McALLEN, RGV – U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela, and Vicente Gonzalez have led the tributes to former U.S. Congressman Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, II, who passed away on Monday.

De la Garza served as the federal representative of the 15th District of Texas – the seat Gonzalez currently holds – from 1965 to 1997. He was chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture from 1981 to 1995, and ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture from 1995 to 1997. De la Garza also served as a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, II

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Congressman Kika de la Garza, who represented the people of the 15th District of Texas with distinction and honor. The Rio Grande Valley has lost a statesman, public servant, husband, father, grandfather and friend, but his legacy will live on,” Rep. Gonzalez said.

“It is a privilege to follow in the footsteps of a man who empowered our rural areas and lifted up the Hispanic community. Lorena and I offer our most sincere condolences to his wife, Lucille, their children, and grandchildren at this difficult time.”

Rep. Cuellar’s statement read:

“I am saddened by the news that former Congressman Eligio ‘Kika’ de la Garza II has passed away. Coming from the border in South Texas, Kika brought a new worldview to Congress and was a pioneer that lead the way for more Hispanics to fully participate in our nation’s legislative process.

“Kika was a dear friend of mine, and I speak for many when I say that Texas has lost a great leader today. I served on the House Committee of Agriculture for eight years, and I would often look up to the great portrait of former Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Kika de la Garza, as an example of someone who has given back so much to the agricultural communities across the nation. This afternoon, I spoke with his wife, Lucille, to express my sincerest condolences to her and her family in this difficult moment.”

Rep. Vela’s statement read:

“I am extremely saddened by the loss of my friend, Congressman Kika de la Garza. Kika was an inspiration to South Texans and led the charge of building a better agricultural industry for our nation during his time as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. As an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, I had the privilege of serving as an intern for Congressman de la Garza –  an experience that played a major role in my decision to run for Congress.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. He will be missed.”

De la Garza was preceded in Congress by U.S. Rep. Joe M. Kilgore. He was succeeded in Congress by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for de la Garza:

Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, II (September 22, 1927 – March 13, 2017) was the Democratic representative for the 15th congressional district of Texas from January 3, 1965, to January 3, 1997.

De la Garza grew up in Mission in Hidalgo County. At the age of seventeen, he entered the United States Navy and served for two years. De la Garza chose to continue his education at Edinburg Junior College and the United States Army Artillery School at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. For two years beginning in 1952, he was a lieutenant in the Army served in the 37th Field Artillery Regiment deployed in the Korean War. After returning home, he completed his law degree at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. After having practiced law for several years in the Rio Grande Valley, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

While in the state House, de la Garza was famous for sponsoring much legislation in the fields of education and the environment. He authored bills to protect wetlands, create state-sponsored preschools, and more international bridges to Mexico. From 1955 to 1957, he was the only Hispanic member of the Texas House. He was joined in 1957 by a second Mexican American member, Oscar M. Laurel of Laredo, the seat of Webb County.

In 1965, de la Garza, a strong supporter of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, assumed his seat in Congress. From 1981 to 1994, he was the chairman of the Agricultural Committee, leading the way in passing bills that reorganized the agricultural lending system, the farm insurance system, the United States Department of Agriculture, and pesticide laws.

De la Garza was also a civil rights supporter and called for smoother relations between the U.S. and Mexico. He worked to improve trade between the two nations and was critical in passing the legislation that enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

De la Garza’s nickname was made famous by Andy Rooney in the early days of his TV show as he referred to “Kiki de la Garza” as one of the names that stuck with him most. He resided in McAllen, Texas with his wife Lucille until he passed away on March 13, 2017.