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Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio  Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his  political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success.  See lead story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better."  The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting. 

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South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.  

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The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.  The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left:  Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president;  Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  

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Disabled veterans’ home property tax breaks, Valley VA Hospital plan, posting big victories in Legislature

Paul Cowen, longtime chief-of-staff for Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and an alumni of then Pan American University, on Monday, June 1, was honored by the Senate for his legislative work on behalf of the Valley and Texas. Cowen will be leaving his Senate post on August 31. “Paul has been the most loyal employee and friend. His enormous contributions to state government and to the people of District 27 will never be forgotten,” said Lucio. “His work has been exemplary and of the highest quality, and as one of the Texas Senate’s most valuable employees, he will be greatly missed by all of us.” See story later in this posting.

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“Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott once said, “helping one another is part of the religion of sisterhood.” No need to tell that to the “Trigo sisters” of Edinburg, as they have come to be known in the College of Education at The University of Texas-Pan American. The three siblings – featured from left, Elda Trigo, Armidia Trigo Ríos, and Iliana Trigo – all celebrated earning their master’s degrees at the same time in the same field – bilingual education – at one of three UTPA commencement ceremonies held May 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. See story later in this posting.

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Julissa Barrera, shown second from left, learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance. For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the university, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families. Featured at a recent ceremony to present diapers to AVANCE RGV collected as a part of a UTPA Student Leadership Program senior project are, from left: Noelia Telles, family service coordinator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; Julissa Barrera, who graduated this spring; Cecilia Quiroga, parent educator for the Parent/Child Education Program, AVANCE RGV; and Teresa González, supervisor of family programs, AVANCE RGV. See story later in this posting.

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Top leaders with South Texas College and Texas A&M-Kingsville recently signed an agreement to ease the transfer of students studying education. Featured, seated from left, are: Steven Tallant, TAMUK president; Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs; and Ali Emaeili, STC dean for bachelor programs and university relations. Standing, from left, are: Marilyn J Bartlett, TAMUK dean of the College of Education; Art Montiel, chair of STC’s Education Department; and Mike F. Desiderio, TAMUK chair for education. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg’s retail economy in December 2008 up more than 21 percent over same month in 2007

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who earlier this year announced he would not be seeking reelection in May, on Tuesday, February 10, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for leading Edinburg through an unprecedented period of economic development and improvements in the quality-of-life during his 13 years as one of South Texas’ most effective political leaders. The high praise was contained in House Concurrent Resolution 39, authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg. The measure, which was approved unanimously by the 150-member House of Representatives, was publicly endorsed by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes most of the three-time All-America City. Ochoa was credited for heavily influencing the city’s "dramatic growth and prosperity," noting that during his tenure as mayor, Edinburg has seen the number of all properties in Edinburg increase dramatically, from $500 million in assessed valuations when he first took office in 1993, to $3 billion today. See story later in this posting. 

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Roland Arriola, Ph.D., president of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, was one of 15 members appointed on Monday, February 16, by the University of Texas System Board of Regents to serve on a presidential search committee to advise regents on the selection of a president for UT-Pan American. Arriola, a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, was selected because of his role as president of the UT-Pan American Alumni Association. The UT System appointed Charles A. Sorber as interim president last month. Sorber assumed the interim presidency on Monday, February 16. The advisory committee will be asked to present the names of no more than 10 candidates – unranked – to the board, which will make the final decision. Featured, from left, during a major conference in Harlingen last fall, are Kelli Rod, Vice President of Community Relations with TXU Energy; Arriola; and Courtney P. Suhr, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist with the OneStar Foundation.  See story on the presidential advisory panel later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured right, on Tuesday, February 10, presented a Senate Resolution to members of Amigos Del Valle celebrating Senior Day at the State Capitol. Lucio paid tribute to the organization’s 2008-2009 King Luis Barrientos and Queen Eva Martínez, featured center, both representing Casa Del Mar in Brownsville. The 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 Royal Courts were also honored and included members from senior centers throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Amigos Del Valle is a consortium of county and city governmental entities working to provide nutrition, transportation and housing services to senior citizens of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.  Helping senior citizens live healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives is the group’s primary goal. The Executive Director of Amigos Del Valle, Inc., located in Mission, is José Garza.  

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Former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, is back in action at the Texas Capitol, working on key measures designed to help millions of Texans. But he is not a registered lobbyist nor a state lawmaker. Instead of providing public service in either of those two influential roles, he is serving the state as a member of the nation’s most powerful political entity – the American citizen. In that role, Gutiérrez and his wife, Cecilia, along with Delia Oropez of Weslaco and Estella Lane Treviño of Edinburg, are members of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, a powerful coalition of influential Texans who work on measures to help older residents. Featured in this portrait taken in the chamber of the House of Representatives are, from left: Delia Oropez; former Rep. Gutiérrez; and Cecilia Gutiérrez. See story later in this posting. 

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Congratulations to Maureen F. McClain, associate director of Disability Services at The University of Texas-Pan American, who was recently appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain was one of five individuals in the state, whose terms will expire February 1, 2010, to be chosen for the committee that works to ensure Texans with disabilities may live their lives with integrity, independence and productivity. Pictured is McClain being sworn in by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in late January in McAllen to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain, who has been employed with UTPA for more three years, earned her bachelor’s degree in rehabilitative services and a master’s in rehabilitative counseling from UTPA. She is a member of the Association of Higher Education and Disabilities, and was appointed to the Academic Advisement Council. To learn more about UTPA’s Disability Services department and the services offered, visit http://www.utpa.edu/disability or for more information on the committee, visit http://www.governor.state.tx.us/disabilities/. 

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Criminals don’t take a day off and they are always on at the top of their games. So why shouldn’t the rest of society be just as prepared to trump their aces, especially when it comes to cyber security? That’s why South Texas College is hosting a Cyber Security Workshop on Thursday, February 19 and Friday, February 20 at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. Offered in conjunction with Texas A&M University, the National Science Foundation and TEEX, the free workshop offers business owners and technology professionals the latest information about cyber terrorism and cyber security issues. “We are very excited to host this workshop because the developments in technology occurring every day mean that we must be extremely vigilant in learning about the lat est innovations and how criminals are using them to try and damage our identities,” said Raquel Peña, assistant professor of computer science for STC, featured in this photograph. “But we don’t have to be victims, as long as we stay ahead of the curve and use the tools available to keep the cyber world safe.” Space for the workshop is limited to 80 participants and is filling up quickly. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 956/872-2056. 

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Several South Texas College students had the unique opportunity to meet recently with Texas lawmakers in Austin to share their views about higher education, as well as their hopes for current and future generations of Hidalgo and Starr county students. Karina Cerda, Darien Fernández, Miguel García, Lizette Muñoz, Cassandra Orozco, Ronald Tanamachi and Esther Ybarra, who are members of STC’s Student Government Association, represented the student body at Community College Day at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, February 4. Community College Day was sponsored and organized by the Texas Junior College Student Government Association. The students toured the capitol building, attended a rally and had the opportunity to network with students from across the state. The STC students, who were chaperoned by a delegation of STC administrators, met with: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Roma; Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan.  The meetings allowed students to share their experiences and expectations with lawmakers to help them understand the continually growing role community colleges play in the economic growth and vitality of the districts they serve.  In a related matter, STC leaders have announced that enrollment at the two-county higher education institution approached 22,000 for the spring 2009 semester. See story on enrollment later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is going on a “SAFARI” from Thursday, February 26 through Sunday, March 1, at the Edinburg Municipal Park. The Heart of America Carnival will be featured during that week; with a $5 "All-You-Can-Ride" special on February 26. Musical headliners “Little Rob” will perform Friday evening and “DUELO” will perform on Saturday at 7 p.m. Fiesta Edinburg will also feature food, carnival, various music and entertainment. Also, check out the  free “SAFARI” Kidz Zone on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. ($5 parking fee required). Edinburg residents also will be treated to the IBC Bank Fiesta Edinburg “SAFARI” Parade, scheduled for Saturday, February 28, beginning at 10 a.m.  The parade will start at the Hidalgo County Court House. Dedicated IBC Bank employees, as part of the IBC Employee Advisory Board, have contributed to making Fiesta Edinburg a great success for the community, noted Dina Araguz, Edinburg 107 IBC Bank branch manager. For more information on Fiesta Edinburg, please call 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Enrique García, Salvador Martínez, Josue Ramírez, Aaron Ramírez, Judith Cantú, Dina Araguz, Lizette Cano, Ashley Herrera, Griselda Zambrano, Aaron Galván , and Robert Alaniz. 

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McAllen’s city legislative agenda to include proposal for new, 100,000-square-foot, postgraduate higher education complex, says Rep. Gonzáles

Ciro Treviño, featured right, takes his oath of office on Wednesday, November 12, as he is sworn in for a new, four-year term on the Edinburg school board. Treviño, who faced two challengers – Carlos Ramos and Roger C. Bunch – earned more than 55 percent of the vote during the November 4 general election, accumulating 9,648 votes, compared with Ramos’ 6,059 (almost 36 percent) and Bunch’s 1,486 (almost nine percent) turnout. It was the first campaign race for both Ramos and Bunch against Treviño, a veteran political figure in the city and Hidalgo County. Extending a peace offering to his two challengers and their supporters, Treviño gave them credit for running a good race. “I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I am glad I did,” he said. “I think this was my hardest election, really, and I have had few. But we will do the best we can. I know we are all going to be working towards the same goals.” Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza administered the oath of office with Armando Barrera, the Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector who served as Treviño’s campaign treasurer, holding the Bible for Treviño. See related story later in this posting.

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Carmen González picked up almost 60 percent of the vote in her November 4 reelection bid for a second term against challenger – and former veteran ECISD board president – Gilbert Enríquez with 9,981 votes compared with 6,782 votes for her rival. González’ match with Enríquez was the most visible, through the use hard-hitting advertisements featured in the McAllen Monitor, and personal attacks on local, anonymous blogs on the Internet. “I know I am perceived by some that I am as a threat to their personal goals,” she said. “Believe me when I say that I know who I am, and that you know who I am, and why I am the way I am. I make no apologies.” González was sworn in by Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, with González’ husband, Edward, holding the Bible upon which his wife placed her hand while taking her oath of office.  See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Center have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to help small businesses. In October, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding which pledged both entities to work together to provide technical and training assistance to women-owned businesses in South Texas. For more information about the Women’s Business Center, call (956) 618-2828 or to reach the MHCC, call (956) 928-0060. Featured during the signing ceremony are, seated, from left:  María “Charo” Mann, chief executive officer and executive director for the Women’s Business Center, which is located in Edinburg, and Cynthia Sakulenzki, the president and chief executive officer for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Standing, from left: José Leal, business advisor for the Women’s Business Center; Pam Garza, special events coordinator for the Women’s Business Center; and Elizabeth Martínez, managing editor for the South Texas Business Times and vice chair of membership for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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For state representative candidate Javier Villalobos, life’s blessings measured by helping others succeed

For McAllen attorney Javier Villalobos (featured right), who is seeking the House District 41 state representative post on November 4, his life’s journey has seen him struggle his way out of the agricultural fields of Texas and Minnesota to achieve personal and professional successes that include raising a loving family, and becoming partner of a law firm which has offices in McAllen, San Antonio, and Houston. However, he firmly believes, good fortune has little meaning if a person doesn’t use his life’s blessings to help others succeed as well. “I want everyone who works hard to have the same opportunities I’ve had,” Villalobos says. “That means we need new leadership in Austin advocating for our values: quality education, support for small businesses, and lower taxes.” Villalobos is seen here with his wife, Annette, and Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick. See lead story in this posting.

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Jeff Corwin, wildlife conservationist and host of the popular Animal Planet shows The Jeff Corwin Experience and Corwin’s Quest, was the first speaker for the University of Texas-Pan American’s annual Distinguished Speakers Series that kicked off Tuesday, September 30 at the Fine Arts Auditorium. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and the general public packed the auditorium for an opportunity to hear from Corwin and meet some of his animal co-stars.  At the end of the event, Corwin took questions from the audience. Featured far right is Corwin with audience members who participated in the presentation by holding one of several reptiles he brought with him.  The next Distinguished Speakers Series will feature Dr. Jehan Sadat, the widow of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.  She is a lifelong advocated for women and children’s rights.  She will be in Edinburg at the Fine Arts Auditorium on Monday, November 17.  For more information on the series, call 956/316-7989.

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Students at The University of Texas-Pan American got a chance to display some rousing Bronc spirit during noontime on Thursday, September 17, at the inaugural Gladiator Day event organized by the Student Alumni Association (SAA). This new organization, an affiliate of the UTPA Alumni Association, seeks to bring old traditions back to the university while creating new traditions and increased school spirit that will hopefully be cemented within the student population, said SAA President John Taméz, a 2008 UTPA graduate in communications now pursuing a master’s in business administration at the university. “I feel students on campus are hungry for traditions right now. I want them to believe that when they leave this university that they have had the best college experience that they could have ever imagined. Through traditions and school pride I thing we can accomplish that,” he said. Featured left to right at Gladiator Day are Student Alumni Association members Erik Valdéz; Taméz; Félix Rodríguez; Melany Rodríguez; Krissy Martínez; Omar Estrella; and Manny Rivas.  See story later in this posting.

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The city of Edinburg is celebrating its 100-year anniversary with community wide events and celebrations planned for the week of Sunday, October 5 through Saturday, October 11. During the same time, the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department will be promoting National Fire Prevention Week, with attention focused on fire safety and preventing home fires. Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently acknowledged the contributions of the fire department to the city’s past, present and future by creating a special commemorative centennial poster featuring an image of an Edinburg fire truck taken at last year’s fire prevention week activities. Peña presented the framed poster to Chief Shawn Snider and other firefighters at the city’s downtown firehouse. Featured at the main fire station are, from left: Rolland Pursley, deputy fire chief; Snider; Peña; Antonio Salazar, deputy fire chief; and Richard Drewry, fire marshall. See story, along with schedule of other centennial activities, later in this posting.

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Shan Rankin, executive director for the Museum of South Texas History (MOST) in Edinburg, on Sunday, October 5, led the Edinburg Centennial kick-off ceremony with the lighting of the birthday cake by local leaders.  The celebration, which was free and open to the public, was part of a week-long series of events in the three-time All-America City.  It included activities, an historic exhibition including the history of Edinburg, free admission to the museum, and more. The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department Museum was also open free to the public on Sunday, and was available for self-guided tours. From left are: Mayor Joe Ochoa; Melissa Tijerina with MOST; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; City Councilmember Alma Garza; and City Councilmember Noé Garza.

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