|PHARR, April 1 - Texas officials ought to be “jumping summersaults” to help the Rio Grande Valley prepare for the impact of the new Mazatlán to Matamoros superhighway, says state Senator and Lieutenant Governor Candidate Leticia Van de Putte.
As part of a nine-day, 16-city tour of Texas, the San Antonio Democrat visited the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge early Monday morning. There, she met privately with bridge and transportation leaders before holding a news conference at the same venue. She was later slated to hold a campaign fundraiser in McAllen and a meeting with veterans in Laredo.
Speaking to reporters, Van de Putte praised Mexico and Rio Grande Valley leaders for their emphasis on international trade and commerce and denounced her potential Republican opponents for their “harsh rhetoric” on border and immigration issues. Her GOP opponent in the general election will either be incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
“Texas ought to be jumping summersaults to be partnering with our local communities here to make a reality of that superhighway that is coming from Mazatlán,” Van de Putte told reporters at the news conference.
The superhighway Van de Putte was referring to is otherwise known as the Corredor Económico del Norte, which links Mazatlán on the west coast of Mexico to Matamoros on the east. Mexican officials believe it will rival Central America’s Panama Canal when it comes to trade.
Estimates say shippers can save six to eight hours traveling from Mazatlán to Pharr, as compared to traveling from Mazatlán to Nogales in Arizona. Cost savings can be as much as $500 to $600 per truck on the Mexican side if originating from Sinaloa, and $2,500 or more per truck depending on their final U.S. destination round trip. Sinaloa is considered the bread basket of Mexico.
Bret Erickson, president and CEO for Texas International Produce Association (TIPA), told the Guardian recently that the Corredor Económico del Norte will mean a huge increase in imported fruit and vegetables at the Pharr Bridge, probably at the expense of Nogales. Erickson said TIPA has seen a 67 percent increase in produce volume over the last five to six years, and double digit growth four of the last five years. Texas has surpassed Arizona in volume in three of the last four years, so, as a result, Arizona businesses have been setting up shop in Texas, and that trend is increasing, Erickson said.
Van de Putte was given a power point presentation on the likely impact of the Corredor Económico del Norte, by Pharr Bridge Director Juan Guerra and Josue Reyes, vice chairman of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority.
“We wanted Senator Van de Putte to understand that this is not any old bridge. In fact, it is an economic powerhouse when it comes to international trade,” Guerra told the Guardian. “We are the No. 9 port when it comes to the nation’s exports and No. 8 when it comes to imports. We wanted to make sure the Senator was aware of what is in her own back yard, of what an asset the State of Texas has. We wanted her to be aware that, according to TxDOT, we are the most efficient crossing point. We want her to help us maximize capacity at this bridge.
Guerra said the Corredor Económico del Norte will likely mean an additional 7,000 jobs in the Valley. He also spoke of the huge impact Mexico’s version of Eagle Ford Shale will likely have on the Valley as oil and gas exploration and production ramps up. Lying just south of Rio Bravo, the shale formation is known as the Burgos Basin. “It is going to mean billions of dollars of economic impact,” Guerra said.
Van de Putte had nothing but praise for Valley and Mexico leaders for putting the emphasis on border trade and commerce. “I am here to support the economic impact of this bridge, and the economic powerhouse that is the border.” She said that as a sixth generation Texan with two grandmothers from Mexico, she could not be more proud than to be standing at the Texas-Mexico border. “We are at a crossroads,” Van de Putte said.
Van de Putte then blasted the two Republicans still slugging it out in the lieutenant governor race. “They talk about the border in a framework that is negative. They talk and say very, very, harsh things and frankly that costs us jobs. I wish they would come here and visit the border community and understand that we have 720 million dollars a day of trade that passes through here. I wish they would understand that this is the No. 2 port for produce in this country. Soon to be, I think, the No. 1 port,” Van de Putte said.
Continuing her critique of Dewhurst and Patrick, Van de Putte said: “They don’t understand about the superhighway from Mazatlán; coming through Pharr all the way to Matamoros and what that means for jobs and investment. They talk about the border area in terms so harsh I don’t even want to repeat them. I invite anybody to look at what is happening here in this border and understand that this is good for Texas, this is great for jobs.”
Asked to comment on a story in today’s Houston Chronicle about the Republican Party of Texas possibly reversing its support for a guest worker program, Van de Putte said: “We know that they are not listening to the lessons of Jan Brewer’s Arizona or Pete Wilson’s California. We do not want to be like that California. We do not want to be like that Arizona. We are Tejas, we are the place of opportunity and where friendships mean a security for the next generation. You cannot deny there is $720 million of trade. That this place, right here in Pharr… is going to be very soon the No. 1 place for produce. But as we look at the oil and gas industry in Mexico, this is about jobs and frankly, that harsh rhetoric has no other purpose but to pander to a few people; that they want to earn their votes.”
In the GOP primary, Hidalgo County Republicans broke heavily for incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. However, across the state as a whole, challenger Dan Patrick was well ahead. Concerned that Patrick would be bad news for the border region, local Republicans met privately at the offices of Fred Loya Insurance in McAllen last week to strategize on how to ensure a Dewhurst victory. Among those in attendance were leading Valley Republicans Tom Wingate, Hollis Rutledge, Ernie Aliseda, Sam Vale, and Hilda Garza DeShazo. “There is a consensus down here that Dan Patrick would be bad for the Valley. We have not discounted David Dewhurst’s chances,” said one businessman at the meeting who refused to be named.
Asked if she might expect some of these Republicans to back her, should Patrick win the GOP primary runoff, Van de Putte said: “Every day more and more Republicans are coming over offering their support because, quite frankly, they do not know what has happened to their party. They said that is not the party of divisiveness, that is not the party that has business sense, where you put in infrastructure and highways, you recognize who your trading partner is.”
Van de Putte said everyone recognizes the need for the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform. “Let’s face it we have 8,000 new Border Patrol, we have hundreds and hundreds of miles of border fence. Yes, we all want a secure border. We want to stop those people that are going to try to sell drugs illegally or for human trafficking. But, we understand that this an economic development issue.”
Returning to the question on her GOP rivals, Van de Putte said: “I think that those Republicans, what we call the Latino businessmen, understand too that Mexico is a growing economy. World economists tell us that within the decade Mexico will be probably in the Top Ten, maybe even No. 6 and that Mexico’s middle class is growing. Two things are occurring; we know that the birth rate in Mexico is declining, but we also know that with the oil and gas industry, with that new superhighway, with their reforms, even in education, that the middle class is very strong. Quite frankly there is a net zero migration,” Van de Putte said.
“They (the GOP candidates running for lieutenant governor) are looking to the past. I am looking to the future. Whatever happens in the Republican Party I am going to be ready. The harsh rhetoric that they would use to pander to a select few doesn’t work and it is costing Texas jobs.”