McALLEN, RGV – Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick will not be anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic or anti-border when he presides over the Texas Senate, predicts a veteran Rio Grande Valley legislator.

Far from it, says state Sen. Eddie Lucio, who has worked closely with Patrick in the Senate over the years and who this week organized a number of fundraisers in the Valley for the Houston Republican. Lucio said he, like other senators, is looking forward to a change in leadership, style, and direction in the Senate.

Patrick is stepping up from state senator to lieutenant governor after defeating incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican Party primary runoff last March and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, in the general election last month.

“I feel very strongly that Gov.-elect Patrick will step up to the plate for this region. He has come here more than a dozen times. He has shown a lot of interest in a lot of major issues that deal with the border of Texas and South Texas. I am very optimistic having worked with him for many years. He is a man of great faith who obviously will address these issues in the right way,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian at the McAllen Country Club.

Many Republicans and independents in South Texas worked hard to ensure Dewhurst beat Patrick in the Republican Party primary in the spring. When that did not happen some switched their allegiance to Van de Putte in the general election. Patrick won both races with relative ease.

Lucio says the concerns some might have with Patrick, based to some extent on inflammatory rhetoric discharged in a heated Republican primary, is misplaced. He is confident everything will be fine next session.

“I have had experience in working with Mr. Patrick, sitting next to him on the Senate Finance Committee and sitting next to him on the Committee on Education. And, he was sitting next to me when I was chairman of International Relations and Trade. We worked on the pro-life issues together and a lot of wonderful things that have happened as a result of that,” Lucio said.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio organized a fundraiser for Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick at the McAllen Country Club.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio organized a fundraiser for Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick at the McAllen Country Club.

Lucio said Patrick, who made his name in right wing talk radio in Houston, deserves a “lot of credit” for coming so far in the political world in such a short amount of time. “Eight or nine years ago he was private citizen Dan Patrick who testified before my International Relations and Trade Committee in Houston talking about business issues, articulating those issues very well and impressing quite a bit as a candidate for the state Senate at the time,” Lucio said.

“People elected him. He has served and stood up proudly to articulate his position on major issues that are controversial in nature to some people. Even with that he has done extremely well politically and people obviously voted for him because of his position on these issues. So, we need to take note to this young man in the short period of time he has been in the political arena.”

Some political observers regard Patrick as the leader of the Tea Party movement in Texas. The new-look Senate will have a lot of Tea Party supporters in its ranks. Lucio was asked if, because of the composition of the Senate, Patrick might be boxed in on issues like shifting to a more regressive tax structure and not funding education sufficiently.

“It is true we will have nine new members, all of them Republicans. I think Lt. Gov.-elect Patrick will have to convince them they have to do the right thing for Texas, not just Tea Party Texas. I think he can do that. I have faith he can do that. Hopefully that will be the case.”

Asked specifically about issues popular along the border, such as more money for education, in-state tuition for DREAM Act students, expansion of Medicaid, and improving trade opportunities with Mexico, Lucio said he believes Patrick will listen. He said Patrick was very attentive on his Valley visit.

“I hope to accomplish as much as we can for South Texas and the Valley and under his (Patrick’s) leadership it is a fresh start but it is also a start with someone who has experienced what the Legislature is all about. He just changes a position from senator to president of the Senate, which is a major step forward, obviously, but with his background and his experience and with these visits, where he is learning quite a bit about issues that are important to us and important to the state, I think he will ultimately find either middle ground or find ways to bring solutions to the table.”

Lucio is considering legislation to set up a commission that would handle Texas’ relations with Mexico, be it immigration, commerce, transportation or energy. Asked if Patrick understands the importance of trade with Mexico, Texas’ No. 1 trading partner, Lucio answered affirmatively.

“There is no doubt he is very astute and knowledgeable about business issues and international issues. Trade with Mexico is going to be at the forefront of Texas’ economic development in the future under his leadership. I have no doubt he will rise the occasion when it comes to making the right decision that will lead to us to an even better experience of prosperity in our state,” Lucio said.

“I am not worried. I do not feel threatened in any way by any of the rhetoric that I might hear from those that do not know Senator Patrick or those who are reacting to what they might have heard during the campaign. The campaign is over and it is a new day for Texas. The lieutenant governor-elect has made it very clear that this is a fresh start and it is going to be a fresh start and one that will allow us to put everything in perspective.

“When it comes to those issues, I and the rest of the delegation from the Valley will obviously be working to make sure that he (Patrick) understands specifically what this region is all about and what it means economically, not only to us but the entire state. We depend on the local leadership, our elected officials, but also our business leadership to share with us and to prepare us for the legislative session. I will be visiting with individuals and groups to make sure I fully understand those issues as well.”

The Guardian asked for an interview with Patrick following a fundraiser at the McAllen Country Club but his press secretary, Alejandro Garcia, said Patrick would not be giving interviews. The one interview he did give, to Univision network news correspondent Pedro Rojas, was set up months in advance.