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Former President Bill Clinton, flanked by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes (left) and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen (no relation), drives a point about his wife’s (Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York) deep roots with Valley voters. The former president addressed hundreds of area residents during a campaign rally on Monday, March 3, in the University of Texas-Pan American Fieldhouse. He portrayed the Republican Party as the party of the wealthy and that President Bush is out-of-touch with average Americans. His wife, though, was nothing like the ruling class, he said. “You want a president…who every single day won’t get carried away driving around in a bulletproof vehicle, flying around on Air Force One and being told you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Clinton said. “All you are as president is the most fortunate hired hand on the face of the earth. She (Hillary) knows that.” Sen. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, are in a tight race to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president later this summer. See story later in this posting.

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Supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, including Edinburg school board member Robert Peña, Jr., seen here with the presidential candidate in Edinburg on February 22, remain confident about the Illinois Democrat’s showing in Texas on Tuesday, March 4. According to the Obama campaign, their projections show that Obama will take the majority of party delegates in Texas, which are just as important as the popular vote, which was won by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York. The Texans for Obama website on Thursday, March 6, stated that the organization “strategically focused our resources on building a massive grassroots operation that would win the caucuses overwhelmingly, and our gamble apparently has paid off. The current projections show us winning the caucuses 55 percent to 45 percent.”

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, points with joy to a television monitor Tuesday night, March 4, that showed news accounts confirming his victory over Eddie Sáenz for a fourth two-year term as state representative for House District 40, which includes most of Edinburg. Peña and his many supporters were gathered at Treviño’s Restaurant in north Edinburg for the victory party. According to unofficial totals posted Wednesday, March 5, by the Hidalgo County Elections Department, Peña received 9,839 votes compared with 8,761 votes for Sáenz – or 52.9 percent of the vote for Peña compared with 47.10 percent of the vote for Sáenz. There is no Republican opponent, so Peña’s party primary victory sealed his reelection. See lead story later in this posting.

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Elva Jackson Garza, an Edinburg community and business leader, was recently inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame in recognition of her achievements and major contributions to deep South Texas. Two highlights of her distinguished work on behalf of the region include her service as board member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – the jobs-creation arm of t he Edinburg City Council – and her leadership as chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Jackson Garza, featured left, receives the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame commemorative award from Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sánchez as her mother, María Sidia Gracia Jackson, proudly looks on. See story later in this posting.

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Author of Tejano Roots Dan Arellano meets with South Texas College student Jessica Mirelez during the NACCS Tejas Regional Conference Cultural Night recently held at the McAllen Convention Center. With more than 400 attendees from across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas and the nation, the event offered a forum for the open exchange of ideas about the status and future opportunities for Mexican-Americans, focusing sharply on the need for expanded Mexican-American history and education opportunities. “This event has been highly energizing,” said María Ramírez, an instructor with Ohlone Community College out of California. “It has been terrific to connect with people from different generations. I know that younger Mexican-Americans will keep the missing chapters of our history alive and that is very exciting. I have been so impressed with the energy and interest in Mexican-American heritage and history from this community. It has been a remarkable experience.” See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Peña defeats Eddie Sáenz in Democratic Party rematch, but remains coy about voting for reelection of Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, a Republican

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, held off rival Eddie Sáenz on Tuesday, March 4, with almost 53 percent of the vote to win the Democratic Party primary nomination, and with no Republican candidate to face in the November general election, assured himself a fourth two-year term come January 2009.

According to unofficial totals posted Wednesday, March 5, on the internet by the Hidalgo County Elections Department, Peña received 9,839 votes compared with 8,761 votes for Sáenz – or 52.9 percent of the vote for Peña compared with 47.10 percent of the vote for Sáenz.

Also on Wednesday, Sáenz issued a public statement regarding the outcome.

“Thanks to all of you who put in such long hours and great ideas for positive change,” the Edinburg civil engineer said. “South Texans voted in record numbers in this election. And though we came up a little short in our race, I will continue to work for universal health care, a teacher pay raise, and more affordable college tuition for middle-class families.”

For his part on late Wednesday afternoon, Peña also thanked his constituents, and offered other thoughts during a talk show broadcast by a key Valley radio station.

Peña sidestepped a lingering campaign controversy on KURV-AM 710’s Davis Rankin Show: Rankin asked if Peña would vote to reelect Tom Craddick, R-Midland, as the Speaker of the House.

Peña was harshly criticized by Sáenz for being a so-called “Craddick D” because Peña is among about a dozen Democratic state representatives who helped ensure Craddick’s reelection as House speaker in January 2007.

The speaker of the house is elected in a public vote at the beginning of every regular session by the 150-member House of Representatives.

Most important, the speaker of the house has the power of life-and-death over all legislation, and decides which of the 150 state representatives wield the most power for themselves and their home districts.

“So you think that when you go back, are you going to pledge to (vote for) Tom Craddick the Speaker?” Rankin asked Peña. “Is he going to get reelected? The Republicans tried to throw him out last time for supposedly being high-handed. But he seemed to have been strengthened.”

All but one of the so-called “Craddick D’s” were nominated by Democratic Party voters during the March 4 party primaries statewide, including Peña and Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview.

In his reply to Rankin, Peña did not mention Craddick by name.

“The recent elections seem to show that, but to answer your question, I will support the winner,” Peña responded.

During the race against Sáenz, Peña came under intense political fire for supporting Craddick, who was reviled by his political enemies as being against the interests of the poor. Craddick denied those claims, contending his opponents twisted the truth.

With Peña facing tough personal and political attacks for his relationship with the Republicans – Peña said he believed in working with all House members for the sake of his district and Texas – Craddick pulled through in a big way for the Edinburg incumbent.

As the local race heated up, Craddick indirectly funneled up to $100,000 into Peña’s campaign from a lobby group controlled by Craddick, and from major Republican power brokers who also generously gave to Peña’s campaign.

Enough local voters stood firm in support of Peña, allowing him to narrowly win in early voting (February 19 – 29), and then pulling ahead convincingly on primary election day.

In early voting, Peña outpaced Sáenz by slightly more than 200 votes, winning by a margin of 5,744 votes to 5,530 votes.

But on March 4 – in the second round of ballots cast – Peña erased all hopes for Sáenz, winning by more than 800 votes – 3,898 to 3,031.

The victory should place Peña in line for greater political strength in the House of Representatives should Craddick remain Speaker of the House.

But Craddick is facing challenges from at least two Democrats and several other Republicans for the top post.

The first order of business for the House of Representatives in January will be the election of a speaker of the house.

Sáenz’ run against Peña was the second time he tried to unseat the popular legislator. Several years ago, Peña handily defeated Sáenz by almost 30 percent – a landslide.

This time, Sáenz put up much more respectable numbers, but the result was the same – a Peña victory.

Sáenz was hampered by a DWI arrest in Mission from last fall, to which he has claimed innocence and is scheduled to face court action later in March.

Much worse for him, in the waning days of the campaign, Sáenz suffered a personal blow with the passing of his beloved father.

With the election now over, Peña faces the opportunity – and challenge – of using his legislative experience and ever-increasing legislative clout to deliver even more major projects for House District 40, which also includes La Joya, Sullivan City, Edcouch, Elsa, and smaller communities and agricultural interests in northern Hidalgo County.

High on the list for Peña is the creation of a University of Texas medical school for the Valley, preferably in Hidalgo County.

Also, Peña, along with Sáenz, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Javier Villalobos, the Republican candidate who will face Gonzáles in November, recently endorsed the call for a UT law school in the Valley.

The Texas Legislature returns to its five-month regular session in January 2009.

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Following Sen. Obama’s visit to UTPA, ex-President Clinton comes to Edinburg for rally at Fieldhouse

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg once again was in the national political spotlight on Monday, March 3, when former President Bill Clinton, joined by some of the area’s top Democratic Party leadership, campaigned on behalf of his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, urging South Texans to support her bid for the presidency.

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, are engaged in a tough match to secure the national Democratic Party nomination in August to face presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, R-New Mexico.

On Tuesday night, March 4, Clinton edged Obama in the popular vote in Texas, but in Hidalgo County, the former First Lady dominate her Democratic rival at the ballot box, ringing up almost 73 percent of the popular vote.

According to the Hidalgo County Elections Department, Clinton received 61,218 votes in the Democratic Party primary, compared with 21,859 votes for Obama.

Other Democratic presidential candidates on the ballot – all who had already dropped out of the race – were former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina with 554 votes; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with 493 votes; Sen. Joe Biden of Rhode Island with 187 votes; and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut with 93 votes.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain, R-New Mexico, received almost 55 percent of the GOP primary election vote, with 3,147 votes, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 1,900 votes. Huckabee, who was the only GOP candidate left in the race on March 4, dropped out the following day.

Of the 290, 811 registered voters in Hidalgo County, 91,522 participated in either the Democratic or Republican Party March 4 primary elections. A voter could only cast ballots in one of the party’s nominating elections. In November, a voter may vote for anyone on the ballots, regardless of their political party affiliation.

The GOP had 5,726 ballots cast in its party primary in Hidalgo County, dwarfed by the Democratic Party turnout of 85,751.

It was that huge Democratic Party base that the former president was banking on to help Sen. Clinton.

Addressing hundreds of the Democratic Party faithful at the UTPA Fieldhouse late Monday morning, he endorsed his wife while taking shots at the Republican Party’s leadership since he left office in January 2001.

“We went back in the last seven years to the failed economic theory that if we just give rich people taxpayer-subsidized tax cuts, somehow it will all trickle down to the rest of us,” Clinton told the crowd. “It didn’t work before, it has worked worse this time.”

According to Clinton’s official biography, posted on the White House’s website:

“During the administration of William Jefferson Clinton, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well being than at any time in its history. He was the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term. He could point to the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the highest home ownership in the country’s history, dropping crime rates in many places, and reduced welfare rolls. He proposed the first balanced budget in decades and achieved a budget surplus. As part of a plan to celebrate the millennium in 2000, Clinton called for a great national initiative to end racial discrimination.”

Clinton was joined at the podium by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa, and Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr.

Rubén Hinojosa is the father of Laura Hinojosa.

Rubén Hinojosa and Juan Hinojosa are not related.

The former president, who has enjoyed historically strong support among the Democratic Party hierarchy and grass roots in deep South Texas, reminded Valleyites that the Clinton brand has been good for the country.

“We went from the 1990s and 22.9 million new jobs to this decade with five million new jobs,” Clinton said of economic prosperity nationwide during his two terms in office. “We went from all of eight million people working themselves from poverty into the middle class, the American Dream.”

But under the almost eight-year presidency of George W. Bush, “we now have five million people falling from the middle class back into poverty, the American Nightmare,” Clinton said.

The former president said his wife, if elected president, would make sure all Americans would be able to purchase “affordable health care.”

He portrayed the Republican Party as the party of the wealthy and that President Bush is out-of-touch with average Americans.

His wife, though, was nothing like the ruling class, he said.

“You want a president…who every single day won’t get carried away driving around in a bulletproof vehicle, flying around on Air Force One and being told you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Clinton said. “All you are as president is the most fortunate hired hand on the face of the earth. She (Hillary) knows that.”

Sen. Hinojosa summed up the mood of the pro-Clinton crowd at the Fieldhouse.

“Just like before, it took a Clinton to clean up the mess left by then President Bush,” the state senator said. “It’s going to take another Clinton to clean up his son’s mess.”

The former president’s swing through Edinburg was made possible by students, according to the Office of University Relations at UT-Pan American.

According to that office:

The last time Bill Clinton visited The University of Texas-Pan American he was a sitting president in 1999. The visit on Monday was the second trip made by the former commander in chief to the local campus.

The Association of Public Administrators, a student organization on campus, sponsored the Clinton visit to UTPA. The “Solutions for America” rally is scheduled began at 11:30 a.m. at the UTPA Fieldhouse, located at 1201 W. University Drive.

“It is a huge honor to have someone like him interested in coming to our University, area and region. Also this is an opportunity for him to know that we have people here who are dedicated to public administration,” said Erika Reyna, Association of Public Administrators treasurer and Master of Public Administration graduate student.

Reyna said the organization worked closely with Congressman Hinojosa’s office to coordinate the event. The visit Reyna said would be an excellent opportunity for the UTPA community to not only hear from the former president, but also be a part of history.

“This is an event that does not happen all the time and we don’t know when the next opportunity for him to visit our area will be,” Reyna said. “Certainly anyone who is interested in what is going on in society especially at this point should come out and see him.”

The free event was open to the public and space was available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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UT-Pan American students react favorably to attention given to area with visit by former president

By GAIL FAGAN

In a swing through South Texas on the day before the March 4 primary election, former President Bill Clinton made a stop at The University of Texas-Pan American – a visit sponsored by the Association of Public Administrators, a student organization on campus.

“Thank you for giving me the chance to come to UTPA,” Clinton said as he stepped up to the podium before a crowd of more than 500 in the Fieldhouse.

Clinton, clad in a suit with his blue cowboy boots, was introduced by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, following rallying remarks by a number of prominent state and local elected officials who have announced their support for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president. Clinton said it was only fitting that the race for the Democratic nomination between his wife and her opponent come down to Texas and Ohio.

“Hillary’s first job in politics as a very young woman was coming here over 35 years ago to register some of your parents and grandparents to vote,” he said. “It started here for her so long ago in this part of Texas.”

Clinton talked about the challenging issues facing America and described his wife’s position on a number of issues, spending considerable time explaining her heath care coverage proposal to cover everybody, pointing out that Hispanics are the highest percent of Americans without health care coverage.

“Raise your hand if you know someone without health insurance,” he asked the crowd, who responded with a large wave of hands.

On education, Clinton said Hillary would open doors of higher education to all Americans and implement a plan of tax credits for students, increased Pell Grants, a crack down on student loan abuse and student loan forgiveness for graduates who go into public service. In the midst of her campaign he also pointed out that Hillary passed the Student Borrower Bill of Rights, which she sponsored.

Before leaving the stage after his 15-minute speech, Clinton urged the crowd to participate in the Texas Two-Step – the state’s process of having both a primary and a caucus.

“Tomorrow Texas will be the only place in America where you can vote twice in an election without breaking the law or going to jail,” he said.

When asked why he came to UTPA, Clinton said he loved going to college campuses to campaign and to talk to students about Hillary’s plans for the future.

“In Missouri, where she carried 110 of the state’s 115 counties…I mostly went to college campuses in smaller areas like this. All elections are about tomorrow,” he said.

UTPA senior Cesar Aguilar, who was able to get Clinton’s signature and even shake his hand, said he appreciates the opportunity to personally see the candidates.

“My major is political science and I want to go to law school, so seeing people like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at Dodge Arena recently really motivates me,” said Aguilar, a Mission native, who has lent his hand to some local municipal court campaigns. “I also encourage my friends to go out and vote.”

Espiridion Borrego, associate professor and director of the Master in Public Administration program serves as the faculty adviser of the student organization who helped bring Clinton to UTPA. When students get to see a candidate, or in this case an ex-president, live, he said, it gets them energized and engaged politically. He indicated it also assists the faculty.

“Once the students are motivated, it makes it easier for faculty because they become more focused on their studies. They come alive and talk to each other and about the issues. So it is wonderful,” he said.

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South Texas Nation, an area cultural tabloid, claims voter manipulation in the Valley by Sen. Clinton

A convicted felon running for constable and other swarthy politicos are pistons for South Texas vote harvesting machines gathering votes for Hillary Clinton.

South Texas Nation, a cultural tabloid covering the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, tunnels deep into this machine to show how entrenched politicians pool resources to solicit votes for themselves and aligned politicians, which for local Dems usually includes Clinton.

Fleets of rental cars and paid political assistants known as “politiqueros” and “politiqueras” gather the region’s poor, uneducated and elderly, then shuffle them into early-voting booths with pre-marked sample ballots that promote aligned politicians.

It’s politics as usual in the Rio Grande Valley, writes editor David Robledo. For the complete story, go to http://www.southtexasnation.com

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Texas Republicans report record number of ballots cast in March 4 GOP party primaries statewide

By HANS KLINGLER

Texas Republican Party Chairman Tina Benkiser on Wednesday, March 5. commended Texas Republican voters for turning out in record numbers to voice their choice for President of the United States and other important races up and down the ballot.

Unofficial statewide turnout numbers according to the Texas Secretary of State are in excess of 1.3 million Republicans voting in the GOP Primary Election for President of the United States, which is almost double the 2004 turnout and over two hundred thousand more than in 2000.

“The Texas GOP is grateful to all the voters who turned out during early voting and on Election Day to voice their choice in this incredibly important election. We have a battle of principles and ideals ahead of us which we are well prepared to fight. Today, we focus on November,” said Benkiser.

Statewide voter turnout for the Texas GOP was driven in part by the race for the White House between the last three candidates that included United States Senator John McCain, United States Congressman Ron Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Also contributing to the record GOP Primary Election turnout were numerous local contested primaries in the large urban areas.

“We have an amazing slate of candidates who ran during the primary; and to them we say thank you for your time, energy and ideas. Now we must focus on November and coalescing behind our nominees,” Benkiser continued.

Several important Primary Election Runoff races still remain to be decided in April.

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Elva Jackson Garza, former board member of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, inducted into Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Elva Jackson Garza, an Edinburg community and business leader, was recently inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame in recognition of her achievements and major contributions to deep South Texas.

Jackson Garza, originally from Mission, serves as vice president and marketing manager for Edwards Abstract and Title Company in Edinburg.

Two highlights of her distinguished work on behalf of the region include her service as board member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – and her leadership as chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

She was the only honoree from Edinburg, and was one of 32 civic and business leaders from 21 Valley cities to receive on Friday, February 29, the coveted public recognition.

The RGV Walk of Fame is part of BorderFest, a major community fundraiser hosted by the City of Hidalgo, the BorderFest Association, the Hidalgo Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Hidalgo Municipal Facilities Corporation.

The RGV Walk includes people from all walks of life, and is located at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this award and recognition,” she said. “Giving back to my community is one of the great pleasures of my life.

Jackson Garza has devoted more than 25 years of service, not only to Edinburg, but to many other organizations throughout Hidalgo County.

The Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame Commission makes the final selection of the inductees. The commission includes representatives from local libraries, arts organizations, the media, and other citizens with an understanding of the Valley’s cultural heritage.

Mayor John David Franz welcomed more than 300 guests and family members of the inductees from Alamo to Weslaco. Citizens from Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties were recognized for exemplary leadership, service and dedication to their communities.

Byron Lewis, president of Edward Abstract and Title Company, said her selection reflected positively upon Edinburg and on his company.

“We are so proud of Elva for this outstanding honor for which she so richly deserves,” said Lewis. “If reflects very positively on both her adopted hometown and especially on us, because her reputation for integrity and community service is part of the high standards that everyone maintains at Edward Abstract and Title Company.

Jackson Garza is married to Alfredo Rubén Garza of Edinburg and is the daughter of the late Alberto Jackson, Jr. and María Sidia Gracia Jackson of La Joya.

One of the highlights of the evening was the introduction and special welcome given to the 2008 Border Texan of the Year, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Ricardo S. Sánchez of Rio Grande City.

Sánchez led U.S. troops in the war in Iraq.

Inductees were presented with a special commemorative brick as a personal keepsake and a tile in the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame at the Dodge Arena.

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NACCS Tejas Regional Conference at South Texas College on Hispanic history and education a big success

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College recently played host to the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) Tejas Regional Conference this spring and the event was a huge success.

With more than 400 attendees from across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas and the nation, the event offered a forum for the open exchange of ideas about the status and future opportunities in Mexican-Americans, focusing sharply on the need for expanded Mexican-American history and education opportunities.

“This event has been highly energizing,” said María Ramírez, an instructor with Ohlone Community College out of California. “It has been terrific to connect with people from different generations. I know that younger Mexican-Americans will keep the missing chapters of our history alive and that is very exciting. I have been so impressed with the energy and interest in Mexican-American heritage and history from this community. It has been a remarkable experience.”

STC hosted more than 40 conference session for attendees, offering prolific Mexican-American scholars and authors from across to share their ideas. Participants included professors and authors from New York University, Notre Dame, Rice University, The University of Colorado at Denver, The University of California at Santa Cruz, California State, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University and others.

“The conference has been pretty interesting with lots of networking opportunities and chances to connect on a different level with others from across the nation,” said Kevin Gonzáles, South Texas College speech major. “I have learned a lot from scholars and students in other fields of study. It has been very positive and I would love to see STC offer more of these events in the future.”

Community members and students from college across the Valley also had the opportunity to participate.

“I have gained a lot of information about indigenous and Chicana history and that has been the most interesting part of the conference,” said Hector Guzman, University of Texas-Pan American philosophy major. “The panels on women’s’ history and the networking opportunities have been great.”

In addition to the panel sessions, the college also hosted two keynote speakers at the McAllen Convention Center. Rodolfo F. Acuña, the author of Occupied America: The History of Chicanos, and Martha P. Cotera, the author of Diosa y Hembra: The History and Heritage of Chicanas in the U.S., discussed their experiences in studying, teaching and writing about the Mexican-American experience. They shared their perspectives on the opportunities for Mexican-Americans in the 21st century and how education has and will continue to be a foundation for the exploration of Mexican-American culture.

A Cultural Night Celebration recognized the important contributions of Mexican-American, Chicana and Latina women with a performance by The University of Texas-Pan American Folkloric Dance Company and a special reading of the poetry of the late Gloria Anzaldúa by members of the Gloria Anzaldúa Legacy Project.

For those who missed this great conference, attendees had an experience of a lifetime,” said Esmeralda Moheno, founding member of the Colégio Jacinto Treviño and renowned Mexican-American scholar. “We got to see our Chicano philosophy at work. The event was organized by an outstanding group of young Chicano instructors and students. We were surrounded by young Chicanos truly appreciate our efforts to drive Mexican-American education, opportunity and documentation of our history. It was the realization of a dream.”

“This is honestly the best NACCS conference I have attended during my tenure with the organization,” said Norma Cantú, past NACCS president.

The next NACCS Tejas Regional Conference will be held in spring 2008 at The University of Texas-San Antonio. For more information about NACCS visit http://www.naccs.org. For more information about South Texas College visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu.

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Sen. Cornyn: Border Coalition study highlights need to help border counties pay for high costs stemming from dealing with undocumented immigrants

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the ranking member of the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee, made the following statement Wednesday, March 5, regarding a new report by the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition on the costs of illegal immigration:

“This report shows clearly that we need to pass legislation to expedite and expand reimbursements now more than ever. Texas taxpayers and border law enforcement officials should not have to foot the bill for this unfunded mandate. The report also highlights the need for broader reforms of our broken immigration system. The federal government has a responsibility to secure the border.

“Border law enforcement officials play a critical role in keeping Texas residents safe. A bipartisan bill I’m backing will expedite the reimbursement process, expand the types of services eligible for reimbursement and make our communities more secure. I urge the Senate to pass this important legislation.”

Background:

The U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition report found that the total cost in fiscal year ‘06 to Texas’s 15 border counties for providing law enforcement and criminal justice services to criminal undocumented immigrants from the general fund is estimated to be $75.3 million. From fiscal year ‘99 to fiscal year ‘06, the total cost is estimated to be $330.9 million.

The coalition recommended that Congress begin to fulfill its responsibility for border security by reimbursing border counties for the fiscal consequences of failed immigration policies. Three recommendations cover the costs associated with undocumented immigrants who commit state felonies and/or multiple misdemeanors: 1) fully fund SCAAP, 2) fully fund the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative, and 3) fully reimburse the 24 border counties for the costs of law enforcement and criminal justice services.

Cornyn recently co-sponsored two bipartisan bills to ensure states and localities are fully reimbursed in a timely manner for the costs of incarcerating criminal aliens:

The SCAAP Reimbursement Protection Act of 2008 would require the Justice Department to reimburse states and localities for the costs of incarcerating aliens either charged with, or convicted of, one felony or two misdemeanors. Since 2003 the Justice Department has reimbursed only for the costs of incarcerating convicted aliens.

The Ensure Timely SCAAP Reimbursement Act would require the Justice Department to make timely reimbursement payments to state and local governments. This legislation would require reimbursement within 120 days of the application deadline.

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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Sen. Hutchison votes for major improvements to consumer product safety laws

By MACK MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the state’s senior senator, on Thursday, March 6, voted to pass major improvements to U.S. consumer product safety laws. The need to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its regulatory jurisdiction was highlighted last fall when numerous consumer products, particularly children’s toys, were deemed unsafe and had to be recalled. In September 2007 alone, approximately 1.3 million toys were recalled for violating lead paint standards.

“This legislation will help protect American consumers from dangerous products by increasing funding for enforcement, emphasizing research and development, and imposing higher penalties on offenders,” said Hutchison.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission bill (S. 2663) would overhaul the CPSC and improve its ability to protect consumers from dangerous products by modernizing the agency’s authority to match the 21st century marketplace. This reform legislation will increase CPSC resources by $835 million – 50% above current funding levels – over the next 7 years. Another $40 million will be dedicated to refurbishing outdated lab testing facilities. In addition, the legislation will direct $1 million each year to investigating the long-term effects of new products. The bill will also expand CPSC’s workforce, raising personnel levels from 400 employees to at least 500 employees by 2013.

“I believe this measure will go a long way toward strengthening the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” said Hutchison. “This bill is far from perfect and I hope there will be further fine-tuning of the legislation when it goes to conference with the House.”

In response to last year’s rash of recalls of unsafe toys, the bill mandates third-party testing and certification of children’s products. It also requires tracking labels on merchandise. It imposes substantial changes to permissible levels of lead in products for children. The bill also bans the sale of recalled merchandise and penalizes retailers who continue to willfully stock these products. The bill creates an online product safety database, giving consumers real-time access to product safety information.

The CPSC estimates that consumer products under its jurisdiction are related to 27,100 deaths and 33.1 million injuries each year.

A conference committee will now reconcile differences between the Senate-passed Consumer Product Safety Commission Bill and similar House-passed legislation. Once each chamber of Congress approves the conference report, the measure will go to the President to be signed into law.

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Attorney General Abbott resolves right to work cases against labor union SPFPA

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, March 3, secured court orders prohibiting the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA) from continuing to violate state right-to-work laws. The Attorney General pursued an enforcement action against the union after discovering that SPFPA and two of its local chapters were illegally requiring worker to pay union dues or risk losing their jobs.

Texas’ right-to-work laws protect workers from compulsory union membership, thus both unions and employers are prohibited from requiring employees to join labor unions or pay union dues. Despite those legal protections, the SPFPA attempted to enforce illegal collective bargaining agreements by inaccurately claiming that the employees in question worked at so-called federal enclaves. The agreed final judgments secured by the state permanently enjoin SPFPA from enforcing its unlawful contracts in the future.

“These court orders protect Texas workers from being forced to join a labor union or pay union dues,” Abbott said. “State right-to-work laws specifically prohibit unions and employers from forcing Texans to pay union dues. The Office of the Attorney General is committed to protecting workers’ freedom from compulsory union membership and will continue aggressively enforcing state right-to-work laws.”

Under agreed final judgments filed in Corpus Christi and El Paso, SPFPA cannot enforce any collective bargaining agreements that compel union membership in Texas. The only exceptions to that prohibition are worksites located on federal enclaves, which lie outside the state’s jurisdiction and are therefore not subject to state law. In the future, SPFPA cannot execute similar agreements without first providing the Attorney General proof that the facility in question qualifies as a federal enclave.

Abbott took legal action against SPFPA in July 2007 after security officers at Asset Protection & Security Services, L.P. (APSS) in Corpus Christi and Deco-Akal JV in El Paso complained that SPFPA was illegally conditioning workers’ employment on union membership and payment of union dues.

Under the agreed final judgment secured by the Attorney General, SPFPA must notify APSS and Deco-Akal JV employees in writing that it will no longer enforce contractual provisions requiring union membership. The same written notice must also be provided to employees working for Ameritex at the IRS Building in Austin.

APSS, which provides security services to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Los Fresnos Detention Facility in Bayview (also known as the Port Isabel Service Processing Center), and Deco-Akal JV, which provides security services to the ICE Service Processing Center in El Paso, entered into similar agreements with the State in August 2007.

Under the Texas Labor Code, employers and labor unions are prohibited from requiring workers to join unions, and cannot force workers to pay union dues. Employees working at federal enclaves may be required to pay union dues because those facilities are not subject to Texas’ right-to-work laws.

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New site, http://www.icanefile.org, provides free and easy tax filing help, says Rep. Martínez

By SCOTT JENKINES

Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, has announced a new, free tax preparation website – http://www.Icanefile.org –that is available to all Texans.

“Through my support of this special project of the Texas Legal Services Center, residents of my district with limited income can now file their taxes quickly, securely, and without having to pay a cent to a professional tax preparer,” said Martínez. “Additionally, by filing returns electronically, families will be assured prompt access to tax rebates that have recently been approved by the U.S. Congress.

The website, sponsored by the Texas Legal Services Center, will automatically calculate and file for all potential tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), child tax credit, and others. There is no charge to use the website, and the site has been authorized by the IRS for safe and effective self-help tax preparation.

“Hundreds of thousands of people who could be significantly helped by the EITC don’t know about it, and they pay high fees to tax preparation services. The site, located at http://www.icanefile.org, makes filing and claiming the EITC easy through a series of simple questions and answers. Many workers who have not filed in the past may be eligible for large refund checks,” emphasized Randall Chapman, Executive Director of the Texas Legal Services Center.

“I am very pleased to support the work of the Texas Legal Services Center in providing this website for free to all the working families in my district,” said Martínez.

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Corpus Christi lawmaker García releases 1,007 pages of financial records requested by former GOP leader

By ELIZABETH LIPPINCOTT

Rep. Juan M. García III, D-Corpus Christi, on Thursday, March 6, voluntarily provided 1,007 pages of financial records, emails and correspondence from his Capitol and district offices. Garcia’s release came in the wake of an open records request by former Nueces County GOP chair Joel Yowell directed to the House Business Office in Austin. The House Business Office has responded to Yowell’s request.

“I am proud of the work that my staff and I do every day for the hardworking families of the Coastal Bend,” García wrote in a cover letter to Yowell. “For that reason, I am providing these documents so that the media and my constituents can clearly understand what we do and how we do it – meeting with our constituents around the district, writing recommendations for bright young people to go to college or pursue better jobs, and advocating for our local communities when they deal with government agencies.”

Yowell’s request to the House Business Office sought all telephone records, emails, correspondence and employee records since García took office in January 2007, as well as district office leases and records pertaining to signs for García’s district offices.

A complete copy of the 1,007 pages of documents is being provided to major media outlets in District 32. A set of the documents will also be available for review by media and the public in García’s district office at 703 Moore St, Portland.

García has made open government a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. As a freshman legislator he co-authored Proposition 11, which won overwhelming statewide voter approval in November for a new constitutional requirement that the Texas House and Senate must record all final votes and publish them for free on the Internet.

García won his first victory for open government in January 2007 with passage of a García amendment to the Texas House rules, which required record votes on passage of all final measures in the House. With passage of Proposition 11, García’s amendment has been expanded and codified in the Texas Constitution to ensure that no new law can change the lives of Texans without public accountability for the vote.

García represents the 32nd District in the Texas House of Representatives, which includes Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio counties and part of Nueces County. Elected in 2006, he is an attorney and second-generation naval aviator. He lives in Corpus Christi with his wife Denise and their four children.

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Legal watchdog urges voters: Know your judicial candidates

By BETH WALKER

With the primary elections over, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse groups are urging voters to spend the coming months learning about all judicial candidates’ backgrounds and qualifications before heading to the polls for the general election in November.

“Too often, many of us don’t spend as much time researching judicial candidates as thoroughly as we research candidates for other offices,” said Bill Summers, President of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “Supreme Court justices and judges at the appellate and local level carry a significant responsibility, and it’s our job as voters to know if judicial candidates are qualified and will uphold the proper role of the court.”

CALA encourages voters to observe which justices consistently apply the law on a case-by-case basis.

“Following the rule of law and applying the law properly – not meeting some arbitrary percentage of finding for the plaintiffs or defendants – is what makes our courts fair and balanced for all parties,” said Chip Hough, Chairman of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse in Corpus Christi.

“We urge all Texas voters to be diligent in their research of judicial candidates,” added Kirsten Voinis, Executive Director of CALA of Central Texas. “Take the time to learn about their backgrounds and qualifications for the job.”

Diane Davis, Executive Director of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, added that decisions made by judges have a tremendous impact on our daily lives.

“Voters need to elect judges that will ensure the rights of all parties are protected,” Davis said.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots, public education organization dedicated to serving as a watchdog over the legal system and those who would seek to abuse it for undeserved gain. Founded in the Rio Grande Valley in 1991, CALA now strives nationwide to raise awareness of the costs and consequences of lawsuit abuse. More than 25,000 Texans now support the movement. For more information, visit http://www.citizensagainstlawsuitabuse.com.

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