|PHARR, November 18 - State Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., wants to resurrect the Good Neighbor Commission, a state agency that was dissolved in 1978, in order to improve Texas’ relations with Mexico.
As part of legislation he is filing, the Brownsville Democrat wants to create the post of Texas-Mexico Commissioner. The commissioner would work with the Good Neighbor Commission on a number of cross-border issues.
“We need to strengthen our relationships with Mexico in all respects, be it infrastructure, immigration, water, the environment, healthcare, education. There are so many different issues that impact us here along the border,” Lucio said.
“We need to be good neighbors and I want to write a bill that would re-establish the Good Neighbor Commission, a bill that would afford us the opportunity to have men and women on a board to work with their counterparts in Mexico, along with a commissioner that would represent Texas in international affairs.”
According to the Texas State Historical Commission the Good Neighbor Commission was established in 1943 as a state agency to handle “social, cultural, and economic problems of Mexican Americans in Texas and to strengthen political ties of Texas with Mexico and other Latin American nations.” TSHC says the commission's origins are traceable in part to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fears that German sentiment was sweeping Latin America. In 1940 Roosevelt established an agency, soon named the Office of Inter-American Affairs, designed to promote better cultural and economic relations with Latin America, the TSHC reports, in its Texas Almanac e-book.
The duties given to the Good Neighbor Commission were gradually absorbed by other agencies and budget cuts in 1987 resulted in its abolition, according to the TSHC.
At a recent roundtable discussion at the offices of the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation, Governor-elect Greg Abbott intimated that his Secretary of State would handle relations with Mexico. Abbott has tapped Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos for this role. Cascos’ appointment is subject to Senate confirmation and Lucio has said he will wholeheartedly support the nomination.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Lucio spoke about the need for Texas to improve relations with Mexico, its No. 1 trading partner. The economic ties that bind Texas and Mexico are expected to become even stronger as oil shale deposits in northern Mexico are extracted, possibly by Texas-based petroleum companies, in the coming years.
Lucio said he was “dismayed” by the decision of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to dismantle the International Relations and Trade Committee in late 2012. Lucio chaired the committee. He said he is hopeful the IRT committee will be resurrected by Dewhurst’s successor as lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.
“I am hoping to have the opportunity to serve as the chairman of a committee. I am fourth in seniority. I was overlooked by the former lieutenant governor. He did away with a very important committee - International Relations and Trade. It was significant to us. He was trying to save money in the budget. I was disappointed and completely caught off guard, not even knowing why because there was never communication between he and I,” Lucio said.
Lucio said he believes Patrick, currently a state senator from Houston, will be an “inclusive” lieutenant governor.
“I always live with hope that we can all sit at the Texas table. But, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because of Senator Patrick’s leadership qualities and the fact that he was elected overwhelmingly by the people of this state. We should accept that, whether he is a Democrat or a Republican,” Lucio said.
“I work well with both sides of the aisle and will continue to do so. I am not going to turn my back on my Republican brothers and sisters. I need to sit at the table with them. I need to let them know how important it is to address the issues that are important to us, such infrastructure for the Pharr Bridge connector. We need to embrace them. We need to address these issues in the right way. Hopefully we can accomplish a few things this session. I am optimistic.”