MCALLEN, RGV – The importance of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership’s next Legislative Tour, which is slated for late January 2019, is becoming more important with every passing week.
At a luncheon this week, McAllen Chamber of Commerce Chairman Edward Lopez implored state Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra to bring as many state lawmakers as possible to the Valley, to counter stereotypical views that the region is backward and dangerous.
“I will be real honest, I am frustrated, I am sick and tired of hearing that we are an undeveloped area and we are not safe,” Lopez told Guerra.
His comments came just a week after McAllen Mayor Jim Darling urged state leaders to allocate more tourism dollars to South Texas.
“When the governor deploys the National Guard here, there has got to be some sort of publicity from the state to say, we are not doing it to protect the cities. That our cities are safe,” Darling said.
RGVP’s Legislative Tour occurs every other year, soon after the state legislative session gets underway. A biennial tradition created in 1975, the Valley’s regional chamber of commerce started the tour to engage local communities and supporters in a direct conversation with state policymakers.
“The Partnership brings a delegation of lawmakers to South Texas to highlight the unique challenges and opportunities of our region. The four-day tour focuses on issues such as education, infrastructure, transportation, health care, manufacturing, agriculture and international relations. We know how important the tour is for our region,” said Sergio Contreras, president of RGVP.
Lopez’s remarks came at the end of a luncheon hosted by the McAllen Chamber’s governmental affairs committee. Rep. Guerra, D-McAllen, was the guest speaker. Lopez, a hotelier by trade, said he had attended many meetings with federal officials over the years. In the old days, Lopez said, he could individually meet and shake the hand of U.S. senators such as John Cornyn and Phil Gram.
“Now, they come with a convey of ten Border Patrol men, as though they are the president of the United States. When people see that it gives the perception that this area is not safe,” Lopez said.
Lopez said there are only so many resources McAllen Chamber President Steve Ahlenius has at his disposal to present a good image of the region. He suggested to Rep. Guerra a Fam (familiarization) Tour, attended by legislators from across Texas.
“I know Steve tried two or three years ago to get some money (from the Legislature) to advertise (the region). But, we got nowhere. Steve is a great advocate for this area and I commend him. But, there are only so many resources.”
Lopez made this pitch to Guerra: “Let’s bring these people down here, to show them that the Valley is vibrant, that we are safe. I am so glad the mayor, in his State of the City address, said that. There is only so much that we can do. We need your help, to get our local and federal congressmen, even our governor, to say this is a vibrant area, we are safe.”
Guerra did not mince words in his response.
“One of the frustrating things for me is that during election season, some of my colleagues come down here and they arrange photo shoots on a gunner boat on the river, and they take all these pictures and they go back and it sends out a horrible message to the rest of the nation,” Guerra said.
“They are doing it so that they can get votes. I try to encourage my colleagues, don’t come down here and get on a gunner boat or get in a helicopter and fly down the river. Can you put your campaign aside and can you come down here and see what a vibrant community we have?”
Guerra said he is always encouraging his colleagues in the Texas House members to pay a visit to the Valley. In turn, he said, he makes every effort to visit their district.
“They are always flabbergasted when they see what a beautiful area this is. McAllen, Texas, has one of the lowest crime rates, not only in the state of Texas but the nation. I have to commend (Police) Chief Rodriguez and the City of McAllen and all the communities.”