PHARR, RGV – Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, who is also chairman of the binational Good Neighbor Commission and chairman-elect of the Texas Border Coalition, says he cannot rule out voting for Donald Trump.
Saenz appeared on the Fox Business Network on Tuesday to talk about Trump’s proposal to build a bigger border wall and to comment on the fact that Trump topped the GOP poll in Webb County on Super Tuesday.
Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney asked Saenz if he could see himself voting for Trump in the presidential election in November. Saenz replied: “Well, there is a long way to go.” Asked by Varney if that is an absolute ‘no,’ Saenz replied: “No, it is not an absolute no. But, as a mayor I have to stay neutral. There is still so much ground to cover here. But, it is interesting times, very interesting times.”
Click here to watch the Fox Business Network video.
Saenz was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to lead a Laredo delegation that was pushing for more federal to improve border bridge infrastructure. On the Fox program, Saenz pointed out that Laredo is the nation’s largest inland port. It is also the No. 3 Customs district in the country. “It is a beautiful town,” Saenz told Varney.
Varney seemed intrigued that Hispanic voters could support Trump. He noted that 96 percent of Laredo is 96 percent Hispanic and pointed out that Trump secured nearly 35 percent of the vote in the GOP primary in Laredo, enough to beat Texas’ own U.S. Senator, Ted Cruz. Varney acknowledged that the 4,000 Laredo residents who voted in the GOP primary was “dwarfed” by the 26,000 that voted in the Democratic Party primary. “But still, that is a chunk of people,” Varney said. “Does that mean that some Hispanics are okay with a wall or okay with Donald Trump?”
Saenz responded: “Well, our population is 260,000, so, obviously we do have a Republican following there. By nature, I am conservative as well. So, obviously he has got a following there as well.”
Varney also noted that Trump visited Laredo last year and showed a clip of Saenz with the billionaire businessman at a news conference at Laredo International Airport. Asked by Varney if he and Trump discussed the border wall issue, Saenz said: “Yes, we discussed the wall. Obviously, he thinks very differently about the wall. Keep in mind, Laredo, Texas, is the No. 1 inland port in the nation, in the western hemisphere. We do so much trade.
“I told him (Trump) with all due respect, it (the border wall) is an offense to Mexico, it is impractical, especially in the South Texas area, we are a ranching community, an agricultural community. We have livestock that need to get to the river.”
Did Trump listen to you, Varney asked Saenz. “He was attentive. He is very personable, as you know. He listened, yeah he did listen. Based on what I have heard, as of last night I think he said that if we have a natural barrier, which of course the Rio Grande is, I believe now his position is that it will just cover a thousand miles. I am hoping it is beyond the Rio Grande. I am hoping that there is no wall but if it is, I hope it won’t include our area because we have that natural barrier, that’s the Rio Grande.”
Varney concluded the interview by asking Saenz if he would come back on his show to talk about Hispanic voting preferences. Saenz said he would.
Texas Border Coalition
Saenz spoke about the same topics, including Trump and the border wall, in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian at a recent quarterly meeting of the Texas Border Coalition in Pharr. Saenz will take over as chair of the TBC at the end of Chairman J.D. Salinas’ term of office.
On the issue of Trump’s visit to Laredo last July, Saenz said: “We welcomed Mr. Trump. We hoped that we could change some of his notions, particularly his thoughts about the border area. We did our best and maybe we were successful. After he visited he said that maybe certain sections of the border wouldn’t be conducive to the wall but lately I have heard that, no, he is very much in favor of a complete wall.”
Saenz said building a border wall when the United States already has a barrier with Mexico in Texas, namely the Rio Grande, did not make sense.
“Much of the border area is ranchland and the livestock and wildlife needs to utilize the Rio Grande. If you wall it off how will that impact the environment? That is the question I raised when he (Trump) was there. I also raised the question of this massive exportation of folks and the separation of families. He was attentive, he listened. The cost will be enormous. And, of course, the border wall is truly an offense with Mexico. If you live on the border you know how interdependent we are.”
Saenz said too many people in the rest of the United States fail to understand the border region’s interdependence with Mexico.
“We are interwoven, the culture, the history, the economy. We have got to be careful how we portray Mexico. We have got to see it in a higher light than what is being portrayed. I think we can resolve all of these issues but we have to be careful. We know Mexico has so much potential, especially with oil and gas.”
Saenz said he is excited about the potential business Texas can have with Mexico once oil and gas prices rebound.
“I have been involved in oil and gas and I know, economically, it is cyclical. I know it will bounce back and when it does Mexico is poised so well, because of the Cuenca de Burgos, as well as other reserves they have. It will really benefit the border region because we have the expertise and infrastructure. Basically it is just a question of extending it south. We can capitalize on that. The fact that they have opened up their oil and gas minerals industry to foreign investment is going to open huge doors for us.”
Asked if he would welcome other presidential candidates to the border region, Saenz said: “Yes. These are opportunities for dialogue, regardless of the party label. I want them to take the time to learn about the border, hopefully they will come with an open mind.”
Saenz said border residents can teach the rest of the country a lot. “We live the border. We know what the border is. These people need to come out of the shadows. We can work it out. We are bright people. I am glad the immigration issue has come up. Now it is a case of just dealing with it. And we will. This is where TBC will play such a decisive role, in helping frame a comprehensive immigration package.”
Good Neighbor Commission
Saenz also discussed his appointment as chairman of the Good Neighbor Commission, a binational group that was established through legislation filed by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville. It comprises seven mayors from border cities in Texas and seven mayors from border cities in Mexico. Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos named Saenz chairman of the Good Neighbor Commission and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling vice chairman of the group.
“The Good Neighbor Commission is going to give us a great opportunity to evaluate with our border mayors from Mexico all the issues we have, such as infrastructure, bridge crossings, efficiencies, immigration, and economic development. These are all the issues TBC is covering. I think with the Good Neighbor Commission we can expand on them. The great thing is that with the Good Neighbor Commission we will have the direct input from our Mexican counterparts. That, for us, is huge. We need to align ourselves with their needs.”
Saenz said the plan is to have probably four meetings a year up and down the border. “We will report back to the Secretary and then he in turn will report back to the Governor. The Governor and the Secretary see the huge role the border region is going to play in the economic development of Texas going forward. We thank Senator Lucio for his vision.”
Asked for his view of the Good Neighbor Commission, Cascos said: “It is a good committee. Any time we have the opportunity to have input on Texas-Mexico affairs, it is good. There are a lot of groups talking about prosperity and economic development and trade, such as the Texas Border Coalition and the Border Trade Alliance. A lot of the themes are overlapping. It would be nice if they all get together under one umbrella.”