|McALLEN, February 12 - On the day former Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for his role in a racketeering scheme, candidates at a Futuro McAllen were asked about public corruption.
The candidates for Texas House District 36, incumbent Sergio Muñoz and challenger Mari Regalado were asked by media panelist and Monitor reporter Dave Hendricks what they made of Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s claim that corruption in the Rio Grande Valley resembled that of a Third World country.
Just in case anyone missed it, Hendricks read aloud what Abbott said last week in Dallas: “This creeping corruption resembles Third World country practices that erode the social fabric of our communities and destroys Texans’ trust and confidence in government.” Hendricks asked Regalado and Muñoz whether Abbott had made a fair statement. Regalado answered first.
“That is not fair at all. I can honestly tell you that. Not all our politicians are corrupt. We have a lot of good people. I can honestly tell you that. There are people that are running our county, our state, that are running our cities; that are good people; that have a good heart. They are compassionate people. They love the community, just like I love my District 36. So that is an unfair statement, definitely,” Regalado said.
Muñoz responded with this answer: “It is very unfair for them to compare us to that same situation because of the unfortunate situations that have occurred. One of the things we have to remember is that we have in our community a lot of talented and very successful men and women that are not only involved in politics but also that are pillars of our community. One of the things we have to mention is, even though there is some negative press and allegations, we always have to remember and promote the positive. What are the good things that are happening in Hidalgo County? What are the good things happening in the Rio Grande Valley?”
Later on in the forum, Hendricks asked who former state Rep. Kino Flores is supporting in the HD 36 race. Flores represented this district for seven terms before Muñoz replaced him. Flores decided not to seek re-election in 2010 after being found guilty of felony and misdemeanor charges, including tampering with a government record with intent to harm or defraud.
“I know he is not supporting me,” Muñoz said, in response to the Flores question. There were a number of chuckles from those in the audience at that line. “At the end of the day we have to continue the progress we have seen in the last four years. That is to work hard for the people of the district and continue to move forward on all the initiatives that have set in place since 2011,” Muñoz said.
“No, Mr. Kino Flores is not supporting me either. Not that I know of,” Regalado answered. “I know there are some problems going on, on the west side and it is not concerning me. Maybe it is my opponent. I wish that everybody in District 36 would support me. Sad to say not everybody is going to. But the most important people to me are the ones in dire need of affordable healthcare.”
In addition to the Texas House race, organizers invited the candidates for Hidalgo County Commissioner, Precinct 2 to take questions from a media panel and Futuro McAllen members. Incumbent Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, former Pharr Mayor Ricardo Medina, and former Pharr City Commissioner Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu were asked by Hendricks about a recent controversy involving remuneration for Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Manager Godfrey Garza.
Garza used to work as manager of the county’s drainage district as a paid employee. However, while J.D. Salinas was county judge, Garza negotiated a deal whereby he was retained as a consultant and was paid 1.5 percent of revenues received from drainage projects. This brought in $3.75 million for Garza. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia protested this deal recently and also a decision by Commissioner’s Court to give a $56,000 pay raise to the drainage district manager.
In answer to Hendricks’ question, Palacios, who was a county commissioner when Garza came back as a consultant, said: “He (Garza) was paid no more and no less than the contract called for. The contract was negotiated by the county judge.”
Medina responded with this comment: “When you read one employee got 56,000 and 99 percent of the county employees did not get a raise, to me it doesn’t look right. I don’t know the details on how it happened but just by looking at the amount of money that was given and then you look at the rest of the employees and they did not get anything, I would not have voted for that.”
Cantu answered the question this way: “I think the county commission and the county court should have done a lot better and realized that this one individual, one employee for the county, had the potential to earn $3.7 million. What could we have done with $3.7 million? Talk about fixing colonias, talk about fixing drainage, talk about fixing roads. How could we have let this individual negotiate a percentage commission on such a big number? There could have been a maximum amount. There could have been other ways of negotiating a fair sum for the work that he died. But $3.7 million for one employee is absurd and should never, ever, ever, happen again. And I believe he (Garza) is one of the main donors for the incumbent. You have got to look at all of this information together and see what is behind this and why was this ever allowed.”
In addition to public corruption and controversial county contracts, candidates at the Futuro McAllen forum were asked about colonia infrastructure, Medicaid Expansion, access to healthcare, public education funding cuts, and why McAllen has so few county offices. The questions were posed by three reporters, Hendricks, Joe Augustine of KRGV-TV Channel 5, and Nadia Galindo of KGBT-TV Action 4 News. Questions from Futuro McAllen members were collated by this reporter. The moderator was Davis Rankin of News Talk 710 KURV Radio.
Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon spoke at the forum, as did two unopposed candidates: Hidalgo County Commissioner for Precinct 4, Joseph Palacios, and Texas House District 41 candidate Elijah Casas, who is unopposed in the Republican primary. HD 41 incumbent R.D. “Bobby” Guerra could not attend so Dr. Carlos Cardenas spoke on his behalf.
Members of the Advocacy Alliance Center of Texas were on hand to give out non-partisan literature to encourage a high turnout in the Valley. Numerous elected officials and candidates from other races were in attendance. The forum ended with a performance from McAllen High School’s award-winning mariachi band. The forum was held at McAllen Public Library and videoed by McAllen Cable Network. Futuro McAllen is a non-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group that aims to improve the quality of life of McAllen residents.