Cortez era begins: New Hidalgo County judge sworn in, emphasizes unity

Richard Cortez is sworn in as the Hidalgo County judge during a ceremony in the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The swearing in of new Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez united officials from throughout the county in the commissioners court chamber Wednesday, reflecting his message of working together toward future progress.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, which was administered by his cousin, 430th state District Judge Israel Ramon, Cortez addressed a question that he said everybody wanted to know.

“What’s in store for the future?” Cortez, 71, said before the crowd of county employees, mayors, city council members and city employees from throughout the county.

“Many lives are impacted by county government,” he began, noting that whether someone had to care for a mentally ill person, if they had flooding in their colonia, if a person was sick and uninsured, if they were wronged by someone or were concerned about their safety or their property, county government affected their lives.

“Why do I say this? Because county government is important,” Cortez said. “What is even more important is how and what we do with it. So to me, so much of what we do, evidenced by results of elections, is about the money we spend.”

Their duty as the government, he said, was to spend money “wisely, efficiently and effectively.”

“So how are we going to grow our revenues in Hidalgo County?” he posed. “Well, we’re very unique. That unique can be our strength or can be our weakness.”

The county’s weakness, he said, is when they don’t work together; their strength is when they do.

“I think that we are a metropolitan area and sometimes we’ve been competing with one another, and that’s OK,” Cortez said, who previously served as the mayor and then city commissioner for McAllen. “But the future is going to force us to be better, is going to force us to come together because we’re not competing locally, we’re competing globally.”

Richard Cortez shakes the hands of well-wishers after being sworn in as the Hidalgo County judge during a ceremony in the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Cortez said the county needed to start preparing for jobs of the future.

“How many communities can sit here today and say, ‘I want to invest in jobs that don’t exist today?’” he said. “Boy, that’s scary isn’t it? How do you train people for jobs that don’t exist today? Well, that’s exactly what I think we should do.”

Therefore, a big part of his administration will be identifying future investment in automation, robotics and related industries.

Cortez also thanked his predecessor, Ramon Garcia, who retired after serving three terms in office.

“He was a tremendous county judge,” Cortez said, adding that in speaking to county staff, he heard many warm comments about him.

“Which really is a great tribute to him, and hopefully when I leave office, you all have some kind words about me,” he said. “But I wish him the best of luck with the next chapter of his life.”

Garcia will continue working at his law firm, the Law Offices of Ramon Garcia P.C.

The new county judge also expressed well wishes to outgoing county commissioner Joseph Palacios, who was ousted after eight years in office by Ellie Torres during the March Democratic primary. Torres did not face a Republican challenger during the November general election and was sworn in Tuesday as the new commissioner for Precinct 4.

Cortez said he would seek to counsel others but again stressed that he hoped they would work together.

“I want to be dedicated to the job. I asked voters, so now I’ve got to do it,” he said. “I want to be popular, but I didn’t take this job to be popular; I took this job to do it.”