2009-01-14 / Editorial & Columns

Editorial Opinion:

Willacy County owes debt of gratitude to Senator Lucio
By Paul Whitworth

The recent lawsuit filed against State Senator Eddie Lucio by lame-duck Willacy County & District Attorney Juan Guerra is reprehensible. The stated purpose of the legal action is to seize Senator Lucio's home and property in Cameron County but the true purpose of the lawsuit is to give the Senator a political blackeye.

Guerra knows that no judge is going to order the seizure and forfeiture of anyone's property until that person is convicted of a crime and it is proven that the property was paid for with proceeds of illegal activity.

Juan Guerra conned a county grand jury into indicting the senator, the vice-president of the United States and several other individuals on ridiculous charges that were all thrown out by a district judge.

This latest attempt by Guerra to embarass the senator is just one more example of his hatred and obsession for revenge against his political enemies. And Guerra knows that this lawsuit is going nowhere. We are betting a summary judgement will clear the senator of any wrong doing and the case like the others filed by Guerra will be thrown out.

Senator Eddie Lucio has served the Rio Grande Valley well since he was first elected to the State Senate in 1970. He serves on the Senate Finance Committee and is Chairman of the International Relations and Trade Committee.

He was instrumental in bringing the University of Texas to the Rio Grande Valley and the partnership between UT and Texas Southmost College at Brownsville, now UTB/ TSC. He is the person most responsible for the creation of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen, that now trains future doctors.

It is not a stretch to say that Senator Lucio is one of the most powerful Democrats in a Republican run State government in Austin. That's because he has the ability to work with Republicans and Democrats to gain the best advantage for his constituents in the Rio Grande Valley.

Another of his accomplishments in the 80th Legislative Session was passing a bill that authorized $250 million in general obligation bonds for economically distressed areas to provide statewide water and wastewater services.

School buses will be supplied with three-point seat belts in the near future due to Senator Lucio's efforts.

Senator Lucio also authored the bill that created South Texas Community College in McAllen and UT-PanAm.

He has been honored with awards from the U. S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Rural Communities, the Texas Civil Justice League, the Texas Public Employees Association and was named the "Senator of the Year" by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

So what does our failed county attorney have against Senator Lucio besides political hatred?

Guerra claims that Senator Lucio used his position as a state senator to gain contracts with six companies that later got lucrative contracts to design, build and manage prisons in Raymondville.

The facts are these. Texas pays its senators and state representatives $600 per month as their salary. That amounts to $150 per week or $30 per day based on a five day week. (That's less than minimum wage).

California pays state senators $113,000 annually; New York pays $79,500; Michigan pays $79,650 and Ohio pays $58,933. To be a state senator in Texas you have to be one of two things; independently wealty, or have an income on the side.

When Senator Carlos Truan represented us he had an insurance business to keep him financially afloat. In Senator Lucio's case he has owned a marketing and advertising agency in Brownsville since 1985.

Three people are responsible for the prison industry in Willacy County. Senator Lucio is one of them. The others are Harlingen attorney & former Raymondville banker Rollins "Rollie" Koppel and former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa.

When the William Carter Company left Raymondville for Mexico a local group led by Koppel recruited Fruit of the Loom and Indiana Knitting Mills to fill the estimated 300 sewing jobs lost. Unfortunately those companies also departed for Mexico leaving our county with no industry.

Koppel used his influence with then Texas Governor Ann Richards to get Hinojosa appointed to the Texas Prison Board and he was also named chairman of the site selection process. Texas was then in the process of moving its prisons from a central location in Huntsville to regional locations state wide.

Over the objections of Juan Guerra, Raymondville was chosen as the site of a new 1,000-bed state jail. Senator Eddie Lucio successfully argued in favor of our site at a meeting in Dallas of the state prison board. Most of the members of the board were Republicans who wanted the prisons to go in their own communities. But Senator Lucio and Judge Hinojosa won the debate with forceful and eloquent arguments.

A month later at a prison meeting at the Warwick Hotel in Houston, the Republicans tried again to steal the Raymondville facility and move it to a small town in the Waco area. Once again, Senator Lucio and Judge Hinojosa, joined by Senator Carlos Truan, pushed the deal through for Willacy County.

Today, we have 3 prisons in our county, except for the estimated $25 million payroll they provide and the 800 jobs, our community would have dried up and blown away.

If it had been left to Juan Guerra, we would have no prisons and no jobs. (He made the silly claim that only Hispanics would be locked up in the prisons.)

Senator Lucio has a family to support and if his company was paid to successfully lobby in the interests of the companies that won the contracts to build and manage our prisons-- we say more power to him. He has done and is doing a great job for our county and for the Rio Grande Valley.

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