|McALLEN, March 16 - Imagine the Rio Grande Valley with more educational opportunities, more access to health care, a more educated workforce for our businesses, more job opportunities for our young people, more transportation dollars passing through our ports and roadways, and, most importantly, a better quality of life for our families.
This is all possible now that the Rio Grande Valley is finally becoming a “region” — distancing itself from its previous label of detached and competing cities and counties that are just looking out for its own interests.
Recently, I attended a “Breakfast with Mayors” event at the McAllen Convention Center. Mayors from across the Valley had an opportunity to address a packed house full of business and community leaders. After listening to Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, San Juan Mayor San Juanita Sanchez, Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios, Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, it became clear that the underlying theme of the morning was that each was saying the same thing — we are now a region. And with each city’s individual competitive economic progress over the years, we are finally at the crossroads of referring to ourselves here in the Rio Grande Valley as one “region.”
I was born in Edinburg’s former Grandview Hospital and have spent my entire life here. Edinburg, like all the rest of our small towns, was a sleepy quiet place where you left your front door unlocked without concerns of intruders. I rode my bicycle across town when traffic was quite sparse during those years.
Back then, most Valley towns had one public high school and you knew everyone in town by their first name. Friday nights were a big deal throughout the Rio Grande Valley because our competitive nature came to the forefront as we came out to support high school football games. When we remember how tranquil and quiet the Valley was in those years, we may look at change in a negative way. But one thing that has changed for the better is how we now view ourselves in the Valley.
The recent unification of our region and its lawmakers has shown that much more can be accomplished together. Senate Bill 24, the historic bill that allows for the merger of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American and creates a new medical school in the Valley, overwhelmingly passed the 83rd Legislature through the hard work and collaboration by my colleagues in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives.
Our state lawmakers and community leaders understood the importance and gravity of passing this legislation because we knew this was good for the entire region of the Rio Grande Valley. The emotions that ran through all of the Valley delegation when we collectively passed the university merger and medical school bill gave us all goose bumps. And all of the state representatives from our region sought one another’s help to pass numerous other pieces of legislation that in one way or another will positively change our quality of life for our entire region, including: Supporting the likely building of the world’s first commercial spaceport by SpaceX in Cameron County; to the Interstate 69 project and creation of an overweight corridor for goods and produce coming from Mexico; to the study of ways to increase our federal produce inspectors at our ports of entry, to the creation of a Small Business Advisory Task Force to boost our local economies.
The list goes on and on with regards to ways that the Valley’s legislative delegation came together and united during this Legislature and supported each other’s bills for the betterment of the entire Rio Grande Valley region. We realize that no one city can carry enough influence by itself, but, together, the 1.3 million people in this region can carry a tremendous amount of influence. If one city in the Valley does well and succeeds, then we all benefit.
I began to hear on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives from other representatives statewide about how important it was to them that they knew what the Valley delegation’s position was on any given bill that was about to go to vote. There is a power in our collective votes in Austin and we became even more relevant to other members of the House, regardless of party affiliation.
We have finally realized that we have the opportunity to get what we need, what we want, and what we deserve by embracing a regional mindset so that opportunities will not be lost as they were in the past. We are one region and we have discovered that we can achieve tremendous successes for all of our individual cities and communities in the Valley by working together and preserving the mentality that the Rio Grande Valley is as a united region.
R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, is state representative for Texas House District 41. A Democrat from McAllen, Guerra serves on the House Public Health Committee and the Transportation Committee.