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Edinburg City Councilmember Alma A. Garza, flanked by her parents, Dr. Omar and Dora Garza, took her oath of office on Monday, May 12, for a three-year term on the five-member governing body. Alma Garza, who for the first time in her young political career had faced an opponent, generated 63 percent of the vote, a significant margin of victory.  She was sworn in by Hidalgo County 206th District Court Judge Rose Guerra Reyna. Garza also raised more than $29,000 in campaign funds in the second phase of her campaign to help secure her victory, according to her campaign finance report filed with the City Secretary’s Office. See story later in this posting.

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Gene Espinoza, left, who was reelected to a new three-year term on Saturday, May 10, is congratulated by his uncle, Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza, after the city councilmember, who was joined by his immediate family, was sworn in to office on Monday, May 12.  In addition to his own many supporters, Espinoza was helped in his reelection bid by generous contributions for several prominent Edinburg-area business leaders.  The most recent list of his contributors, along with the campaign financial supporters for Councilmember Alma Garza, are featured in a story later in this posting.

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Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios, featured left, on Monday, May 12, was sworn in for another three-year term as presiding judge of the local court by  his nephew, Hidalgo County 92nd District Court Judge Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr.  Palacios, who is also a partner in the law firm of García, Quintanilla and Palacios in McAllen – which includes former Edinburg Mayor Richard García – serves a key role in the administering of justice in the community. Rodríguez was  a former Edinburg City Councilmember before resigning that post in October 2005 to make his own successful bid for district judge. According to CourtReference.com, municipal courts in Texas have original and exclusive jurisdiction over criminal violations of certain municipal ordinances and airport board rules, orders, or resolutions that do not exceed $2,500 in some instances and $500 in others. Municipal courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the justice courts in certain misdemeanor criminal cases. In addition to the jurisdiction of a regular municipal court, municipal courts of record also have jurisdiction over criminal cases arising under ordinances authorized by certain provisions of the Texas Local Government Code. The municipality may also provide by ordinance that a municipal court of record have additional jurisdiction in certain civil and criminal matters. Municipal judges also serve in the capacity of a committing magistrate, with the authority to issue warrants for the apprehension and arrest of persons charged with the commission of both felony and misdemeanor offenses. As a magistrate, the municipal judge may hold preliminary hearings, reduce testimony to writing, discharge the accused, or remand the accused to jail and set bail.

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Dr. Scott Cook, one of the world’s expert on Mexican brick culture, has a unique window on Valley’s history, and he will be in Edinburg on Wednesday, June 11, to share those perspectives at the Museum for South Texas History, located at 200 N. Closner, immediately northeast of the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Accompanying him will be local musicologists and “North of the Border” radio show hosts Joe and Rosa Pérez (singing songs of the brick-makers).  The presentations will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and wine and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.  Cook is professor emeritus of anthropology and interim director of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. He lives in Willimantic, Connecticut. There is a $5 donation requested, and the event calls for business casual attire. To RSVP or obtain more information, interested persons may call 956/ 776-0100, extension 311.

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Sen. Hinojosa applauds recommendation to change leadership at Texas Department of Transportation

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

The Sunset Commission, a state agency charged periodic state agency oversight, on Monday, June 2, released its staff report for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).  One staff report suggests replacing the Transportation Commission’s five-member panel with a single commissioner appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate for two-year terms.

In recent years, TxDOT has come under fire from legislators and the public for several policy decisions made by TxDOT, most notably a trend toward toll financing of new transportation corridors and issues with financial management.  Earlier this year, TxDOT reported making a $1.1 billion mathematical mistake, causing cash management issues for the agency.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the 10-member Sunset Commission, praised the Sunset staff report’s single-commissioner proposal.

“I expect this recommendation to be the first step on a new policy course.  TxDOT’s vision, according to their website, is to be a progressive agency respected by Texans,” Hinojosa said. “But lately, the agency has been most effective at eroding the public’s respect for and trust in TxDOT’s ability to build quality transportation infrastructure while remaining accountable to elected officials. A transportation policy that relies on toll-roads and a lack of transparency is not only unsustainable, but irresponsible and short-sighted.”

The Sunset report is part of an on-going agency review that will yield policy recommendations for the legislative session that begins in January 2009.  As part of the process, public testimony and agency representatives appear before the Sunset Commission to discuss the staff report.

Hinojosa commented on the direction he would like to see the policy discussion to take as the TxDOT review continues into the summer and fall.

“A state agency is only effective if it operates with the confidence of the constituencies it serves and the trust of the Legislature. The new Transportation Commission chair has expressed a dedication to overhauling how TxDOT engages the public. I am looking forward to reviewing the details of TxDOT’s mission and vision and it reengages the public it serves,” Hinojosa concluded.

Chris Lippincott, a spokesman for TxDOT, issued the following response to the Sunset Commission report:

“The confidence of the Legislature and the public are very important to us. We still have work to do, but we are confident that our ongoing efforts to improve the transparency and accessibility of TxDOT are making a positive impact,” Lippincott said. “We look forward to our continued work with the members and staff of the Sunset Commission.”

The Sunset Commission staff report is available at:

http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/81.htm#txdot

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Alma Garza raised more than $29,000 in second phase of her successful bid for Edinburg City Council

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg Place 4 City Councilmember Alma A. Garza raised more than $29,000, a figure which included a $10,000 loan from First National Bank in Edinburg, between April 11 and May 2 to help fuel her successful reelection bid on May 10, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Edinburg City Secretary’s Office.

Meanwhile, Place 3 Councilmember Gene Espinoza – who succeeded Garza as Mayor Pro Tem during the May 20 city council session – raised $10,700 during that same period to help propel him, in a much closer race, also to another three-year term on the Edinburg City Council.

Garza captured 63 percent of the vote against Johnny Rodríguez, while Espinoza, the more experienced of the two incumbents, pulled in 52 percent of the ballots in his race against Leonel Guerrero.

For their part, Rodríguez and Guerrero reported smaller contributions between April 10 and May 2, according to their campaign finance reports.

During that period, Rodríguez raised slightly more than $1,200, while Guerrero reported receiving no money. However,  between January 1 and April 10, Guerrero reported receiving  $900 in political contributions, and listed a $5,000 loan, from Lone Star National Bank, as operating cash for his campaign.

Garza also spent the most between April 10 and May 2 – $21,074.11 – followed by Guerrero, who invested $9,386.87; Espinoza, who spent $2,640.28; and Rodríguez, who reported $1,835.75 in expenditures.

Espinoza also reported a $3,000 outstanding loan for his campaign as of May 2.

Expenditures and contributions in the city council races that occurred after May 2 will be contained the the required semi-annual campaign finance reports to be filed with the City Secretary’s Office later this summer.

First National Bank leaders, Burns family

Also according to their latest campaign reports, Garza and Espinoza were recipients of significant financial support from prominent area leaders.

David Rogers, Jr., P.O. Box 1077 in Edinburg, the chairman of the board of First National Bank in Edinburg, provided the largest single-contribution for any city council candidate.

On April 18, Rogers gave Garza a $5,000 contribution.

First National Bank in Edinburg is the city’s long-time depository, whose many responsibilities include handling the city government’s checking accounts.

Saúl Ortega, 1220 Castille Court in Edinburg, who is the chief financial officer for First National Bank in Edinburg, gave Garza a $1,000 political contribution on April 19.

Garza’s $10,000 campaign loan from First National Bank was made on March 17, at an interest rate of eight percent, with a maturity date of October 2008.

Garza stated in her financial report that she provided no collateral for the campaign loan.

Her newspaper advertising campaign represented the lion’s share of her expenditures between April 11 and May 2, according to her report.

The McAllen Monitor was paid $4,853.06 on April 21 and $6,066.30 on April 28 for newspaper ads.

The Edinburg Review was paid $2,612 on April 25 for a newspaper ad.

The Burns family, led by three brothers who are developing La Sienna, a master-planned community north of Edinburg, also were generous contributors to both Garza and Espinoza.

Bill Burns of 3900 N. 10th, Suite 1050 in McAllen and Kent Burns of 1413 W. Esperanza Avenue in McAllen   each gave $2,500 on April 14 and April 21, respectively, to Garza’s campaign.

Also on April 21, a $2,000 contribution to Garza was made by Chris and Margaret Burns of 1707 Lark Spur in McAllen.

When all stages are finished around 2013, La Sienna – which could qualify for significant economic incentives from the city government – will be valued at about $500 million in businesses, homes, and even feature the first Catholic high school in the Upper Valley.

As for Espinoza, he received $2,500 contributions apiece from brothers Bill and Kent Burns, although Espinoza did not list the date on those contributions in his campaign finance report.

In addition to the contributions from the two Burns brothers, Espinoza received four $1,000 contributions between April 10 and May 2: First National Bank’s Ortega gave Espinoza $1,000, along with William Steele of Edinburg, Roy Balderas of Edinburg, and Louis Dannenbaum of Houston.

Espinoza’s largest expenditure between April 10 and May 2 was to Ruiz-Oliver, in the amount of

$1,181.38, paid on April 18 for campaign T-shirts and caps.

The Edinburg Review accounted for his second largest combined expenditure during that period – an $850 payment on April 30 and two $237.50 payments, on April 10 and on April 30, for advertising.

For Rodríguez, his largest expenditure was a payment made on April 18 to Marco Pérez, 2008 W. Jonquil in McAllen, in the amount of $900 for consulting services.

Guerrero’s largest payment during this period was in the amount of $5,099.94, made out to the McAllen Monitor on April 24 for an advertisement. He also reported a $4,094.56 payment on April 17 to Digital Group of Edinburg for campaign materials, such as caps. T-shirts, and bumper stickers.

A detailed breakdown of the four candidates’ campaign contributions and expenditures between April 10 and May 2 follows:

ALMA A. GARZA

PLACE 4

Campaign Contributors

April 11 – May 2, 2008

$5,000 contribution:

  • David Rogers, Jr., P.O. Box 1077, Edinburg on April 18.

$2,500 contributions each:

  • Bill Burns, 3900 North 10th Street, McAllen, on April 14; and
  • Kent Burns, 1413 W. Esperanza Avenue, McAllen, on April 21.

$2,000 contribution:

  • Chris and Margaret Burns, 1707 Lark Spur, McAllen, on April 21.

$1,000 contributions each:

  • Michael V. McCarthy, P.O. Box 542, Edinburg, on April 18;
  • Dick Oates, P.O. Box 2556, McAllen, on April 18;
  • Saúl Ortega, 1220 Castille Court, Edinburg, on April 19; and
  • Michael and Nellie Martin, 97375 Knoxville Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 21.

$700 contribution:

  • Fidel and Dina Pérez, 1311 Cedar Drive, Edinburg, on April 21.

$250 contributions each:

  • Daniel Q. Longoria, 4610 S. Closner, Edinburg, on April 18;
  • Atlas and Hall, P.O. Drawer 3725, McAllen, on April 18;
  • Eduardo Leal, 1721 San Guillermo Street, Edinburg, on April 18;
  • Herb and Nancy Scurlock, 3714 South Expressway 281, Edinburg, on April 21; and
  • Arcadio R. “Felo” Guerra, P.O. Box 44, Linn, on April 21.

$200 contribution:

  • Al Álvarez, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 21.

$ 193.28 contribution:

  • Joseph Connors, III, 106 W. Fern, McAllen, on April 11.

$150 contributions each:

  • Danny Cantú, 2806 Fuente De Paz, Edinburg, on April 21; and
  • Mark and Joyce Magee, 13536 Borolo Drive, Edinburg, on April 21.

$100 contributions each:

  • Greg and Mary Lou Yarborough, 1413 Northgate Lane, McAllen, on April 21;
  • Robert Gandy, 216 E. Xenops, McAllen, on April 21; and
  • Dwayne Bair, 2015 Ann Street, Edinburg, on April 21.

$50 contributions each:

  • Rubén and Chris García, 1402 South 13th, Edinburg, on April 17; and
  • Alberto Chapa, 2007 Fair Oaks, Mission, on April 21.

$100 contribution:

  • Estella Treviño, (no address or hometown given by the campaign), on April 29.

THOMAS EUGENE ESPINOZA

PLACE 3

Campaign Contributors

April 11 – May 2, 2008

$2,500 contributions each:

  • Bill Burns, (no street address, hometown, or date provided by the campaign); and
  • Ken Burns, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign).

$1,000 contributions each:

  • William Steele, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign);
  • Louis Dannenbaum, (no street address provided by the campaign), Houston, (no date provided by the campaign);
  • Roy Balderas, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign); and
  • Saúl Ortega, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign).

$750 contribution:

  • Tillman Welch, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign).

$500 contribution:

  • Jesse Salinas, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign).

$250 contribution:

  • Dwayne Bair, (no street address, hometown, or date provided by the campaign).

$100 contributions each:

  • Joe Rodríguez, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign); and
  • Mark Magee, (no street address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, (no date provided by the campaign).

JOHNNY RODRÍGUEZ

PLACE 4

Campaign Contributors

April 10 – May 2, 2008

$470 contribution

  • J.C.S, P.O. Box 110, Donna, on April 12.

$300 contributions each:

  • Richard Cruz, 223 Conquest Boulevard, Edinburg, on April 11; and
  • Mark Iglesias, 804 Royal Street, Edinburg, on April 12.

$100 contribution

  • Jorge S. Vázquez, 1521 Guadupe Drive, Edinburg, on April 10.

$65 contribution

  • Próspero Jiménez, III, 2711 Charlotte Drive, Pharr, on April 12.

Rodriguez’ wife, Melissa, also provided four loans totaling $1,000 to his campaign during this reporting period. The money was from her own resources.

LEONEL GUERRERO

PLACE 3

Campaign Contributors

April 10 – May 2, 2008

No contributions reported between April 10 and May 2, 2008

ALMA A. GARZA

PLACE 4

Campaign Expenditures

April 11 – May 2, 2008

$6,066.30

  • The Monitor, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 28.

$4,853.06

  • The Monitor, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 21.

$2,612

  • The Edinburg Review, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 25.

$1,536

  • Graphix Express, (no address, hometown, or date provided by the campaign).

$994.96

  • PDQ Printing, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 28.

$747.50

  • Upper Valley Mail Services, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 30.

$700

  • Belinda Rodríguez, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 27.

$693.52

  • ECHO Hotel, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 28.

$525

  • Space Jump Rentals, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 28.

$500 each

  • Lucía González, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 27;
  • Yolanda Niño, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 27; and
  • Ray Garza, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on May 1.

$200

  • Elida Vásquez, (no address or hometown provided by campaign), on April 1.

$175

  • Bobcat (word not legible) Club, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 24.

$151.25

  • PDQ Printing, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 25.

$151.15

  • PDQ Printing, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 28.

$89.50

  • Chorizo de San Manuel, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on May 2.

$53.10

  • HEB, (no address or hometown provided by campaign), on April 27.

THOMAS EUGENE ESPINOZA

PLACE 3

Campaign Expenditures

April 10 – May 2, 2008

$1,181.38

  • Ruiz – Oliver, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 18.

$1,000

  • Monte Cristo Golf Course, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 18.

$850

  • Leo Castilleja, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 8; and
  • Edinburg Review, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 30.

$370

  • Los Comales, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 10.

$237.50 each

  • Edinburg Review, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 10; and
  • Edinburg Review, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 30.

$172.12

  • Space Jump Rentals, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 18.

$140

  • A-A Signs,  (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 15.

$95.28

  • Peter Piper, (no address or hometown provided by the campaign), on April 15.

JOHNNY RODRÍGUEZ

PLACE 4

Campaign Expenditures

April 10 – May 2, 2008

$900

  • Marco Pérez, 2008 W. Jonquil, McAllen, for consulting, on April 18.

$270

  • The Monitor, 1400 Nolana Loop, McAllen, for a political ad, on April 29.

$184.25

  • A&A Custom Design, 1003 Ragland, Mission, for T-shirts, on April 11.

$180

  • The Monitor, 1400 E. Nolana Loop, McAllen, for a political ad, on April 23.

$168

  • Lee Elementary, 1215 W. Sprague, Edinburg, candies for political promotion, on April 16.

$100

  • The Monitor, 1400 Nolana Loop, McAllen, for a political ad, on April 23.

$33.50

  • Copy It, 1001 S. 10th, Suite C, McAllen, on April 18.

LEONEL GUERRERO

PLACE 3

Campaign Expenditures

April 10 – May 2, 2008

$5,099.99

  • The Monitor, (no address provided by the campaign), McAllen, on April 24.

$4,094.56

  • Digital Group, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 17.

$197.37

  • El Taco Place, (no address provided by the campaign), Edinburg, on April 12.

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Victims of family violence, stalking and sexual assault can register for anonymous address

By TOM KELLEY

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, June 2, announced that family violence, stalking and sexual assault victims may be eligible to participate in a new, state-sponsored address confidentiality program. Eligible Texans can register for an anonymous address that will appear on voter and school registration cards, driver’s licenses, and most government documents, including court records.

The Attorney General’s Crime Victim Services Division will designate a substitute address for eligible victims; receive service of process and mail for the participants; and forward mail to participants’ actual address. During the 80th Legislative Session, Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, authored legislation creating the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), which authorizes the attorney general to provide this service to crime victims.

“Texas family violence, stalking and sexual assault victims can now obtain a confidential address that will help them protect their privacy and keep them secure,” Attorney General Abbott said. “We are grateful to the victim assistance organizations that partnered with us to ensure this program provides the meaningful protections intended by the Legislature.”

Applicants must meet with a local domestic violence shelter, sexual assault center, law enforcement, or prosecution staff member to discuss a safety plan and learn more about the enrollment process. To get contact information for local shelters, access the Texas Council on Family Violence Web site at http://www.tcfv.org or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE. To contact local sexual assault centers, access the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault Web site at http://www.taasa.org or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656- HOPE. Meeting with a victim advocate is vital to this process and required by law.

Sheryl Cates, chief executive officer of the TCFV and the National Domestic Violence Hotline praised the new program: “The ACP is yet another valuable tool available to victims of family violence in protecting themselves from the perpetrators who abuse them. We are grateful to General Abbott and his staff for seeking input from the Texas Council on Family Violence and many other domestic violence service providers in the development of ACP guidelines.”

Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of TAASA, added: “Rape is a crime that removes control from a victim; this measure provides one additional avenue for restoring that control.

TAASA is proud to have worked with the Legislature, the Attorney General and other victim advocacy organizations to see this important program through to fruition and we’re hopeful that survivors of sexual violence, stalking and domestic violence will find this a helpful tool on their path to recovery.”

For more information about the Address Confidentiality Program or to learn more about the eligibility criteria, contact the program at (512) 936-1750 or (888) 832-2322, or visit the agency’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Hidalgo County launches its new and improved website –  http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

By CARI LAMBRECHT

Filled with new features — such as instant notifications, a user-friendly staff and email directory, frequently asked questions and up-to-the-minute news and information — the site is sure to be a hit with visitors wishing to have government at their fingertips.

“We are in an era of E-Government,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. “Our residents want quick, reliable information and a variety of online services. For years, we’ve had people saying our website was hard to use, and even our government employees had limited resources with it.

“Well, the county listened to the concerns, and today, our new website gives us the freedom to communicate and interact with our residents and our visitors. It gives our residents and visitors the freedom to learn about us, participate, or, if they want, spend less time dealing with us by eliminating that need to make a phone call or a trip to our offices. Our goals are efficiency and transparency, and I think that’s what we have achieved here,” Salinas said.

The contract for the website software and design was awarded to CivicPlus on October 30, 2007 in the amount of $29,000. Previously, the website was fully maintained in house by the Information Technology Department. Hidalgo County has maintained a web presence since 2000. The IT Department will drive all future content on the new website. This one-time cost offsets the need for a full-time webmaster. There is a nominal annual fee associated with hosting the site.

Each Hidalgo County department retained autonomy in what information it wanted portrayed on the new website. Input was solicited from all users to develop a site that would accommodate a wide variety of needs. The IT Department coordinated the information collection to help CivicPlus build a site that would reflect Hidalgo County’s unique needs.

“The new Hidalgo County website is a great example of your government’s desire to serve citizens,” said Clay Silsby, project manager with CivicPlus. “Everyone from Hidalgo County’s staff was enthusiastic and professional.  Their hard work resulted in a tremendous website and we are grateful to have been part of the process.”

Other features of the website include:

  • A multi-media page, where you can view commissioners’ court live and archived videos
  • A photo gallery
  • Easy to search jobs and downloadable application
  • Opinion polls
  • Individualized information and project-specific pages (i.e. levees, precinct road projects, etc.)

Coming soon, the site will list purchasing vendor applications. Plus, the ongoing photography contest will pique visual interest in the site. Winners’ work will be featured on the changing masthead and in the online photo gallery, which currently holds a collection of historical photos.

“This new web site is a consolidation of a county wide effort to improve information access to our constituents. I am proud of the work done by all the staff involved in this process,” said Renán Ramírez, Chief Information Officer for Hidalgo County. “This site reflects the vast scope and complexities of our great county; I hope you enjoy your new county website.”

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César Chávez Act, authored by California Congresswoman Hilda Solís, signed into law

By SONIA MELÉNDEZ

President Bush recently signed into law H.R. 359, the César Estrada Chávez bill, legislation introduced by Congresswoman Hilda L. Solís, D-CA, to authorize the U.S. Department of Interior to study lands important in the life of Chávez for possible inclusion into the National Park System.

The legislation was incorporated as part of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 (S.2739) on May 8.

“For seven years I have worked with my colleagues to enact legislation that will lead to the recognition of the role of a leading Latino figure in our nation’s park system. I am proud that today President Bush joined us in honoring César Chávez’ work to protect health, the environment and workers’ rights by signing the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 into law,” said Solís. “I am confident that through the recognition of Chávez’ legacy, future generations better understand the importance of his sacrifice and work to improve the lives of others.”

Chávez was born near Yuma, Arizona, and grew up in migrant labor camps where he suffered from the poverty of a migrant worker’s life. He tirelessly dedicated his life to championing the rights of farm laborers and all workers. Chávez is the best known for his humility and strength in his peaceful fight to help farm workers attain social justice and freedom from exposure to poisonous chemicals, poor housing, discrimination, low wages and limited education opportunities. Along with Dolores Huerta, Chávez founded the United Farm Workers, an organization dedicated to garnering better wages, working conditions and respect for farm workers.

“The enactment of this bill will serve as a powerful vehicle to introduce a new generation of Americans to the life of César Chávez and the history of farm labor movement,” said Paul Chávez, César’s son and Chairman of the César E. Chávez Foundation. “Honoring sites in Arizona, California, and other states associated with his life will keep his vital legacy alive and serve as an example for our future leaders, teaching them that through determination and hard work they can improve their own lives and communities.”

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Rep. Zerwas, a southeast Texas Republican, wants TxDOT five-member commission abolished, replaced with one statewide elected TxDOT commissioner

By BRYAN W. LAW

On Monday, June 2, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Katy, welcomed the recommendations of the Sunset Advisory Commission for the Texas Department of Transportation and extended his gratitude for the hard work conducted by the Sunset Commission staff.

Zerwas made halting the current Trans-Texas Corridor project a top priority since becoming state representative for House District 28, which is located immediately southwest of Houston.

Zerwas believes there is new momentum for true reform at TxDOT and hopefully abandonment of the Trans-Texas Corridor project. The Sunset Commission report only affirms that the current direction of transportation policy in Texas is not in the best interest of the overall public good.

Zerwas agrees that the Transportation Commission should be abolished but should be replaced by an elected Commissioner of Transportation, not a state appointee.

“I recommend for the Sunset Commission’s consideration the option of abolishing the unelected five member Transportation Commission and replace it with an elected Commissioner of Transportation,” he said. “This past legislative session I coauthored House Bill 154 to accomplish that very purpose. I strongly believe all the voters of Texas should have the right to directly hold our transportation policy makers accountable similar to the Commissioner of Agriculture, Attorney General and Comptroller of Public Accounts.

“I want to see the Legislature take this opportunity to work for genuine change at TXDoT and work to create a coherent, transparent and progressive statewide transportation plan,” Zerwas continued. “I believe an elected commissioner would be more accountable and responsive to both the Legislature and Texas voters,” he said.

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Texas Transportation Commission adopts guiding policies and principles regarding toll road building

By MARK CROSS

The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday, May 29, adopted guiding principles and policies that will govern the development, construction and operation of toll road projects on the state highway system and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The Commission’s unanimous vote reaffirms policies and the requirements of state law regarding toll projects, particularly involving the use of comprehensive development agreements (CDA).

The Commission’s action today reflects the comments we have received from Texas drivers, legislators and members of our citizen advisory committees,” said Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi. “Texans deserve a clear, straightforward explanation of what we are doing to solve our transportation challenges and how we are doing it.”

The Texas Transportation Commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor to oversee the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

The Commission reaffirmed its commitment to meet or exceed the requirements of state law on five key issues:

  • All state highway facilities, including the Trans-Texas Corridor, will be completely owned by the State of Texas at all times.
  • All Comprehensive Development Agreements will include provisions that allow TxDOT to purchase or “buy back” the interest of a private developer in a CDA at any time if buying back the project would be in the best financial interest of the state.
  • The Texas Transportation Commission shall approve, in a public meeting, the initial toll rates charged for the use of a toll project on the state highway system and the methodology for increasing the amount of tolls. All rate-setting actions will come after consultation with appropriate local metropolitan planning organizations.
  • Only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled, and there will be no reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes that exist today.
  • Comprehensive development agreements will not include “non-compete” clauses that would prohibit improvements to existing roadways. The Department and any governmental entity can construct, reconstruct, expand, rehabilitate or maintain any roadway that is near or intersects with any roadway under the CDA.
  • In recognition of the Texas Legislature’s commitment to protecting landowners’ property rights and in following the department’s long-standing practice with other transportation projects, the commission affirmed two additional principles:
  • TxDOT will always consider the use of existing right of way that satisfies the purpose and need of the project as a possible project location when conducting environmental studies.
  • To the extent practical, TxDOT shall plan and design facilities so that a landowner’s property is not severed into two or more separate tracts and the original shape of the property is preserved.

“These principles will help guide TxDOT as we work to improve our state’s traffic congestion and air quality problems,” said Delisi. “The Texas Legislature shares our commitment to improving highway safety and creating economic opportunity, and they expect us to meet these goals in keeping with our state’s tradition of protecting the rights of property owners.”

Delisi said that the Trans-Texas Corridor implementation plan “Crossroads of the Americas,” should be updated to reflect changes in the state’s transportation challenges since it was first released in June of 2002.

“As we work to develop important projects like a parallel corridor to I-35 and the long-awaited I-69, we will work toward meeting our goals with these important principles in mind,” she said.

TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Steve Simmons reported to the commission that input for the principles included comments from members of the Corridor Advisory Committees and more than 27,000 comments received during the public involvement process for I-69/TTC. He noted that TxDOT has worked with members of the Legislature to address their concerns with TxDOT’s work to develop toll roads. Simmons also recalled former Transportation Chair Ric Williamson’s dedication to involving Texans in the department’s work.

The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining nearly 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, rail and public transportation across the state. TxDOT and its 15,000 employees strive to empower local leaders to solve local transportation problems, and to use new financial tools, including tolling and public-private partnerships, to reduce congestion and pave the way for future economic growth while enhancing safety, improving air quality and increasing the value of the state’s transportation assets.

Find out more at http://www.txdot.gov.

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Hidalgo County Clerk Guajardo implements plan to help employees deal with rising gasoline prices

In response to the high gas prices averaging $3.84 in Texas, Hidalgo County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr. is helping his employees with the bill.  The county clerk is offering his staff an alternative work schedule to help employees save gas. After much discussion and coordination with his executive staff, Guajardo on Tuesday, June 3, announced that he had finalized the new pilot program.

The voluntary alternative work schedule will give participating employees one day off every pay period as long as their 80-hours are completed within the two-week period. Employees will be grouped in teams that will rotate, having either a Monday or a Friday off within each pay period.

“With the gas prices nearing $4 per gallon, I am happy to offer our staff the opportunity to stay home an extra day every pay period throughout the summer months.  Most importantly, we are able to do this without comprising the services that we provide to the public,” explained Guajardo.

The pilot program will run from June 9 through August 29.

If gas prices continue to soar throughout the fall and winter months, Guajardo will consider extending the program accordingly.  By no means will this program disrupt the ongoing services that the County Clerk’s Office offers the public. On the contrary, the Hidalgo County Clerk’s Office will continue to be open to the public from 7:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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UT-Pan American fall schedule changes to save students gas money

By GAIL FAGAN

With its students facing rising gas costs to travel to campus for classes, The University of Texas-Pan American has announced a number of changes to its class scheduling for the fall 2008 semester to not only help students save money on gas, but to also provide other opportunities to enhance their university experience.

The changes include the following:

  • Offering Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon classes only on Monday and Wednesday by extending the classes on those days to 90 minutes rather the 50 minutes each day on the traditional three-day schedule.
  • Creating two new timeframes for taking Friday afternoon classes – 1:10- 3:50 p.m. and 4-6:30 p.m.
  • Creating an 8:30-noon timeframe for offering Saturday classes.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning class timeframes as well as those on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon will remain the same.

“These changes provide a number of combinations of timeframes that could still accomplish the goal of completing at least 12 to 15 semester hours of coursework a semester and cut down on the number of days involved in traveling by students,” said Dr. Ana María Rodríguez, senior vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, Academic Assessment and Retention.

Rodríguez said the schedule changes can also provide other benefits for students.

“We believe the extension of timeframes for Monday and Wednesday classes to 90 minutes will have a positive impact on learning in the classroom. The timeframe allows a faculty member to cover more material to a greater depth in that time rather than what can be covered in a 50-minute period. We hope this will improve student retention and success,” she said.

In addition, Rodríguez said, the open Friday afternoon timeframe could provide an opportunity for students who choose not to take Friday afternoon classes to become more involved in campus activities, such as student organizations.

“Research shows that student engagement in academic and student life has a strong correlation with student retention and success. The more time students spend interacting with faculty members in courses and outside of class and the more time they spend engaged in campus organizations and activities, the greater the likelihood that they will be successful in college,” she said.

Even before the sharp rise in gas prices, a university-wide task force of faculty, students and staff had been studying the issue of scheduling for the past two years. Following a recent recommendation by academic department chairs to renew the discussion on schedule changes, particularly in the light of the sharp rise in gas prices, Provost and Vice President for the Division of Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale constituted an Ad Hoc Scheduling Committee that recommended the final schedule changes that were approved by the Council of Deans and Provost in spring 2008.

Rodríguez said the fluctuations in gas prices would not be the only criteria the University would use to determine whether the changes will be permanent or not. The university will also evaluate the impact of the changes on student learning, the increase and/or decrease in student enrollment, and the patterns of student enrollment in courses over the next two years.

“At the end of our evaluation period, the University will determine whether or not the change has had an overall positive impact on the goals toward which the University is working – access to a college education, retention and graduation. Changes that have a positive impact on these goals will continue to be made,” she said.

Students can review course schedules and register for classes online through ASSIST (Advanced Services for Student Information Supported by Technology) at http://assist.utpa.edu. For more information about admission and registration at UTPA, call the Admissions and New Student Services office at 956/381-2999.

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Congressman Hinojosa applauds legislation to provide construction funding for public schools

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Schools across America are one step closer to receiving desperately needed federal aid for construction and repair, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. announced on Thursday, June 5.

Hinojosa joined a majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, June 4, to approve timely legislation that would provide schools with access to funding for modernization, renovation, and repair projects.

If the bill were to become law, public schools in the 15th Congressional District would be eligible to receive up to as much as $65 million in funding for the 2009 fiscal year

“Research has shown that a quality environment translates into higher student achievement,” said Hinojosa. “We owe it to America’s students to make sure that our schools remain bastions of learning rather than another barrier on their road to a quality education.”

Despite the need to modernize many school buildings, the federal government has only once, in 2001, provided significant direct aid to help states and schools pay for construction and repair. According to recent reports, 75 percent of America’s schools were in various stages of disrepair and lacked the funding needed to bring their facilities up to par. In 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics said it would take $127 billion to bring schools into overall good condition. A 2000 National Education Association study found that $322 billion would be needed to make all schools “safe, well-constructed,” and “up-to-date” technologically.

The 21st Century High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act (H.R. 3021) would authorize $6.4 billion for school construction projects for fiscal year 2009. It would ensure that school districts receive funds without delay so that they can start improving learning environments for students as quickly as possible. The bill also calls for the renovation and improvement of science and engineering laboratories in schools.  According to a National Center for Education Statistics survey, 52 percent of school principals reported having no science laboratory facilities at all.

“Simply put, we can never succeed in improving America’s competitiveness if our children do not have the opportunity to experience and practice science and engineering,” said Hinojosa.

In addition, the bill encourages energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in schools. It requires that funds be used for projects that meet three widely recognized green building standards: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; Energy Star; or Collaborative for High Performance Schools – or the equivalent state or local standards. Schools districts would be able to waive the green building requirements in certain cases where they are impractical, but the bill still ensures that at least 90 percent of funds will be used for green projects by 2013.

“Making our schools energy efficient is a smart investment that will help save money and protect our environment for our future leaders who are learning in public school classrooms today,” concluded Hinojosa.

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El Paso County files lawsuit in federal court to block the construction of U.S. Border Wall

By ELHUI DOMÍNGUEZ

Attorneys from the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP on Monday, May 2, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the County of El Paso against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Michael Chertoff challenging waivers of federal, state, and local laws issued to facilitate the construction of physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon in federal court in El Paso. The Honorable Frank Montalvo, U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Texas, will be presiding.

Other plaintiffs include:

  • City of El Paso;
  • El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1;
  • Hudspeth County Conservation and Reclamation District No. 1;
  • Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (Tigua Tribe);
  • Frontera Audubon Society (nonprofit environmental organization);
  • Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (nonprofit wildlife protection organization);
  • Friends of Laguna Atascosa Refuge (nonprofit environmental organization); and
  • Mark Clark (owner of historical building affected by the construction of the border wall).

The lawsuit challenges Chertoff’s statutory authority to issue waivers of more than 30 federal laws, as well as any state and local laws, related to such federal laws, to accelerate the construction of the border fence.

The lawsuit alleges such waivers are unconstitutional because they represent an illegal delegation of Congress’ constitutional powers to Chertoff, in violation of Article 1, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution and constitutional principles of separation of powers.

Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction asking the court to bar the Department of Homeland Security from proceeding with the construction of the fence until the government has complied with all applicable laws.

No date has yet been set for a hearing on the case.

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Texas Border Coalition sues federal government over construction of U.S.-Mexico Border Wall

The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) on Friday, May 16, filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over the construction of the $50 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall.

TBC previously announced its intention to file the lawsuit on April 15.

The lawsuit to be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asserts that DHS and CBP have violated:

Border landowners’ statutory right to negotiation over a “reasonable” price prior to the taking of property for the purpose of constructing segments of fence along the 1,200-mile stretch of Texas-Mexico border;

The due process rights of property owners by failing to issue and make public any rules, regulations, or directives on how negotiations should take place or how the government will determine a “reasonable” price for the property it wishes to seize;

The equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment by giving certain politically well-connected property owners a pass on having the border fence built on their property; and

The 2008 DHS Appropriation law and the due process rights of property owners by failing to issue and make public any rules, regulations, or directives on how required “consultation” with property owners will take place and how the concerns of property owners will be considered.

In addition, the lawsuit contends that the Secretary of Homeland Security has unlawfully failed to exercise his discretion as required by the 2008 DHS Appropriation Act to select the most practical and effective locations to build the border wall, rather than the locations set in the now-repealed provisions of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

The lawsuit names as defendants U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Robert Janson, acting executive director of asset management with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The lawsuit follows TBC’s extensive, yet unsuccessful, attempts to negotiate “in good faith” with Chertoff without resorting to litigation.

“Filing a lawsuit was our last resort, but we believe we had no choice,” said Eagle Pass Mayor and TBC Chairman Chad Foster during a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Joining Foster at the news conference were fellow TBC members Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada; Laredo Mayor Raúl Salinas; Dennis Nixon, president and CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo and chairman of International Bancshares Corp.; Eddie Aldrete, Senior Vice President of International Bank of Commerce and TBC treasurer; as well as Peter Schey, president and executive director of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the lead counsel for TBC.

“We are standing up for the millions of people who live, work and raise their families along the border and believe Secretary Chertoff has gone too far in his zeal to build this feel-good, yet ineffective Great Wall of Texas,” Foster said.

In the legal complaint, TBC charges that Chertoff failed to clearly define the interest he sought in South Texas landowners’ property under the Declaration of Taking Act, and did not attempt to negotiate with the lawful owners a fixed a price for the land.

“Federal laws require that DHS and CBP negotiate with property owners to arrive at a reasonable price for their property and consult with them to minimize adverse consequences of the planned border wall,” said Schey, lead counsel for TBC. “Yet, DHS and CBP have failed to issue any publicly available rules or regulations to implement these obligations, and failed to inform property owners that they have rights under these federal laws.

“DHS and CBP either have no rules and are proceeding from the seat of their pants, or they have rules and have illegally failed to share them with property owners who are forced to proceed in the dark. No one supports building a border wall on a foundation of lawlessness,” Schey added.

“We will not sit idly by while our property is seized by the federal government to build an expedient but useless, expensive and potentially damaging wall across the Texas-Mexico border,” Foster said. “We are determined to stop Secretary Chertoff from acting as if he is above the law.”

The complaint also alleges that DHS and CBP failed to comply with new mandates in the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, which requires consultation with private property owners, cities and other stakeholders to “minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life” in communities where the border wall is to be constructed.

The border security measures at issue are being coordinated and managed by the Secure Border Initiative Office (SBI) within CBP. In testimony before Congress in February 2007, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that SBI’s border “expenditure plan, including related documentation and program officials’ statements, lacked specificity on such things as planned activities and milestones … and expected mission outcomes.”

The lawsuit cites at least one media report indicating that DHS and CBP plans to build the border wall through city and county-owned land, while bypassing property owned by such wealthy and politically connected Texans as Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt. A close friend of President George W. Bush, Hunt recently donated $35 million to Southern Methodist University to help build Bush’s presidential library.

Foster said he has never received any logical answers from DHS and CPB as to why certain areas in his city have been targeted for fencing over other areas. “I puzzled a while over why the fence would bypass the industrial park and go through the city park,” he said. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring DHS and CBP to comply with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 as amended in 2008, and the taking clause and due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment.

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UT-Pan American now able to receive high school transcripts electronically

By LORI ANN PRADO

The University of Texas-Pan American Division of Enrollment and Student Services has announced the ability to receive high school transcripts electronically with help from the National Transcript Center. UTPA is the only higher education institution in the Rio Grande Valley to have such capability.

“We are one of the first universities in Texas to do this and we’ve been testing for about a year now… this is something we’ve been wanting for a very, very long time for schools across the state,” said Dr. Maggie Hinojosa, associate vice president and dean of admissions and enrollment services.

Although this is not a new innovation, Hinojosa said that this service available to all Texas high schools offers many advantages for the University, high schools and students. It is cost effective on schools sending transcripts by saving on the amount of printed paper, postage and envelopes.

Through this electronic process, students would have the ability to send transcripts to multiple universities and colleges throughout the state. UTPA has already received electronic transcripts from San Antonio and is now testing with Sharyland High School.

“There are many benefits to receiving the transcript electronically. We don’t have to worry about the transcript being lost in the mail, and time is an important factor as well,” Hinojosa said. “Once a transcript has been electronically sent, UTPA will receive it within 24 hours.”

Texas public colleges and universities are able to receive the transcripts by using The Texas Records Exchange (TREx) system, a Web-based software application.

High schools wanting to send electronic transcripts or those who are interested in Texas colleges and universities, who are ready to receive electronic transcripts, must refer to The University of Texas (UT) SPEEDE server at http://registrar.utexas.edu/speede/

For more information regarding electronic transcripts, contact Rudy Ybañez at 956/316-7121, or visit the TREx Web site at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/trex/

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Calling all high school seniors – learn to lead at STC

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

High school seniors in Hidalgo and Starr Counties are invited to participate in South Texas College’s Learning to Lead Program. The five-week interactive course focuses on building leadership abilities and communication skills. The program is free and open to all high school seniors in the two counties.

“We designed the program to develop the students of South Texas to be leaders in the classroom and leaders in the community,” said Armando Ponce, coordinator of student activities for STC. “This is a great opportunity for high school seniors to get involved and receive leadership training. It also looks great on a college resume!”

Graduation from the program requires attendance at four of seven leadership workshops including “Dealing with Conflict” and “Minorities in Leadership.”  Additionally, the program requires attendance at the Learning to Lead Service Fair, a day dedicated to serving local non-profit organizations.

Workshops will be offered at STC’s Pecan Campus in McAllen, Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco and Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City. Activities will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays during the month of July. A kickoff event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 2 at each campus for students to register, meet the facilitators and receive an introduction to the program and calendar of events.

“This is a really fun and engaging program,” said Ponce. “We encourage the Class of 2009 to take advantage of this opportunity and step up to lead.”

To RSVP for the program at the college’s Pecan Campus in McAllen call Armando Ponce at 872-2515, Crissy Garza at 872-3527, Jose N. Pena at 872-6734 or Randall Garza at 872-3528. To RSVP for the program at the college’s Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco call Claudia Farias at 447-1224 or Tyrone Marshall at 447-6610. To RSVP for the program at the college’s Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City contact Luis Banda at 488-5888.

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Sen. Obama declares that Democratic Party presidential nomination is his in speech

Text of Democrat Barack Obama’s prepared remarks for a rally on Tuesday, June 3,  in St. Paul, Minn., as released by his campaign:

Tonight, after 54 hard-fought contests, our primary season has finally come to an end.

Sixteen months have passed since we first stood together on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Thousands of miles have been traveled. Millions of voices have been heard. And because of what you said — because you decided that change must come to Washington; because you believed that this year must be different than all the rest; because you chose to listen not to your doubts or your fears but to your greatest hopes and highest aspirations, tonight we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another — a journey that will bring a new and better day to America. Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

I want to thank every American who stood with us over the course of this campaign — through the good days and the bad; from the snows of Cedar Rapids to the sunshine of Sioux Falls. And tonight I also want to thank the men and woman who took this journey with me as fellow candidates for president.

At this defining moment for our nation, we should be proud that our party put forth one of the most talented, qualified field of individuals ever to run for this office. I have not just competed with them as rivals, I have learned from them as friends, as public servants, and as patriots who love America and are willing to work tirelessly to make this country better. They are leaders of this party, and leaders that America will turn to for years to come.

That is particularly true for the candidate who has traveled further on this journey than anyone else. Senator Hillary Clinton has made history in this campaign not just because she’s a woman who has done what no woman has done before, but because she’s a leader who inspires millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to the causes that brought us here tonight.

We’ve certainly had our differences over the last sixteen months. But as someone who’s shared a stage with her many times, I can tell you that what gets Hillary Clinton up in the morning — even in the face of tough odds — is exactly what sent her and Bill Clinton to sign up for their first campaign in Texas all those years ago; what sent her to work at the Children’s Defense Fund and made her fight for health care as first lady; what led her to the United States Senate and fueled her barrier-breaking campaign for the presidency — an unyielding desire to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, no matter how difficult the fight may be. And you can rest assured that when we finally win the battle for universal health care in this country, she will be central to that victory. When we transform our energy policy and lift our children out of poverty, it will be because she worked to help make it happen. Our party and our country are better off because of her, and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There are those who say that this primary has somehow left us weaker and more divided. Well I say that because of this primary, there are millions of Americans who have cast their ballot for the very first time. There are independents and Republicans who understand that this election isn’t just about the party in charge of Washington, it’s about the need to change Washington. There are young people, and African Americans, and Latinos, and women of all ages who have voted in numbers that have broken records and inspired a nation.

All of you chose to support a candidate you believe in deeply. But at the end of the day, we aren’t the reason you came out and waited in lines that stretched block after block to make your voice heard. You didn’t do that because of me or Senator Clinton or anyone else. You did it because you know in your hearts that at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — we cannot afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We owe our children a better future. We owe our country a better future. And for all those who dream of that future tonight, I say — let us begin the work together. Let us unite in common effort to chart a new course for America.

In just a few short months, the Republican Party will arrive in St. Paul with a very different agenda. They will come here to nominate John McCain, a man who has served this country heroically. I honor that service, and I respect his many accomplishments, even if he chooses to deny mine. My differences with him are not personal; they are with the policies he has proposed in this campaign.

Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

It’s not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush 95 percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year.

It’s not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college — policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.

And it’s not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians — a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn’t making the American people any safer.

So I’ll say this — there are many words to describe John McCain’s attempt to pass off his embrace of George Bush’s policies as bipartisan and new. But change is not one of them.

Change is a foreign policy that doesn’t begin and end with a war that should’ve never been authorized and never been waged. I won’t stand here and pretend that there are many good options left in Iraq, but what’s not an option is leaving our troops in that country for the next hundred years — especially at a time when our military is overstretched, our nation is isolated, and nearly every other threat to America is being ignored.

We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in — but start leaving we must. It’s time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future. It’s time to rebuild our military and give our veterans the care they need and the benefits they deserve when they come home. It’s time to refocus our efforts on al-Qaida’s leadership and Afghanistan, and rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century — terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. That’s what change is.

Change is realizing that meeting today’s threats requires not just our firepower, but the power of our diplomacy — tough, direct diplomacy where the president of the United States isn’t afraid to let any petty dictator know where America stands and what we stand for. We must once again have the courage and conviction to lead the free world. That is the legacy of Roosevelt, and Truman, and Kennedy. That’s what the American people want. That’s what change is.

Change is building an economy that rewards not just wealth, but the work and workers who created it. It’s understanding that the struggles facing working families can’t be solved by spending billions of dollars on more tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy CEOs, but by giving the middle-class a tax break, and investing in our crumbling infrastructure, and transforming how we use energy, and improving our schools, and renewing our commitment to science and innovation. It’s understanding that fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity can go hand-in-hand, as they did when Bill Clinton was president.

John McCain has spent a lot of time talking about trips to Iraq in the last few weeks, but maybe if he spent some time taking trips to the cities and towns that have been hardest hit by this economy — cities in Michigan, and Ohio, and right here in Minnesota — he’d understand the kind of change that people are looking for.

Maybe if he went to Iowa and met the student who works the night shift after a full day of class and still can’t pay the medical bills for a sister who’s ill, he’d understand that she can’t afford four more years of a health care plan that only takes care of the healthy and wealthy. She needs us to pass a health care plan that guarantees insurance to every American who wants it and brings down premiums for every family who needs it. That’s the change we need.

Maybe if he went to Pennsylvania and met the man who lost his job but can’t even afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one, he’d understand that we can’t afford four more years of our addiction to oil from dictators. That man needs us to pass an energy policy that works with automakers to raise fuel standards, and makes corporations pay for their pollution, and oil companies invest their record profits in a clean energy future — an energy policy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. That’s the change we need.

And maybe if he spent some time in the schools of South Carolina or St. Paul or where he spoke tonight in New Orleans, he’d understand that we can’t afford to leave the money behind for No Child Left Behind; that we owe it to our children to invest in early childhood education; to recruit an army of new teachers and give them better pay and more support; to finally decide that in this global economy, the chance to get a college education should not be a privilege for the wealthy few, but the birthright of every American. That’s the change we need in America. That’s why I’m running for president.

The other side will come here in September and offer a very different set of policies and positions, and that is a debate I look forward to. It is a debate the American people deserve. But what you don’t deserve is another election that’s governed by fear, and innuendo, and division. What you won’t hear from this campaign or this party is the kind of politics that uses religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon — that sees our opponents not as competitors to challenge, but enemies to demonize. Because we may call ourselves Democrats and Republicans, but we are Americans first. We are always Americans first.

Despite what the good Senator from Arizona said tonight, I have seen people of differing views and opinions find common cause many times during my two decades in public life, and I have brought many together myself. I’ve walked arm-in-arm with community leaders on the South Side of Chicago and watched tensions fade as black, white, and Latino fought together for good jobs and good schools. I’ve sat across the table from law enforcement and civil rights advocates to reform a criminal justice system that sent thirteen innocent people to death row. And I’ve worked with friends in the other party to provide more children with health insurance and more working families with a tax break; to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and ensure that the American people know where their tax dollars are being spent; and to reduce the influence of lobbyists who have all too often set the agenda in Washington.

In our country, I have found that this cooperation happens not because we agree on everything, but because behind all the labels and false divisions and categories that define us; beyond all the petty bickering and point-scoring in Washington, Americans are a decent, generous, compassionate people, united by common challenges and common hopes. And every so often, there are moments which call on that fundamental goodness to make this country great again.

So it was for that band of patriots who declared in a Philadelphia hall the formation of a more perfect union; and for all those who gave on the fields of Gettysburg and Antietam their last full measure of devotion to save that same union.

So it was for the greatest generation that conquered fear itself, and liberated a continent from tyranny and made this country home to untold opportunity and prosperity.

So it was for the workers who stood out on the picket lines; the women who shattered glass ceilings; the children who braved a Selma bridge for freedom’s cause.

So it has been for every generation that faced down the greatest challenges and the most improbable odds to leave their children a world that’s better, and kinder, and more just.

And so it must be for us.

America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page on the policies of the past. Our time to bring new energy and new ideas to the challenges we face. Our time to offer a new direction for the country we love.

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

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