McALLEN, RGV – State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has questioned the motives of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst after he pushed for the Department of Public to mount a year round “border surge” operation.

Van de Putte, who is running to replace Dewhurst as the presiding officer in the state Senate, was in the Rio Grande Valley this week. Like La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and state Rep. Terry Canales before her, Van de Putte claimed Dewhurst was “pandering” to the base of the Republican Party when he proposed authorizing an additional $60 million to DPS for border security operations.

“I am quite puzzled at Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s request for more funding for DPS. We just finished a legislative session in June of this year. If the Lieutenant Governor had concerns about border security he certainly had a whole year to request $60 million for this purpose,” Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, told the Guardian, while making a campaign stop at Nuevo Santander Art Gallery in McAllen on Wednesday evening.

“To my knowledge, DPS did not request this additional $60 million on their legislative appropriation request. If it was so important, DPS did not request it and the Lieutenant Governor was silent on this. It is odd that he would only bring this up when he is in a highly contested race for lieutenant governor. It smells to me like he is pandering to get votes for the five percent who really determine the outcome of the Republican primary.”

Lt. Gov. candidate Leticia Van de Putte spoke at Nuevo Santander Art Gallery in McAllen last Wednesday. Also pictured is Hidalgo County Democratic Party candidate Juan Maldonado.
Lt. Gov. candidate Leticia Van de Putte spoke at Nuevo Santander Art Gallery in McAllen last Wednesday. Also pictured is Hidalgo County Democratic Party candidate Juan Maldonado.

Dewhurst has three well-known opponents in the Republican Party primary for lieutenant governor – Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state Sen. Dan Patrick, D-Houston, and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

Earlier this month, while instructing the Senate Committee Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security to focus on border security during the interim, Dewhurst praised DPS for mounting “Operation Strong Safety” during a three-week period in the Valley this Fall. Dewhurst said the operations were so successful that the “border surge” should continue throughout the year and proposed the Legislative Budget Board appropriate an additional $60 million to DPS. However, Dewhurst said the controversial checkpoints part of the Operation Strong Safety should not be continued. He said the checkpoints were a “tactically brilliant technique but strategically flawed.” The checkpoints operation was roundly condemned by colonia community and civil rights groups.

Van de Putte noted that local law enforcement agencies on the border disagree with DPS getting more funds for border security operations. Last week, McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said he believes DPS has interjected itself into border security matters in recent years simply to get more funding and more gadgets.

“It is indicative of the disrespect that those who are running for office have for the border area. Calling the border a war zone and then not having even the professional courtesy to call the very people who have, technically, the boots on the ground on the border, our law enforcement of our fine police departments and our county sheriffs, is disrespectful. They did not request this money be used (for DPS). They did not come to the legislature. If we were having such a serious problem, I can tell you, we would have heard of it. It is political pandering at its worst,” Van de Putte said.

Dewhurst did not call the border region a “war zone.” The controversial comment was made by Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, the former commandant of the United States Army War College, in an op-ed promoting Staples for lieutenant governor.

At a news conference in Austin two weeks ago, Dewhurst said he wants the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security to study the effectiveness of DPS’s recent “surge operation and make recommendations for future surges.” He also asked the committee to “evaluate the most effective methods to deal with evolving threats, deter illegal immigration, and deter transnational and drug-related violence and crime.”

Cities like McAllen, Laredo and El Paso have long touted surveys which show they are among the safest in the nation. However, the criteria used for such surveys may change in the future. Dewhurst has instructed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security to “study whether current crime statistics reporting accurately measures all crime and crimes related to illegal border activities.” Dewhurst also instructed the committee to “make recommendations on how to best take advantage of the available crime data and identify potential barriers to adopting a more comprehensive statewide system.”

Dewhurst said: “It is clear that the security of the border region has an impact on public safety across the state. If we can achieve successful results with a coordinated law enforcement surge over three weeks, we owe it to our citizens to do it continuously, for 52 weeks per year.”

LUPE community organizer Martha Sanchez says her group, working with Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA), plans to send letters to each member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security urging that the interim hearings on border security actually be held on the border, in places such as the Valley, Laredo, Del Rio and El Paso. “If they want to hear from local communities on the impact a ‘border surge’ would have they need to hold hearings on the border,” Sanchez said. She said LUPE is also meeting with state Sens. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to voice concerns about Dewhurst’s “border surge” proposals.

“It is clear now why DPS conducted its checkpoint operations in the Valley, so it would help Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in pandering to the base of the Republican Party,” Sanchez said.

“Chief Rodriguez was right – DPS just wants the money to buy more gadgets. I was talking to Hidalgo County deputies the other day and they said DPS troopers are not the ones here to protect the community, they do not answer to our community. The deputies are right. When the checkpoints were going on we could not reach anyone locally at DPS. We were sent to Austin. We need more accountability of DPS.”

Sanchez said for DPS to mount 18 checkpoints in the Valley was “clearly excessive.” She said the operations backfired on the agency. “It was a PR disaster for DPS and they were right to stop the operation.” Sanchez said LUPE’s offices are “still hearing about business owners who lost business, Head Start teachers who lost children, doctors who lost patients.” She said people are still thanking her for going on TV and voicing strong opposition to the checkpoints.

“There was tremendous interruption in the life of the Valley because of these checkpoints. DPS said because they gave out so many traffic tickets, they made money for the state but many businesses in the Valley lost money.”

This past Tuesday, LUPE held its quarterly citizenship celebration ceremony in San Juan to coincide with International Human Rights Day. Among the guest speakers were state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, Harlingen immigration judge David Ayala, and immigration attorney Ana Castillo of McAllen.

“Our human rights are fragile as we saw with the recent checkpoints action by DPS. We have to vigilant in protecting our human rights because they can be lost so easily. Thanks to the noise we made, the checkpoints were stopped. We want to change the shape of this country, to make it one that caters for the human rights of immigrants. We need a more active citizenry,” Sanchez said.

Ironically, while Van de Putte, LUPE, Rep. Canales, and Commander Rodriguez have been criticizing Dewhurst for proposing a year round “border surge” operation, the state’s largest law enforcement organization, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), has issued a campaign endorsement.

“Texas law enforcement officers have been able to count on David Dewhurst’s leadership, vision and strength during a decade when we needed him most,” said Charley Wilkison, Director of Public Affairs at CLEAT.

“We look forward to four more years of working to make Texas an even safer place to live with Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst,” stated Texas Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Lozano. “We hope citizens of Texas will join with us in this effort.”

Josh Thurlkill, president of Texas Municipal Police Association, said Dewhurst has been a “great advocate in the trenches of political warfare by standing tall for the men and women of law enforcement around the state. We support you and thank you for your hard work and dedication to the people of Texas; we know you will continue to be a friend to law enforcement during your next term.”

Rep. Canales, D-Edinburg, meanwhile, says he supports the highway patrol work of DPS and would back an increase in funding for the agency, if the appropriation was justified. However, he said he cannot see how additional funding is warranted in view of the way “Operation Strong Safety” was handled.

“Before any tax dollars are allocated we need to know what the additional money for DPS will be used for. When DPS Director Steve McCraw said the checkpoints were efficient, that was a farcical statement to make. Spending three million in a three-week span that achieved no long term goal is not efficient. It was a misappropriation of our tax dollars,” Canales said.

“I am pro-DPS and we need to properly fund DPS but border security is not their job. Their job is to patrol the state highways. Giving DPS $60 million and then letting them say, ‘we will figure out what to do with it later’ is not good public policy. We need to be good stewards of our tax dollar.”

Canales added that border security is the federal government’s responsibility, not that of the state of Texas. “Our taxpayers should not be paying twice. We are paying for politics. This ‘border surge’ proposal is only happening because Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst is in a tough re-election race,” he said.