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In break from majority, Councilmember García rolled the dice and won big with President Obama

 

When then-Sen. Barack Obama came to the University of Texas-Pan American in late February, you could literally count on one hand the number of elected officials who endorsed the man who would be President – and three of them were from Edinburg. Edinburg Councilmember Gus García, Jr., featured here with his wife, Tonya, publicly supported Obama during his February 22 visit to the University of Texas-Pan American. Also endorsing Obama were Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Edinburg school board trustee Robert Peña, Jr.  The South Texas leaders astonished the Rio Grande Valley Democratic power brokers when they backed Obama against a hugely popular Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Almost a year later, their public support of Obama could help Edinburg and South Texas keep their presence and issues known to the newly-elected President, says the local councilmember. See lead story later in this posting. 

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Key legislators, featured in this file photo during the opening of South Texas College Technology Campus in McAllen in 2006, could soon be joining forces again to bring another higher education crown jewel to the Rio Grande Valley. Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview (third from left), says he is coordinating a public meeting with the City of McAllen, the University of Texas-Pan American, and South Texas College so McAllen officials, led by Mayor Richard Cortéz, may lay out their vision to bring graduate-level university courses to the City of Palms. "For some time now, the leadership of McAllen has been working on ways to continue bringing additional higher education opportunities for the people of South Texas," Flores said. "Under a state law I authored four years ago, the way has been paved for helping do just that." Joining the Palmview Democrat in this shot were, from left: Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Flores; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Cortéz.  Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, carried the Flores legislation in the Senate. See story later in this posting. 

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The University of Texas-Pan American has now made it easier for students to transfer from a two-year college to the University through the help of the newly opened UTPA Transfer Center. A grand opening was held Tuesday, January 13 at the center, which is located at Pecan Boulevard and 29th Street in McAllen. “It is this sort of partnership and teamwork that will pay off ‘en grande’ for the students of STC and most importantly for the economy and prosperity of the Rio Grande Valley,” UTPA President Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas said. “It has become far more urgent that we make sure students have the information they need in order to make efficient decisions in their college pathway.” Featured at the ceremony, from left: Mike Allen, board of trustees, South Texas College;  Dr. Magdalena Hinojosa, UTPA associate vice president and dean of admissions and enrollment services; Dr. Paul Sale, UTPA provost and vice president; Cárdenas; Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president; Alejo Salinas, board of trustees, South Texas College; and Mike Pérez, McAllen city manager. See story later in this posting. 

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Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, featured right, will be in Weslaco on Thursday, January 22, as part of a major legislative tour coordinated by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured left. Straus will be joined by dozens of other state lawmakers for the only scheduled visit into Hidalgo County, according to the tentative schedule that has been distributed to state senators and representatives by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The speaker and the legislators will meet for a reception with mayors of Hidalgo County at 7 p.m. at the home of Patti and Larry Dittburner at 2912 S. International Boulevard, according to Peña. Later in the week, the legislative delegation will primarily visit key points in Cameron County. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership is hosting the tour for dozens of legislators from across the state from Thursday, January 22 through Sunday, January 25. "Joe Straus is a good friend and I congratulate him on his unanimous election as our new speaker," said Peña. "We have been able to succeed in the past because of our willingness to work with members on both sides of the aisle. In these dire economic circumstances and with our state facing a grim budget outlook it becomes so much more important to put aside partisanship and do what is best for the state of Texas. That is why I invited Speaker Straus to join our colleagues in a tour of the Rio Grande Valley." Featured, from left: Peña; Straus; Aaron Peña III; and Aaron Austin Peña. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured third from right, on Tuesday, January 13, was sworn in for another four-year term representing Senate District 21, which includes Starr County.  Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst presided during Opening Day Ceremonies, officially gaveling to order the 81st Texas Legislative Session. "I truly am delighted to renew my unwavering support for all families in our district," Zaffirini said. "I especially look forward to prioritizing education and health and human services and to ensuring the health and welfare of Texans, especially those whom I represent."  She returns as the highest-ranking senator for Bexar County and the border region. including Starr County. Featured, from left: Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston; and Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg economy expected to grow, predicts Standard & Poor’s, one of nation’s top rating firms

Thousands of Edinburg residents, including political, business, and community leaders featured in the background, showed up at the University of Texas-Pan American on Friday, February 22, to rally support for the presidential bid by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, featured center, shown greeting inspired UTPA students. Only a handful of Rio Grande Valley elected leaders showed up to support Obama, who was dueling with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, a South Texas favorite, for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Mayor Joe Ochoa and Councilmember Gus García, Jr., along with Edinburg school board trustee Robert Peña, Jr., bucked conventional political wisdom and threw their public support behind Obama, who will be sworn into office on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, January 20. 

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Dr. Beverly Fridie, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. David Fridie, II, DPM, from Edinburg shared their joy and pride with a Chicago Tribune newspaper distributor in the Windy City on Wednesday, November 5, following the historic election of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and the first black president in the nation’s history. The Fridie family traveled to Illinois to be part of what they hoped would be a monumental transformation in U.S. politics. Mrs. Fridie, who along with her husband are longtime community and business leaders in Edinburg, recently reflected on their visit to Chicago to help rally support for Obama. "Weeks after David and I visited Grant Park in Chicago to see and hear Barack Obama’s victory speech, I still feel a since of elation, pride and joy to be present at the historical presidential announcement of the first African American president. Standing amongst millions of enthusiastic people of all ethnic backgrounds who were holding hangs, crying and chanting, "Yes we can” and “Change has come” was an experience, I will cherish for a lifetime. Not a day has passed since that night, November 4, that I have not reflected on that event. As grand as Barack Obama’s victory rally was portrayed in the media, it was certainly an ‘out of body’ experience in person. As we share our history with our future generations, I can say, “I was there” when the first African American was elected as our president of the United States." 

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Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, featured center in this file photo last year with Hollis Rutledge (left), the chairman of the  Hidalgo County Republican Party, and Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios, announced on Sunday, January 4, that he will not seek a fourth two-year term as leader of the 150-member legislative chamber.  Instead, a relative newcomer, Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, on Monday, January 5, said he has more than enough votes to be elected Speaker when the Texas Legislature returns to Austin on January 13 for its five-month regular session. The Speaker of the House, who has the power of life and death over all legislation, is elected every two years if he or she can secure 76 votes from fellow lawmakers. If Straus is able to hold on to his support until the official vote is taken, he will owe his election to House Democrats, including all the Valley state representatives, who represented the majority of the votes needed to become Speaker. See story later in this posting. 

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Mayor Joe Ochoa, center, flanked by Gov. Rick Perry, right, and former Mayor Richard García left, addressed a July 2 gathering at the University of Texas-Pan American to announce that a South American textile company will build a $180 million denim-manufacturing plant in Edinburg, which, when completed, will create 800 new jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy. In December, the city continued to receive some more good news, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, when Standard and Poor’s, one of the nation’s top three credit rating firms, gave a positive report about the health of the city’s economy, predicting it will continue to grow. See lead story in this posting. 

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For House Speaker candidate Senfronia Thompson, speaking truth to power personifies Texan’s values

 

For Rep. Senfronia Thompson, a veteran state legislator, moderate Democrat, and state party superdelegate who helped rally support for the nomination and landmark election of a black American (Sen. Barack Obama) for president, making history is a foundation of her own life.

With legislative achievements that include leading a major House committee for a dozen years and authoring more than 200 bills that became state laws, the renowned attorney – who represents northeast Houston and Humble – is a major player in the race for Texas Speaker of the House. Thompson’s personal and professional achievements drew the admiration of Obama when the Illinois senator was campaigning for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. "I’m honored to have earned the support of Representative Thompson and am pleased that she’ll play an important role in advancing our grassroots movement for change in Houston and across Texas," Obama said in a February 2008 statement. "Throughout her three decades in the Legislature, she’s been a tireless advocate for working families and when I’m president we’ll work together to put the American dream within reach of every child in Texas and across our country." Thompson, born in Booth, Texas, and raised in Houston, is Dean of women legislators in the Texas House of Representatives. See lead story later in this posting.  

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Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., featured left, the president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is reportedly one of two finalists to lead the UT System as chancellor. If he is selected, the Laredo native and transplant surgeon would become the first Mexican American chancellor of the sprawling UT System, which includes UT-Pan American, the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg, Harlingen, and Brownsville, and UT-Brownsville. The UT System, which includes 15 institutions and 185,000 students, is the largest system of higher education in Texas and one of the largest in the country.  Cigarroa, along with former Sen. John Montford, D-Lubbock, are expected to be interviewed for the top job by the UT System Board of Regents this week during its meeting in Austin, scheduled for Thursday, December 18, and Friday, December 19. In this photograph, taken in 2006 during the ribbon-cutting of the UT-RAHC in Edinburg, are, from left: Cigarroa; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and UT-Pan American President Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas. In a related story, McAllen construction magnate Alonzo Cantú has been appointed by the UT System Board of Regents to serve on an advisory panel to recommend the successor to Cigarroa, who will be retiring next summer from his current role as president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Also, the UT System Board of Regents are scheduled to review plans for a football team at UT-San Antonio. See the story on Cantú and a separate story on the UTSA college football team plans later in this posting.  

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The McAllen Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, December 4, presented Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured second from right, with its prestigious TR, or Teddy Roosevelt Award, given to individuals who, in the face of adversity, “do the right thing.” The chamber chose Salinas for his stance against the Border Wall and for his success in working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to rethink the wall and instead rebuild portions of the county’s levees, said Steve Ahlenius, president and CEO of the chamber, who is shown in this photograph.  The levee-barrier alternative, which Salinas fought for in Washington D.C., will save residences and businesses from having to purchase mandatory flood insurance and will protect southern Hidalgo County’s bustling industrial parks from flooding. The award, a beautifully drawn graphite portrait of the 26th president captioned and framed with one of President Roosevelt’s most famous quotes, was designed by McAllen artist Joe Taylor. 

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The Office of Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa recently partnered with Target to promote professionalism in the workplace as part of their office training series. The workshops, held monthly and proposed through employee feedback, consist of professional and technical development for staff throughout the year. Through their partnership, the district clerk’s office was able to borrow store apparel at no cost. During the session, staff volunteers modeled select ensembles for their peers during the “fashion show” portion. Featured, from left: Elias Arteaga, Roxanne De La Cruz, Norma Cantú, Erick Rodríguez, Angela García, Jessica Jiménez, Irma López, Janey Ramón, and Oneida Llamas. See story later in this posting. 

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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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