Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Assault on Voters

For the second time in a week, a pushy "election assistant" manhandles an elderly voter. The "assistant" (that is, a poltiquera) forces her way into the voting booth as a woman from an adult day care facility tries to cast her vote, NewsChannel 5 reports.

The first case happened in Pharr, when a woman yanked a potential voter out the door; this time the bullying took place in McAllen.

This is outrageous. These political parasites are depriving individuals of their right to vote. Why aren't election workers being more forceful in keeping these vote-stealing vermin out of our polling places?

Do we need police stationed at voting locations to stop this voter abuse? If so, the Hidalgo County Democratic Party should pick up the tab. Maybe if politicians had to pay for the cleanup, they would stop hiring people who make such a big mess.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott chases down voter fraud in Texarkana, Pecos, Corpus Christi, and North Texas. We need him to come hunt these criminals in the Rio Grande Valley.

Redistricting Redux

The United States Supreme Court hears arguments over Texas redistricting starting tomorrow. If the justices toss the 2003 redistricting, it could mean new primary elections. According to the Houston Chronicle story:
Confused? Wait until Wednesday afternoon. In a special two-hour argument session, a newly reshaped high court is expected to ping-pong questions at lawyers on each side of the dispute. The justices' task is to dissect the finer points of four cases that challenge everything from the timing of the redistricting to the alleged dilution of minority voting strength to the inherently partisan nature of political gerrymandering to whether the court should even be deciding these matters.
Courts have pretty much always allowed gerrymandering -- the idea being that politicians, not judges, should make the rules for carving up congressional districts. In my nonlawyerly opinion, the question in this case is whether the redistricting goes too far and violates the Voting Rights Act. Some Justice Department lawyers agree that it does.

Here's hoping the Supremes do what's right and throw out the 2003 map.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"The Paper" Hits the Stands

A new publication debuts in the Rio Grande Valley. The premier issue of The Paper of South Texas features a story on the Tripa Club coming to an end, earning a nod from state Rep. Aaron Peña on his blog. (DISCLOSURE: I have done and plan on doing freelance editing work for The Paper.)

The Paper of South Texas is an alternative weekly along the lines of the Dallas Observer or the Houston Press. These alt-weeklies often tackle edgy stories and controversial topics, and the new Valley publication declares in an editorial that it will do the same:
Unlike other news outlets, our news department is completely autonomous. We’re set up so that news can’t be molded, stifled, or silenced by anybody. Advertising or political considerations will never influence news content of The Paper. News decisions will be based on journalistic ethics and ideals, not by “influential” citizens or the almighty advertising dollar. We’ll be hard-hitting, accurate, relevant and in some cases, biting. Let the chips fall where they may.
The Paper of South Texas promises upcoming stories on "the McAllen politiquera scandal, a questionable arrest made recently by McAllen ISD police, a lawsuit filed against public officials in the mid-Valley, and many others." In addition, it offers coverage of entertainment, cultural events and restaurants.

Good luck to the Valley's newest publication.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Still Shoveling

When you're in a hole, the first thing you do to get out of it is stop digging. But Edcouch-Elsa school board president Aaron Luis Gonzalez won't put down the shovel.

Gonzalez already faces federal bribery charges. Now he goes and gets arrested for witness tampering. The feds say he tried to get two E-E school district employees to give false statements for his defense in the bribery case.

If Edcouch and Elsa community members have any sense of embarrassment, they should demand Gonzalez's resignation. Instead, the school district has students write him thank-you notes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Setting Priorities

The Monitor chimes in on the Cameron County District Attorney's waste of time persecuting grandparents who play video slot machines. In an editorial reprinted from the Valley Morning Star, it questions the law enforcement priorities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley:
[T]he primary challenges facing lawmen aren’t battles between drug warlords or coyotes leading hordes of illegals onto private property. No, claiming their place as the main nemesis of the law enforcement community are the owners of eight-liner parlors and the Winter Texans and others who drop coins into their machines.
As the editorial points out, it's all about money. Much like the Mafia, the state runs a protection racket. Texas "protects" us from gambling our hard-earned cash. Why? Because gambling's bad, unless it's in the state-run lottery -- which has its own problems with misleading gamblers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

No More Tripas

No, the USDA hasn't banned cow guts from the menu again. But the Tripa Club, a social organization named after that South Texas staple, will fold up its menu after one last meeting this week. From The Monitor:
More than four decades after Jesse Treviño convened the first meeting of the McAllen Tripa Club, an informal organization whose membership includes many of the Rio Grande Valley’s most rich and powerful, the elderly insurance agent says this week’s gathering of the multitudes will be the group’s last hurrah.
The club started in 1959 and grew to more than 1,600 members, including most of the movers and shakers in Hidalgo County. Now the group's founder wants to focus on promoting education in the Valley, meaning the end of an era.

Not sure what tripas are? Here's one definition:
The edible 8-inch long by 2-inch wide tubing that connects the two stomachs in beef cattle.
Pass the salsa.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

District Attorney Race

The Monitor's courts reporter Brittney Booth examines the race for Hidalgo County District Attorney. Two challengers, Alma Garza and Mauro Reyna, take on longtime DA Rene Guerra, an incumbent who had it so comfortable that four years ago he didn't even have a primary opponent.

Garza actually worked for Guerra as an assistant prosecutor. She threw her hat in the ring last year.

Reyna, you might recall, faces legal scrutiny for offering to share lawyer fees with Mission community activist Ester Salinas in the ongoing chemical plant litigation.

Guerra, of course, continues to sit on the 46-year-old Irene Garza murder. He even threatened to charge the McAllen police chief if he released information in the killing.

But are voters angry enough, or smart enough, to want a change in the DA's office? The candidates strutted their stuff last week at a Hidalgo County Bar Association candidate forum and debate. A straw poll of members put Guerra in the lead with 55%, and Garza and Reyna neck-and-neck with 22% and 23%.

So the challengers have their work cut out for them if they want to force a runoff.

The good news: Even if Guerra wins re-election, he tells The Monitor he plans to retire after that term.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Unpaid Taxes

Two candidates for county office share a business that didn't pay its franchise tax until The Monitor asked them why.

County judge candidate J.D. Salinas and county clerk candidate Arturo Guajardo Jr. are two of four partners in Hidalgo Investments Inc., which didn't pay the tax as it was supposed to last November. The candidates say they didn't know the tax had not been paid.

Guajardo, of course, put his name and picture on the county clerk website when he's just a deputy clerk. If he gets elected, I wonder if junior will steer county business to his firm, the way his father steered PSJA school district business to his store.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

No San Juan Toll Road

State Rep. Aaron Peña reports on A Capitol Blog that San Juan city commissioners vote down a proposed toll road in that city. This is not yet confirmed, but if true, it should make the San Juanistas, who oppose a toll road running through their neighborhood, very happy.

UPDATE: First of all, I read the Rep's blog wrong (or maybe I read it right and he changed it). The vote was made in Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, not San Juan city commission. And he's right. According to the San Juanista website (scroll down):
The Hidalgo County Commissioners court met on Tuesday, February 14, 2006 at 9:00 A.M. The Mayor of San Juan, Ms. Sanchez, and several community leaders along with a multitude of San Juan residents attended the meeting. Agenda item 10b asked for a discussion to cease funding and further studies for the proposed toll road being considered in the City of San Juan. Mr. Ramon Garcia, Hidalgo County Judge, and the commissioners unanimously voted to stop any further studies of building a toll road through San Juan.
Of course, as they point out, this means the toll road might be headed for another neighborhood in Hidalgo County (La Joya perhaps?).

Bad Judges

OK, it's not Letterman's Top 10 excuses from Dick Cheney, but The Texas Observer offers its own list: The Worst Judges in Texas -- and two Rio Grande Valley jurists earn a mention.

The magazine asked lawyers across the state about bad judges, then narrowed the names down to the five worst in the state (and five dishonorable mentions). It names Fidencio Guerra Jr. of Hidalgo County as one of the worst, giving a dishonorable mention to Oscar Tullos of Cameron County.

Voters bounced Guerra out of a district judge seat some 14 years ago, but he got appointed to an auxiliary court in 1997. "In court, Guerra is known for making lewd or off-color comments to defendants and witnesses," the Observer says. Even District Attorney Rene Guerra tried to get the judge removed from his cases. Now Guerra's running for a county court-at-law seat.

Tullos, a justice of the peace in Brownsville, "holds the record for the most public sanctions by a Texas judge over the last five years" -- out of more than 3,500 judges throughout the state, according to the Observer. He once ordered a baliff to throw a woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a holding cell.

Just something to think about when you see their names on the ballot.

Monday, February 13, 2006

VP Season! Lawyer Season!

Interesting tidbit about Vice President Dick Cheney shooting a lawyer out of season*: It was the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, not the Washington press corps, that broke the story.

Turns out the White House didn't see fit to mention that the VP just blew a piece out of one of his hunting buddies on the Armstrong Ranch near Sarita, until Caller-Times reporter Jamie Powell, who heard about the shooting from the ranch owner, called to ask about it. That's right: Bush knew about the shooting Saturday, but said nothing about it until Sunday.

The attorney, Harry Whittington of Austin, remains in stable condition at a Corpus hospital.

Elswhere in the blogosphere, political writer Doug Ireland assails the veep's hunting safety precautions as woefully inadequate.

ADDENDUM: Unabashed South Texas liberal Victoria Kos has this hilarious post on U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzalez's statement on the shooting:
... The founding fathers thought that shooting people was an inherent right of the executive branch, they just never got around to writing it down ... if the VP can't shoot his hunting partner the terrorists win.

Then he had 4 quails and a duck sent to Gitmo. ...
* Lawyer season in Texas runs from September to December, so as not to overlap with legislator season (January to June, every other year). No limit on the latter.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The UFW in the RGV (part 1)

Last month, I mentioned the Los Angeles Times investigative series on the United Farm Workers, which claims that the union capitalizes on founder Cesar Chavez's legacy while doing little to recruit more farmworkers to the movement.

The series sparked harsh reaction from the UFW and its supporters: Complaints that the Times ignored Chavez's significant accomplishments -- and threats of lawsuits against journalists who write about the UFW in less-than-glowing terms. Meanwhile, the website Truthdig ("drilling beneath the headlines") presents the UFW's point-by-point refutation of the Times series.

While the controversy made a huge splash in California, it caused nary a ripple in the Rio Grande Valley at the time -- even though there's a UFW office in San Juan. But last week, Ignacio Almaguer, who works closely with the organization, offered his thoughts on the United Farm Workers and the group's effect on the Rio Grande Valley.


The UFW in the RGV (part 2)


Community activist Ignacio Almaguer discusses the United Farm Workers and how the Texas branch of the UFW is doing here in the Rio Grande Valley:

I guess I will finally weigh in on this issue.

The union locally has diversified, but I do not know the day-to-day activities of the California branch of the union. The UFW in San Juan changed it's name to La Union del Pueblo Entero, which means that the union not only helps farmworkers, but strives for social equality for everyone.

The union has now started to pump some money into San Juan's economy. I know of this since I was recently appointed to the Housing Authority Board of San Juan. The first order of business was a proposal from National Farmworkers Association to build low income housing. The project will provide $75,000 to San Juan's economy the first year after being built.

I did see where the LA Times criticized the housing project as being too expensive for farmworkers. The rent for the units are less than average than most apartments in the Valley. Sure, some farmworkers will not be able to afford these prices, but the local union has ways of helping members by housing them at the Casa de Colores for a few days while they find a place to say.

The union has changed in San Juan, but I do believe that the changes were necessary. There will be some individuals that will be affected by the changes, but it is impossible to please everyone.

As far as a decline in membership, the membership in Texas has increased. I am not sure of the numbers, but I have heard Juanita [Valdez Cox] saying that they have helped more people with social services in the last year than in other years.

Also, the claim that the union is cashing in on its history can be interpreted in several ways. I know that several Valley politicians have asked to use the Si Se Puede slogan on their campaigns. The union has only asked for a donation, but the union uses that money to add and improve the services it provide to its members.

The union in the Valley has seen its ups and downs, but I think the union in Texas is gradually gaining back its strength.

Nacho, thanks for providing a local perspective on this issue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

"We Are in the Hands of the Narcos"

That's how a reporter for the Nuevo Laredo daily El Mañana describes the situation facing the newspaper.

Truckloads of police guard the periodical in the days after a couple of masked gunmen shot up the newsroom and threw a grenade, injuring a reporter.

The Mexican journalist, who asks to remain unidentified out of concern for his safety, tells the Houston Chronicle that the newspaper edits out references to the drug cartels from his stories.
"We are in the hands of the narcos, and we have to acknowledge that," the reporter said. "They are the ones who are setting the conditions. They make up the rules. They run things."
Meanwhile, journalists everywhere condemn the attack on the newspaper, El Mañana reports, including journalists at English and Spanish-language outlets in the Rio Grande Valley.

At least the Mexican government finally names a special prosecutor for crimes against reporters in that country, months after President Vicente Fox said he would. Here's hoping the prosecutor catches the people who did this.

Boid Watching

A Joisey guy writing for a Yankee paper visits the Rio Grande Valley. Supposedly ecotourism is a big draw for the region. If you've ever wondered just what attracts these people to South Texas, these entries from a Maine newspaper blog might give you an idea.

The author, an avid birder, describes in detail his trip to the "birding mecca" of the Rio Grande Valley. In addition to complementing the Tex-Mex food available (he needed help translating the menue because he only speaks English and "Joisey"), he describes the various birdwatching spots in South Texas in two very lengthy posts: Part 1 and Part 2.

Did you know that waste disposal sites are good bird-watching areas?
... The McAllen Sewage Ponds were not the most aesthetically or aromatically pleasing destination of the trip, but the 91 Black-necked Stilts there made the visit more than worthwhile. ...

... Our next stop was the famous Brownsville Dump. While Tamaulipas Crows are no longer reliably found there (and we did not see any), we had a great time thanks to the sheer numbers of birds there ...
In addition, he also posts photos of his trip, including pictures taken at Bentsen, Anzalduas and Falcon Dam parks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fighting Voter Fraud

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott weighs in with a guest column on voter fraud in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, citing the indictments in the McAllen municipal election as an example:
Local prosecutors are dealing with voter fraud, too. The week before Christmas, the Hidalgo County district attorney obtained indictments against nine people in connection with the McAllen city election in May.

At first glance, these might seem like isolated events in far-flung towns. Step back, though, and the picture looks just as sinister as it did 60 years ago. Texas has long been a haven for paid political operatives who target seniors and the disabled for mail-in ballot schemes. Many of the cases referred to my office by the Texas secretary of state fall into this category.
In the Rio Grande Valley, this refers to politiqueras. Abbott says his special investigations unit will work with local district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to investigate such voter fraud.

Good luck. He'll need it -- especially in Hidalgo County.

Muzzled Press

Monday's attack on the newspaper El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico has its intended effect: The paper plans to scale back its coverage of murders in that border city.

The San Antonio Express-News says the Mexican daily, which already refrains from printing names of suspects, will move its stories on the killings from its front page to inside the paper.
"There is no point in investigating narcotrafficking," Ramon Cantu Deandar, the paper's editor, said Tuesday. "That's an international problem that not even the authorities have the will to fix."
The Dallas Morning News has eyewitness accounts from newsroom employees:
"The assailants walked into the lobby of the newspaper and yelled, 'You're all going to hell' and ... started shooting up the place," said Ramón Cantú Deandar, editor of El Mañana and an afternoon daily, La Tarde.
At the bottom of this story, the DMN also offers excerpts of El Mañana's front-page editorial calling the attack an act of terrorism -- and calling for legalizing some drugs "in order to exert control."

The newspaper is correct: The only way to destroy the power of the drug cartels is to take away their money. The only way to do that is to stop making the cost of drugs artificially high due to prohibition. Drug prohibition has failed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gunmen Hit Nuevo Laredo Paper

More evidence that Mexico is just one revolutionary group away from turning into Colombia:

Men toting AK-47s barge into El Mañana, Nuevo Laredo's leading daily newspaper, shooting up the newsroom.

From the San Antonio Express-News:
Two men, wearing black ski masks, forced themselves into the newspaper's reception area about 7:40 p.m. and opened fire into the adjoining newsroom, said Daniel Rosas, managing editor of El Mañana.
One reporter was injured in the attack. Nuevo Laredo has become incredibly dangerous for journalists lately.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Where Is He Now?

Speaking of clowns, Hidalgo County District Clerk Omar Guerrero, already famous for being a no-show at the office, missed a court appearance last week -- no, it wasn't related to his arrest for DWI and marijuana possession.

His lawyer tells NewsChannel 5 that the district clerk didn't know about a bank's lawsuit over a loan. Because Guerrero didn't show up, the judge entered a default judgment in favor of the bank for $17,000, interest and attorney fees.

The punchline comes when the TV station tries to reach Guerrero for a comment:

NEWSCHANNEL 5 attempted to contact Guerrero at his courthouse office, but was told he was not there.

How About "None of the Above"?

Three out of four candidates running for Hidalgo County clerk have arrest records. The fourth candidate, currently an assistant county clerk, had his name and picture up on the county clerk's website even though he wasn't the guy in charge.

And because the Hidalgo County Republican Party can't collate its feces sufficiently to get any candidates on the county ballot, we're stuck with one of these four clowns come November.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

100 Posts!

That's about 98 more entries than I thought I would ever complete when I started this blog back in October.

I didn't think this thing would catch on, but I have several regular readers and even a couple of regular commenters: IAlmaguer, The Rep, Jesse, Pugsley Dibrute, and Shaine Mata have all chimed in on occasion.

Everyone else: Feel free to chime in. I enjoy the feedback and like it when one of my posts generates discussion.

So my thanks to my friends in the media, fellow bloggers and other South Texans who take an interest in my take on Rio Grande Valley issues.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Reporting From A War Zone

Yet another example of how Mexico is turning into Colombia: Gunmen using automatic rifles open up on a marked police vehicle in Nuevo Laredo -- in the driveway of the police headquarters complex. The shooting injures two federales and one of two prisoners with them.

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: San Antonio Express-News Laredo bureau reporter Mariano Castillo (whom I've known since his days in the Rio Grande Valley) doesn't explicitly mention this in his story, but you can tell from his detailed account that he was on the scene when the shooting began:
For the uninitiated, the first thought when the drum roll-like sound pierced the air was -- "Is that what I think it is?"
I asked Mariano if he was there when the attack went down, and he emailed me back:

I guess you could say I was in the right place at the right time. (Or is it the wrong place at the wrong time?) I had just parked at the police station and was walking toward the door when the shooting happened less than a block away.

They edited part of my story. The original text was -- For the uninitiated, the first thought when the drum-roll-like sound pierced the air was -- "Is that what I think it is?" Followed a split second later by, "Holy shit! That's machine gun fire!"

He adds that the experience was enough to rattle anyone's nerves.

Interestingly enough, Express-News public editor Bob Richter quoted Mariano just last Sunday about the dangers facing reporters in Mexico. In addition, there was a conference in Nuevo Laredo the week before about the perils of reporting on the drug war.

Good News, Cowboys Fans

No, Tom Landry hasn't returned to coach Dallas. But the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day games will remain on broadcast television, instead of moving to the subscription-only NFL Network.

The San Antonio Express-News says the team owner talked NFL commish Paul Tagliabue into not messing with the tradition:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lobbied Tagliabue to keep the game in the afternoon after learning the league planned to make the Cowboys-Redskins on Thanksgiving night the first of eight NFL Network games next season, a Cowboys spokesman said.
So the annual Dallas and Detroit Turkey Day games will remain on CBS and Fox, instead of jumping to satellite TV. I'm glad the commissioner came to his senses about this. Otherwise, I'd have to actually talk to my family members after Thankgiving dinner.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Future Ex-Wife Now Ex-Candidate

Speaking of State Rep. Mando Martinez, his future ex-wife, who wanted to run against him in the Democratic primary, leaves the race. Again.

NewsChannel 5 reports that Jessica Reyes-Martinez will not run for her husband's position -- contradicting what she told them last night.

Reyes-Martinez originally got rejected because she couldn't remember to write her own address on the candidate filing form, and then fought to get on the ballot. Her candidacy even drew attention from late-night talk show host David Letterman.

She says she's dropping from the race to focus on her family. Translation: She knows she hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell.

Fighting City Hall

Fired Pharr public works director and County Commissioner Precinct 4 candidate Donato "Don" Medina fires back at his former bosses this evening at a 6 p.m. grievance hearing at Pharr City Hall.

The Pharr City Commission axed Medina after he announced his campaign because the municipal charter doesn't allow city employees to run for elective office. Of course, Weslaco tried to pull the same stunt with firefighter Armando "Mando" Martinez, who won a lawsuit against that town after winning a seat in the state house of representatives.

Medina says in a press release that,
“Despite plenty of legal precedent which demands that cities allow their employees the constitutional right to seek office and serve the public, Pharr city commissioners have turned a blind eye to democracy by insisting that I be held to their unconstitutional employee manual. All I want is the opportunity to use my skills as a public works director to serve the residents of Hidalgo County.”
In case you're keeping score at home, Medina's running against incumbent Oscar Garza and former Precinct 4 Commissioner Leonardo Camarillo -- not exactly scintillating competition. Maybe the Pharr City Commission is just trying to help them out a bit.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Wheels of Justice

The feds arrest the owner of the bus company whose vehicle caught fire last September, killing 23 elderly Hurricane Rita evacuees in Dallas.

U.S. Marshals provide curbside sercive for James H. Maples, picking him up at his McAllen home this morning. Maples owns Global Limo Inc., a company with a history of violations and a bad rep among Valley school districts.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the man and his company face charges of falsifying driver time records, and "willfully failing to inspect their buses to ensure safe operation." Maples faces up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convcted on the first count; one year and a $100,000 fine for the other two.

"Rules governing the safe carriage of passengers are not made to be broken;" said United States Attorney Chuck Rosenberg. "They are made to be followed, and followed scrupulously, by transportation companies."
In case you missed it, the Dallas Morning News ran a profile on Maples on New Year's Day. He told the Morning News last year that once all the facts are in, he'll be shown blameless.
"Everybody can say what they want to until the final thing comes out," Mr. Maples said. "And then we'll see who is right and wrong."
I'm glad to see authorities go after this guy, who clearly should take responsiblity for the condition of his buses, instead of persecuting the poor driver.