McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has revealed some of the subjects he will bring up with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz before Texas’ junior senator participates in the city’s Fourth of July parade.

Darling says that over breakfast or brunch he will make clear how much McAllen relies on shoppers from Mexico and how ugly rhetoric against that country by some in Washington, D.C., is contributing to a loss of sales tax revenues for the city.

Darling will also bring up a request from Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca that the United States do more to stem the flow of weapons flowing south into Mexico.

“I don’t necessarily agree with everything that is going on in Washington and I am certainly going to use the opportunity (of Cruz’s visit) to say, here’s what we think in McAllen. I think some of the rhetoric that has come out of Washington has hurt us. We have probably been hurt more than anybody. We are the largest sales tax collector per capita in the country,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an exclusive interview at the end of a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council board meeting.

“I saw a statistic, about a year old, that said, we (McAllen) collect almost 12 times more than the national average per capita for sales taxes. So, I presume we are close to being No. 1 in the country. A lot of our sales is attributable to Mexico. And you know what has been said about Mexico,” Darling said.

“Just the other day the president said, well we are going to have solar panels so Mexico won’t have to pay as much. Why don’t you just say, we are going to have solar panels? Why do you have to say that?”

Darling said he is skeptical about having solar panels on top of a border wall.

“Quite frankly, I do not know why he (President Trump) said solar panels because they are not hooked up to any grid system. So, I do not know how it is going to save money. But, at any rate, it (the rhetoric) continues. So, there are some things we want to talk (to Cruz) about. Some things we will agree on, some we will not.”

Darling hopes that Cruz, being a Republican, can have some influence on President Trump’s rhetoric towards Mexico. During the presidential campaign, Trump said Mexico was sending to the United States “drug dealers, criminals and rapists.” The president has also said he is going to build a “big beautiful border wall” and that Mexico would pay for it. He has also said the North American Free Trade Agreement was the worst trade deal the United States has ever entered into. Border business leaders and economists say NAFTA has been good for the border region.

Mayor Darling acknowledged that eliminating rhetoric that Mexico deems highly offensive will not, in itself, bring Mexican shoppers back to McAllen. He noted that the Peso devaluation has had an impact on the number of shoppers visiting his city, as has violence in Reynosa.

“Just stopping that (rhetoric) won’t stop the problem. Two weeks ago, I spent an afternoon with the Governor of Tamaulipas, talking about the violence and what they are doing about it. They are making progress. They are talking about creating a highway patrol, beefing up the state judicial police, both with numbers and training. One of the things he said is, what can you do about stopping the flow of guns into Mexico. He said, we have to match up the fire power of the cartels,” Darling said.

“You talk about a trade imbalance. Drugs go across the border northbound and weapons go across southbound. There has got to be a lot more cooperation (between the U.S. and Mexico). I know there is some and it is not very well publicized. But, there has got to be more cooperation on that. I know Secretary Kelly talked about (drug) demand (in the U.S.) and cooperation with Mexico. That is key. You have to have cooperation and not ‘I am going to fix your problem for you.’ Hopefully, we will address that.”

In that last remark, Mayor Darling was referencing Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.

“Getting back to sales tax revenues, you have the violence, the peso devaluation. We are trying to get people to invest here and you have NAFTA re-negotiations, and border tax discussions and all those things. Just being cordial with Mexico is not a cure-all for everything we need to do. But, a step in the right direction is working together. On Mexico’s southern border they could stop Central Americans, they could have a process that coincides with what we are trying to do with border security,” Darling said.

Asked how bad the sales tax revenue situation is, Darling said he was hopeful things have turned around because in April, the most recent month surveyed, the numbers had gone up.

“New data is supposed to be coming out any day. We had 20 months of decreases year on year. Last month (April) was the first increase we had in 20 months. That is exciting. I think when the mall opens up, that is still a draw. I know what people are saying about malls but La Plaza Mall has been one of the best in the country for years, on sales per square feet. There is competition. I know there are a lot of good things happening in Edinburg, in Pharr and Mission, the cities that surround us, but we think we will be able to strengthen some of that,” Darling said.

Sitting down with Sen. Cruz

In his interview, Darling acknowledged that there has been a lot of reaction on social media to Cruz’s participation in the Fourth of July parade. “There has been good and bad,” he said. Those in favor say Cruz will be a breath of fresh air because he is Republican and the Valley is heavily Democrat. Those against say that with his policy positions, such as support for a border wall, Cruz has next to nothing in common with the Valley.

Darling confirmed that the idea of Sen. Cruz participating in the Fourth of July parade came about after Cruz’s office made an inquiry.

“Everything is on board. Senator Cruz will be coming and Congressman Gonzalez is going to be on the parade. I was the one who suggested we extend an open invitation and we did it. I think they (Cruz’s office) was already scheduling a town meeting in August but in order to make it (the parade participation) not a campaign thing they had to file something,” Darling said.

“The opportunity to sit down with a guy at breakfast or brunch, or whatever it is going to be, and say, here are our proposals, in that sort of setting, is pretty valuable. When he came down earlier this year we had the protestors with signs across the street, but that is not real good communication. I think protesting is appropriate, but also, the opportunity to sit down is probably appropriate too.”

Darling added: “They (Cruz’s office) called me to say, hey, the Congressman wants to come down for the parade, what do you think about it. I said, sure, absolutely. I think we would extend that courtesy to any elected official.”

Senate Bill 4

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Darling said it is not just Washington, D.C., where negative comments and policies are hurting in McAllen. “There is stuff that has been going on in Austin that has not helped us either,” he said.

Asked if McAllen is not being inconsistent when it markets itself in Monterrey as being friendly to Mexican visitors and yet it does not come to the aid of Mexicanos living in McAllen by joining a lawsuit opposed to Senate Bill 4, Darling said:

It (Senate Bill 4) is a problem for us. Think about this. We do 30,000-plus traffic citations a year and even though there are certain safeguards, but whether that is detaining or not, that may be decided in a court proceeding. But when you think about that, the potential of being at a red light and next there is a deportation process, we don’t want to create high speed chases and those kinds of things, so there is a lot of moving parts to that,” Darling said.

“Now, as far as McAllen being involved in that (lawsuit against SB 4), I will talk about that later.”

Asked if that means he was not ruling out joining the lawsuit, Darling said:

“You will have to wait and see. As a lawyer, I have looked at the law and I know constitution law and I think there are some problems with that statute. Hopefully, the federal judge will see that. I think how I think personally is different to how I operate as a mayor. That is all I can say at this point.”

SB 4, which was deemed a priority by Gov. Greg Abbott, allows local law enforcement to ask the immigration status of those that, for example, are stopped for a traffic violation. Critics say that as a result of SB 4, undocumented immigrants will not come forward to report crime, which will hurt community policing. McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez has said SB 4 will not affect the way his police officers go about their work.