McALLEN, RGV – A new caucus has been set up in the state’s House of Representatives to promote economic development along the Texas-Mexico border and counter negative publicity about the region.

The idea for the Border Caucus came from one of the region’s rising stars, freshman Rep. César Blanco of El Paso. He was elected founding chairman of the new group by his colleagues. Rep. Armando ‘Mando’ Martínez of Weslaco was elected vice chair, Rep. Mary González of El Paso was elected secretary and Rep. Poncho Nevárez was elected treasurer.

“Often times, the conversation that is missing is about the Texas-Mexico is the one about the economy. We want to talk about the border from an economic standpoint and its impact on the state and the country,” Blanco told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“What matters to our constituents back home on the border is jobs and economic development. Other people, mainly Republicans, want to focus on border security. The conversation about the border impacts our economy so we want to make sure when we are talking about border security we are doing it in the right way.”

Asked why the Texas-Mexico border region should matter to legislators from other parts of Texas, Blanco said: “Trade with Mexico creates 463,000 jobs in Texas. Texas’ exports to Mexico account for $173 billion in trade. Texas’ imports from Mexico total $218 billion. A lot of jobs, a lot of exports and a huge number of imports as well. We are talking billions and billions of dollars. Texas has the same size economy as the country of Australia and a lot of that has to do with our trade with Mexico. We as legislators want to make sure that we are able to facilitate that type of trade and that we have the infrastructure for the roads and the bridges, as well as the workforce to be able to sustain that and continue that and improve it.”

Blanco, a freshman state representative, made a big splash in his first legislative session. He received a lot of media coverage for his high profile battle to ensure more accountability over border security spending. And, working with state Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio, Blanco helped ensure that veterans’ benefits would not be cut. These two issues helped propel Blanco to the “Ten Best” list of legislators by Texas Monthly magazine.

It is rare for a freshman to win this award. “I am just excited that there is a border legislator on the list. I am proud the border region was able to have that distinction. It is something I want to share with all our border members, and demonstrate that we are working together for all our border districts,” Blanco said.

Blanco said the idea for a Border Caucus came up during the 84th legislative session. He said the group has been registered with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“We thought it was a good idea to bring awareness to the economic contributions of the Texas-Mexico border region. We want to make sure that we study, that we develop and promote legislation and venues along the Texas-Mexico border to advance development, to promote development and prosperity. We are focusing on economic development, education, trade, public safety, commerce, workforce development, health, infrastructure and public-private partnerships.”

Blanco said the group has gotten off to a good start with meetings designed to foster good relationships with key state agencies, statewide leaders and border mayors. “McAllen Mayor Jim Darling had a lunch with us during the session and we talked about some of the border region’s priorities. We met with Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Land Commissioner George P. Bush. We want to continue to meet with agency heads to talk about things we can do together to make sure we do good things for the border,” Blanco explained.

Membership of the Border Caucus is limited to state representatives that come from counties along the border. This means there are 16 members. In addition to Blanco, Martínez, González and Nevárez, the other members are René Oliveira of Brownsville, Eddie Lucio, III, of San Benito, Oscar Longoria of La Joya, Terry Canales of Edinburg, R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra of McAllen, Sergio Muñoz of Mission, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Richard Peña Raymond of Laredo, Tracy King of Batesville, and Marisa Márquez, Joe Moody, and Joe Pickett, all of El Paso. Márquez has announced she will not stand for re-election in 2016.

Asked if the Border Caucus will study issues in depth and write reports about those issues, Blanco answered affirmatively. He said funds are currently raised by the 16 members paying dues. “Obviously we are going to have to raise money to do those types of things. We do want to be able to arm ourselves with data and information and that does require studies and staff to put it together. We want to be one of the organizations, at least in the Legislature, that when there are border issues, whether it is infrastructure, health, trade, public safety or workforce that our caucus is takes the lead.”

Blanco said that among the next steps are to take the Border Caucus on the road. “We want to take the border caucus on the road and work with local media and bring guests to the border to highlight some of the important things that are happening, such as border trade. Things like SpaceX, agriculture, medical schools, hospitals. We want to highlight the positive things that are happening on the border,” Blanco said.

Blanco concluded the interview with these wrap-up remarks. “Every member of the Border Caucus is working together towards the same goal of making sure our region is successful for the future. It is going to be a very productive caucus. It is not going to be a caucus by name. We want the border region to know that the representatives that serve on the border caucus are there to fight for them and to make sure the border region gets its fair share.”