McALLEN, RGV – Lita Leo says her 20-plus years of service to the community is a key reason voters should chose her as Hidalgo County’s next county treasurer.
Leo has worked in county government and for her family’s convenience store. She has also worked in Washington, D.C., and for numerous political campaigns.
“I do have a combination of business and political advocacy experience. One thing that has been common through my work experience, and my experience in general is service. I have always provided a service to others,” Leo told the Rio Grande Guardian. “In the business community, we were a local business, so we gave quite a few breaks to customers in the area. Sometimes people were short, a little bit. A couple of dollars short, you know what, that is fine, take this gallon of milk. It is fine, don’t worry about.”
The Hidalgo County Treasurer position has become available because of Norma Garcia’s retirement. Garcia held the post for decades. Leo says Garcia is a role model for young women that seek to run for political office.
“Norma has been there over 20 years. It is very evident she has done a good job because no news is good news. I know the county commissioners can be pretty fierce and she has outlasted so many of them. If she had messed up, those commissioners would have let her know, in public. You cannot mess up the public finances. The commissioners would be upset and so would the residents of Hidalgo County. Right there it is apparent she has done a great job,” Leo said.
Leo pointed out that when Garcia became county treasurer here were few females serving in an elective capacity.
“We are definitely progressing. We are predominantly Hispanic down here and to see so many women on the ballot, taking this chance, it could be a reflection of the women’s movement last year. Ms. Norma Garcia has done this job effectively and efficiently, she has been a role model. She served as a mayor, I am sure she had to deal with a lot of men. I know there are great men out there but some of them can try to intimidate and bully you. At the time she ran, she was a minority. She has definitely paved the road for us.”
Asked what a county treasurer’s role is, Leo said: “The treasurer is the chief custodian of all county finances. All the monies that come in from the county precincts, the JPs, fines, just about all the funds that come to the county. The office is responsible for the safe keeping of all those funds.”
In the case of a county as big a Hidalgo, with close to a million residents, the role of treasurer clearly carries a lot of responsibility. Leo says her experience in the private sector will help.
“Population-wise Hidalgo County is one of the top ten counties. The county is also one of the biggest employers. I have managed a small business. The minute a check goes out you balance the check book. It is as though that money has gone out of your bank account right away. Some vendors take two to three weeks to cash the check and your bank statement looks really good. But, in reality there are three outstanding checks. A true balance is really good. The county treasurer is a unique position. Truth be told you really don’t know what you are letting yourself in for until you get there. You can only read so much.”
Asked why voters should select her, rather than her opponent in the Hidalgo County Democratic Party primary runoff, Leo said:
“I have been working political campaigns since I was a child. My father was a former mayor, a longtime political activist. Because of him, he threw me in there when I was a kid at eight years old. However, I chose to continue in my own right. I took an interest in Democratic causes for my party. I moved to Washington, D.C., I was working out there for a few years. I worked for elected officials from all over the United States, at the local and national level. So, I have dealt with numerous egos, so to speak. Most recently I was with the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency, where people in need would come to us for help. I dealt with emergency situations, sometimes people lost their homes. Families of five whose house just perished in fire. It is very difficult, $500 is not going to solve all their problems. However, it helps them. Just to provide a small amount of assistance has been rewarding. They see it as the biggest deal. I see it as, I did my job. A thank you goes a long way.”
Leo reiterated that service has been the constant throughout her life.
“I put my heart into my job. I put my heart into the cause. I believe I have earned the trust of so many residents, people that I work with. People in my community. I have been involved in campaigns. People have gotten to know me. I am not just this politician’s daughter. I am a person who has given to them. I have done my best to assist people. You cannot please everyone, but my efforts are there, my heart is in it. I have been held accountable. I follow through.”
Leo saw off two other challengers in the primary race, despite being outspent. She does not see lack of financial backers as a hindrance.
“I have been outnumbered on signs and most of the people that have been contributing to me have been friends and family. People that I have had a relationship with, they are my contributors. It is not like a county judge or county commissioners race. We cannot attract bigger donations. It has been a challenge, but I still feel pretty confident in the whole grassroots effort. As one gentleman told me, ‘shake hands, shake hands, smile, and just talk to people and let them know you care, that you are not going to fail them’.”
Leo said she wishes her opponents well. “Other than being my opponent, I have nothing bad to say about them. We all have the same interests at stake. We want to serve our county.”
Asked what she is hearing the most from voters as she knocks on doors looking for support, Leo said:
“What do people say? Don’t forget about us. They are so used to politicians coming around, at every level. I am not talking about anybody in particular. Politicians coming around, wooing them, and then they disappear. I have had this quite a bit. They say, we don’t just want you to pay us a visit and then forget about us. I recognize this from the campaigns I have worked on in the past. It is, ‘oh, you only come around during election season.’ No. Just know that once I get elected, you have a friend. Not only can you count on me to represent you but, call my office, call my cell phone, I will get back to you as soon as I can. I am not going to fail you. I cannot promise a miracle, but I will do my best. I am going to make an effort and I am not going to ignore you. I return every call.”
Leo added: “Make your voice heard. There are a lot of complaints about politicians. It may seem a lost cause, but it is not.”