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Weslaco airport legislation by Rep. Martínez set for House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 8

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy, shown here in early December 2008 successfully championing the extension of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop through her district, on Thursday, April 2, was named in a six-county indictment charging her, her spouse, Juan Gabriel Espronceda, 35, María De Los Ángeles Landa de Hernández, 27, and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, 58, with harboring aliens for financial gain. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. Handy has said she is innocent. Following news of her indictment, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III released the following statement: “Today, we became aware that Pct. 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy and three others were arrested on the allegation of defrauding taxpayers for personal gain. We will withhold our own judgment, as this is an ongoing investigation and is in the hands of the court system. However, my office has been in contact with Commissioner Handy’s chief of staff to offer our help. My office pledges to the public that all vital public services for the families of Pct. 1 will continue.” Featured in this file photo, to her right, is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, and to her left, is Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, led the workgroup on that panel that developed state funding for general government, the judiciary, natural resources, and regulatory services.  The Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version of the two-year state budget, on Wednesday, April 1, approved a $182 billion budget, which would cover the period between September 1, 2009 and August 30, 2011. This biennial budget is a seven percent increase over 2008-2009, but nearly half that growth is attributable to federal stimulus money. Actual state spending grows only about two percent per year over the next biennium. See story later in this posting. 

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On September 8, 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed the founding South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) Board of Trustees, which included Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of La Grulla in Starr County, who passed away on Saturday, March 28. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, expressed her condolences to his family and friends. "I am profoundly saddened by our loss of Manuel Benavidez, a champion of higher education, economic development and housing, and am among the countless South Texans who will miss him greatly," she said. "His legacy as a regent for South Texas College and the Starr County Housing Authority reflects his lifelong commitment to creating a brighter future for our families." Highlights of his life are featured in an article composed by one of his daughters, which is featured later in this posting. In this 1993 file photo, the founding board of trustees posed for their portrait, including, seated, from left: Rosalinda González and Pearl Mathis; and standing, from left: Glen Roney (vice chair); Manuel Benavidez, Jr.; Dr. Amparo Cárdenas; Gary Gurwitz (secretary); and Rubén Hinojosa (chair). 

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recently welcomed the 2008-09 Leadership Mid Valley class, which visited the Capitol to gain further insight into the workings of state government. Leadership Mid Valley provides opportunities for developing leadership skills and increasing knowledge of vital public issues. Members of this year’s class, from left to right, are: Annette Turner, Nels Anderson, Allison Summersett, Martínez, Priscilla Castañeda, Jesse Colin, Yvonne Chamblin, Vicky De La Garza, Lucio, Mari Avilés, Nancy Peña and Rolando Pedraza. On Wednesday, April 8, a bill by Martínez which would designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the emergency headquarters for the Valley during times of natural and man-made disasters will be heard by the House Defense and Veterans’ Committee. See lead story in this posting. 

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Sen. Hinojosa: Edinburg RAHC set up for dramatic growth; could add first two years of medical school

Edinburg City Councilmember Augustín "Gus" García, featured left, makes a point during the Wednesday, March 4 public meeting of the Edinburg Community Health/Medical Care Advisory Committee, whose members received an update on the activities and goals of the Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg. The $20 million facility – its official designation is the Regional Academic Health Center (E-RAHC), Medical Research Division for The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – is capable of expanding in order to provide the first two years of a UT medical school, according to Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Dr. Thomas J. Slaga, Ph.D., featured right, a world-renowned biomedical scientist, a Professor of Pharmacology, and the interim director of the Edinburg biomedical research campus, provided the group with a tour of the state-of-the-art facility. Also featured, center, is Gilbert Mercado, III, another member of the city medical advisory group. See lead story in this posting.

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Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of The University of Texas System, on Friday, March 13, visited The University of Texas-Pan American to talk with key members of the university, community leaders and elected officials about the future of higher education. Cigarroa’s visit was the first to the university since he was selected on February 10 as the 10th chancellor to lead the UT System, but he has been to the campus many times before. Equally important, Cigarroa is the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a major university system. Featured, from left, are: Dr. Bruce Reed, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; Cigarroa; Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavorial Sciences. See story later in this posting. Also, a video of his appearance is available online at http://www.utpa.edu/videos/

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Valley veterans on Saturday, March 14, began their walk from Edinburg to the Audie Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio as part of their ongoing efforts to increase public and political support for the creation of a VA Hospital in the Valley. This represents the second march in about four years, and the veterans’ efforts have resulted in several major improvements for the delivery of medical care to area veterans, but the construction of a VA Hospital remains the top prize. The veterans group is maintaining a website which is chronicling the march, and where supporters can provide moral and financial support. The website address is http://www.marchtosanantonio.webs.com

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Tuesday, March 10, appointed Regent Janiece Longoria, formerly of Pharr, to the Board of Directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO). Longoria, a daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, D-Pharr, is a partner in a Houston law firm. She was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents in 2008. She succeeds former regent and UTIMCO board member Robert B. Rowling, who resigned last month. UTIMCO is a 501(c)(3) investment management corporation whose sole purpose is the management of investment assets under the fiduciary care of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System. Created in March 1996, UTIMCO is the first external investment corporation formed by a public university system in the nation. It invests endowment and operating funds in excess of $18 billion. UTIMCO is governed by a nine-member Board of Directors. The UTIMCO Board of Directors includes three members of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, one member selected from a list provided by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, the Chancellor of The University of Texas System, and four outside investment professionals appointed by the UT System Board of Regents.

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Sales for the premiere of The Red Queen are going very briskly, according to the film’s writer-director David Carren. "With time to spare before its performance at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, tickets are going very well." Tickets for the charity showing of UTPA’s Summer Workshop Film were being sold at the Box Office of University Theatre Productions. "We were out of our stack of tickets by Thursday, March 12," Theatre Manager Elva Galván stated. "Carmike in Edinburg still has them. The management will open two theatres for each of the two showings if the demand is great enough." The special showing is a benefit, arranged by Carmike of Edinburg, for two non-profit organizations, the Children’s Miracle Network and the theatre television film unit of The University of Texas Pan American Communication Department. Carmike is located on Canton Road just west of Highway 281. The University Theatre Productions Office will be open at least part of each day during spring break. If anyone wishes to contact the office, they may call 956/381-3581 and leave a telephone number or an e mail address. Their questions will be answered as soon as possible. The Red Queen is an action-adventure film, approximately 110 minutes long. Suitable for family viewing, it is the story of a college student who goes on the internet to research her family background. She meets adventure, excitement and the Red Queen. See story later in this posting.

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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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Rep. Flores law makes it possible for STC, McAllen to provide graduate programs away from UTPA campus

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, January 6, was sworn into office for his 7th term by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, which marked the start of the 111th Congress. “We are beginning a new era of politics here in Washington, one where the needs of the American people will finally come first again,” Hinojosa said of the occasion. The new session marks Hinojosa’s 13th year as the U.S. Representative for the 15th Congressional District of Texas, which includes Edinburg, the largest population center. Hinojosa’s district office in Hidalgo County is located in Edinburg at 2864 Trenton Road (phone: 956/358-8400). Featured, from left: Pelosi, Marty Hinojosa, Karén Hinojosa, Rubén Hinojosa, and Kaitlin Hinojosa. See story later in this posting. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed APEX Primary Care as their latest Copper Corporate Partner. APEX provides quality primary care for the aged and disabled in the Rio Grande Valley. “We’re excited about being part of a successful organization that represents all sizes of business both small and large” noted APEX owner Eric Flores. “The McAllen Hispanic chamber’s excellent reputation in Texas as well as in Washington, D.C. encouraged us to join up with a winning organization.” The MHCC was recently named the “National Medium Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 2008” at the annual United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National Convention, an honor that they have previously won three times. The MHCC has also been honored seven times by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce as the Small Chamber of the Year for Texas. “We intend to become active with business and health concerns that affect the community” added Flores. For more information on how to become a Corporate Partner and/or member of the MHCC, call 928-0060. Featured, from left, at the check presentation: Orie Salinas, APEX public relations; Eric Flores, APEX owner; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president/CEO; Mario Flores, APEX administrator; and Jon Scepanski, APEX assistant administrator. 

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With Edinburg continuing to celebrate its centennial anniversary, neighboring San Juan is compiling a book for its own upcoming 100th birthday in 2010 – and the community, which dubs itself "The Spirit of the Valley", has its own connections to the three-time All-America City. "John Closner, one of the founders of Edinburg was also the founder and namesake of San Juan – “St. John” as deemed by his wife and citizens," said Myssie Cárdenas-Barajas, project specialist with the San Juan EDC, featured left with Miki McCarthy, standing, the organization’s executive director.  Both Cárdenas-Barajas, a former staff member with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and McCarthy have deep-rooted family ties to Edinburg. "We are working closely with the Museum of South Texas History and UTPA’s archives in making sure that the book is as accurate as possible," added Cardenas-Barajas. See story later in this posting. 

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Friday, January 9, named Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., a highly-regarded transplant surgeon and president of the University of Texas Health Science Center – San Antonio, as chancellor of The University of Texas System. “Dr. Cigarroa’s impeccable credentials, superior administrative skills and unparalleled passion for medicine and academia make him an outstanding selection to lead our university system,” said Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr.  “As president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, he has time and again demonstrated great business acumen and unmatched leadership, and it is our belief that Dr. Cigarroa will apply those same traits to continue to guide this system on a successful path, setting new benchmarks for excellence along the way.” Cigarroa, 51, will begin his duties as chancellor on February 2. His appointment was made official during a special called board meeting held in Austin. Regents last month named Cigarroa as the sole finalist for the position. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, featured in this file photo addressing the McAllen Chamber of Commerce during a 2007 legislative update, says a law that he and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, created in 2005 provides the mechanism needed by McAllen to bring more graduate degree academic courses to the border region. "UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Rice, these are the flagship universities in the state, the ones with the national reputations, the biggest financial endowments, the most research-oriented," Flores noted. "Under this law, they can set up graduate programs in the Valley and the rest of the border region that otherwise could take years to materialize."  See lead 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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