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.
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.
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.
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.
For House Speaker candidate Senfronia Thompson, speaking truth to power personifies Texan’s values
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
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.
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.
As she prepares in January to enter her 18th term as a state lawmaker, she has served longer in the Legislature than any other woman or African-American in the proud history of the Lone Star State.
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.
If elected by her fellow House members in mid-January, she would make history again, as the first woman and first minority to serve as the leader of the 150-member House of Representatives.
The Speaker of the House, who is chosen in a public vote by a simple majority of fellow state representatives at the beginning of each regular session, has the power of life or death over the thousands of bills that are filed in the Texas Legislature.
She brings an impressive resume (http://www.senfroniaforspeaker.com) that complements her campaign for the top spot in the House, arguably one of the most powerful positions in state politics.
In addition to her own legislative achievements on behalf of education, protecting crime victims, economic development, and other major initiatives, her voting record over the years has included support for small businesses, transportation, and workforce development.
Her body of work has consistently earned public recognition from divergent and independent sources, ranging from top rankings from the Associated Press and Texas Monthly magazine to receiving the first biennial Matt García Award from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus for her service to Hispanic state lawmakers and to the Hispanic community in Texas.
Thompson has been in the forefront of every campaign against discrimination for the last four decades. She also has among the highest ratings of any legislator for her voting record on issues of concern to women, minorities, labor, consumers, reform advocates, domestic violence victims, the elderly, teachers and civil libertarians.
Her views have been honed by her personal and political experiences, which have included challenging the status quo in order to ensure justice at many levels for millions of Texans from all walks of life.
A former public school teacher, Thompson firmly believes in the value of public education. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, a Master’s degree in Education, a law degree, and a Masters of Law in international law.
Defending democracy in the House
In filing for Speaker of the House, Thompson is taking on a power structure, led by Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who many contend runs the House with an iron fist, punishing divergent views instead of allowing the lower chamber to operate as a marketplace of ideas.
Thompson said her willingness to take on an entrenched political establishment in order to bring back democratic principles to the House of Representatives reflects Texas ideals.
"Often, one has to take a stand and speak truth to power," Thompson said. "And when we are privileged to serve in public office, we have to be the champions for those who have no one to speak for them, to level the playing field, to do what is right and just."
At last count, there were 10 candidates challenging Craddick, including Thompson, and even Craddick’s former right-hand man, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who had been appointed in 2007 by Craddick as Speaker Pro Tempore.
Under Craddick’s administration, lawmakers who disagree with his opinions risk having him kill their legislation, Thompson said.
Such intimidation hurts all Texans, not just lawmakers who often find they must choose between voting for their constituents back home on proposed state laws and policies that are opposed by Craddick.
That is a major reason she is working to replace him.
"In order for the democratic process to work, there must be room for differing opinions to be heard. It is imperative, especially in these tempestuous times, to have an open mind and a strong sense of what is right and wrong," Thompson said. "I do not fear a thought that is different from mine; and, instead, cherish that thought as an opportunity for further enlightenment. In the end, if I am elected speaker, I know with complete certainty that all shall be heard and that I have fulfilled my oath to the office of speaker and to all of the people of Texas."
The Speaker of the House also selects the chairs of the most powerful House committees, and the speaker serves, along with the Lt. Governor, as joint-chair of the Legislative Budget Board, an elite group of 10 influential lawmakers which shapes the recommended budget for all agencies of state government.
"It is the responsibility of the speaker to set the tone of the Legislature through good leadership," Thompson explained. "Good leadership, at the most basic level, requires that the speaker be committed to fair enforcement of the rules, opportunities for members on committees, and passage of legislation that benefits and does not punish the people of this state. It is of the utmost importance that any speaker be mindful of whom (s)he represents: the people across the state of Texas."
The Texas Legislature begins its 81st regular session on January 13.
Other notable achievements
In addition to serving as longtime chair of the House Judicial Affairs Committee, one of the Legislature’s busiest panels, she authored and passed, according to her official biography:
- Texas’ first alimony law;
- Laws prohibiting racial profiling;
- The state minimum wage;
- The Durable Power of Attorney Act;
- The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act;
- The Sexual Assault Program Fund;
- The Model School Records Flagging Act;
- The Uniform Child Custody & Jurisdiction Enforcement Act;
- Contraceptive Parity; and
- Scores of other reforms benefiting women, children and the elderly.
Thompson also pushed through major reforms in child support enforcement, simplified probate proceedings, and complete overhauls of statutes dealing with statutory county courts and municipal courts. In 2005, she passed legislation requiring free testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV), an early indicator of cervical cancer, for women who have health insurance.
Thompson currently chairs the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and the Women’s Health Caucus.
She is also a member of the Democratic National Committee, a state director of Women in Government, and a member of the Energy Council. She serves on the House Committees on Insurance and Juvenile Justice and Family Issues.
Among many other honors, in 2005, Thompson was presented with the Matt García Award by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus; PinkDome.com named her one of the Top 2 House members.
In 2001, Thompson was one of Texas Monthly magazine’s Top 10 Legislators; the Associated Press named her one of six lawmakers "Who Rocked the Legislature."
In 2003, she was selected one of the Top 5 House members by Gallery Watch; Nation magazine named her one of 8 legislators in the country "who could teach Congressional Democrats."
She was selected as an Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow by the Center for Policy Alternatives and named one of the Top 3 Legislators in family law four sessions in a row.
She is the only recipient of the Legislative Black Caucus’ Rosa Parks Award.
For many years, she has served on the advisory board of the United Negro College Fund.
Thompson has two adult children and one grandson.
Political ad paid for by Senfronia Thompson Campaign; Elva Marlow, Treasurer; 1301 Travis, Suite 300, Houston, Texas, 77002
Sen. Hinojosa criticizes decision by UT System regents to shut down UTMB clinic in McAllen
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Add Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to the growing list of area residents who are criticizing a decision by the UT System Board of Regents to shut down a medical health program that has served thousands of poor women since 1992.
In a statement issued Thursday, December 11, the McAllen lawmaker denounced the closure of a University of Texas Medical Branch service, known as the UTMB Cancer Shop/Dysplasia Clinic, which had been housed in El Milagro Clinic, 901 E. Vermont Avenue.
"The sudden and disappointing decision to shut down a cancer clinic that has served so many uninsured women in a major setback not only for those women who will no longer have health care services, but for the community as a whole," Hinojosa said. "Frankly, I am skeptical that the University of Texas (System) exhausted every possible option before making this decision."
Hinojosa’s comments were contained in a December 11 letter sent to Dr. Kenneth I. Shine, Executive Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs for the UT System. Shine is also currently serving as the interim chancellor for the UT System.
"As you know, the Rio Grande Valley has consistently faced profound challenges in ensuring that the community has adequate health care services," the state senator continued. "Your decision compounds these challenges and leaves the uninsured women who are waging their own personal struggles with cancer without any place to get life-saving care."
Hinojosa asked Shine to meet with him in the coming days, and asked for key information about the clinic, including data documenting the number of patients who had been served by the clinic on an annual basis, along with a breakdown of the types of cancers diagnosed and treated at the now-closed medical facility.
The lawmaker’s statement was issued on the same day that dozens of former employees, patients, and supporters of a UTMB clinic showed up to protest the UT System Board of Regents’ decision to shutter the operation.
The move to shut down the UTMB Cancer Stop/Dysplasia Clinic was made by the UT System Board of Regents on November 12, as part of a controversial move to eliminate almost 4,000 jobs from the Galveston-based health science center, which was hard hit by Hurricane Ike.
UT System leaders contend UTMB Galveston losses were staggering, and had to put in place the massive layoffs in order to continue operations. The decision also evidently resulted in the December 4 closure of the UTMB Clinic, which had a dozen employees.
According to its website, which is still on the Internet, the UTMB Clinic in McAllen had provided the following services to the region since its creation more than 15 years ago:
In February 1992, UTMB established its own Dysplasia clinic at the South Texas Hospital to meet the increased need for these services. Colposcopy services had been provided on a daily basis by the nurse practitioner.
Gynecologic and surgical services were also added in October 1994 in conjunction with the TDH South Texas Hospital. UTMB faculty had staffed this clinic along with resident doctors. It had been open five days a week.
In April 1994, the Vannie E. Cook, Jr. Cancer Foundation joined forces with UTMB by providing funding and clinic space in McAllen, thus making cancer prevention and detection services more accessible to Hidalgo and Starr county residents.
The Regional Maternal & Child Health Center managed the Dysplasia and cancer stop services, which had provided breast and cervical cancer screening, colposcopy evaluations, and cervical Dysplasia treatments on a daily basis.
Follow-up care of local women with gynecologic cancer, who have completed their treatments in Galveston, had been provided by a UTMB gynecologist/oncologist at the Harlingen and McAllen clinics on a bimonthly basis.
Alonzo Cantú lone Valleyite on panel which will recommend nominees for president of UT Health Science Center, which controls RAHC in Edinburg
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
McAllen construction magnate Alonzo Cantú on Friday, December 12, was named by the University of Texas Board of Regents to a presidential search advisory committee that will recommend nominees for the next president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio operates the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg and the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.
In addition to his sprawling construction and development interests, Cantú serves on the board of directors of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg.
Cantú is the only Valley resident named to the presidential search advisory committee. The formation of that panel was announced by Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr.
The committee will make recommendations on possible successors to President Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., who announced last October his decision to step down as the institution’s president.
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.
Cantú was appointed as an external community representatives to the panel, which also includes:
- William “Bill” Greehey of San Antonio
- George B. Hernández, Jr., of San Antonio
- Kenneth Kalkwarf, D.D.S., dean, Dental School, UT Health Science Center – San Antonio
- The Honorable Cyndi Taylor Krier of San Antonio
- Teresa “Terry” Lozano Long, Ph.D., of Austin
- Kenneth L. Wilson of San Antonio
“The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio is a world-class, comprehensive academic health center and a tremendous catalyst for economic development in the San Antonio region. Selecting the next leader of this institution is of utmost importance to the Board of Regents,” Caven said. “The men and women who have agreed to serve on this search committee bring experience, a broad perspective and sound judgment to the selection process. We are grateful to all of them for agreeing to serve and we look forward to receiving their recommendations.”
Committee members were selected in accordance with the Board of Regents’ Rules and Regulations, which includes a provision for representation on such committees by various constituencies of the institution.
Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., interim chancellor and executive vice chancellor for health affairs in the UT System, will chair the search committee.
Representing the board of regents on the committee will be Vice Chairman James R. Huffines of Austin, Printice Gary of Dallas, and Colleen McHugh of Corpus Christi.
Representing presidents of other UT System institutions are Ricardo Romo, Ph.D., president of UT San Antonio and Larry R. Kaiser, M.D., president of UT Health Science Center – Houston.
Eileen T. Breslin, Ph.D., R.N., dean of the School of Nursing and the Dr. Patty L. Hawken Endowed Professor of Nursing, will serve on the committee.
Representing the UT Health Science Center – San Antonio staff, as selected by the institution’s Staff Advisory Council, is Patrick Lazenby, an administrator in the Family Nursing Care department.
Neal Jackson, a second-year medical student, will represent the students on the committee.
James L. “Larry” Holly, M.D., of Beaumont, will serve on the committee by virtue of his leadership of the School of Medicine’s alumni organization.
The UT Health Science Center – San Antonio faculty representatives, as selected by the Faculty Senate, are:
- George B. Kudolo, Ph.D., professor, Department of Clinical Lab Sciences, School of Health Professions
- Margaret Brackley, Ph.D., R.N., professor and coordinator, nurse practitioner majors and director, Center for Violence Prevention, School of Nursing
- Keith A. Krolick, Ph.D., professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Biomedical Sciences.
Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, is assisting the UT System in the national search and advertisements for the position will be placed in various publications so the committee can carry out its search as expeditiously as possible.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg.
(Matt Flores contributed to this article.)
Legislative measures to deal with hurricanes among issues to be dealt with by Texas lawmakers in 2009
By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
Not long after we take down the Christmas trees and lights, I’ll be at my desk in the Senate Chamber in Austin as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gavels in the 81st Legislative Session on Tuesday, January 13.
Thirty-one senators and 150 representatives in the House Chamber will address issues affecting residents from rural Texas to the metropolitan areas and from the border to the coastal regions.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will play an instrumental role in determining our state’s budget for a population estimated by our state demographer to be 24,105,417 as of January 1, 2008, indicating a growth of more than three million, or 13 percent, since 2000.
Depending on who’s doing the counting, Texas may have a surplus of about $2 billion or so, but with the population increase and the nation’s economic downturn, it will be incumbent upon us to meet our urgent needs while avoiding a deficit. The work is numerically cut out for us.
Many of those still in need are victims of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly, and those still waiting for assistance after Rita, the 2005 storm and the fourth most intensive to strike the Atlantic region. While we’ve almost mastered the art of hurricane evacuations and evacuee shelters, we fall short of a comprehensive rebuilding plan for the individuals, families and business owners who lose all or most of their properties when natural disasters strike.
One solution would be providing our county officials the necessary tools to better plan for development and growth. In South Texas, this effort can work in conjunction with the goal of addressing our drainage problems, since flooding was the most devastating aftermath in Cameron and Hidalgo counties from Dolly.
The state as a whole should establish a system that encourages FEMA to approve adequate aid to those whose homes are severely damaged, even if their values are lower than other homes equally ruined by the storm. The state can coordinate efforts with all involved agencies so that the distribution of FEMA funds for rebuilding residential and business communities occurs more efficiently.
We will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of developing a building code specific to coastal properties that will mitigate hurricane damage. The emphasis must be on avoiding catastrophic property losses from major storms, something Texas greatly lacks.
Additionally, we must create ways to make homeowners insurance more affordable along the coastal area. One possible consideration is making changes to how the state uses and spends on reinsurance following a natural disaster in Texas.
Reinsurance allows an insurance company to protect itself with other insurance companies against the risk of losses. While homeowners and businesses obtain insurance policies to provide protection for various risks that include hurricanes, earthquakes, lawsuits, etc., reinsurers, in turn, provide insurance to insurance companies.
Damages from natural disasters are resulting in a very costly "insurance on our insurance," and so we are considering ways to reduce this cost.
It is also highly likely that the restructuring of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) will be addressed. Because of the huge losses caused by hurricanes on the coast this year, the fund is nearly depleted. There may be some restructuring of the fund. I will make sure that any changes are fair to those living on the coast, especially since we already have some of the highest premiums in the state.
And storms aren’t the only challenges to providing livable conditions for the residents of impoverished regions. An initiative that will require our utmost attention is the Texas Bootstrap Program, created through a bill I first passed in 1999 to improve the border’s lack of affordable housing.
As part of a comprehensive rural housing initiative, my goal is to strengthen the Bootstrap Program that requires sweat equity by the homeowner, and the Texas Housing Trust Fund, so that we are better able to comprehensively address the needs of distressed communities.
I am also preparing to tackle the issues of funding public education equitably and sufficiently, as well as reopening the debate on the deregulation of higher education tuition. Storm rebuilding is essential to a prospering economy, but so is education.
Our economy is directly tied to educational levels, so giving every child the opportunity to succeed begins with the money needed to offer programs in well-equipped, modern facilities. For college students, the more degree programs we offer, including those a medical school can provide, the more we will revitalize not only health care, but our area’s economic vitality.
Congressman Hinojosa explains his vote supporting loan package to U.S. automakers
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, December 11, issued the following statement regarding his vote in support of the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act.
“Our economy is facing immense challenges and pressures not seen in several decades. The reality of the situation is that we cannot afford to see our automakers fail and further push our economy down a precarious slope. These manufacturers are an integral part of our economy and national security, and it is critical that Congress pass legislation that will protect taxpayer dollars while providing short-term assistance to the American automotive industry. The failure of any of the Big Three automakers will not only affect Detroit, it will affect thousands of hardworking employees in the 15th District tied to the auto industry through maquiladoras, parts suppliers, and dealerships.
“The bill the House passed last night is a responsible piece of legislation that requires a restructuring of the auto industry to make it viable, competitive and fully accountable. The bill also makes sure that the President designates a ‘Car Czar’ to hold the car companies accountable for developing and implementing viable long-term restructuring plans and ensure compliance on financing efforts.
“This is not a free ride for the auto industry. This bill offers automakers one choice – the opportunity to restructure and reform their business that has lagged behind the competition for more than a decade. The bridge loans will make sure that our automakers have the opportunity to reform and become a part of our nation’s economic revitalization, rather than facilitating its decline.
“With one in 10 American jobs tied to the auto industry and unemployment reaching record levels, inaction is not an option. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act swiftly on an assistance package that will enable our auto industry to begin the process of retooling.”
Representative Gonzáles elected legal counsel for Mexican American Legislative Caucus
By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA
Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, was unanimously elected Tuesday, December 9, to serve as Legal Counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) for the 81st Legislative Session.
MALC consists of 44 members of the Texas House of Representatives who are dedicated to the issues facing Latinos in Texas. Gonzáles has served as MALC Secretary since taking office in January 2005.
"I am very excited to receive the continued support of my colleagues in MALC and look forward to serving as Legal Counsel," she said. "There will be many issues with legal implications that will arise during the upcoming session, such as immigration and preparing for redistricting, and it is important that MALC continue to advocate for the Hispanic community and the best interests of our state."
Gonzáles, a name partner with the McAllen law firm Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzáles, LLP, brings more than 18 years of legal experience to MALC. She was recently named by Texas Monthly magazine as one of Texas’ Super Lawyers. Texas Lawyer named her as one of 30 "Extraordinary Women in Texas Law" as a female lawyer who made a significant impact in the state’s legal field in the past five years.
Highways, increased border security, guest-worker programs part of state, federal legislative agendas for McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (MHCC) on Tuesday, December 9, released its legislative agenda for the upcoming regular session of the Texas Legislature, which convenes on Tuesday, January 13, 2009. Some of those priorities also include legislation at the federal level in Congress.
The MHCC’s legislation priorities, and their rationale, follow:
• Strengthen, expand, and develop the Rio Grande Valley’s transportation arteries.
Central to the region’s continued business success is the immediate completion of both routes Highway 281 and Highway 77 into U.S. Interstate 69 at the same time. Any delay in this objective or advancement of one route over the other would jeopardize the manufacturing, trade, and foreign export/import industries, and serve as a cooling effect on Hidalgo County’s thriving economy.
• Support legislation that will increase college affordability and lending opportunities so that more students will be able to realize their dream of securing a college education. The MHCC also supports passage of the DREAM ACT, which will allow undocumented students that graduated from a local high school to attend colleges and universities at the in-state tuition cost. Furthermore, MHCC supports the enhancement and expansion of new degree programs and research opportunities at all levels in our local universities. The organization especially seeks programs that take into account our present and future needs in the manufacturing, health care, education, science, technology and entrepreneurship fields of study.
• Support legislation that explores new ways to make the goals of business profitability and environmental sustainability one-in-the-same. With climate shifts becoming increasingly evident, the Valley’s central position in a hurricane strike zone, and its bi-national, border community functionality, the MHCC supports incentives for environmentally sound programs for the business community.
• Reform the current healthcare system in order to create new programs for residents to secure affordable health care services and that leads to individuals seeking medical attention in a preventative form, rather than in response to a post-traumatic event.
The MHCC also supports an expansion of healthcare services in South Texas in the areas of: diabetes treatment and prevention, geriatrics, and mental health care. The productive and efficient execution of business and commerce relies solely on the wellness of employees. The current state of our healthcare system leaves all of our businesses vulnerable to illness and inefficiency. However, the MHCC strongly advocates for reforms that yield stronger healthcare offerings without placing undue burdens on employers and helps small businesses offer coverage to its employees at a reasonable cost. This will be critically important as the "Baby Boomer Generation" begins to enter into retirement. (Baby boomer is a term used to describe a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom (1946-1964).)
• Support the creation of a reasonable, equitable, and efficient system of taxation, a system that rewards increased employment, business expansion, and new revenue creation. The MHCC strongly supports the elimination of the Estate Tax, reforms to the Alternative Minimum Tax, a suspension of the employer’s share of payroll tax on new hires, and accelerated depreciation of new construction and equipment purchases. The MHCC strongly supports a tax-cut for working families that will lead to an increase in domestic spending and overall savings for the American family.
• Support the preservation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The MHCC also encourages the creation of new trade agreements that will further open markets to area vendors and expand businesses opportunities at home, while providing for an economic stimulus abroad.
• To help ensure the continuation of South Texas’ growing tourism and provide security to border businesses, the MHCC supports legislation that will help address the growing issue of border violence and kidnapping. If this issue is not addressed, it could lead to unstable border economy. The MHCC supports legislative reforms that allow for bi-national cooperation and coordination among area law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies. However, the MHCC does not support the creation of a border wall that could create a possible divide between Texas and Mexico, the state’s largest trading partner. The MHCC contends the Border Wall sends a mixed message to the international community in relation to America’s goal of crafting international cooperation efforts.
The MHCC understands the positive contribution immigrants have on the local, state, and national economies. Therefore, the MHCC strongly supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes the following: (1) supports a guest worker program with a path to citizenship; (2) allows for undocumented residents to come forward, pay a fine, and get in back of the line; (3) supports border security measures, while maintaining human rights and discouraging divisiveness; (4) promotes free trade and travel; and (5) promotes fair and equitable processes regarding employer hiring practices.
The MHCC supports the passage of Temporary Government Assistance programs to help ease the stress on our credit markets, allow for the continuation of business activity, and reduce unemployment. However, as any business must do, we ask that these programs be well regulated and accountable to the American tax payer and not produce an insurmountable debt burden on our future economy.
The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce promotes economic development and assists businesses to access the Hispanic market through networking, promoting education and nurturing leadership.
More information on the organization is available on the Internet at http://www.mhcc.net
Hidalgo County District Clerk Office partners with Target to promote professionalism in the workplace
By RICARDO CONTRERAS
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.
“Part of our mission is to provide educational opportunities for all employees. This specific workshop was phase II of professionalism in the workplace, which focused more on dress rather than decorum. We hope it will help to foster a more professional image and culture in the office,” said Hinojosa. “We’re extremely excited to partner with Target to convey our vision for classic taste at an affordable price, an attribute crucial to families everywhere during a harsh economic situation.”
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. A power point presentation played in the background highlighting the do’s and don’ts of office attire. Before the presentation concluded, a handout titled “Professional Dress Checklist,” was distributed outlining what is deemed appropriate in suits, shirts/blouses, ties, belts, shoes, jewelry, makeup, perfume/cologne, undergarments, hosiery and personal grooming.
“Having this workshop was a really good experience for me and my coworkers,” said Roxanne De La Cruz, Deputy Clerk. “I am sure that our office will benefit from this and it will help us to be more cautious about the image we portray as public servants.”
Staff will review expunctions and sealed adoption procedures during the next workshop tentatively scheduled for this month.
Two Valley firms among three companies accused by Texas Attorney General Abbott of improperly disposing of records, exposing private information
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Thursday, December 11, filed an enforcement action against one Rio Grande Valley company and reached agreements with two others that will help protect Texans from identity theft. All three companies were charged with failing to protect and properly discard records containing customers’ sensitive personal information.
The December 11 agreements require the two companies to enhance their information-security procedures and training programs. They will also pay a combined total of $145,000 in penalties and attorneys’ fees.
“Identity theft is one of the nation’s fastest growing and costly criminal enterprises,” Abbott said. “These cases all involve companies that failed to properly dispose of materials containing their customers’ sensitive personal information. The Office of the Attorney General is committed to enforcing laws that help prevent identity theft.”
To resolve the state’s investigation, GAB Robins, which provides services to insurance carriers, agreed to pay $125,000 in penalties and attorneys’ fees, and improve its information security protocols and employee training program. Under the settlement, $100,000 will fund future identity theft investigations.
The state launched its investigation after a Corpus Christi reporter discovered company records in a dumpster that was not protected by security measures. Documents obtained by OAG investigators contained customers’ personal information, including name, driver’s license number and date of birth.
The second settlement involved B&F Finance McAllen, L.L.C., a loan company managed by Victory Management Services (“VMS”). In that case, B&F improperly disposed of customers’ personal identifying information in a publicly accessible trash receptacle behind its McAllen offices. Despite the unlawful disposal, VMS assured its customers through the company’s privacy notices that it keeps customers’ private personal information in a secure environment and that security procedures are used to protect customer data.
VMS agreed to improve its information security procedures, implement an employee training program, and pay the state $20,000 in civil penalties and attorney’s fees.
The Attorney General also is filing a separate enforcement action against a third company, Niño Tax of Brownsville. The state launched its investigation after the Brownsville Police Department turned over to the OAG five boxes of records that were next to a dumpster behind the defendant’s office. The business records contained approximately 200 customers’ personal identifying information.
Although the investigations have revealed no confirmed incidents of victims’ personal information being obtained or misused by identity thieves, customers whose records may have been contained at the affected locations should carefully monitor bank, credit card and similar financial statements for evidence of suspicious activity. Texas also should obtain free annual copies of their credit reports from http://www.annualcreditreport.com to guard against this growing crime.
Consumers who wish to file a complaint may contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252–8011 or do so online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov, where they also can obtain information on identity theft detection and prevention.
UT System regents to meet in Austin on December 18, set to review possible plan to bring football program to UT-San Antonio
By MATT FLORES
The University of Texas System Board of Regents will hold a special called meeting on Thursday, December 18, in Austin. The meeting will be held on the ninth floor of Ashbel Smith Hall, 201 W. 7th Street.
The public may view the open sessions of the meeting via a live webcast.
The agenda book for the meeting is available online at:
The board will convene in open session at 8:30 a.m. to hear remarks from Interim Chancellor Kenneth I. Shine and to discuss duties and responsibilities of the chancellor.
The board will then recess into executive session, which includes the following agenda item:
• Candidate interviews and discussion, and appropriate action regarding individual personnel matters related to the chancellor search, including possible naming of finalists
Any action will be taken in open session.
The board will reconvene in open session at approximately 12:30 p.m, and action on agenda items, including:
• Discussion and appropriate action regarding the Athletic Initiative Business Plan at UT San Antonio; and
• Request to rename the Helen Greathouse Hall as the Rea-Greathouse Hall at UT Permian Basin
The meeting will recess at approximately 1:00 p.m.
College football in San Antonio?
According to the agenda book for the December 18 UT System Board of Regents meeting, UT-San Antonio’s bid to bring a college football team to the Alamo City university features the following highlights:
The chancellor ad interim, the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, the executive vice chancellor for business affairs, the vice chancellor for external relations, and UTSA President Ricarod Romo concur in the recommendation that UT-San Antonio be authorized to proceed with the proposed Athletic Initiative Business Plan.
Major strategic initiatives are underway at UT-San Antonio. A strategic plan, A Shared Vision UTSA 2016, was recently published, and its supporting implementation plan is in the final stages. Consultants and senior staff are planning the launch of the university’s first capital campaign. Community visibility and support is at an all-time high with voters approving both city and county tax initiatives totaling more than $22 million for Phase I for construction of the new Competitive Athletic Complex, approved by the Board of Regents on November 13, 2008.
Enrollment continues to climb to more than 28,500 and students express a strong desire for an enhanced campus life program. Research expenditures have grown by 125% in the past five years to more than $30 million per year. These are only a few elements of the rapidly changing U. T. San Antonio campus and surrounding community.
While there is tremendous enthusiasm and optimism about the strategic initiatives mentioned above, the university recognizes that it must address its well-documented strategic challenges to capitalize fully on new and growing opportunities. Challenges include a growing space deficit and infrastructure needs (classrooms, research facilities, and faculty and staff offices). The faculty-to-student ratio must be reduced with additional research and teaching faculty. There must be continued improvement in student success and graduation rates. A comprehensive marketing plan and a strong fundraising program must be developed and implemented to capture heretofore unrecognized or untapped sources of funding and support.
The university’s Athletic Initiative, with its three strategies discussed below, is one of many key elements of the University’s 2016 Implementation Plan (the Plan). The Athletics Initiative is directly connected to and supportive of the university’s academic mission and is consistent with other elements of the strategic plan. The strategies outlined in the Plan will be strong forces for change to rally supporters for both the university’s academic and athletic programs. The intent of this initiative is to engage current students at new levels by providing them an enhanced and more complete university experience, and draw former students and the San Antonio community closer to the University and its continued development.
The UT-San Antonio administration is committed to funding the Athletic Initiative through student fees (which students have already approved), corporate and private support, and other revenue streams that do not draw from the institutional academic budget. Moreover, experiences within the UT System as well as throughout the country support the notion that athletic fundraising can stimulate rather than divert resources from other institutional developmental efforts by creating excitement and momentum, furthering the engagement and connectivity of alumni and community leaders.
The Plan is organized in the following incremental phases, and UT-San Antonio will only move forward with each when funds are raised and appropriate approvals are obtained, thus reducing the financial risk of the Plan:
Strategy 1: Develop a 60-acre, $84 million Competitive Athletic Complex, including NCAA Division I quality facilities for track, soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, multiuse practice fields, a multipurpose team building, and related infrastructure, which will be located at the 1604 Campus expansion site on the Hausman Road property.
Strategy 2: Add a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) football program.
Strategy 3: Advance the university’s existing 16 intercollegiate sports programs to a conference in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Finally, the UT-San Antonio Athletic Initiative is designed to create an intercollegiate athletics program that is a key element in university-wide efforts to develop a comprehensive campus life program that benefits UT-San Antonio students, employees, and alumni and supports the entire San Antonio community.
Four Mexican nationals sentenced to prison for smuggling 80 undocument immigrants in Mission
Pedro Méndez-Cruz, 52, Ubaldo Torres-Pérez, 27, Alfredo Pérez-Fuentes, 33, and Eloy Torres-Cuevas, 30, all citizens of Mexico, have been sentenced to prison for harboring 80 illegal aliens at a ranch in Mission, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Wednesday, December 10.
On Tuesday, December 9, 2008, U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa sentenced each of the four defendants for their respective roles in an operation which smuggled Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Salvadorian and Nicaraguan nationals illegally into the United States from Mexico and transported and harbored them in squalid conditions to shield them from detection by law enforcement. The four Mexican nationals, all of whom have been in federal custody without bond since their arrest in May 2007 and subject to deportation, were convicted earlier this year when each of the four defendants entered guilty pleas.
On May 23, 2007, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers responded to a ranch located one-quarter mile north of 3 Mile Line Road on Bentsen Palm Drive in Mission to investigate a report of stolen F-250 Ford pick-up trucks. At the ranch, law enforcement officers found 81 illegal aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.
Méndez-Cruz and Pérez-Fuentes, identified as the caretakers of the illegal aliens, were taken into custody. Torres-Pérez was arrested upon arriving at the ranch with 12 illegal aliens in the bed of the pick-up truck he was driving.
Torres-Cuevas was initially taken into administrative custody along with the remaining undocumented aliens, but was later identified through further investigation by special agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as one of the persons involved in transporting the aliens.
The illegal aliens were held in a squalid barn-like structure designed to house animals enclosed with aluminum and plywood without air conditioning. The structure contained an open latrine, reeked of the foul odor of human and animal excrement and was infested with flies.
Méndez-Cruz and Pérez-Fuentes were the care-takers of the illegal aliens while they were held at the ranch.
Torres-Pérez picked up the aliens near the Rio Grande river and transported them to the ranch.
Torres-Cuevas transported the aliens to locations south of the border patrol checkpoint were the illegal aliens circumvented the checkpoint on foot.
Méndez-Cruz and Pérez Fuentez were each sentenced to 57 months in prison, while Torres-Cuevas was sentenced to 63 months.
Torres-Pérez was sentenced to 575 days in prison.
Hinojosa further ordered each of the four defendants to serve a two-year-term of supervised release, which becomes effective upon their release from prison and during anytime the defendant should be in the United States. Failure to abide by the conditions imposed by the court can result in a revocation of the term and an additional prison sentence.
The investigation leading to the federal charges against all four defendants was conducted by ICE with the invaluable assistant of the Hildago County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Aníbal J. Alaniz.
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris arrested on federal corruption charges
By RANDALL SAMBORN
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff, John Harris, were arrested on Tuesday, December 9, by FBI agents on federal corruption charges alleging that they and others are engaging in ongoing criminal activity:
- Conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits for Blagojevich by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States Senator;
- Threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and
- Attempting to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect January 1, 2009.
Blagojevich, 51, and Harris, 46, both of Chicago, were each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. They were charged in a two-count criminal complaint that was sworn out on Sunday, December 7, and unsealed Tuesday, December 9, following their arrests, which occurred without incident, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both men appeared during the afternoon of December 9 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife. At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:
- A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;
- Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;
- Promises of campaign funds – including cash up front; and
- A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
A week earlier, on December 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election.
In a recorded conversation on October 31, Blagojevich described an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: “We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”
On November 7, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an advisor, the affidavit states. Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Blagojevich “politically viable.” Blagojevich stated, “I want to make money,” adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year, the complaint alleges.
On November 10, in a lengthy telephone call with numerous advisors that included discussion about Blagojevich obtaining a lucrative job with a union-affiliated organization in exchange for appointing a particular Senate Candidate whom he believed was favored by the President-elect and which is described in more detail below, Blagojevich and others discussed various ways Blagojevich could “monetize” the relationships he has made as governor to make money after leaving that office.
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” Fitzgerald said. “They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions,” he added.
Grant said: “Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics. Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low.”
Fitzgerald and Grant thanked the Chicago offices of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General for assisting in the ongoing investigation. The probe is part of Operation Board Games, a five-year-old public corruption investigation of pay-to-play schemes, including insider-dealing, influence-peddling and kickbacks involving private interests and public duties.
Federal agents on December 9 also executed search warrants at the offices of Friends of Blagojevich located at 4147 North Ravenswood, Suite 300, and at the Thompson Center office of Deputy Governor A.
The charges include historical allegations that Blagojevich and Harris schemed with others – including previously convicted defendants Antoin Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others – since becoming governor in 2002 to obtain and attempt to obtain financial benefits for himself, his family and third parties, including his campaign committee, Friends of Blagojevich, in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds. A portion of the affidavit recounts the testimony of various witnesses at Rezko’s trial earlier this year.
The charges focus, however, on events since October when the government obtained information that Blagojevich and Fundraiser A, who is chairman of Friends of Blagojevich, were accelerating Blagojevich’s allegedly corrupt fund-raising activities to accumulate as much money as possible this year before a new state ethics law would severely curtail Blagojevich’s ability to raise money from individuals and entities that have existing contracts worth more than $50,000 with the State of Illinois.
Agents learned that Blagojevich was seeking approximately $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, principally from or through individuals or entities – many of which have received state contacts or appointments – identified on a list maintained by Friends of Blagojevich, which the FBI has obtained.
The affidavit details multiple incidents involving efforts by Blagojevich to obtain campaign contributions in connection with official actions as governor, including these three in early October:
- After an October 6 meeting with Harris and Individuals A and B, during which Individual B sought state help with a business venture, Blagojevich told Individual A to approach Individual B about raising $100,000 for Friends of Blagojevich this year. Individual A said he later learned that Blagojevich reached out directly to Individual B to ask about holding a fund-raiser;
- Also on October 6, Blagojevich told Individual A that he expected Highway Contractor 1 to raise $500,000 in contributions and that he was willing to commit additional state money to a Tollway project – beyond $1.8 billion that Blagojevich announced on October15 – but was waiting to see how much money the contractor raised for Friends of Blagojevich; and
- On October 8, Blagojevich told Individual A that he wanted to obtain a $50,000 contribution from Hospital Executive 1, the chief executive officer of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, which had recently received a commitment of $8 million in state funds. When the contribution was not forthcoming, Blagojevich discussed with Deputy Governor A the feasibility of rescinding the funding.
On October 21, the government obtained a court order authorizing the interception of conversations in both a personal office and a conference room used by Blagojevich at the offices of Friends of Blagojevich. The FBI began intercepting conversations in those rooms on the morning of October 22. A second court order was obtained last month allowing those interceptions to continue. On October 29, a court order was signed authorizing the interception of conversations on a hardline telephone used by Blagojevich at his home. That wiretap was extended for 30 days on November 26, according to the affidavit.
Another alleged example of a pay-to-play scheme was captured in separate telephone conversations that Blagojevich had with Fundraiser A on November 13 and Lobbyist 1 on December 3. Lobbyist 1 was reporting to Blagojevich about his efforts to collect a contribution from Contributor 1 and related that he “got in his face” to make it clear to Contributor 1 that a commitment to make a campaign contribution had to be done now, before there could be some skittishness over the timing of the contribution and Blagojevich signing a bill that would benefit Contributor 1. Blagojevich commented to Lobbyist 1 “good” and “good job.” The bill in question, which is awaiting Blagojevich ’s signature, is believed to be legislation that directs a percentage of casino revenue to the horse racing industry.
Sale of U.S. Senate Appointment
Regarding the Senate seat, the charges allege that Blagojevich, Harris and others have engaged and are engaging in efforts to obtain personal gain, including financial gain, to benefit Blagojevich and his family through corruptly using Blagojevich’s sole authority to appoint a successor to the unexpired term of the President-elect’s former Senate seat, which he resigned effective November 16. The affidavit details numerous conversations about the Senate seat between November 3 and December 5. In these conversations, Blagojevich repeatedly discussed the attributes of potential candidates, including their abilities to benefit the people of Illinois, and the financial and political benefits he and his wife could receive if he appointed various of the possible candidates.
Throughout the intercepted conversations, Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being “stuck” as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife’s employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.
In the earliest intercepted conversation about the Senate seat described in the affidavit, Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A on November 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he will take it for himself: “if . . . they’re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it.” Later that day, speaking to Advisor A, Blagojevich said: “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” He added later that the seat “is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”
Over the next couple of days – Election Day and the day after – Blagojevich was captured discussing with Deputy Governor A whether he could obtain a cabinet position, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services or the Department of Energy or various ambassadorships. In a conversation with Harris on November 4, Blagojevich analogized his situation to that of a sports agent shopping a potential free agent to the highest bidder. The day after the election, Harris allegedly suggested to Blagojevich that the President-elect could make him the head of a private foundation.
Later on November 5, Blagojevich said to Advisor A, “I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there,” the affidavit states.
Two days later, in a three-way call with Harris and Advisor B, a consultant in Washington, Blagojevich and the others allegedly discussed the prospect of a three-way deal for the Senate appointment involving an organization called “Change to Win,” which is affiliated with various unions including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
On November 10, Blagojevich, his wife, Harris, Governor General Counsel, Advisor B and other Washington-based advisors participated at different times in a two-hour phone call in which they allegedly discussed, among other things, a deal involving the SEIU. Harris said they could work out a deal with the union and the President-elect where SEIU could help the President-elect with Blagojevich’s appointment of Senate Candidate 1, while Blagojevich would obtain a position as the National Director of the Change to Win campaign and SEIU would get something favorable from the President-elect in the future. Also during that call, Blagojevich agreed it was unlikely that the President-elect would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services or give him an ambassadorship because of all of the negative publicity surrounding him.
In a conversation with Harris on November 11, the charges state, Blagojevich said he knew that the President-elect wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.” Earlier in that conversation, Blagojevich suggested starting a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, which he could head and engage in political activity and lobbying. In that conversation with Harris and other discussions with him and others over the next couple of days, Blagojevich suggested by name several well-known, wealthy individuals who could be prevailed upon to seed such an organization with $10-$15 million, and suggesting that he could take the organization’s reins when he is no longer governor, according to the affidavit.
On November 12, Blagojevich spoke with SEIU Official who was in Washington. This conversation occurred about a week after Blagojevich had met with SEIU Official to discuss the Senate seat, with the understanding that the union official was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1’s interest in the Senate seat. During the November 12 conversation, Blagojevich allegedly explained the non-profit organization idea to SEIU Official and said that it could help Senate Candidate 1. The union official agreed to “put that flag up and see where it goes,” although the official also had said he wasn’t certain if Senate Candidate 1 wanted the official to keep pushing her candidacy. Senate Candidate 1 eventually removed herself from consideration for the open seat.
Also on November 12, in a conversation with Harris, the complaint affidavit states, Blagojevich said his decision about the open Senate seat will be based on three criteria in the following order of importance: “our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation. This decision, like every other one, needs to be based upon that. Legal. Personal. Political.” Harris said: “legal is the hardest one to satisfy.” Blagojevich said that his legal problems could be solved by naming himself to the Senate seat.
As recently as December 4, in separate conversations with Advisor B and Fundraiser A, Blagojevich said that he was “elevating” Senate Candidate 5 on the list of candidates because, among other reasons, if Blagojevich ran for re-election, Senate Candidate 5 would “raise  money” for him. Blagojevich said that he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided Blagojevich with something “tangible up front.” Noting that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to reach out to an intermediary (Individual D), from whom Blagojevich is attempting to obtain campaign contributions and who Blagojevich believes is close to Senate Candidate 5. Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to tell Individual D that Senate Candidate 5 was a very realistic candidate but Blagojevich was getting a lot of pressure not to appoint Senate Candidate 5, according to the affidavit.
Blagojevich allegedly told Fundraiser A to tell Individual D that if Senate Candidate 5 is going to be chosen, “some of this stuff’s gotta start happening now . . . right now . . . and we gotta see it.” Blagojevich continued, “You gotta be careful how you express that and assume everybody’s listening, the whole world is listening. You hear me?” Blagojevich further directed Fundraiser A to talk to Individual D in person, not by phone, and to communicate the “urgency” of the situation.
Blagojevich spoke to Fundraiser A again the next day, December 5, and discussed that day’s Chicago Tribune front page article stating that Blagojevich had recently been surreptitiously recorded as part of the ongoing criminal investigation. Blagojevich instructed Fundraiser A to “undo your [Individual D] thing,” and Fundraiser A confirmed it would be undone, the complaint alleges.
Also on December 5, Blagojevich and three others allegedly discussed whether to move money out of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund to avoid having the money frozen by federal authorities and also considered the possibility of prepaying the money to Blagojevich’s criminal defense attorney with an understanding that the attorney would donate the money back at a later time if it was not needed. They also discussed opening a new fund raising account named Citizens for Blagojevich with new contributions.
Misuse of State Funding To Induce Firing of Chicago Tribune Editorial Writers
According to the affidavit, intercepted phone calls revealed that the Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs, has explored the possibility of obtaining assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) relating to the Tribune Company’s efforts to sell the Cubs and the financing or sale of Wrigley Field. In a November 6 phone call, Harris explained to Blagojevich that the deal the Tribune Company was trying to get through the IFA was basically a tax mitigation scheme in which the IFA would own title to Wrigley Field and the Tribune would not have to pay capital gains tax, which Harris estimated would save the company approximately $100 million.
Intercepted calls allegedly show that Blagojevich directed Harris to inform Tribune Owner and an associate, identified as Tribune Financial Advisor, that state financial assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board were fired, primarily because Blagojevich viewed them as driving discussion of his possible impeachment. In a November 4 phone call, Blagojevich allegedly told Harris that he should say to Tribune Financial Advisor, Cubs Chairman and Tribune Owner, “our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ‘em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support.”
On November 6, the day of a Tribune editorial critical of Blagojevich, Harris told Blagojevich that he told Tribune Financial Advisor the previous day that things “look like they could move ahead fine but, you know, there is a risk that all of this is going to get derailed by your own editorial page.” Harris also told Blagojevich that he was meeting with Tribune Financial Advisor on November 10.
In a November 11 intercepted call, Harris allegedly told Blagojevich that Tribune Financial Advisor talked to Tribune Owner and Tribune Owner “got the message and is very sensitive to the issue.” Harris told Blagojevich that according to Tribune Financial Advisor, there would be “certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he’s going after that section.” Blagojevich allegedly responded. “Oh. That’s fantastic.” After further discussion, Blagojevich said, “Wow. Okay, keep our fingers crossed. You’re the man. Good job, John.”
In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune’s deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, “as somebody who was the most biased and unfair.” After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field. On November 30, Blagojevich spoke with the president of a Chicago-area sports consulting firm, who indicated that he was working with the Cubs on matters involving Wrigley Field. Blagojevich and Sports Consultant discussed the importance of getting the IFA transaction approved at the agency’s December or January meeting because Blagojevich was contemplating leaving office in early January and his IFA appointees would still be in place to approve the deal, the charges allege.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Reid Schar, Carrie Hamilton, and Christopher Niewoehner.
If convicted, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while solicitation of bribery carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, and each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000. The court, however, would determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.