforce Development and External Affairs for South Texas College, earlier this month visited with members of South Texas College’s administration, as well as representatives from The University of Texas-Pan American, to learn more about the status of work on the region’s Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) Project. “I am very excited with the work that has been started for this initiative,” said Combs. “A well trained and educated workforce is of utmost importance to our state’s prosperity in a diverse and competitive economic climate. The team at South Texas College is developing innovative strategies to address this vital issue.” See story later in this posting.

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Mayor Ochoa says 2007 “another phenomenal year for Edinburg” during State of the City presentation

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

While many communities in Texas and the U.S. are facing an economic slowdown, the past year in Edinburg was an excellent one for the three-time All-America City, Mayor Joe Ochoa announced on Thursday, February 7, in his annual State of the City address.

His presentation also is being broadcast on the city-owned Edinburg Cable Network, found on Time Warner Cable Channel 12.

“When unfortunately other parts of the country are struggling, Edinburg is blessed,” Ochoa told the audience at the Public Affairs Luncheon, held at the ECHO, which was hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “Construction activity, economic development, sales tax revenues, population, and labor force are all on the rise.”

The latest Census Bureau estimates note that the city’s population has reached 67,000, as of the year 2000, while last year, key economic indicators reported that total construction in the city reached $173 million, he said. New commercial buildings accounted for $77 million of that amount, an increase in that category of 10 percent from 2006. More than 600 new homes were built last year, valued at $95 million.

Still, unforeseen roadblocks can and do pop up for any community, the mayor acknowledged.

“We have many challenges and many difficult decisions ahead,” Ochoa said. “My commitment is to stick to planned development, to improve infrastructure, to improve public safety, and to improve the quality of life.”

He also called on the city council to bring back a citizen participation program which he had implemented back in the 1990s, known as the Edinburg 2020 Advisory Committees.

“Let’s bring back citizens’ committees on culture, education, economic development, land development, public safety, and transportation,” Ochoa urged his fellow councilmembers. “Call these committees whatever, but you, the business people, citizens, visitors and any volunteer who is willing to bring forth ideas, please step forward.”

Ochoa noted other key gains in 2007 sparked by private investments:

• Phase 1 of the 1.2 million square-foot The Shoppes at Rio Grande began in earnest, with Burlington Coat Factory, JC Penney, The Shoe Depot, and First National Bank among the first announced tenants;

• More than 400,00-square-feet of retail construction occurred with the completion of the Fairhaven Subdivision, Jackson Plaza, Trenton Town Center, Trenton Crossroad and La Sienna master Planned Community;

• The unemployment rate for 2007 averaged 4.7 percent, sales tax revenue increased by 11 percent over 2006, and bank deposits in local financial institutions broke the $1 billion mark last summer;

• More the $180 million over the past several years has been invested in the recently completed expansion of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and South Texas Health System; and

• State-funded highway projects in Edinburg totaled $175 million.

In addition to the private sector, there are major municipal projects that are nearing completion, he added.

“Our ongoing projects, water plant completion set for this summer, the city hall set for completion this May, and the public safety building completion is set for this May,” said Ochoa, who also shared credit with other local and state leaders for many of the advances in the community.

Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, Councilmember Gus García, Jr., and Councilmember Gene Espinoza, along with Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, were among the numerous dignitaries who showed up for the mayor’s presentation.

Alma Garza is facing a challenge from Johnny Rodríguez, while Espinoza is being challenged by Leonel Guerrero in the May 10 city elections.

Both Rodríguez and Guerrero also attended the mayor’s speech.

Peña is being challenged in the March 4 Democratic Party primary by Eddie Sáenz, who attended the meeting, while Gonzáles will face Republican Javier Villalobos of McAllen in the November 2008 general election.

State of the City

By JOE OCHOA

Mayor of Edinburg

Good afternoon. Another great day in the city of Edinburg, three-time All-America City,” not a perfect city, but a community that is working together to improve the quality of life for all.

Thank you, Chamber of Commerce, Edwards Abstract (Byron) and everyone else here for your interest in this great community.

The year 2007 represented another phenomenal year for Edinburg.

When unfortunately other parts of our country are struggling, Edinburg is blessed, our economy continues to grow. Construction activity, economic development, sales tax revenues, population, and labor force are all on the rise.

Edinburg is even lucky, even though at times we complain that we have several non-taxing entities.

The University of Texas-Pan American, the county government, the Edinburg school district, the South Texas Independent School District, Region One, and the Border Patrol, when combined, these entities probably employ over 10,000 people. If only five percent of those eat, buy gas and shop daily in Edinburg – well, you do the math.

I firmly believe that when all is said and done, these entities are a strong foundation to our increase in sales tax dollars and economic development in Edinburg.

The vision more than 10 years ago to improve infrastructure in our southwest corridor led to improved health services, commercial development, and improved access to our community and our future mall. This was the work of people coming together to improve our economy and our city. This is vision.

The latest Census Bureau estimates show Edinburg’s population at approximately 67,000. This means that since the 2000 census, Edinburg’s population has grown 38 percent, or more than five percent annually, placing Edinburg as the third largest city in the Rio Grande Valley.

Construction activity in 2007 totaled $173 million. New commercial buildings were valued at more than $77 million, a 10 percent increase from 2006. More than 600 homes were built in 2007, totaling $95 million in residential construction.

The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, or as I would have preferred – The Shoppes at Edinburg – will total 1.2 million square feet. This regional shopping center will feature a traditional department store, big box retailers, national and local specialty stores, restaurants, entertainment, and a full-service hotel.

Phase 1 of the project will be complete in the Fall of 2008, and so far includes:

• Burlington Coat Factory (80,000 square feet);

• JC Penney (104,000 square feet);

• The Shoe Depot; and

• First National Bank.

More than 400,000 square feet of retail has been recently constructed with the completion of the Fairhaven Subdivision, Jackson Plaza, Trenton Town Center, Trenton Crossroads, and La Sienna Master Planned Community.

As a reminder, we have state-of-the-art research being conducted right here in Edinburg: $5 million appropriated by the Texas Legislature to expand research in bipolar studies and diabetes at our University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center. Let us not forget this great facility, and more importantly, what is happening behind those doors. Thanks to our legislators for their commitment and support.

Data Source and NuStats completed their 8,500 square foot social science research facility, with an estimated annual economic impact of $683,056 and 110 jobs.

There is strong growth in the health services. More than $180 million have been invested with expansions in divisions of South Texas Health System and the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance continues to expand with the opening of their $67 million Women’s Hospital, a 200,000 square foot, state-of-the-art medical complex located in southwest Edinburg.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance also recently opened their Cancer Center, a 54,000 square foot, state-of-the-art treatment facility, which represented an additional $15 million investment.

The unemployment rate in 2007 averaged 4.7 percent, we had bank deposits of $1 billion, and our sales tax revenue increased by 11 percent over the previous year.

State funded infrastructure projects in Edinburg totaled $175 million. These projects are under design, underway, or completed:

• Highway 107, from U.S. 281 to Doolittle Road (under design);

• U.S. 281, from Highway 107 north to merger with Business Highway 281 (completion expected in August 2008);

• Highway 107, from Jackson Road west to Depot Road (completion expected in August 2008);

• McColl Road, from Highway 107 to Monte Cristo Road (completed);

• Monte Cristo Road, from Business 281 east to Kenyon Road (completed); and

• Monte Cristo Road, from Sugar Road east to Ware Road (under construction).

Knowing that the Texas Department of Transportation is strapped for money, this leadership has insisted that infrastructure development will not halt, and will no longer play a wait-and-see game. Infrastructure development is what drives cities, and that is my commitment to Edinburg: to continue to build and improve infrastructure.

My experience is that infrastructure improvements, whether it be roads, water lines, drainage, or investments in new or existing businesses – this is what builds communities.

Our city has committed $13 million of our own money for:

• Sugar Road, from Trenton South to Owassa (we can no longer wait for other entities. Expected start date is January 2009);

• Canton Road, from Business 281 west to McColl (begin construction in Spring 2008);

• Jackson Road, from Highway 107 north to Chapin Road (begin construction in Fall 2008);

• Freddy Gonzalez Drive, from McColl west to 10th Street (under design); and

• Extension of Pin Oak (begin construction in Spring 2008 and complete in 2008).

The return of our Neighborhood Paving program has provided 10 miles over overlay and reconstruction for our neighborhoods this past year-and-a-half. This program is a plan of action to reconstruct our neighborhoods using a master plan, instead of haphazardly paving roads at public pressure.

Our ongoing projects: water plant completion in Summer 2008, City Hall completion in May 2008, and Public Safety Building completion in May 2008.

We have many challenges and many difficult decisions ahead.

We must stop comparing ourselves to neighboring communities, and step up to the challenge. If we say, “We can’t afford it and can’t do it, then we won’t.” My commitment is to stick to planned development, to improve infrastructure, to improve public safety, and improve our quality-of-life.

So many great things happen in Edinburg.

Case-in-point: Edinburg’s 10K. Seven thousand people – families and people from different areas of the world here in Edinburg. What better public relations program than to have other people coming to our community and enjoying our great city.

With our new commercial developments going up, we need to attract and solicit people from elsewhere. We, as leaders, want our businesses to thrive. We must open our doors to whomever wants to visit and share our great city.

Let’s bring back the citizens’ committees on culture, education, economic development, land development, public safety, and transportation. Call these committees whatever, but you, the business people, citizens, visitors, any volunteer who is willing to bring forth ideas, please step up.

Contact Edna Peña and tell her you are willing to stand next to her, face the council, and plead your case to start these citizen committees.

Thanks for being interested in Edinburg.

Viva Edinburg!

With that in mind, I would like to invite everyone to come and participate in the greatest birthday party ever. Edinburg will be 100 years young this October 10, and Edinburg intends to throw a party.

Join the Centennial Committee, bring us your memorabilia, your thoughts, and suggestions. Call 383-4974.

Viva Edinburg!

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Leonel Guerrero, local pharmacist, vows change, and end to “old time politics” by Edinburg City Council in his race against Place 3 Councilmember Espinoza

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Pharmacist Leonel Guerrero on Wednesday, February 6, promised supporters at his campaign kick-off for Edinburg City Council that he would reject alleged partisan politics, favoritism in the granting of lucrative city contracts, and retaliation against residents, including city employees, when they disagree with the motives or actions of the local municipal government.

Guerrero is challenging incumbent Gene Espinoza for Place 3 on the Edinburg City Council.

The election is May 10.

Espinoza has already announced his bid for reelection.

Guerrero, who is making his first political bid, sounded like a veteran campaigner, claiming that the majority of the city council – he did not provide names – were using their positions to do the bidding of a select few power-brokers.

“I want to be your next city (councilmember) for Place 3 so I can be your voice to stop any group or personal agendas that benefit the few,” Guerrero said. “The practice of ‘old time politics’ services few, and doesn’t answer the problems of our modern and global society. I am here to tell you I will bring about the end of ‘old time politics’.”

Two members of the city council – Mayor Joe Ochoa and Place 1 Councilmember Gus García, Jr.– attended Guerrero’s campaign event, along with Dr. Alejo Salinas, Jr., a member of the South Texas College board of trustees who also was a former Edinburg city commissioner.

Other notables at the event included Edinburg school board trustees Robert Peña, Jr. and Jaime Chavana, and former Edinburg school board trustee Gilbert Enríquez, whose construction company is handling the multi-million dollar work on the new city hall and the expansion of the police headquarters.

Guerrero believes that some of the city council’s partisan battles create a bad image for Edinburg.

“I will fight also for fairness as it applies to city projects, civic or economic, thus allowing more businesses and people an equal opportunity to participate with future city endeavors,” he said. “This also applies to all city employees afraid to voice their ideas or opinions, for fear of political backlash and for fear of their jobs. That really saddens me. I do recall we live in a free society in a place called the United States of America.”

Guerrero also highlighted some of the strategies he favored for the three-time All-America City:

• Continue to attract new employers, from retail to medical to government, to keep creating jobs;

• Improve public safety by providing the police and fire departments with the latest technology, training, and equipment;

• Work with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Boys and Girls Club to secure more facilities and parks for the young people in the community;

• Improve working relations and communications between the city government and the school district; and

• Develop incentives for businesses and homeowners to promote a clean environment.

Guerrero, who drew a full house to his announcement in the University of Texas-Pan American Ballroom, said residents too often are frustrated by divisions on key issues that pit Ochoa and García against Espinoza, Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza, and Place 2 Councilmember Noe Garza (no relation to Alma).

“I will also bring cooperation to this council,” Guerrero pledged. “The council is supposed to solve problems, not draw lines in the sand. We all share this great city. We need to rise above petty differences and come together as one. I will bring unity, fairness, responsibility, and respectability to our city council. I am confident that I can work with anyone and everyone and move our All-America City forward in a positive direction.”

With his wife, Leslie, and his parents, Lauro Guerrero, Jr. and Alicia Guerrero, in attendance, Guerrero was boosted by the good turnout for his campaign kick-off.

“I would like to thank everyone for being here this evening. It means a lot to me,” Guerrero told his supporters. “This shows that the residents of our All-America City of Edinburg want change, and they want a new voice in city government.”

Guerrero maintains a campaign website at http://www.vote4leonel.com

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From One Marine to Another: Semper Fi

By SEN. JUAN “CHUY” HINOJOSA
D-McAllen

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor was awarded for just the sixth time in our state’s history earlier this month — and the recipient couldn’t have been more deserving.

Sgt. Alfredo ‘Freddy’ González of Edinburg received the highest honor for a serviceman on the fortieth anniversary of his death. His mother, Dolia, was on hand to accept the award to go along with her son’s Purple Heart, Medal of Honor, and many other accolades.

As a fellow Marine and Vietnam veteran, I was honored to help pay tribute to Sgt. González’ heroism and service to his country. He had enlisted in the Marines three years earlier and already completed one tour of duty in Southeast Asia. Assigned to Alpha Company, the 21-year-old was already considered a veteran soldier.

On February 4, 1968, leading the Third Platoon advancing toward Hue, Sgt. González and his men found themselves in room-to-room combat as they tried to secure a building that occupied a key position. They came under heavy enemy rocket fire from across the courtyard. One of the rockets hit Sgt. González as he and his troops fought to secure a second-floor vantage point.

Sgt. González’ story is unique and universal at the same time. Every generation answers the call, and every generation features brave young people like him, who make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and democracy abroad and at home. Their heroism on the battlefields is matched only by their commitment to do the right thing — ordinary Americans with extraordinary courage.

That’s why I’m proud to have sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 36, passed in May 2005 during the 79th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, authorizing a Vietnam War monument on the Capitol grounds. We launched our two-year campaign this month with a reception at the LBJ Library on the fortieth anniversary of the Tet Offensive. This memorial is estimated to cost $1.3 million, and all money will be raised from private sources.

Throughout history, without the courage of men and women like Freddy González, there would be no freedom, and no America. This monument will be a long-overdue recognition for all the Freddy Gonzalez’s who deserve our gratitude for their service.

God bless you, Freddy. Semper Fi.

(Hinojosa is a USMC Vietnam Veteran. He serves as Vice-Chair of the Jurisprudence Committee and is a member of the Finance, Criminal Justice, Natural Resources Committees, and has recently been appointed to serve on the Sunset Advisory Commission. Donations to the Texas Capitol Vietnam Memorial Committee can be sent to P.O. Box 2184, Austin, TX, 78768-2184.)

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Eddie Sáenz says Class A misdemeanor complaint filed against GOP Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, a Republican, taints Rep. Peña as well

By KELLY FERO

A criminal complaint filed on Monday, February 11, against Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, underscores Rep. Aaron Peña’s troublesome ties to the Republican leadership in Austin, says Eddie Sáenz, who is challenging Peña in the March 4 Democratic Party primary.

Sáenz also linked Peña, D-Edinburg, to legislation spearheaded by Craddick that stripped hundreds of thousands of eligible children of their health care benefits and passed a hated voter identification law that took away the legitimate right of South Texas citizens to vote.

“Today’s criminal compliant against (Craddick) makes it even more urgent that Peña give back the Republicans’ corrupt campaign cash and apologize to South Texas voters for betraying them,” Sáenz said.

Peña pocketed $50,000 from from Craddick’s political action committee, a tainted donation that violated state statutes prohibiting speaker candidates from trying to buy their election with what is known as “legislative bribery,” according to the complaint, filed with the Travis County District Attorney by the election watchdog group Texans for Public Justice.

(Editor’s note: Texans for Public Justice contends that Craddick may have committed a Class A misdemeanor. Under Texas law, a person found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor shall be punished by: (1) a fine not to exceed $4,000; (2) confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year; or (3) both such fine and confinement.)

Sáenz last week called on Peña to return the campaign cash, noting that other contributors to the Republican Speaker’s political action committee include a Houston homebuilder who has given at least $50,000 to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and funded the 2004 Swift Boat for Veterans smear campaign against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Peña refused, hinting that he will use the Republican cash to level even more negative attacks on Sáenz, according the press reports.

The February 11 criminal complaint notes that there is reason to believe that Craddick “violated Texas Government Code Chapter 302 and Texas Election Code Chapter 253? and asks the district attorney “to investigate these apparent violations and, if evidence warrants, to prosecute the offending parties.”

Sáenz is chairman of the board of governors – an advisory panel – of South Texas Health Systems and is a vocal advocate for a veteran’s hospital in Hidalgo County.

Sáenz is backed by mayors and community leaders throughout the district who are eager for a full partner in their efforts to create jobs, expand access to quality health care, improve public schools, make college affordable again for middle-class families, and improve vital public services.

Owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, Sáenz is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

Sáenz is a former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee, and a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. A graduate of McAllen High, he earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He and his wife, Sandra, and daughter, Cassie, live in Edinburg.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for March 4. Early voting begins on Tuesday, February 19.

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Text of complaint filed by Texans for Public Justice against Speaker Craddick for campaign contributions

Texans for Public Justice on Monday, February 11, filed a complaint with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle seeking an investigation into political contributions that Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future (Texas Jobs PAC) made last month to three Democratic House candidates who have supported Republican Speaker Tom Craddick.

TPJ believes that Speaker Tom Craddick and the Texas Jobs PAC violated a state law that prohibits a speaker candidate to aid his or her candidacy by financing the campaigns of fellow House candidates.

(Editor’s note: Texans for Public Justice contends that Craddick may have committed a Class A misdemeanor. Under Texas law, a person found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor shall be punished by: (1) a fine not to exceed $4,000; (2) confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year; or (3) both such fine and confinement.)

Texas Jobs PAC had been dormant for approximately 18 months when it received a $250,000 contribution from the Craddick campaign on January 10, 2008. The next day, Texas Jobs PAC cut three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Democratic House incumbents Kevin Bailey, Kino Flores and Aaron Peña. Significantly, the $250,000 from Craddick’s campaign was the only money that Texas Jobs had when it made the contributions to Bailey, Flores and Peña.

“The transactions between Craddick, the Texas Jobs PAC and the three house candidates appear to be coordinated and illegal,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Texas law is clear: You can’t buy the speaker’s gavel by bankrolling the campaigns of House candidates. Nor can you make a political contribution under someone else’s name. It’s hard to argue that the Texas Jobs PAC didn’t launder Craddick’s money. By it’s own accounting it didn’t have another cent to it’s name.”

The text of the complaint follows:

February 11, 2008

Re: Request for investigation of possible illegal political expenditures
by House Speaker Tom Craddick
and Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future, Inc.

Honorable Ronald Earle
Travis County District Attorney
Public Integrity Unit
509 W. 11 th Street
Austin, Texas 78701

District Attorney Earle:

Texans for Public Justice has reason to believe that Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick and a general- purpose political committee, Texas Jobs & Opportunity Build a Secure Future, Inc. (Texas Jobs PAC), have violated Texas Government Code Chapter 302 and Texas Election Code Chapter 253. We ask your office to investigate these apparent violations and, if evidence warrants, to prosecute the offending parties.

Tom Craddick is an announced candidate for re-election to the post of House Speaker in January 2009. The Texas Jobs PAC is a registered general-purpose political committee (Texas Ethics Commission filer No. 00058444) located at 1000 Brazos, Ste. 100, Austin, TX 78701. Its current treasurer is Richard Millan, 823 Congress Ave., Ste. 707, Austin, TX 78701. This committee, which until recently was known as the Texas Free Enterprise Fund, first formed in December 2005.

Contribution and expenditure reports filed at the Texas Ethics Commission reveal that the Texas Jobs PAC and its precursor had been dormant between July 2006 and January 10, 2008. The committee reported that it had no cash on hand as of December 31, 2007. In a disclosure filed on February 4, 2008, the committee reported its first donations in approximately 18 months. The first of these was a $250,000 contribution from the “Tom Craddick Campaign Fund” dated January 10, 2008. The committee also reported receiving seven subsequent contributions from other donors totaling $82,000 and $500 in unitemized contributions between January 18 and January 23, 2008.

In the same report filed on February 4, Texas Jobs PAC disclosed that it made three $50,000 expenditures. The committee sent these $50,000 checks to the “Aaron Peña Campaign,” the “Kevin Bailey Campaign” and the “Kino Flores Campaign” on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, the only money that Texas Jobs PAC had when these checks were cut were the funds that it had received from the Craddick campaign. Reps. Pena, Bailey and Flores are running for reelection to the Texas House. If successful, they will be in a position to vote for the next House Speaker in January 2009.

Under the so-called speaker’s statute, speaker candidates are prohibited from using any political funds accepted under Title 15 of the Election Code to aid their candidacy. The $250,000 that Texas Jobs PAC received came from Craddick campaign funds that were accepted under Title 15.

Texas Government Code Chapter 302.0191 states, “A person, including a speaker candidate, may not make a contribution to a speaker candidate’s campaign or an expenditure to aid or defeat a speaker candidate from political contributions accepted under Title 15, Election Code.”

Chapter 302.020 of the code lists a limited number of permitted expenditures that may be made from a speaker candidate’s campaign funds. These exceptions do not include making contributions to aid the election of House candidates or members such as Reps. Peña, Bailey and Flores. Texas Jobs PAC disclosures leave little doubt that Craddick campaign funds were the sole source of the contributions that this PAC made to Reps. Peña, Bailey and Flores. The funds at issue were political contributions accepted first by Craddick and then by Texas Jobs PAC under Title 15. Contributing these funds to three House members who previously supported Craddick as speaker aids Craddick’s reelection as speaker.

Under Chapter 302.021 a speaker candidate commits a Class A misdemeanor offense if he “expends campaign funds for any purpose other than those enumerated in Section 302.020,” or “conspires with another person to circumvent any provision of this subchapter [302.020].”

As the Craddick campaign was the sole and ultimate source of the contributions made to Reps. Peña, Bailey and Flores, it appears that he and the Texas Jobs committee also have violated Chapter 253.001 of the Election Code, which prohibits making a political contribution or expenditure in the name of another person. Election Code Chapter 253.001, states that, “A person may not knowingly make or authorize a political contribution in the name of or on behalf of another unless the person discloses in writing to the recipient the name and address of the person actually making the contribution in order for the recipient to make the proper disclosure.”

In this instance, Texas Jobs PAC appears to have sent three $50,000 checks on Craddick’s behalf, checks that constituted both political expenditures and contributions. These checks were PAC expenditures that Texas jobs PAC reported to the Texas Ethics Commission as Schedule F expenditures. They also were political contributions that the Peña, Bailey and Flores campaigns reported as Schedule A contributions.

At least one House member running for reelection understood that Texas Jobs PAC was offering campaign money on Craddick’s behalf, according to the Austin American-Statesman article “Dukes turns down Craddick donation,” published on February 7, 2008. The article reports that another House member who supported Craddick as speaker turned down Texas Job PAC’s offer of $50,000. Rep. Dawnna Dukes “passed on an offer of $50,000 that came indirectly from House Speaker Tom Craddick,” the article reported. “The check that’s not in the mail is the $50,000 from Craddick,” the article quoted Dukes campaign manager Colin Strother saying.

We believe that the actions described above are likely violations of the Texas Government and Election Codes. We appreciate your office’s attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Craig McDonald
Director, Texans for Public Justice

Encls:

Texas Jobs PAC C&E filings for January 15, 2008 and February 4, 2008.
“Dukes Turns Down Craddick Donation,” Austin American Statesman, February 7, 2008.

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Rep. Peña says Eddie Sáenz campaign tricked McAllen Monitor into running alleged endorsement

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

In a posting entitled “Sáenz Suffers Series of Setbacks from Shenanigans”, an Edcouch-Elsa city council member is quoted by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, as saying the she never endorsed Eddie Sáenz in an advertisement published by the McAllen Monitor on Sunday, February 10.

The claim is made on Peña’s website, A Capitol Blog.

As of press time on Thursday evening, February 14, the Monitor had not yet responded to the claim.

“In an advertisement which ran in the Monitor on Sunday, February 10, Eddie Sáenz falsely claimed the endorsement of Edcouch City Council member María de la Cruz, Peña said. After seeing the advertisement Mrs. de la Cruz expressed concern to me that she had not authorized her name to be used in an endorsement,” Peña said.

Peña added, “Today she delivered to me a letter issued to our local newspaper expressing her belief that Eddie Sáenz had deceived her and the newspaper.”

Sáenz “has been caught once again trying to deceive the public,” Peña contended. “Eddie Sáenz falsely claimed the endorsement of Edcouch City Council member María de la Cruz. After seeing the advertisement, Mrs. de la Cruz expressed concern to me that she had not authorized her name to be used in an endorsement.”

Peña featured the letter by de la Cruz, dated Sunday, February 10, and addressed to M. Olaf Frandsen, publisher of the McAllen daily newspaper.

The text of her letter reads:

Dear Monitor Newspaper,

I read an advertisement in Sunday’s Monitor newspaper by the Eddie Sáenz campaign. It is a lie that I have endorsed Eddie Sáenz and I never approved those words or the use of my name in that advertisement. After a city council meeting, I was asked to take a photo and give permission for the photo but I was never told it was to be used for an endorsement, or asked for an endorsement.

I have been a long time supporter of State Representative Aaron Peña, and your newspaper has been tricked into allowing that ad to run in your paper. Please run a correction showing that I have not endorsed Eddie Sáenz and I am supporting Rep. Peña.

I am hand-delivering a copy of this to your office so that this does not happen again.

Sincerely,

María de la Cruz

Edcouch City Council Member

P.O. Box 431

Edcouch, Texas 78538

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Early voting for March 4 party primaries to be held from Tuesday, February 19 through Friday, February 28 for presidential, legislative, local candidates

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

In what promises to be a record-breaking turnout in Hidalgo County, early voting will begin at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, February 19 for the March 4 Democratic and Republican Party primaries, which will feature both parties’ presidential and key state and local candidates.

In addition to voting by mail-in ballots, there are 26 early voting locations, called substations, where registered voters from Hidalgo County may participate in their respective political party’s election.

However, a qualified voter may only vote in one of the primaries.

Generally, Hidalgo County is a Democratic Party stronghold.

In November, a voter may cast a ballot for any of the candidates that win their party primary, even if that candidate is from a different political party.

In Edinburg, there are three early voting locations: the Hidalgo County Elections Office, located at 101 S. 10th, just west of the Hidalgo County Courthouse; the Old Hidalgo County Tax Office, located at 100 E. Cano; and the University of Texas-Pan American Library, located at 1201 W. University Drive.

All 26 early voting substations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Tuesday, February 19, through Saturday, February 23; on Sunday, February 23, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and from Monday, February 25, through Friday, February 29, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Even as the two major legislative races – featuring Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and challenger Eddie Sáenz, also of Edinburg, and Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, who is being challenged by Sandra Rodriguez of Pharr – are generating the most political buzz, the Democratic Party presidential match-up is firing up the most interest, said Teresa R. Navarro, Hidalgo County Elections Administrator.

“Normally, during a presidential year, the largest turnout occurs in the November election,” she said. “But this time, the talk my staff and I have heard from voters coming in to our office is they want to make sure they are registered to vote, because they are concerned about the race between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama for president.”

As further evidence of high-voter interest in the presidential nomination, Navarro noted than in the last presidential election in 2004, there were about 115,000 Hidalgo County residents who voted.

This year, that number is expected to increase because there are about 290,000 registered voters in the county – up from about 280,000 in the November 2006 general election.

“That’s a lot of (potential) votes,” she said, “I think that just the race between Clinton and Obama means we will have a large turnout in the primary – it may be the largest voter turnout in a primary, ever.”

She predicted voters will not just focus on the top race for president: “I think the voters will vote on all of the races on the ballot.”

Area residents who wish to get more information on early voting and the list of voting locations on March 4, or have any questions regarding the election, such as whether they are registered to vote, or what type of identification they can use is they do not have a photo ID or voting card, may contact the Hidalgo County Elections Department at 318-2570, 784-8683, or toll-free at 1-888-653-8683.

Additional information, in English and Spanish, is also available on the Internet at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/elections.

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Texas Comptroller Combs visits South Texas College to receive update on WIRED Project

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs visited with members of South Texas College’s administration, as well as representatives from The University of Texas-Pan American, in early February to learn more about the status of work on the region’s Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) Project to build a rapid response manufacturing (RRM) facility, three Training Institutes for Advanced Manufacturing and sustainable premier manufacturing infrastructure in South Texas’ Rio Grande Region.

Last February, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) committed $3 million in training funds to bolster support for the WIRED Project. The TWC Skills Development funds are committed to support trainings for 1,600 new and incumbent workers in a variety of industries related to RRM including automotive, electronics, consumer goods, health care products just to name a few. There are 24 manufacturing companies participating in the project. The trainings will be provided through the Rio South Texas College Manufacturing Alliance composed of South Texas College, Texas State Technical College and Texas Southmost College.

During the briefing, representatives from both STC and UTPA provided a status report on the trainings and initiatives currently in place to support the RRM ramp-up in the Valley. STC’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing kicked off the training for the project with several leadership and welding courses.

Currently there are 14 approved manufacturing companies in the McAllen area with employees participating in 30 and 48 hour courses for welding training, covering a variety of topics including usage of arch, mig, tig and torch assemblies. Additionally, employees from these companies are also participating in leadership training courses through STC. These trainings area geared to first-time supervisors transitioning into management, allowing students to gain the necessary tools to become successful in their new management positions within the local RRM industry.

Other members of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative (NAAMREI), which are comprised of more than 100 members across the Rio South Texas Region, provided updates as well.

“I am very excited with the work that has been started for this initiative,” said Combs. “A well trained and educated workforce is of utmost importance to our state’s prosperity in a diverse and competitive economic climate. The team at South Texas College is developing innovative strategies to address this vital issue.”

In addition to the funds committed by the TWC, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded STC, UTPA and NAAMREI $5 million as a foundational support for the project.

“It was a pleasure to meet with Ms. Combs and hear her feedback first hand on our current work and our roadmap for the future of this landmark endeavor for the betterment of the entire Valley,” said Wanda Garza, executive officer for Workforce Development and External Affairs for South Texas College. “STC, UTPA and every member of NAAMREI have been working long and hard to get this project off to the right start and her confidence in our work has reinvigorated our commitment.”

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Attorney General Abbott resolves legal action against Cameron County colonia developer

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, February 11, obtained a default judgment against the developer of Tierra Linda Gardens, a residential subdivision development in Cameron County that lacks basic utilities.

Thursday’s judgment came less than four months after the Attorney General took action against Manuel J. Montemayor and his company, MG Joint Venture, for violating the state’s colonia-prevention laws.

The court ordered Montemayor to pay $30,000 in civil penalties for unlawfully subdividing and selling property without approval from local officials and without providing sewer and water services for residents. Additionally, he must pay the State more than $7,500 for investigative and legal costs. Montemayor also provided refunds of more than $11,000 to each of three consumers who bought his unlawfully-platted lots. The refund amount corresponds to deposits and interest fees the buyers had already paid to the defendant.

“Border-area developers must comply with state law by providing basic water and wastewater services to residential lot purchasers,” Abbott said. “The Office of the Attorney General will continue working with local officials to enforce colonias-prevention laws. We are committed to protecting border residents by investigating and prosecuting these unlawful housing developments.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) took legal action against Montemayor in October after he unlawfully subdivided a tract into 26 approximately half-acre lots for residential use without obtaining the Cameron County Commissioners Court’s approval. The local officials’ approval is necessary to ensure that electrical, water and wastewater services will be available on property and that the land is not situated in a flood-prone area. Montemayor falsely advertised the lots on a billboard that claimed the lots included “all utilities.”

The OAG’s investigation revealed that Montemayor sold at least three lots for about $15,000 each at 13 percent interest. Montemayor stood to make more than $300,000 had he sold each lot in the subdivision and hundreds of thousands of dollars more in interest.

The case against Montemayor is one of five colonias cases recently pursued by the OAG along the Texas-Mexico border. In January, the OAG filed an enforcement action against Hudspeth County Appraisal District employee Adolfo Ramirez and his wife, Patricia, for selling residential lots without installing or bonding utility services.

In November 2007, the OAG took legal action against Webb County developers John and Leonor Daves for failing to install or bond utility services on residential lots in the D-5 Acres subdivision. Attorney General Abbott also filed legal action against rural housing project developer Aurora Graham in November for failing to obtain plat approval or to install or bond sewer and water services on residential lots she sold in rural Cameron County. In 2006, the OAG concluded a similar case in Cameron County against Eric Solis, who sold lots in a colonia known as Toribio Estates.

In Texas, residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water or wastewater services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack basic infrastructure.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature strengthened colonias prevention laws. The new laws enhanced platting, selling and utilities requirements for residential land sales outside city limits in any county within 50 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. The laws also required that residential subdivision developers either install water and sewer service facilities or provide a financial guarantee to cover the utilities’ cost if the installation is not completed by a promised date. Local officials will not approve the subdivision until that infrastructure is created or the required bond is paid.

Earlier this year Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, supported a measure that provides the Office of the Attorney General with additional resources to fight colonia developments.

Before purchasing residential property outside the city limits, border area home buyers should check with county officials to determine whether the property was legally subdivided and whether the developer has made the necessary arrangements to supply water and wastewater infrastructure. Developers that violate Texas platting laws are subject to civil penalties of up to $15,000 per lot.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Colonia Geographic Database stores geographic and descriptive data on more than 1,800 colonias. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us.

Consumers can also file complaints with the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the Attorney General’s Web site or by calling (800) 252-8011.

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Rodolfo Acuña and Martha P. Cotera headline National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Regional Conference at South Texas College

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Renowned Mexican-American scholars Rodolfo Acuña and Martha P. Cotera will be the keynote speakers for the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Regional Conference Tejas Regional Conference hosted by South Texas College.

Both scholars will speak at the McAllen Convention Center on Friday, February 29, 2008.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Rodolfo F. Acuña, an activist scholar, leading voice in the Mexican-American community and author of Occupied America: The History of Chicanos, will speak at 5:30 p.m. His address, “Chicano Studies: A paradigm, a pedagogy or a field of study?,” will examine Chicano pedagogy past, present and future.

Acuña is the founding chair of Chicano Studies at then San Fernando Valley State — the largest Chicano Studies Department in the United States. In addition to Occupied America, he is also the author of Sometimes There is No Other Side: Essays on Truth and Objectivity; Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles; US Latinos: An Inquiry; Community Under Siege; and The Sonoran Strongman. He has also written three children’s books and has authored more than 160 articles and more than 140 book reviews.

Martha P. Cotera, prolific author and activist, will speak starting at 7:15 p.m. Her address,”La Luche Sigue: Autonomy and self-determine in reclaiming our educational cultural legacy,” will examine the intersection between Chicana pedagogy, activism and identity.

Cotera’s activism and scholarship stretch back to the 1960s. Her book Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S., which was published in 1976, became the foundational history for Chicana scholarship. Her interpretative framework for understanding the Chicana experience still resonates 32 years later. Working with educators, archivists and librarians, Cotera still continues her life’s work to bring Chicana voices to the forefront of education.

Following the keynote addresses, the community is invited to an evening of cultural activities including an author meet and greet with more than 25 Mexican-American scholars signing their books. Participating scholars include: Rodolfo Acuña, Martha P. Cotera, José Angel Gutiérrez, Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., Norma Cantú, Armando Alonzo and Josephine Méndez-Negrete, just to name a few.

The conference’s Cultural Night Celebration will be dedicated to recognizing the important contributions of Mexican-American, Chicana and Latina women to their history and heritage. A performance by The University of Texas-Pan American Folkloric Dance Company will center on women of the Mexican Revolution and Frida Kahlo. María Rodríguez from Ohlone College in California will perform her highly recognized performance titled, “Chicana Her-Story,” which focuses on the forgotten history of women, particularly Native-American women. Concluding the evening’s activities will be a special reading of the poetry of the late Gloria Anzaldúa by members of the Gloria Anzaldúa Legacy Project, who will read poems from the prolific Valley scholar.

A full agenda can be found at http://www.naccs.org.

For more information about the event or to register contact Víctor Gómez, STC history instructor and conference coordinator, at 872-2070 or vgómez@southtexascollege.edu.

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Hope Andrade, new chairman of Texas Department of Transportation, brings leadership and diversity

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO
D-Brownsville

The recent interim appointment of Commissioner Esperanza “Hope” Andrade to chair the Texas Transportation Commission reflects not only this leader’s talents, but the ever-growing diversity of this state.

The governor appointed Ms. Andrade to replace the late Chairman Ric Williamson, who died in December. While I regret this great loss for Texas, I applaud the Governor’s decision and offer my support to our interim chair.

One of the principal reasons we have a Hispanic woman from South Texas on this Commission is a bill I passed in 2003 that expanded the membership of this body from three to five members. Until then, only one woman and two Hispanics had ever served on what was first called the Highway Commission when formed in 1917. Of the approximately 61 Commission members, only two are known to have been from the border region and two from West Texas. Diverse representation that included the different regions of the state was almost non-existent.

At the time I filed the bill, I felt, as did many of my colleagues, that one of the benefits the state would derive from this type of legislation was to increase the Commission’s regional diversity and expertise. Ms. Andrade’s membership and now interim appointment stand as testimonials of this effort.

Other benefits of this expansion that will serve the San Antonio resident in her capacity, as well as the other Commissioners, are that the Commission’s effectiveness and internal communications were increased, and the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) business could now be discussed without the possibility of two members violating the Open Meetings Act. When only three members comprised the group, two members constituted a quorum.

Serving on the Texas Transportation Commission is challenging and demanding, so facilitating its operations was a priority I strongly adhered to. We kept approximately the same ratio of urban to rural appointments–from one of three to two of five.

The state of Texas has entrusted a Commission that manages billions of dollars a year and must meet the demands of the rapid expansion of the state’s population to Ms. Andrade, as well as to the rest of the members.

The Transportation Commission, of which Ms. Andrade has been a member since December 2003, must seek solutions to TxDOT’s funding crisis, toll roads, and our push for the I-69 Trans Texas Corridor that would connect the Rio Grande Valley to the rest of the state via a long-overdue interstate.

The transportation task at hand is not simple, but I trust that Chair Andrade’s vision and leadership will move us toward completion of many goals and renew our once strong system of highways and bridges. And I also trust that the regional, ethnic and gender diversity Chair Andrade has brought to the Commission will set Texas on the right track to the needs of the 21st century.

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Sen. Cornyn discusses higher education priorities with leaders from Texas community colleges

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, recently hosted a meeting in Washington with leaders from several community colleges across Texas to discuss their higher education priorities. Among the issues on the agenda were increased federal grant funding for low-income students and technical education and workforce training programs.

In addition to representatives from the Texas Association of Community Colleges, presidents, board members and students from the following institutions attended the Tuesday, February 8 meeting with Sen. Cornyn: Austin Community College, Del Mar College, Temple College, Dallas Community College, Lone Star College System, and Alamo Community College.

“Our community colleges in Texas play a critical role in providing students across the state with the preparation and training they need to pursue quality careers or a higher degree. I’m proud to say that Texas is home to some of the nation’s fastest-growing community colleges,” Sen. Cornyn said. “I was pleased to meet with student and administrative leaders from several Texas community colleges. I appreciated hearing directly from several students about how their community college experience is transforming their lives and inspiring them to achieve their professional goals. I have and will continue to support higher education policies and reforms in the U.S. Senate that open the doors for more Texas students to attend community colleges, and provide these schools with the resources they need to help their students succeed.”

Cornyn has backed several higher education initiatives in the U.S. Senate, including:

Introduced S.2234, legislation to extend for two years an important deduction for taxpayers who pay college tuition. The $4,000 above-the-line deduction for taxpayers who pay college tuition will save Texans and all Americans millions of dollars each year, providing a helping hand to taxpayers who want to send their children to college.

Supported the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, which was signed into law in September 2007. By way of the new law, Texas Pell Grant recipients will receive a $490 increase in 2008, and students with federally subsidized loans will see interest rates reduced to 3.4 percent by 2011. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 will also help to ease the burden of college tuition for our men and women in uniform. Active-duty military will be able to defer payments on their loans, and those returning to civilian life, will now have at least a year-long deferment period upon returning home.

Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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Attorney General Abbott files friend of the court brief in Washington, D.C. gun ban case

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, February 11, filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday defending Americans’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Writing on behalf of 31 states, Abbott urged the Supreme Court to uphold a federal appeals court decision striking down Washington D.C.’s handgun ban. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the District’s handgun ban as unconstitutional.

“The United States Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms,” Abbott said. “By banning all handguns while rendering rifles and shotguns inoperable, the District of Columbia unconstitutionally prohibits citizens in the District from owning operational firearms. We respectfully urge the Supreme Court to uphold the appeals court decision striking down Washington D.C.’s firearms ban.”

In 1976, the Washington, D.C. City Council passed an ordinance banning all handguns and requiring that rifles and shotguns be disassembled or encumbered by trigger locks at all times. Washington D.C. Special Police Officer Dick Heller, who carries a handgun while working at the Federal Justice Center, sued the city after it denied his application to keep a handgun at his private residence.

A federal district court disagreed with Heller, who appealed his case to the federal court of appeals with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia. At that stage of the litigation, Attorney General Abbott defended individuals’ right to bear arms in a ‘friend of the court’ brief submitted on behalf of Texas and 12 other states. In an opinion by Judge Lawrence Silberman, the federal appeals court held that the District’s gun ban violated the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear District of Columbia v. Heller in March, has not considered a Second Amendment case since 1939.

Texas and a bipartisan group of 30 state attorneys general argue that the District of Columbia violates the Second Amendment by banning all handguns in D.C. residents’ private homes. According to the state attorneys general, the Second Amendment protects individuals’ right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment’s text explicitly protects “the right of the people,” a phrase that also appears in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments describing personal, individual rights.

Abbott and the other state attorneys general argue that “because the Second Amendment’s text recognizes a ‘right,’ not a ‘power,’ and guarantees that right to ‘the people’ and not ‘the States,’ it necessarily secures an individual right to keep and bear arms.” Thus, Texas argues that the “collective rights” theory is unfaithful to the Constitution and undermines Americans’ individual rights.

Texas’ brief also notes that, under the Second Amendment, gun ownership is not limited to citizens who participate in military exercises. The state argues that citizens have the right to “… ‘wear, bear, or carry’ arms, regardless of whether they are engaged in military activity connected with a state militia.” By requiring that rifles and shotguns in residents’ private residences be either disassembled or encumbered by a trigger lock, the District’s ordinance rendered the firearms inoperable. Thus, Abbott argues the city violated its residents’ constitutionally protected right to bear arms.

Notably, every state that signed the brief, including Texas, argues that some firearms regulations are both permissible. For example, the vast majority of states support prohibiting violent felons from owning guns. All of the joining states, however, are likewise united in the belief that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms.

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