Collective clout : Valley leaders pull together for regional needs at Capitol 

Weslaco city officials including Mayor David Suarez, interim assistant City Manager Andrew Munoz, Police Chief Joel Rivera and Fire Chief Antonio Lopez, Jr. met with state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez on RGV Day at the Capitol. (Berenice Garcia | bereniceg@themonitor.com)

AUSTIN — Representatives of the Rio Grande Valley descended upon the state capitol on Tuesday, bringing with them the region’s needs.

That unity’s significance was underscored by state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who stressed the Valley’s collective clout when it comes together, during a panel with the RGV delegation.

AUDIO: Valley lawmakers on the 86th legislative session

The delegation’s trip was arranged by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership in collaboration with business and community leaders to be in Austin for RGV Day at the Capitol.

RGV Day was coincidentally scheduled on the same day of Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State address, giving the RGV group the opportunity to be in the House Chamber for Abbott’s speech.

They were quickly ushered after the address to an offsite luncheon, which included the panel where Canales remarked on regional solidarity.

Other legislators on the panel were Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and state Reps. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, R. D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-Mission, Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, and Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville.

In addressing the Valley group, which consisted of community members and city and county officials, the legislators touched on the necessity of local input.

For Lucio III, knowledge from the community was critical when he first became a state representative.

“We all have personal experiences, whether they be in business or in other elected offices, that we brought to Austin but very limited exposure to all these issues that we deal with here,” Lucio III said. “So prior to coming to Austin I had never learned about how the healthcare system works, or how banking works, or how economic development works, so I had to rely on stakeholders back home to share with me their experiences.”

Another theme of the panel was the need to combat the perception that the Valley is a dangerous area, which has been fueled by President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about a perceived crisis on the border.

“We’re not a war zone; we’re a trade zone,” Canales said. “Our universities are thriving from UTRGV to the Texas A&M campus to STC.”

Canales touted the Valley as the lifeblood of Texas and pointed to the Pharr port of entry as an example of the region’s role in the country.

The Pharr port, he said, is one of the largest in the country and cited it as the largest for oil and gas exports and the number two port in the country for produce imports.

“That’s not a Texas issue, that’s not a Rio Grande Valley issue, that’s a national issue,” Canales said. “I think that statistically, if you had guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday, there’s about 90 percent chance it came from that port.”

Once back at the capitol, the RGV Day delegation split up into teams that separately visited with legislators or their staff.

Representatives from the city of Weslaco, including Mayor David Suarez and interim Assistant City Manager Andrew Munoz, met with Martinez over various needs for the city, including drainage.

Martinez told the officials he would be filing a bill to address drainage and infrastructure improvements — the need for which was made ever more apparent after the city was flooded in June 2018.

The Weslaco city officials were joined in Martinez’s office by representatives from the Texas Military Department, with whom the city hoped to potentially enter into a partnership for the purchase of land near the city’s airport.

Weslaco Fire Chief Antonio Lopez Jr. also proposed an emergency management hub in the city, where multiple agencies would be able to operate their emergency response efforts in the wake of the flooding.

In preparation for these visits, the delegation prepared a booklet of their priorities, which is currently available online on the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s website.

For Valley members representing Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and South Texas Health Systems, one of their biggest priorities was bringing a Level 1 Trauma Center to the area.

A Level 1 center includes 24 hour in-house coverage by general surgeons, and is a referral resource for neighboring communities, provides continuation education to their trauma team and public education to communities, and operates a teaching and research effort for new innovations.

Representatives from schools throughout the region, such as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, South Texas College, Texas Southmost College and Texas State Technical College advocated for fully funding higher education formulas, more funding for financial aid, expansion of eligibility for certain grants, and expansion of career and technology dual credit offerings.

The booklet presents the objectives of the region as a whole, in line with what Canales urged from the group.

“The most important thing that you can do is this: unite,” Canales said during the luncheon. “When you come together and educate us, inspire us, we do what we were sent here to do, which is fight for you.”