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Farouk Shami, a Democratic candidate for Texas governor who came to America 44 years ago with $71 in his pocket and became an American success story, on Tuesday, February 8, said as governor he would use his extensive skills as a proven business leader to help create 100,000 new jobs in Texas  – or he will pay the state $10 million."I am putting my money where my mouth is, and I am sure of my success in serving every person," he said during a televised debate from Fort Worth that featured him and former Houston Mayor Bill White. In an equally powerful fashion, Shami promised that he would never forget the millions of middle-income and poor Texans who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to survive in a Texas economy weakened by the national recession. "We are tired of losing jobs, we are tired of losing mortgages and having hungry people," Shami said. "I will declare war on poverty, and everyone will live the American dream when I am governor of Texas." Shami, featured left, was greeted in McAllen by a full house at the Celestial Room, including Nashla Showery and Aziz Showery, III.  See lead story later in this posting.  

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Sen. Juan ""Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured left, meets with Lucy Canales, partner with Linebarger, Goggan Blair & Sampson, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday, February 1 in McAllen following the announcement that Hinojosa has been appointed to the powerful Legislative Budget Board. Created in 1949, the LBB is primarily responsible for developing a draft appropriations budget at the beginning of each legislative sessions, said Canales, citing the organization’s official records. The board – which features 10 of the most influential state lawmakers – also establishes a constitutional spending limit each session. In many other states, this is done only in the executive branch. The authority of the LBB is broad, and its influence on spending is significant. Hinojosa expressed his appreciation for the appointment and stressed the need to improve fiscal discipline in Texas. "Gov. Dewhurst continues to place his trust in my judgment and capacity to be a part of the Senate’s finance team. This appointment, along with my vice chairmanship of Senate Finance, brings a Coastal Bend and South Texas perspective to Texas’ fiscal management," Hinojosa said. "The current economic picture requires us to be even more prudent in how the state’s wealth is invested. I plan to continue Texas’ dedication to a disciplined approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment." See story later in this posting. 

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Another major endorsement has been secured by Sergio Muñoz, Jr., who on Thursday, February 4 received the unanimous support in his bid for State Representative, House District 36, from the mayor and city commission of Pharr. House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen,  most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr. The powerful show of confidence by the elected city leadership of Pharr comes soon after another big victory for Muñoz, a Democrat, when the mayor and city council of Mission also endorsed his candidacy for the Texas Legislature. Muñoz, a successful attorney and Palmview Municipal Court Judge,  has made job creation, more health care, better access to education, and improved public safety – including cracking down of sexual predators – the foundation of his campaign. "Pharr has established itself at the statewide level as the hub of transportation for our region and as a major gateway for NAFTA-oriented businesses, and Pharr knows that Sergio Muñoz, Jr. has the professional and personal skills to be successful in the Texas Legislature, where he will pass laws and shape state agency policies that will help our city continue to grow and prosper," said Mayor Leopoldo "Polo" Palacios, Jr. Featured, from left: Commissioner Francis Quintanilla; Commissioner Óscar Elizondo, Jr.; Commissioner Eduardo "Eddie" Cantú; Sergio Muñoz, Jr.; Mayor Leopoldo "Polo" Palacios; Commissioner Roberto "Bobby" Carrillo; and Mayor Pro Tem Adán Farias. Not shown, but also endorsing Muñoz, is Commissioner Arturo J. Cortéz. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured third from right, on Monday, February 1, brought Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, to Lucio’s right, and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, to Lucio’s left, to the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen for an update on the facility, which includes campuses in Edinburg and Brownsille. Dr. Robert Hernández, a faculty professor at the Harlingen campus, conducted a demonstration on how Valley medical students study the human body with the use of one of two similar dolls named SIM Man #1 and SIM Man #2. Also present were  Dr. Leonel Vela, Regional Dean of the RAHC and Dr. Adela Valdéz, Assistant Regional Academic Dean for Medical Education. In conjunction with the tour, Lucio, who serves as chair of the Senate International Relations and Trade Committee, said that his legislative panel is looking into ways to help boost job creation and improve trade in communities located along the Texas-Mexico border.  See story on IRT committee later in this posting. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has announced their Business Award winners for 2010. They will be honored at the Annual Business Awards & Installation Dinner on Tuesday, February 16 at The Club at Cimarron in Mission from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Being honored this year are, from left: Francisco Ochoa, Jr. Taco Palenque/Palenque Grill (Small Corporation category); Pepe Cabeza de Vaca of Social Life (Business Man); Yoli Cantú, owner of McAllen Stained Glass (Business Woman); and Cruz Rangel of Coca Cola – Rio Grande Valley (Large Corporation). Entertainment for the night will be comedian Mark “The Mexi Can’t” Olabarrieta, who will poke fun at the business world. Additionally, the new 2010 Board members will be installed by Hidalgo District Judge Juan Partida. Current sponsors for the event are TXU as Title Sponsor and Lone Star National Bank, Silver Sponsor. For more information on sponsorship and/or tickets, individuals may call the MHCC office at 928-0060. 

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More than 100 employees from several maquiladora manufacturing companies are attending English and Spanish-language classes at South Texas College’s Technology Campus. As part of the North American Advanced Manufacturing and Research Initiative, private partner companies have taken advantage of intense workplace literacy training at STC’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing (IAM). The program consists of three levels of English and Spanish language classes that help participants refine their oral, written and listening skills, and gain an understanding of commonly-used vocabulary terms to enhance their job productivity. Sonia Salinas, an English instructor at STC, is featured here placing students in a real-world situation to help them improve their communication effectiveness in the workplace. See story later in this posting.  

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The Food Bank RGV and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, on Wednesday, February 3, released a landmark study  and reported that nearly 22,000 different people receive emergency food assistance in any given week through agencies served by the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.  Fifty percent of those served are children under 18 years old and 52 percent of households include at least one employed adult. Óscar L. Garza Jr., Hidalgo County Commissioner of Precinct 4, was present for the study’s unveiling and signaled his personal as well as the county’s unwavering support of the Food Bank, which serves the three-county area of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy. “The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley performs an invaluable service to our community helping to keep our families healthy and fed. For this reason, I am challenging our county employees to make either a donation of non-perishable food to the Food Bank or a monetary contribution. We will be organizing the first county-sponsored food drive slated for March 1 and getting our employees motivated and engaged to end hunger in our community," said Garza. "If our county family can put up at least $2,500 worth of donations, I’ll also see to it that local Hidalgo County businesses match that amount. No child, no elderly individual and no veteran should be going hungry in Hidalgo County.” Featured, from left: Richard Aguirre, Ignacio Almaguer, Naomi Perales, and Terri Drefke, who are board members with the RGV Food Bank; Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioners Óscar L. Garza; Nelda Garza, Minnie Longoria, and Tracy Hughes, who also serve as board members of the RGV Food Bank; Arden Peterson, an advocate; and Luis Leal, a member of the board for the RGV Food Bank. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is grateful for all of the community support given to Fiesta Edinburg 2010. Sponsors of the upcoming event for February 27 are The City of Edinburg, IBC Bank, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, HEB #2, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Martin Farm and Ranch Supply, Memorial Funeral Home, Security First Credit Union, Elsa State Bank, Texas Gas Service, The Valley Town Crier/Edinburg Review, L&F Distributors, South Texas Health System and special thanks to Cuartitos, Que Pasa 99.5, G&S Glass, A&J Petroleum and Austin Personnel Services. Fun, Food, IBC Bank “Sports Bowl” parade, the Heart of America Carnival (rates apply), Kids Zone plus live music are all free with only $10 parking per vehicle. Fiesta Edinburg is Edinburg’s largest celebration and was created to commemorate holding the county seat. The Fiesta Edinburg Committee is excited to announce Los Palaminos and Jaime y Los Chamacos on the Saturday, February 27 music lineup. Featured promoting Fiesta Edinburg 2010 are, from left: Rick Salinas with L&F Distributors; Naomi Perales with Texas Gas Service; Emigdio Cahue with HEB #2; Robert McGurk with Elsa State Bank; Letty González, president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Dina Araguz withIBC Bank; Tiffany Tamez with IBC Bank; Blanca Hinojosa with Security First Credit Union; and Rey Garza with HEB #2. More information on Fiesta Edinburg is available at 956/383-4974 or online at http://www.edinburg.com 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently celebrated their annual Noche de Gala.  The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Golden Eagle Award. Being honored this year was Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. The award is given to an individual who has gone above and beyond the norm in the community in regards to economic development, education, leadership, and so on. Featured, from left: Adelita Muñoz, vice chair of education for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Roxanna Godínez, MHCC vice chair of membership;  Alma Torres, MHCC secretary; Congressman Cuellar; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer.   

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Farouk Shami, American success story, guarantees 100,000 new jobs, declares war on poverty in Texas

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

Farouk Shami, a Democratic candidate for Texas governor who came to America 44 years ago with $71 in his pocket and became an American success story, on Tuesday, February 8, said as governor he would use his extensive skills as a proven business leader to help create 100,000 new jobs in Texas  – or he will pay the state $10 million. 

"I am putting my money where my mouth is, and I am sure of my success in serving every person," he said during a televised debate from Fort Worth that featured him and former Houston Mayor Bill White. 

In an equally powerful fashion, Shami promised that he would never forget the millions of middle-income and poor Texans who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to survive in a Texas economy weakened by the national recession. 

"We are tired of losing jobs, we are tired of losing mortgages and having hungry people," Shami said. "I will declare war on poverty, and everyone will live the American dream when I am governor of Texas." 

The debate was televised statewide by PBS stations, including by KMBH, the Rio Grande Valley affiliate. 

During his visit to McAllen on Thursday, February 4, Shami told a full house at the Celestial Room, comprised mostly of Hispanic supporters, that he, too "knows how if feels to go hungry, how it feels to lose a mortgage." 

Through hard work, determination, skills, and faith in God, Shami became a billionaire, and currently employs almost 1,300 Texans in his Houston manufacturing complex –  with plans to continue expanding to other regions of the Lone Star State. 

Those skills and experiences that made him an international business figure will help Texas become the most prosperous state in the nation, he said. 

"Creating jobs and growing businesses, those are my specialties," said Shami, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is founder and chairman of the board of Houston-based Farouk Systems, Inc., which manufactures high-quality professional hair care and spa products. "I am ready to help small businesses and entrepreneurs." 

Asked how he would be effective as governor, Shami said he is the only major candidate who is paying for most of his campaign, which frees him to be a true champion of the people, and allows him to speak truth to power. 

"The governor is the CEO (chief executive officer), he is the one to lead the state, to make sure that every citizen is being treated right, equal under God and the law, and not (serving) the lobbyists and special interest groups," Shami said. 

In dealing with the Texas Legislature, Shami said he would always work with them to achieve the common good. 

"I know how to serve the public, I know how to build a team, I know how to negotiate," he added. 

But he wouldn’t hesitate to use the democratic powers of the governor to influence state lawmakers to do what is right, he added. 

Shami said the governor has the power to veto (kill) legislation he or she feels is bad for the state, along with the authority to bring state lawmakers back into special session in order to work on major legislation that needs to be completed. 

With his credentials and the powerful role of the Texas governor, Shami said that would allow him – through his policies and partnerships between public and private entities – to create more than 100,000 new jobs during his administration. 

As governor, Shami said he would help Texas become a major power in environmentally-friendly energy production, specifically solar power and wind power –  fuel sources which are abundant in Texas – for the advanced clean energy programs that will help break America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil imports. 

"Other people talk, I act," he said. "I am already working on opening (solar power) companies in small communities in green jobs that pay very well. (Texas) has shovel-ready jobs for everyone. When I am governor, everyone is going to work."

Pol. Adv. by the Farouk for Governor Campaign | 2500 West Loop South #300 | Houston | TX | 77027  

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Valley’s Middle-Eastern community inspired by historic gubernatorial campaign of Farouk Shami, a Palestinian-born American 

By NASHLA SHOWERY 

When we were invited by our Middle Eastern friends, we didn’t know what to expect of Mr. Shami’s presentation. 

I had a personal interest as my students were researching the candidates for the Texas primaries. I thought it would be historical experience and to share it with them.

As  devoted Democrats, we were looking forward to hearing his speech.  

Wow!  

We felt a flashback to our father, reminising of his conversations with the old timers who also immigrated from Lebanon on a ship (either through Ellis Island or Mexico to America.) They separated themselves from their wives and children, drank Arabic coffee – and with proud Arabic words, they poured out wisdom, practical sense, and always sensitivity toward the less-fortunate. 

The word "Haram"  – may God Bless them – was common to hear within the language we never learned to speak. Why? Because our parents did not want their children to suffer from discrimination, as they experienced. Both were Lebanese immigrants; our mother came in from Mexico with her sisters, escaping the ills of the revolution.

In Mr. Shami’s speech, we also heard and felt the strong determination and drive to succeed in his ideas. 

He spoke about the poor and his experience in not having food to eat. He empathized, not sympathized, with the most less-fortunate.  He persevered to make his dream a reality, always using creativity and new ideas, even if he had to take a chemistry class.

This candidate has a vision to  achieve another dream – to help Texans find jobs with new creative ideas. What a similar comparison: our father saw a need and with creativity,  he was a "mini- inventor" selling his products through his retail store, just like Mr. Shami’s inventions in the cosmetology industry.

We identify with Mr. Shami as a self-made successful entrepreneur as so many of our culture who came from the Old Country.  

Why would a successful business man want to run for governor, going against so many odds ? His Arabic name, his accent, his skin tone? We attribute that it is what is inside of his heart and soul, just as our President. 

In relation to us on the border, Mr. Shami displays a sense of charisma that would be appealing to our Mexican neighbors, including because talking business comes naturally to him.

In closing, I recommend everyone interested in the good of others to read Mr. Shami’s autobiography. It will impress anyone who needs to see that where there is a will, there truly is a way

In these times of high-dollar and negative politics, we cannot lose our mutual respect for our highest ideals. Plus, prayers for our state and nation are better than complaining, which goes nowhere. 

After all, this is God’s country, and we are only managing it for him.   

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Sen. Hinojosa named to Legislative Budget Board, which heavily influences state spending  

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS 

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst on Monday, February 1, named Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to the Legislative Budget Board (LBB).   

Created in 1949, the LBB is primarily responsible for developing a draft appropriations budget at the beginning of each legislative session. The board – which is comprised of four state senators, four state representatives, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House – also establishes a constitutional spending limit each session. 

In many other states, this is done only in the executive branch. The authority of the LBB is broad, and its influence on spending is significant.  

As a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature, the LBB develops budget and policy recommendations for legislative appropriations for all agencies of state government.   

Hinojosa’s appointment bodes well for South Texas. He is currently vice chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. This appointment enhances Hinojosa’s already significant influence on the state budget-writing process. 

Hinojosa expressed his appreciation for the appointment and stressed the need to improve fiscal discipline in Texas.

"Gov. Dewhurst continues to place his trust in my judgment and capacity to be a part of the Senate’s finance team.  This appointment, along with my vice chairmanship of Senate Finance, brings a Coastal Bend and South Texas perspective to Texas’ fiscal management," Hinojosa said. "The current economic picture requires us to be even more prudent in how the state’s wealth is invested.  I plan to continue Texas’ dedication to a disciplined approach to maximize the return on the taxpayer’s investment."

Hinojosa also sits on the Sunset Advisory Commission. The Commission reviews state agency performance, making recommendations to improve efficiency or abolish agencies that are no longer fulfilling their core missions. This latest appointment to the LBB rounds out Hinojosa’s top-to-bottom view of state government.

"Being vice chair of Senate Finance and serving on the LBB gives me direct access to crafting the state’s budget. My seat on the Sunset Commission gives me the opportunity to reshape key state agencies. I’m truly fortunate at this point in my career to be entrusted with so much responsibility," Hinojosa noted. 

In addition to Hinojosa and Dewhurst, who is joint-chair of the LBB, there are eight other members of this legislative panel, including Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.   

Other members of the LBB are: 

• Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who serves as joint-chair of the LBB;

• Sen. Steve Ogden, R-College Station, who also serves as chair of the Senate Finance Committee;

• Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, who also serves as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee;

• Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who also serves as chair of the House Appropriations Committee;

• Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who also serves as chair of the House Higher Education Committee; and

• Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. 

Oliveira also serves as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, while Zaffirini serves as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. 

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Pharr Mayor and City Commission endorse Sergio Muñoz, Jr. for state representative

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Another major endorsement has been secured by Sergio Muñoz, Jr., who on Thursday, February 4 received the unanimous support in his bid for state representative, House District 36, from the mayor and city commission of Pharr. 

House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr. 

The powerful show of confidence by the elected city leadership of Pharr comes soon after another big victory for Muñoz, a Democrat, when Mayor Beto Salinas and the Mission City Council also endorsed his candidacy for the Texas Legislature. 

Muñoz, a successful attorney and judge, has made job creation, affordable health care, improved education, and stronger public safety – the foundation of his campaign. 

"Pharr has established itself at the statewide level as the hub of transportation and commerce for our region and as a major gateway for international business, and Pharr knows that Sergio Muñoz, Jr. has the professional and personal skills to be successful in the Texas Legislature, where he will pass laws and shape policies that will help our city continue to grow and prosper. I like his spirit and passion," said Mayor Leopoldo "Polo" Palacios, Jr. 

A graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston who earned his business degree at the University of Texas at Austin, together with his work as a lawyer and judge, Muñoz has proven his ability to succeed in high-pressure situations. 

"Sergio will be able to hit the ground running in the Texas Legislature because he won’t been intimidated, discouraged, or fooled by anyone," said Pharr City Commissioner Bobby Carrillo. "He’s going to do the legislative homework and hard work needed to succeed and he will speak the truth to our people. These are some of the high qualities that he shares with all of us here at home. He is one of us." 

Muñoz offered his reasons for seeking public office. "I am running because I believe that my years in professional and community services, and my experience as a defender of the people, combined with my vision and commitment for all of us to have a better life, are positive qualifications to serve the good people of District 36," he said. 

"We all want what’s best for our families," Muñoz added. "Working as an attorney in this region, I know what it takes to fight for people every day." 

Equally important, in presenting his candidacy to voters, Muñoz is holding himself up to the highest standards of professional and personal conduct. 

"It’s about having strong core values that matter: leadership, integrity, compassion, hard work and faith," he told voters. "I won’t forget where I came from and who I serve." 

Muñoz’ legislative priories 

Among the major goals being promoted by Muñoz are: 

• Securing state funding for the planned University of Texas Health Science  Center – South Texas, which will include a medical school for the region;  

• Working with the governor on a plan that would tap into two existing state  programs – the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund – to help pay for the construction of a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Valley; and, 

• Seeking major state pay raise for educators in order to keep and attract the best teachers in South Texas and state’s public schools. 

Summarizing his legislative goals, Muñoz proclaimed, "It’s time for everyone to have the education they want, the health care they need, and the jobs they deserve." 

He said his decision to run "is not one that I take lightly. I don’t want anything just given to me. I would rather have life provide me with an opportunity and then earn it." 

Muñoz said he would continue the Valley legislative delegation’s strategies of always rallying behind the major issues of the day. 

"If we want more jobs, more resources, and more funding for our community, we all need to work together, cooperatively, both here locally, and in Austin," said Muñoz. "As long as we can work together, plan together and agree on the right projects that help our community, we can attract the right funding and resources we need to have a better education system, a healthier and safer

community, and to have the jobs of which we can be proud." 

He said he would be accessible to all constituents, both during the campaign and as an elected official. 

"Over the next few weeks, I intend to continue to walk our neighborhoods, knock on doors, and visit as many people as possible. They deserve this. I hope that people agree with my vision and vote for me beginning February 16 when early voting begins," Muñoz said.

Other legislative goals 

Muñoz’ legislative plans also include the following measures: 

• Spark economic development and jobs creation through legislative and state agency policies that result in the recruitment of new, and expansion of existing, large and small businesses in deep South Texas through state tax incentives, with improvements of the state highway and roadway systems;  

• Pass legislation that promotes the development of small businesses in the Valley – "the backbone of our local economy," as he characterized them – while opposing a state personal income tax, which he said would hurt both employers and employees;  

• Promote reforms in the state’s legal and tax systems that will help homeowners better protect their most valuable investment, while making it more affordable for Texans to buy and hold on to their homes;  

• Expand the academic programs at The University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College;  

• Boost public safety with a strong border security system in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, and pass laws that protect crime victims while cracking down on violent criminals and sexual predators;  

• Protect the pensions and health insurance coverage for retired educators and state professionals; and,  

• Expand health care coverage for South Texans by making it easier for thousands of Valley families and individuals to protect their families by expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and improving access to Medicaid – advances that would result in millions of additional federal matching dollars coming into the South Texas economies. 

Political announcement paid for by Sergio Muñoz, Jr.,  – Óscar Elizondo, Jr., Treasurer 1110 South Closner Boulevard, Edinburg, Texas 78539. 

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Senate’s IRT Committee interim charges to change the commercial scope of Texas    

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.  

As Chairman of the  International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee, I am excited about getting to work on the recent interim committee charges issued by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. 

Between biennial sessions, every committee in the Texas Senate and House is charged to study, review and make recommendations for possible legislation on specific issues affecting state policy. 

The charges that I requested for IRT and that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst provided put the committee at the forefront of assisting our border, coastal and rural communities in job creation and in their trade efforts. 

This interim, my committee will work on key legislative reforms to address the capacity and resource needs of Texas’ communities, so that they can be better equipped to participate, compete, and grow in today’s increasingly international marketplace.

Some of our communities lack the resources and access to critical development funds, which pose major impediments for them to participate in commerce. This is particularly true for distressed regions like the border, as well as coastal and rural communities. 

Many of these communities are in my Senatorial District 27, but of course there are others outside the five-county region of Cameron, Hidalgo (part), Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties that I represent. 

These charges will provide us the forum to work with key county and local officials in crafting the needed reforms that will enable them to engage in trade, tourism and comprehensive regional development. 

Our committee is committed to developing critical recommendations and the right reforms needed to increase Texas’ competitive edge by allowing every community in our state to participate in the global marketplace.  Through improved commerce and proper assistance by our state, Texas will benefit with a more vibrant and energetic economy. 

Trade and commerce are dependent on the timely transport, as well as arrival of goods. That is why I welcomed the charge to develop efficiencies to reduce the crossing time for commerce shipments and expedite trade with Mexico, while not compromising security. 

This is also a great opportunity to enhance trade in coastal communities and more fully utilize our Texas ports to reduce shipment delays. 

Over the last two decades, IRT has developed legislative expertise in homeownership and substandard housing matters, particularly in colonias. We have done so because addressing the quality of life of low-income residents has been one of my main priorities since I was elected to public office. Although we have made progress in addressing the plight of those living in substandard housing along the border, much more needs to be done.

Consulting with key community, state and local officials, we will examine the effectiveness of our colonia prevention and remediation efforts, as well as homeownership initiatives geared to distressed areas.

Providing greater affordable housing opportunities in regions with limited resources is critical to true community development. That is why I requested and received a charge to spearhead this issue in the Texas Senate.

From Brownsville to Beaumont, Laredo to Lubbock, El Paso to Wichita Falls, the needs of distressed, coastal and smaller communities will be addressed through the interim hearings of the IRT Committee. 

Further information on the IRT Committee’s interim charges and activities can be obtained at the Texas Legislature Online website or by calling the IRT Committee at (512) 463-0385. 

NOTE: Besides myself, the IRT committee members include: Sen. Kel Seliger, Vice Chair, R-Amarillo; Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; Sen. Mario Gallegos Jr., D-Houston; and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. 

The IRT Committee is staffed by Committee Director, Dan Esparza, J.D. and Policy Analyst and Committee Clerk Natalie Fontenot. 

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Landmark study reveals unprecedented number of Valley residents seeking emergency food assistance

By CRISSY A. CRUZ 

The Food Bank RGV and Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, on Wednesday, February 3, released a landmark study  and reported that nearly 22,000 different people receive emergency food assistance in any given week through agencies served by the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.  

Fifty percent of those served are children under 18 years old and 52% of households include at least one employed adult. 

The Hunger Study isthe first research study to capture the significant connection between the recent economic downturn and an increased need for emergency food assistance. The number of children and adults in need of food as a result of experiencing food insecurity has significantly increased.  Nationally, more than one in three client households are experiencing very low food security — or hunger  — a 54 percent increase in the number of households compared to four years ago.

Óscar L. Garza Jr., Hidalgo County Commissioner of Precinct 4, was present for the study’s unveiling and signaled his personal as well as the county’s unwavering support of the Food Bank, which serves the three-county area of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy. 

“The Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley performs an invaluable service to our community helping to keep our families healthy and fed. For this reason, I am challenging our county employees to make either a donation of non-perishable food to the Food Bank or a monetary contribution. We will be organizing the first county-sponsored food drive slated for March 1 and getting our employees motivated and engaged to end hunger in our community," said Garza. "If our county family can put up at least $2,500 worth of donations, I’ll also see to it that local Hidalgo County businesses match that amount. No child, no elderly individual and no veteran should be going hungry in Hidalgo County.”

All donations go to help the Food Bank RGV serve the individuals and families fighting hunger in the Rio Grande Valley.  The Food Bank RGV is funded by contributions from various generous individuals and organizations, without whom it would be impossible to provide assistance to.

For more information about the Food Bank RGV’s Hunger Study please contact Food Bank RGV leaders at (956) 631-5009 or by email crissyc@foodbankrgv.com.  For more information on the Food Bank RGV please visit http://www.foodbankrgv.com.  

For further information on the county’s upcoming food drive, please contact Cari Lambrecht at (956) 292-7026. 

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Congressman Cuellar, Census Director Groves tour South Texas to raise awareness of upcoming Census

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, U.S. Census Director Dr. Robert M. Groves and Dallas Census Regional Director Gabriel Sánchez on Monday, February 1, visited the border colonias outside of Laredo as part of a national campaign to raise awareness for the 2010 Census this spring.  

Cuellar and Groves will work together to monitor how the border region participates in the national Census this March. 

“The 2010 Census is vitally important to making our communities count, and this local community tour with the U.S. Census Director shows how committed we are to one of the most hard to count areas in the nation,” said Cuellar. “I cmmend Director Groves for coming down to Laredo on the heels of his Alaska visit last week. From the snow caps in the north to the colonias in the south, all Americans will count this 2010 Census.” 

Cuellar and Groves kicked off the community tour at the local Laredo 2010 Census office before departing for the colonias along Highway 359.  

The two men met in Washington three weeks earlier to discuss the importance of outreach efforts along the border. Beginning March 19, the Census Bureau will send daily reports to Cuellar on the rate of Census questionnaires being returned by mail from the border. 

“We appreciate the opportunity Congressman Cuellar is giving us to visit the colonias on the eve of the 2010 Census. We care deeply about reaching these communities with the message that responding to the Census is easy, important, and most of all entirely safe,” said Groves. “No one’s data will be used for anything other than the statistical uses of the Census.” 

During the 2000 Census, a combination of challenges affected how accurately the colonias were counted. Language barriers, lack of physical infrastructure such as roads and mailboxes, plus limited formal education throughout these communities posed unique challenges to the Census Bureau.  

In 2009, Groves visited the colonias outside of McAllen to assess these challenges. 

“This is my second visit to the colonias,” Groves said during the February 1 visit to the Laredo area.  "I am confident that by understanding this population, we can complete an accurate count and ensure the fair distribution of federal resources.” 

The Census is conducted once every 10 years and gathers important information on the national population. It also helps determine how more than $400 billion in federal funding is distributed to state, local and tribal governments. 

“We have to get an accurate count of how many families and children there are in our region to determine how many classrooms we need, plus roads, hospitals and other vitally important infrastructure in Texas,” said Cuellar. “Without an accurate count, we’re making estimates on the resources we need and rely on everyday.”

In March 2010, more than 130 million addresses across the nation will receive a Census questionnaire. One of the shortest forms in history, the 2010 Census asks 10 questions and takes about 10 minutes to complete. The Census does not ask any questions relating to citizenship status and information provided to the Census is completely confidential. 

On February 1, Groves, Cuellar and Sánchez toured the colonias and distributed sample Census questionnaires in both Spanish and English to colonias residents. Local outreach efforts are already underway to hand deliver Census questionnaires throughout the colonias along Texas’ southern border. 

In Webb and other border counties, more than 4,000 local jobs have been created for community outreach efforts. These jobs include Census clerks who travel door to door to help citizens complete and return their forms. 

“It’s a community-wide campaign,” said Cuellar. “The stakes are too high to wait another decade to get an accurate count. So we’re working together to make this one complete.”

Cuellar is the only Hispanic and Texas Member of Congress to serve on the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives. He is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and he is Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism. 

For more information on the 2010 Census, please visit http://www.cuellar.house.gov or http://www.2010.census.gov

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Chuy Ramírez, local attorney, debuts his first book, Strawberry Fields, which chronicles  trials of Mexican family migrating to America

By ELIZABETH C. MARTÍNEZ  

From the struggles of assimilating into a different culture to the search of self-identity, McAllen attorney and author Chuy Ramírez on Friday, February 5, released to the public a book of short stories called Strawberry Fields.  

Ramirez held a book signing, which included a short presentation by the author and a question and answer session, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Los Cazadores restaurant, located at 901 N. Main St., during McAllen’s Artwalk.  

Strawberry Fields unfolds a story about the trials of a Mexican family as they make their way from Northern Mexico to South Texas,” says Ramírez. “It’s not a political book. Strawberry Fields is symbolic of both the fields, at which farm workers labor to improve their lot, and an abstract place that represent the dreams and ambitions of young Joaquín, the protagonist.” 

Ramírez has spent more than 40 years both participating and observing how Mexican Americans in South Texas both integrate with American culture and impact that culture. In his early years as a high school and college student during the late ’60s and early ’70s, he was an active participant in then fledging grass roots and political movements.  

Ramírez, a San Juan native, grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and is no stranger to the strawberry fields to which he traveled during his adolescent years with his family. Ramírez attended Pan American University in Edinburg, and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.  

More information about Strawberry Fields is available online at "http://www.iberoaztlan.com or by calling 956/821-8662. 

Strawberry Fields is the first effort of First Texas Publishers, which is located in San Juan in the Rio Grande Valley.  

First Texas Publishers was founded in early 2009 with the objective of providing writers an opportunity to publish and distribute their initial works.   

It is anticipated that the first run prints for new artists will not exceed 2,000 books with the objectives being (1) to publish a well-designed and edited product, (2) to identify and test an initial niche market (regional, ethnic, age, etc) in order to defray the publishing costs, and (3) distribute a well-published product to agents and national publishers and distributors for the purpose of marketing the product.

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Harlingen man pleads guilty in check kiting case that defrauded $1.6 million from banks

By ANGELA DODGE 

John Jeff Woodard, Jr., 48, of Harlingen, on Monday, February 1, pleaded guilty to defrauding three local banks by means of a check kiting scheme, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced. 

At a hearing before United States District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, Woodard pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud admitting he operated a check kite scheme involving four bank accounts held in the names of several of his former businesses. The scheme resulted in combined total of more than a million dollar loss affecting three local banks. 

A check kite exists when a person passes checks back and forth between banks before the checks have time to clear to create the appearance that the bank customer has more money in the accounts than he actually does. A check is written on one bank and deposited in a second bank. Checks not backed by sufficient collectable funds are written from the second bank (or a third bank) and deposited with the first bank to mask the fact that there are insufficient funds to pay the initial check. The process continues until the kite is discovered. 

Woodard operated Harlingen Imports, also known as Competition Car and Truck Center, in Harlingen; Competition Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Competition RGV in Raymondville; and Competition Motor Sports, with locations in Harlingen and McAllen.  

The check kite scheme covered the period from November 1, 2004 through January 30, 2006. 

In this case, Woodard or persons acting under his direction wrote multiple checks on one account and deposited them with another of the three banking institutions daily. There was no legitimate business reason for the vast majority of the checks to be written. The checks were all written in whole dollar amounts, typically in even hundreds, and were typically sequential. Woodard signed about half of the checks. Others were signed by employees or business partners, acting under his direction. The number and size of the checks dwarfed the reported revenues  of the three businesses combined.  

Over the time period covered by the FBI’s detailed computer analysis, October 2005 through December 2005, Woodard was responsible for kiting resulting in an actual loss of approximately $1.6 million. 

The maximum statutory penalty is thirty years imprisonment, a $1 million fine, and five years of supervised release. Sentencing is set for May 10, 2010 at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Hanen. 

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Wynne and Israel Cano. 

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Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, pleads guilty to federal charge; resigns from Legislature

Gladys E. Hodge, also known as “Terri Hodge,” who was to go on trial early next month on charges outlined in a 31-count indictment charging 14 public officials and their associates with various offenses related to a bribery and extortion scheme involving affordable housing developments in the Dallas area, on Wednesday, February 3, pleaded guilty, announced U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks of the Northern District of Texas.  

As a condition of her plea with the government, Hodge, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, District 100, in 1996, and re-elected to the same position in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008, has agreed to resign her office and never seek or hold future public office. 

Hodge entered her guilty plea during the morning of February 3, before U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, to fraud and false statements on an income tax return. She faces a maximum statutory sentence of three years in prison, a $100,000 fine, and restitution to the IRS. At the morning’s hearing, Judge Lynn indicated that she would be setting the sentencing date as expeditiously as possible. 

According to the factual resume filed in the case, over the course of her tenure as a state representative, Hodge supported Southwest Housing Development Company, Inc. (SWH) developments which, among others, included affordable housing developments in District 100.  

Co-defendant Cheryl L. Potashnik, the wife of co-defendant Brian L. Potashnik, a real estate developer and the founder, president and a principal of SWH, served in multiple roles in management and development of SWH, including that of chief operating officer and principal of SHW.  

Cheryl Potashnik pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with benefits given to Hodge by the Potashniks and SWH. Brian Potashnik also pleaded guilty to bribery of various public officials. Both Potashniks are awaiting sentencing. 

According to the factual resume filed, sometime on or before February 27, 2002, Hodge asked Brian Potashnik for assistance in the form of affordable housing for herself within the geographical boundaries of her political district. She indicated that she had financial problems and could not afford to pay the full rate for housing. Beginning in April 2002, the Potashniks made arrangements to provide Hodge with housing in one of SWH’s market-rate affordable housing development units, which was located at Rosemont at Arlington Park in District 100.  

Hodge moved into the apartment on April 1, 2002, and renewed her lease, at the same rental rate of $200 per month, in November 2002 and again in March 2003. As reflected in the executed lease agreements, the market rate for this unit was $899 per month, and the difference in rent was paid by the Potashniks. 

In addition, the Potashniks paid the utility bills on the apartment from their development funds and provided new carpeting for her house located on Abrams Road in Dallas. The carpeting cost $1,995 and was paid for by the construction arm of SWH, a company named Affordable Housing Construction, Inc. 

The total value of the rental subsidies, utilities and carpeting provided to Hodge by the Potashniks from 2002 through 2005 was $32,541. None of this amount was included as income on the corresponding federal income tax returns for the tax years in which it was received by Hodge. 

The plea documents further state that Hodge had additional income, in tax years 2001 through 2005, totaling $41,465, comprised, in part, of campaign contributions which she used for her own personal benefit and which she did not include as income on the corresponding federal income tax returns for the tax years in which she received it. 

Hodge admits that she filed a U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, with the IRS, that she well knew omitted income of $6,914 in 2001; $27,062 in 2002; $13,402 in 2003; $19,908 in 2004; and $6,720 in 2005. Hodge further admits that as a result, she owes the following in taxes (excluding penalties and interest) to the IRS: $1,937 for 2001; $1,496 for 2002; $1,908 for 2003, $3,887 for 2004, and $1,680 for tax year 2005, for a grand total of $10,908. 

The case is being investigated by the FBI and IRS-CI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Saldaña, Chad Meacham, Chris Stokes, Steven Fahey and Leigha Simonton are prosecuting. 

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Federal jury convicts former El Paso Judge Manuel Barraza in connection to bribery case

United States Attorney John E. Murphy and David Cuthbertson, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation–El Paso Division, announced that a federal jury on Thursday, February 4, found former El Paso Criminal District Court Judge Manuel Joseph Barraza, aka Manny Barraza, guilty of charges related to a bribery scheme. 

The jury convicted Barraza of two counts of wire fraud and the deprivation of honest services and one count of making false statements. The jury acquitted Barraza of one count of mail fraud. 

Evidence presented during trial revealed that beginning on or about December 2008 and continuing and including February 26, 2009, Barraza solicited, agreed to accept, and accepted bribes in the form of cash money. He also solicited sex and agreed to accept a bribe of engaging in sexual activity with women. These acts were all committed in exchange for his influence and exercise of discretion in his official capacity as an elected judge. In carrying out his bribery scheme, Judge Barraza promised to intervene in a felony criminal case filed by the State of Texas pending in state district court in order to influence the outcome of the case. 

Barraza, who remains on bond pending sentencing, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the two fraud counts, and up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the false statements charge. Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on April 28, 2010, before United States District Judge Frank Montalvo. At sentencing, Judge Montalvo is expected to enter a judgement of criminal forfeiture against Barraza, who today agreed to forfeit to the government the bribe money he received—$5,100. 

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted for the government by Assistant United States Attorney Laura Franco Gregory and Antonio Franco. 

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STC Workplace Literacy Program helping to improve communications for manufacturers

By DAN RAMOS 

More than 100 employees from several maquiladora manufacturing companies are attending English and Spanish-language classes at South Texas College’s Technology Campus. As part of the North American Advanced Manufacturing and Research Initiative, private partner companies have taken advantage of intense workplace literacy training at STC’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing (IAM).

The program consists of three levels of English and Spanish language classes that help participants refine their oral, written and listening skills, and gain an understanding of commonly-used vocabulary terms to enhance their job productivity.

“Our program is experiencing phenomenal growth with three new English and Spanish classes starting each week this year,” said Raúl Ruiz, project training specialist for STC’s IAM. “Classes begin as early at 9 a.m. and they are offered throughout the day until 9 p.m. We customize each class to suit our private partners’ needs and we hope that more companies will take part in this unique professional development opportunity.”

Employees from ALPS Automotive, JVC, AM-MEX, Rio Grande Pak Foods, Corning Cable Systems, Coca-Cola and GE Engine Services have already taken these classes at STC and have dedicated their time and efforts to improving their communication skills. And partner companies who have participated are realizing the benefits of this program.

“We have more than 4,300 employees at our Reynosa plant and an additional 50 U.S.-based employees,” said Maurice Rodríguez, human resource director for Corning Cable Systems in McAllen. “We are very appreciative of the offerings, given that 25 percent of our team is working hard to improve their Spanish language skills to help them with day-to-day communications.  We have seen great results and have received positive feedback from the employees who have taken the courses at STC. Many of them have commented on how helpful the courses were to them, and now I’m actually receiving some e-mails from them written in Spanish.”

Through this initiative and many others, STC is building on its solid reputation of delivering high quality education to become the region’s premier manufacturing training institution.

“Since the beginning of our skills development grant, we have expanded our workplace literacy program and continue to enhance the curriculum to suit our companies,” added Carlos Margo, regional manager for STC’s IAM.

To find out more about the Workplace Literacy Program at STC’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing contact Ruiz at 956/872-6141. 

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