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AUSTIN, Texas – It was not just RGV Day at the state Capitol in Austin this week.

The leaders of two major cities in Cameron County organized Harlingen-San Benito Day on Tuesday, Feb. 10. It is the first time the two communities have collaborated on such a project.

“History was made today. For the first time ever, Harlingen and San Benito worked together to present their legislative issues at the Capitol,” said San Benito Mayor Celeste Sanchez.

“When large and small businesses come together and cities work together, it shows that we can have a greater impact not just for the individual cities in the Rio Grande Valley but for the entire region,” said Chris Gonzales, president and CEO of the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to Gonzales, those from Harlingen participating in the Harlingen-San Benito Day events were Mayor Chris Boswell, City Commissioners Basilio “Chino” Sanchez, Michael Mezmar and Victor Leal, Harlingen Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Raudel Garza, and Walker Smith, port director for the Port of Harlingen Port Director.

In addition to Mayor Sanchez, those from San Benito participating in the Harlingen-San Benito Day events were City Commissioner Tony Gonzales and San Benito Economic Development Corporation Executive Director, Salomon Torres.

Torres told the Rio Grande Guardian that he was able to visit with state agency leaders while in Austin in order to further tourism and culture projects currently underway in San Benito.

“Everyone involved with the Harlingen-San Benito delegation was in high spirits. Yes, it was historic, but it was also strategic and it was common sense. You have two neighboring cities that support each other’s economic growth and will continue to do so,” Torres said. “It was important for our legislators to see this partnership in action. It was equally important for House and Senate leaders and their staff – including the governor’s office – to familiarize themselves with both cities even more and with our priorities and needs.”

Leaders from Harlingen and San Benito got to meet with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Joe Straus and the likely next Secretary of State, Carlos Cascos. Local legislators participating in the events at the Capitol included state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya. Longoria, whose district includes part of Harlingen, recognized Harlingen-San Benito Day with a resolution on the floor of the House.

Lucio III hosted a private meeting for Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell and other community leaders from the Harlingen Chamber and the City of San Benito so they could meet with Straus. Lucio said local leaders were able to advocate for the legislative agendas for Harlingen and San Benito.

A highlight for many during the visit was a legislative reception held Tuesday evening at the Austin Club. Cameron County Judge Cascos, who is expected to be approved by the state Senate soon as Texas’ secretary of state, spoke at the reception. According to the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, approximately 100 people representing 20 legislative offices were present including Sen. Lucio, and Representatives René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, Lucio and Longoria.

Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority Chairman David Allex, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Pete Sepulveda, state District Judge David Sanchez and Eddie Campirano, port director for the Port of Brownsville, attended the legislative reception.  So did Joe Weber, the executive director of TxDOT.

“I’m extremely pleased with the turnout we received both at the reception and our Capitol visit because it gave us a greater opportunity to advocate for our members and cities in terms of promoting our businesses and ensuring future economic prosperity with these legislators,” said Frank Espinoza, chairman of Harlingen Chamber of Commerce and manager of community affairs for AEP Texas.

Those attending Leadership Harlingen Class 29 visited the state Capitol so they could participate in Harlingen-San Benito Day. Leaders were able to meet with officials from various state organizations including the Office of the Governor, Texas Comptroller, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Association of Business.

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce for providing the photos for our slide show and much of the information for our story.