BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos sees improving relations with Mexico as one of his top priorities when he becomes Texas’ next secretary of state.

Cascos is expected to secure Senate nomination for the secretary of state’s position later this month. His proposed appointment came days after Governor-elect Greg Abbott won the November general election.

“I think the main thing I would want to be doing is nurturing and re-establishing stronger relationships with Mexico. It is going to take a little bit of work and it is going to take a little bit of initiative from a lot of state agencies and I just hope I can play a part in it,” Cascos said.

The secretary of state’s role includes ensuring elections in Texas run smoothly and overseeing Texas-Mexico border affairs and improvements to colonias. Cascos gave an in-depth interview to RGV Public Radio 88 FM and the Rio Grande Guardian ahead of the 84th legislative session that starts on Tuesday. He discussed his top two legislative agenda items for Cameron County and what he hopes to achieve as secretary of state.

“The one thing I can do, not just for the Valley, even though I am from Cameron, I am not going to say be a voice per se but I think that is going to happen. I think the biggest challenge as secretary of state coming from the border is really to inform and educate those legislators that are not from our border region or coastal region that have not had the opportunity to visit our region in years and maybe even some new legislators,” Cascos said.

“We need to have not only bipartisan support but we need to have bi-state support, which means having legislators from throughout the state recognize the importance of border trade, recognize the importance of border relationships, recognize the importance of border security. I think in that way, being from the border, being familiar with the border being bilingual, hopefully I can be a voice for the border and for South Texas.”

Cascos said he does not think Texas has had a secretary of state “in quite some time” who has cared to “basically sit down across a table and speak to legislators of both parties.” He hopes to change that. He also pointed out that the post is non-partisan.

“I do not get involved in political races, I do not get involved in politics, but my role is to support every community. I am not going to support one community over another if they are competing for projects or for funding. That is not my role. I think the role is to be an advocate for the state for our region,” Cascos said.

“That is not to say… I am not going to go volunteer my comments. If I am asked for commentary from anyone I will do the best I can to provide it but for me to me to go out and lobby for a certain bill or a certain event, that is beyond the role of the secretary of state and I do not intend to do that. However, if I am asked to participate in a process or in a discussion I will give my two cents and probably get change but I will give my two cents on what we ought to be doing.”

Cascos concluded his interview about the secretary of state post with this: “This is going to be a tough session because there is a lot of talk about enhancements to border security and getting involved in areas that really belong at the federal level. But, because the federal government may or may not be doing it, it is incumbent on the state to do what they need to do to safeguard our borders and safeguard our people that live along the border.”

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia told RGV Public Radio 88 FM and the Rio Grande Guardian that he is pleased Cascos has been nominated for secretary of state.

“I feel that Gov.-elect Abbott made a very good choice,” Garcia said. “If he had to appoint a Republican, which, of course, politically he had to… he was able to find a very qualified, competent, individual who is a resident of our South Texas community and who is very knowledgeable about our issues. Hopefully, he will use his contacts and his relationships with the Republicans to help us out down here in South Texas.”

As for Cameron County, Cascos said his top two priorities for the upcoming legislative session are getting more property tax relief for veterans and their spouses and providing counties with more ordinance making authority.

On the veterans’ issue, Cascos said:

“Right now, veterans would get a property ad valorem tax relief based on a percentage of a disability. What I proposed last session is giving all veterans, whether they are disabled or not, anybody who served in the Armed Services, whether they served in peace time or war time, that they be given some tax relief. An additional exemption if you would like to call it that and that applies to their surviving spouses as well.

“I am asking them to consider waiving 100 percent of ad valorem taxes. That is not going to fly so we are going to start by asking for an additional $10,000 relief in terms of value and then leave it up to the county commissioners’ court to make a determination every year if they want to increase it by $5,000 or whatever per year, not to exceed $75,000 of the assessed value.

“To me, that provides veterans with some tax relief. I think we spend a lot of time honoring veterans and naming buildings for them and all that is commendable and very nice but at the end of the day, and speaking with the veterans, what they want is some financial assistance, especially knowing that the unemployment rate for veterans is extremely high. The difficulty they have in trying to maintain their homes when they come back from serving because of their inability to find gainful employment. This gives everybody the opportunity to put their money where their you know what is, and to hopefully provide some tax relief.”

On increased ordinance making authority for counties, Cascos said:

“We have been pushing this for as long as I can remember and it always seems to fail. As counties become more and more urbanized the need (is there) for some kind of development control, zoning control, just like you have in the cities. (In cities) you do not allow certain kinds of businesses to open up in residential areas. You do not allow manufacturing to open up in the middle of a residential neighborhood. In the counties, there is little if any control. You could have somebody opening up a manufacturing company and you have certain acreage and you could have some nice homes outside of a city limit right next door. So, I want to be able to pass legislation or encourage legislation that gives counties some kind of ordinance making ability, even if it is limited. It would be better than what we have now. If the legislators want to limit it to border counties, that is fine. But, in essence, that is one of the biggest deals.”

Cascos added that he opposes unfunded mandates for cities and counties alike. “We should have to recognize we should not have unfunded mandates by the state legislators and that seems to happen frequently. They pass a law that impacts your cities or counties. Stuff that we have to do that is going to cost us money. That is something that needs to be addressed too… not to pass legislation for something without having the money to pay for it and (without cities and counties) having a voice.”