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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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City Council on Tuesday, March 3, to consider recommending state incentives for proposed $14 million Edinburg Medical Conference Center

Area leaders are calling on South Texans to join Valley veterans in Edinburg on Saturday, March 14, to help kick off a march to San Antonio designed to continue rallying support for a Veterans Affairs Hospital for deep South Texas. The march, which will include Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, will begin at 9 a.m. at the Sekula Memorial Library, 1906 S. Closner Boulevard, in Edinburg. The march will end on Friday, March 20, at the Audie Murphy Memorial VA Hospital, 7400 Merton Minter Street, in San Antonio. For more information, residents may contact Jesús Bocanegra at 956/246-8342 or Rey Leal at 949/292-7185. For sponsorship, persons may contact Chris Treviño at 956/720-2381.

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Edinburg Home Buyers Expo organizational and planning committee will address the Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, March 3, with an update on the 2nd Annual Edinburg Home Buyers Expo, scheduled for Saturday, April 18, at the ECHO Hotel. The committee’s main goal is to educate and inform Edinburg residents and others interested about many topics regarding the housing market. “This is an opportune time to invest in real estate. If you are one who has been saving and waiting to grab a good deal, the time is now," said Edna Peña, realtor with Horizon Properties. Featured, from left: Verónica Guerrero, City of Edinburg; Edna Peña, Horizon Properties; Elva Jackson Garza, Edwards Abstract and Title Co. and Expo Chair; Flo Prater, Rio Valley Realty; Marty Martin, Rio Valley Realty; Michelle Mendoza, County of Hidalgo; Steve de la Garza, County of Hidalgo; Anna L. Casares, International Bank of Commerce; María (Charo) Mann, Southwest Community Investment Corporation Women’s Business Center; Letty Reyes, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Irene Del Toro, Texas Valley Communities Foundation. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce along with the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will host the 3rd Annual Community Health Fair & Edinburg on Wheels, Saturday, March 7 from 8 a.m until noon. The event will be held at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, 602 W. University Drive. The Health Fair is currently accepting participants. Booth entries cost $75 for non-profit organizations, $100 for chamber members or $150 for future chamber members. All businesses and organizations in the health and medical field are encouraged to participate. The Edinburg on Wheels is a six-mile bike ride along Edinburg’s “Hike & Bike” trails, promoting health and wellness for people of all ages. Bike ride registration will be from 8 – 8:45 a.m., and the ride begins promptly at 9 a.m. T-shirts for the first 100 registrants will be given out for free. Snacks, water and drinks will also be provided. Families are greatly encouraged to participate. The event is sponsored by Stonebridge Injury Accident Clinic. For more information, please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974. Featured, promoting the event, are, from left: Johnny Rodríguez, Melissa Rodríguez, Cristal Cavazos, Frank Lara, Evana Vleck, Kimberly Rodríguez, Imelda Rodríguez, Letty González, and John Paul Rodríguez.

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South Texas College and The University of Texas-Pan American have developed the Start Here, Finish There Student Transfer Success Action Plan to ensure students have an easier time completing their degrees through a partnership between both higher education institutions. “The plan includes strategies to develop a seamless transition for STC graduates transferring to UTPA,” said Juan E. Mejia, STC vice president for academic affairs. “The more than 25 strategies included in the plan have clear timelines for implementation and accountability for completion.” Featured, from left at the UTPA campus, are: Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president for academic affairs, sporting an STC cap and Mejia, wearing a UTPA cap to symbolize a deepening partnership between the two higher ed institutions. See story later in this posting.

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Sen. Hinojosa pre-files legislation to freeze tuition rates; Rep. Peña, Sen. Lucio, Jr., Rep. Lucio, III, introduce measures to create UT medical school, UT law school in the Rio Grande Valley

On Monday, November 10 – the first day of pre-filing for the 81st Legislative Session – Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, filed Senate Bill 105, a tuition moratorium bill. Hinojosa’s proposal would establish a two-year moratorium on tuition rate hikes and limit future increases to key economic indices. Hinojosa believes the current tuition rate-setting scheme fails Texas’ college hopefuls. "There is something fundamentally wrong with the current system. We tell high school students that hard work earns them passage to a public university in Texas," he said. "Once these graduates meet that standard, they are priced out of the very opportunity that motivated them in the first place. The ‘work hard and get ahead’ story has become a false promise for Texas high school seniors."  Also on Monday, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville, introduced measures to create a University of Texas medical school, UT law school, in the Valley.  See top four stories later in this posting.

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With the Texas Legislature set to convene in January for its five-month regular session, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a legislative dinner for Tuesday, November 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Club at Cimarron in Mission. Area state lawmakers will get to discuss issues that remained unresolved from the 2007 regular session, as well as address new legislation that they will be presenting. Attendees will get to ask questions and/or inform them of their concerns as well. Individual tickets for the event are available for purchase at $25 each. Major sponsors will get a legislator sitting at their table during dinner. Sponsorships levels are $5,000, $2,000, $1,000 and $500. So far sponsoring the event are CP&L, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, TXU, McAllen–Hidalgo Bridge, and Coca-Cola. For sponsorship information and/or to buy tickets, call the MHCC office at 928-0060. Featured, from left: McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen  Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; and Carlos J. Gutiérrez, legislative aide representing Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Not present, but scheduled to attend the legislative affair are: Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Armando Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

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Two Edinburg physicians – Dr. Ben Garza, a family practice doctor and Dr. Carlos Manrique, an ophthalmologist – are the winners to 2008 Medical Awards bestowed by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The two men, along with other area health professionals, will be honored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce during the 2nd Annual Medical Awards Banquet on Saturday, November 15, at The Embassy Suites in McAllen.  “We recognize that the medical community plays a very important part in our lives, thus the McAllen Hispanic Chamber wanted to recognize the leaders in the certain categories as per the community.” noted Rose Ramírez, MHC Vice Chair of Health Issues. “The purpose of the award is to identify and honor the professional or organization who exemplifies the dedication and continued growth of the professional and/or organization in a specialized field and the contributions of that person/organization to the continued good health of the people of the Rio Grande Valley. Seated, from left, are Manrique, named best Specialty Physician of 2008, and Garza, recognized as this year’s top General Physician. Back row, from left, are other winners in their respective categories: José Galaviz, Heart Hospital Director of CV Surgery; Gilda Romero, Heart Hospital Marketing Director; Elmer Esguerra, Heart Hospital, Director of PCCU; Orlando Vázquez, Physician Assistant with Dr. Enrique Griego; Hari Namboodiri, Las Palmas Administrator; Letty López Hernández, Las Palmas Marketing Director; and Cynthia Tucker Wilcox, Las Palmas DON.  Not shown are: Alejandra Ritchie, Las Palmas Assistant Director of Nursing; Leticia Chávez, Las Palmas Rehabilitation Program Manager; and Jean Calvert, Nurse of the Year.

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who represents Senate District 21, which includes the western portion of the Valley, on Wednesday, November 5, celebrated her re-election with many of her supporters. The senator carried her home county, Webb, with 78 percent, and reached totals as high as 90 percent in Starr and Zavala counties. Featured, from left, are: Sergio Mora, Webb County Democratic Party chair; her son, Carlos Zaffirini, Jr.; and Zaffirini.  See story later in this posting.

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Flo Prater, featured fourth from left, was named Chamber Champion of the Year at the 2008 Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet held on Thursday, October 30, at the the Echo Hotel and Conference Center. Prater is a co-owner of Rio Valley Realty and has been involved with the Chamber of Commerce for several years. Prater served on the Edinburg Centennial Committee, Chamber Champion Committee, Texas Cook’Em Committee, Fiesta Edinburg Committee, Tourism Committee, and also volunteers her time with other various chamber events. Sharing in the big day for her were, from left: Elva Jackson Garza; Letty González; Cris Torres (outgoing chamber chairman); Flo Prater; Keith Prater; Hayden Prater; and Brandon Prater.  See story later in this posting.

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Where the Ox Does Not Plow, an autobiographical ethnography, consists of twenty-six life episodes that chronicle Manuel Peña’s transformative journey from an impoverished migrant worker to a career in academia. An ethnograpy is the branch of anthropology that deals with the scientific description of specific human cultures. Inspired by his experiences and those of the people around him in Texas and California, Peña, a Weslaco native, reflects on a wide range of issues arising from the historically marginalized condition of Mexicans and other Latinos in the United States. The narrative will engage readers with a broad range of human experiences, from race relations and economic exploitation to the intimacy of familial and romantic love. See story later in this posting.

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Ciro Treviño, ECISD Place 7 school board trustee, hopes to continue successful school board agenda

Members of the city’s Centennial Committee, who helped organize a series of celebrations commemorating Edinburg’s 100th anniversary, were publicly recognized on Friday, October 10, by city and state officials.  The group participated in a reenactment ribbon cutting with Rio Grande Switching at the Edinburg Depot, where passenger railroad services once played a vital role in the fledgling community’s transportation system. Elected leaders in the photograph include Mayor Joe Ochoa, Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza; Councilmember Alma Garza, and Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg.  Also in this photograph were Cynthia Bocanegra; Gus Casas; Elva Jackson Garza; Letty Gonzalez; Maggie Kent; Flo Prater; City Manager J.J. Rodríguez; Johnny Rodríguez; and Cris Torres.

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South Texas College’s Valley Scholars Program, a scholarship program supporting academically gifted students, celebrated STC’s 15th anniversary in stellar style with its annual A Night with the Stars fundraiser on Tuesday, October 7, at the Cimarron Country Club in Mission.  The special event honored Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville (featured left), and former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, for their support of STC from its creation by the Texas Legislature in 1993. Lucio was the author of the legislation that converted the former Texas State Technical College branch campus in McAllen into South Texas Community College.  Gutiérrez was the sponsor of the measure. See story later in this posting.

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Brian Godínez (featured right), Senior Consultant with Godínez Communications, will be the featured speaker before the McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, October 28, with his presentation, Bang For The Buck Marketing Strategies!  The session, hosted by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, will focus on low-cost, high-value marketing techniques and their importance in a successful promotional strategy. The seminar, which will be held in the chamber’s headquarters, located at 1200 Ash Ave in McAllen, will run from 11:30 a.m.  to 1:15 p.m., and lunch will be provided for registered attendees. The session carries a $10 fee per attendee. Featured with Godínez  is Steve Ahlenius, President and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. See story later in this posting.

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John Taméz, featured left, on Tuesday, October 7, updated the leadership of the UT-Pan American Alumni Association of plans by his group, the UT-Pan American Student Alumni Association, to organize a Rock Out Cancer Marathon at the Edinburg campus on Saturday, October 25. “The intention of hosting this event is to start new traditions that will continue to spread cancer awareness across UTPA and the community for many years to follow,” he said. “The SAA will take an initiative to increase awareness for one of society’s most common and life affecting diseases – cancer. This event is very dear to my heart because I am currently battling cancer and I know that there are many others in this struggle. This marathon will definitely help everyone.” His presentation came before more than two dozen UT-Pan American alumni leaders meeting at the Wells Fargo Bank in Edinburg. Included in that session with Taméz were, from left: David Garza, president of the Houston chapter of the UT-Pan American Alumni Association; Dan Martínez, also with the Houston chapter; and Dr. Anthony Acosta, Ph.D., Multi-Media Program Director for Entravision Communications. The UT-Pan American Alumni Association has a website located at http://www.utpaalumni.com See related story later in this posting.

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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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