SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – A longtime leader of the veteran community in the Rio Grande Valley has announced she is running for a slot on South Padre Island city council.

Lydia Caballero served as hospital corpsman and operating room technician in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Alongside fellow America’s Last Patrol leaders Jose Maria Vasquez and Placido Salazar she fought to get a veterans hospital built in the Valley. 

Caballero has filed to run for Place 4 on the city council. She will be up against incumbent Alita Bagley. The election takes place Nov. 3.

“I am running for Place 4 because I think we are coming to a unique situation, not just for South Padre but the nation. There are some very pressing things we need to either revamp or work on,” Caballero said.

“I believe the two main things we have to work on are keeping our small business community intact because they are our mainstay. The other is making sure we can figure out for the future how to revamp our tourism industry which is the only industry we have here. Those are the main reasons I am running.”

Caballero said she has an affinity for the small business community because many local entrepreneurs are her friends and neighbors.

“We have got to figure out some things to help small business. We should help our small businesses tap into social media. The programs are there. It would cost the city no money to have people come in and train our small business to accentuate their companies. Social media is the way of the future.”

Caballero pointed out that SPI is a state-certified senior living area. “We have to encourage those people to come back and stay here. I think our senior citizens are very important, just as much as the young people are. I think a lot of time, older people feel they are forgotten in our community.”

Asked if SPI will go back to normal once a vaccine has been found for COVID-19, Caballero said: “My experience as a retired nurse… my nursing sense is no, we are not going to go back to normal. We are always going to have to look at this as a wakening for kind of a new world now. If it is not this virus it will be others.”

As for tourism, Caballero said SPI has been impacted incredibly by the coronavirus.

“Our world is going to be a little different because of COVID. Because tourism is our only industry in this community, we have to sit back and try to figure out the things that we can work on for the future.”

Also, she said, a greater effort needs to be made to have Winter Texans stay longer.

“At the moment they come here for a couple of months. We have to figure out how to expand the revenues coming in. Winter Texans, family, youth, year round. What about eco-sports. We have some beautiful parks here on SPI that people do not know about. They don’t use them because they automatically run to the beach. I believe there are other thing we could do like encourage small venues for music. Jazz, classical, country, Latin American.”

Given that there is no other industry outside of tourism on SPI, Caballero believes city and community leaders need to get their thinking caps on. Her suggestions include eco-tourism and developing wind sports.

“We have got to start looking at other things. We have got a new building going up, right next to our convention center. It is a wind sports center. We have to start exploring things like eco-tourism. Invite people to work on the island, work from home but work from the beach, instead of home. Possible school from the beach. The tourism industry can tap into that. I think science is important for kids and when you bring your kids here and they are going to school from the beach there are many things we can learn.”

Caballero said the way South Padre is marketed also needs to be looked at.

“We have to figure out how to market ourselves in order to be competitive not only up and down the coast, Galveston and Rockport, but we have to look at Florida. We can be very competitive with places like Washington State, California, when we start looking at the physical things that are available to us here.”

Asked why she is running against council member Bagley, Caballero said: “Alita has done a lot for this community. I respect her very, very, much. She has brought a lot of good here but I don’t believe anyone needs to be in an elective office more than two or three terms. I think she has been in office for 13 years or so. I always think you need fresh ideas and fresh blood. There are some critical things I have opposed that have come down, that Alita has been involved in.”

Caballero said she is excited to be running. It is the first time she has run for elected office.

“All of my life since I was 18 years old I have volunteered to work elections, national, state and local. Last year, we broke all kinds of records. People are very interested in this year’s elections. We should have a great turnout.”

Asked what the concerns of local residents are, Caballero said: “People are stunned by COVID.”

The Rio Grande Guardian asked Caballero about some big picture items. 

On the issue of a second causeway, she said: “It is a must because there is only one way on and off.” On the issue of casinos being moored off the island, Caballero said: “That has been tried before and it did not work out because Texas will not allow gambling. Not sure it is an amiable thing.”

On the issue of cruise ships stopping at South Padre, Caballero said: “That is a touchy question. The cruise liners would be viable but I do not know if it would enhance the island much. They come in, they do a one day tour, the passengers go to the stores that are right off ship, they buy their trinkets and go to the beach for a few hours. Much of what they eat is on the boat so I do not see our small businesses and restaurants really being enhanced in a kind of major way. Also, there are several possibilities on where the cruise ships could come in. One of them is the Port of Brownsville, which means they would have to be bused to the island. Which would take time.”

Caballero joked: “For me, personally, if the cruise ships were to come here I would go get my certification and open a jewelry store.”

On the issue of liquefied natural gas export terminals being built at the Port of Brownsville, Caballero said: “I am completely against LNG. I have seen what it has done to other parts of the United States, and up the coast. Environmentally, it is a disaster. We have got a very healthy beach and waterway. We should run the risk of spoiling it.”


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