HARLINGEN, Texas – Small businessman Luis Villarreal is clear on what his top legislative agenda item is, should he be elected to the Texas House of Representatives – Special Needs children.

The Harlingen Democrat is running for the open House District 37 seat. It is open because incumbent state Rep. Alex Dominguez of Brownsville is seeking the Democratic nomination for Texas Senate District 27. 

The boundary lines for HD 37 have been changed by the Legislature. The district now includes all of Willacy County and much of Cameron County. Roughly 20 percent of San Benito is in the district, along with a sliver of Brownsville. It contains Harlingen, Los Fresnos, Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

“I care about the people. That includes special needs children” Villarreal said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. “I may have not have a child with special needs but I have many friends and colleagues who have expressed their concerns with the lack of funding and understand of what special needs is.”

Villarreal said the percentage of the population that is classified as special needs has been going up. “We need, as a society, to make sure we can handle all cases. They are citizens. They have rights too, and each of us have a moral obligation to help provide them all the resources they need to have a good and successful quality of life,” he said. 

Villarreal has a dual Bachelor’s degree in government and public service and a Master’s degree in public policy and management from UT-Rio Grande Valley.

Villarreal worked his way up to the level of director of administration for state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and started his property development and staffing businesses at 25 years of age. He is now 28.

Villarreal said his first piece of legislation would focus on those with special needs. He said there should be special license plate that would allow law enforcement officials and first responders to know a special needs person is in a vehicle.

“The police or first responder need to know that young people or even adults with special needs may not respond to their command. They may not look at you with their eyes. These are things, under police training, that can cause an escalation. They need a person in the vehicle to be responsive. There are kids and adults with autism that look bright, they look sharp, but they may not be able to speak to you. They need routine. Break that routine and they can have panic attacks, they can freeze.”

On this subject, Villarreal added: “I want to help give a voice to that part of the community that is often overlooked. Loaves & Fishes, Down By The Border and other great nonprofits do a great job but they cannot address all of it.”

Another issue Villarreal would like to tackle as a state lawmaker is what he believes are inefficiencies in the delivery of services to constituents in need. By way of example he cited a homeless person who was sheltering in one of Villarreal’s buildings. He asked for money but instead Villarreal went to a fast food joint and brought him back a meal.

“This gentleman had been homeless for two months. I asked why he was homeless. He had a heart condition and was on social security. He asked social security if he could work. He did start working but because he forgot to turn in his pay stubs they cut his benefits for three months. Those are the inefficiencies in the system I want to address. In the case of this individual this was with a federal agency but there many state agencies that lack the tools to prevent these inefficiencies from happening. Our system can be cold.”

Villarreal said the early part of his campaign for elected office has largely involved visiting different communities and listening to the needs of his would-be constituents. He believes he is in tune with their thinking on issues such as border security and support for law enforcement.

“In my district, border security is important. People want to feel safe. Laws need to be followed and they need to be enforced,” Villarreal said.

“We have a lot of law enforcement. Sometimes they do not feel they are being listened to. They need to be listened to. They keep our community safe. I feel comfortable calling 9-1-1 any time of the day. I know they are going to take care of us. They risk their lives every day when they do a traffic stop. They do not know what is going to happen.”

Villarreal added: “My constituents want border security and they want people that do it the right and legal way. And they want law enforcement respected and taken care of. Those are great issues. Our law enforcement officials get bad publicity for doing their job. I am listening to my constituents on this.”

Editor’s Note: The above story is part of our Meet the Candidate series. We want to reach as many South Texas candidates as possible before the March 1, 2022 primary. To schedule an interview or a livestream with Mari Regalado call (956) 605-9380.

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