HARLINGEN, Texas – Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda predicts having female elected officials in the Rio Grande Valley will be change from being the exception to the norm.

Sepulveda, the first Latina mayor in her city, welcomed Cameron County’s new-look legislative delegation at a forum hosted by the Greater Harlingen Chamber of Commerce. 

All three newcomers are women – state Sen.-elect Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island, state Rep. Erin Gamez of Brownsville, and state Rep.-elect Janie Lopez of San Benito. 

“How fortunate are we to have these ladies here with us to spend their time, to talk about their vision, and talk about their priorities for our region, knowing they are super busy,” Sepulveda said. “So I want to take a moment and acknowledge each of you.”

Sepulveda said that every time she speaks at an event she is introduced as the first Latina mayor of Harlingen.

“I’m the first Latina and that’s wonderful. But I do strive, and I say this every time, to have that day where I’m just the mayor, the mayor of Harlingen and that there’s other women that come after me,” Sepulveda said.

The mayor then singled out a young lady in the front row.

“I know we have a young lady here in the room and what better role models to see, the city mayor as a Latina, female, and we have three excellent role models here for her as well,” Sepulveda said.

“So, I think the times are a’changin, and this is going to be more the norm and not the exception.”

The young lady in the front row Sepulveda was referring to was the teenage daughter of Cameron County Commissioner Gus Ruiz. Later in the program, Ruiz noted the historical nature of having three women legislators from the county.

“Thank you for the invitation. I was very eager to not only to see what our new legislators have to say, but to bring my daughter. My daughter is a junior in high school,” Ruiz said.

“It is very historical. About six months ago I spoke at an event about how we need more females in office and to my daughter, Carolina, here you go,” Ruiz said, pointing to the three legislators on the stage.

Javier De Leon, president and CEO of the Greater Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, explained why his organization hosted the legislative forum. He said it was important to hear from the new lawmakers before the 88th Legislature starts in January.

“What an exciting time it is with the 88th legislative session coming around in January. There’s so many things that are going on. There’s so many things happening,” De Leon said.

De Leon predicated that once the session starts, things will get “crazy” busy.

“We wanted to have one last time when we could be all together, to sit down with our honorable representatives so that we can hear about their vision, their priorities, their issues and things of that nature and then, at the end, have questions and answers so that we ourselves can ask some questions,” De Leon said.

“As we go to session in January and February, we want to make sure that when we go there, it’s not the first time that they (the legislators) are hearing the issues and concerns of our region. It’s going to be like the third or fourth time. So, that it makes it a little bit easier for them to… see the issues of the region.”

The lawmakers fielded questions on public education spending, teacher retention, school vouchers, immigration, and colonias and other topics.

They were also asked how those in the audience can help them navigate their first legislative session. Each of them – LaMantia, Gamez, and Lopez – responded that they wanted to hear from the community. They urged those in the audience to text them during the session, to tell them which bills they are supporting and which ones they are opposing.

“Be our second eyes and ears,” Gamez said.

“Stay united, stay connected, keep us informed,” said Lopez. 

“The sooner we know about issues, the sooner we can address them,” said LaMantia.

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