EDINBURG, RGV – The incoming county judge for Hidalgo County says he is going to place a big emphasis on economic development for the region when he takes office in January.

Richard Cortez was guest speaker at the Rio Grande Guardian’s most recent LIVE at Bob’s show at Bob’s Steak & Chop House in Edinburg.

“You cannot solve budgetary problems by simply cutting expenses. You solve budgetary problems by growing your revenue,” Cortez told an audience of community, business and political leaders.

“So, how do we grow our revenues? You cannot have money to address those things if you do not have an engine to produce that income. I am going to spend a lot of time in helping our community with economic development. Our future is going to depend on how much investment we bring in to Hidalgo County.”

Incoming Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez spoke about his priorities for Hidalgo County at a LIVE at Bob’s show at Bob’s Steak & Chop House in Edinburg. The moderator was Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor. (Photo: Ron Whitlock/Ron Whitlock Reports)

Cortez said one of the first meetings he will set up once sworn in to office is with the mayors of the 22 cities in Hidalgo County.

“We have 22 cities in our county. We need to stop competing with one another and start helping one another,” Cortez said.

“Obviously we need more money to do all the things we need. Our job is to provide services. I want to provide services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer by being efficient and effective. That is not going to happen by wishing for it. It is going to happen by being very structured and having a buy-in.”

Cortez said his first challenge is to get the confidence the general public. 

“I am not that smart, ladies and gentlemen. I am going to be looking for a lot of help. I am looking for the talent that is under-utilized,” Cortez said, referring to the people of Hidalgo County. 

“If we are going to be successful, our success is not going to depend on me, it is going to depend on us, what we do together. If we get 22 cities working together, with our congressmen and our senator, our state legislators, we are going to be able to accomplish great things.”

By senator, Cortez was referring to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Cornyn’s district director for South Texas, Ana Maria Garcia, was in the audience.

“We cannot wait for other people to do things for us. We have to do them ourselves,” Cortez said. He proceeded to discuss the type of investment is looking to attract.

“Today, consumers are looking for smart products, not cheap products. Housekeepers have smart phones. We have to think about what the future is going to be. I believe that based on the research people have done, they are looking at robotics and automation. There’s going to be $8 trillion invested in robotics and automation. Where is that investment going to happen? What is it going to take for us to have part of that investment come to the Rio Grande Valley?” Cortez asked.

Cortez then answered his own question. It is going to take talent, capital and innovation, he said.

“We need to connect the talent, the capital and the innovation so we can be successful. Who is responsible, the mayor, the city manager? We have so many governments it is sometimes difficult to find out who is responsible. I am going to volunteer to be a leader that puts a plan together to help us attract that capital here to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Cortez then reiterated that it will take everyone working towards the same end.

“We are going to need all the help. We are going to need UTRGV, we are going to need South Texas College. We are going to need the medical school. We are going to need all of you to help us. We are going to need Senator Cornyn to do his job. He has always been a friend.”

Cortez then asked if there were any media in the audience. The only media outlets present were the Rio Grande Guardian, RGV Public Radio 88 FM and Ron Whitlock Reports.

“I don’t know if anyone is here from the media, but we have to quit telling people how bad we are. We have to tell people how good we are,” Cortez said.

Leadership, Demographics

Cortez said everything starts with leadership. 

“Why is our country suffering today? We have had a lack of leadership. What happens when you have a lack of leadership, you have the American people telling Congress what to do.”

Cortez said that rather than take direction from lay opinion, communities should look to expert opinion. “Why are we listening to lay people about what is good for our country, as well intentioned as they are? Because we have had a lack of leadership.”

Cortez pointed out that Texas is going to look a lot like the Rio Grande Valley in the coming decades. 

“If you look at the demographics of Texas, in the last Census there were 4.2 million new Texans. Of these, 2.8 million were Hispanic. That is 65 percent. Well, right now, 49 percent of all kids that are five years and younger are Hispanic. What does that tell you? That the future majority is going to be Hispanic.”

Cortez said state leaders in Austin need to pay attention to the changing demographics of Texas.

“If Austin is paying attention, what do you want your majority to be? Dumb and stupid or smart and educated? If we do not invest in human capital, if we do not invest in what the future of Texas is going to be… we need to take pride in being ethical, being responsible, being productive. Let’s make our taxpayer line grow faster than our welfare line. That is what we can do together.”

Cortez promised Hidalgo County residents would not lack for leadership in its county government.

“I may not be right but I am going to lead you somewhere and I am going to ask for your support. When you think I am wrong, I have an open door. Don’t come to me when you think I am wrong. Come to me when you have a solution,” he said.

On the night of his general election victory earlier this month, the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM asked Cortez what the voters were saying on the campaign trail. The top issue, he said, was taxes. People told him they were paying too much in taxes.

Asked about this at the live show, Cortez said:

“We have to start by fixing our own house. I cannot tell other people to fix their financials if mine are in disarray. So, one of the things I am going to do when I get there – hopefully, we will have the buy-in of everybody – is try to be efficient and effective in everything we do and eliminate redundancy.”

That said, Cortez realizes he is only one of five votes on the commissioner’s court. He knows he will have to garner support for his priorities.

“We have four commissioners that have four, basically, different teams. I am not questioning any of the commissioners and what they do. But I think it is important that we let science dictate action because science is perfect,” Cortez said.

“I mean, I can have subjective beliefs all day long and maybe be right and maybe be wrong. But, if I have objective beliefs based on facts then I am always going to be right. So, if I have a choice to be subjective or a choice to be objective…

“So, part of the analysis is evaluation of what you do. If you are going to evaluate things, are you going to do it subjectively or objectively? I want to present those principles to the county. So we can be better at the judgment we take.”

“So, once we clean our own house and we, ourselves, lower all the costs we can, that is going to give rise to additional revenues because we do not have to spend them on redundant expenses.

“The question then is, what do the citizens want? It is going to be up to you all to decide. I have to prove to you I can do it at the best price for you. But, you are going to have to tell me whether you want it or not.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Richard Cortez’s remarks at a LIVE at Bob’s luncheon. Part Two will be posted on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018.”