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The University of Texas-Pan American Alumni Association Board of Trustees recently held their quarterly meeting in Edinburg, reviewing some of their many achievements and outlining some of their goals for the coming year, said Dr. Roland Arriola, president of the Alumni Association.  The Alumni Association provides scholarships, mentorship, outreach and fundraising to improve the benefits and services for students and graduates and promote the university’s educational and technological excellence. Board officers, trustees, and guests who met during a September 30 board meeting at the Wells Fargo Bank in Edinburg featured in this photograph are, from left, seated: Diane Willis of Edinburg; Carmen Lara, formerly of San Juan and current McAllen resident; Frances Treviño of Edinburg, who serves as Secretary; Norma Rydl of Edinburg, who serves as Treasurer; and María “Charo” Mann, formerly of Lima, Perú and current Edinburg resident, who serves as Vice President. Standing, from left: Héctor Landez, formerly of Brownsville and current McAllen resident; John Taméz of Edcouch, who serves as President of the UTPA Student Alumni Association; John Sigrist, formerly of Helena, Missouri and current Mercedes resident; and Dan Martínez, formerly of San Benito and current Richmond resident. 

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The UTPA Alumni Association is a dynamic organization of proud graduates, ex-students and friends who have joined together to provide continued support and service to UT Pan American. The first Pan American University Alumni Association began in the early 1970s with 600 charter members. Today, the association is still strong and grows with each wave of new graduates. Chapters have been formed in Houston, Dallas and Austin providing long distance links to home and their alma mater for the ever-expanding family of graduates and supporters. The association relies on your support since it is a self-funded, membership-driven organization. The UTPA Alumni Association offers its members a variety of ways to stay connected and explore opportunities for building a place in the world. Tangible benefits help members grow personally and professionally while having fun and enjoying good fellowship. Board officers, trustees, and guests who met during a September 30 board meeting at the Wells Fargo Bank in Edinburg featured in this photograph are, from left, seated: Debby Grant of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Director of Alumni Relations; Linda Ríos of Edinburg, who is UTPA’s Assistant Director of Alumni Relations; Marissa Acevedo of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Clerk of Alumni Relations; and Marisela Leal of McAllen, who is UTPA’s Office Supervisor of Alumni Relations. Standing, from left, are: David Garza, formerly of Elsa and current Pearland resident, who serves as Vice President; Thomas Yznaga of Edinburg; Marco Ramírez, formerly of Monte Alto and current Edinburg resident; José “Joey” González, formerly of Roma and current McAllen resident, who serves as Vice President; and Dale Winter, formerly of Westbrook, Minnesota and current Alamo resident, who is the former President and current Parliamentarian of the UTPA Alumni Association Board of Trustees. The UTPA Alumni Association maintains a website at http://www.utpaalumni.com 

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Carlos Ramos, featured here, is making his first run for elected office, seeking the Place 7 school board seat currently being held by Ciro Treviño. Ramos, a former police officer with the Edinburg school district, and Roger C. Bunch, Jr., a teacher at the Edinburg Alternative Education Academy, are part of the second local school board race that has not drawn the media attention of the battle between Gilbert Enríquez and incumbent Carmen González for the Place 6 spot. But that doesn’t mean the behind-the-scenes competition for the seat by Bunch, Ramos and Treviño is not as important in determining political control of the seven-member school board. See story later in this posting. 

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Irene García, featured third from left, who is the District 2 representative on South Texas College’s Board of Trustees, on Monday, October 13, announced that she will resign her leadership post with STC, as required by state law, when she is sworn in on November 5 as a newly-elected member of the La Joya school board. Elected to STC’s Board of Trustees in May 2000, García has represented the interests of the constituents of La Joya, western Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Penitas and western Alton for more than eight years. She served as secretary, vice chair and chair of STC’s board. She also helped steer the goals and actions of the board’s facility, finance and human resources, and education and workforce innovations committees. “I retired from the LJISD administration team after a career spanning four decades of service in the classroom and at many levels of administration with both the La Joya and Hidalgo school districts. So, understandably, I have a real love and passion for this work,” said García. “I am moving my focus back to LJISD because I feel that my skills and knowledge would be a great benefit to the district’s board. I look forward to joining the board in November, working hard to continue LJISD’s tradition of excellence." She is the mother-in-law to Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.  Her fellow trustees, along with STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed, honored her on October 13 for her service to the community college system.  From left are: Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., Jesse Villarreal; García; Dr. Shirley A. Reed, board chair Mike Allen; and board vice chair Gary Gurwitz. The STC board is soliciting nominations from qualified residents of District 2 in order to replace García. See story later in this posting. 

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Area higher education leaders gathered for a Friday, October 9 press conference at the University of Texas-Pan American to discuss with Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, the recently passed Higher Education Opportunity Act, which provides greater accessibility and affordability to higher education for the nation’s students. Featured, from left: Dr. Héctor Ochoa, dean of the UTPA College of Education; Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for External Affairs, UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College; Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, UTPA president; Hinojosa; Dr. Shirley Reed, South Texas College president; Pat Hobbs, interim president, Texas State Technical College at Harlingen; Dr. Michael Zúñiga, director, South Texas Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center; and Ben Reyna, special assistant to the provost for Federal Relations, The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. See story later in this posting. 

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DPS drug incinerator begins operation in South Texas, will destroy about 150,000 pounds of marijuana per year, says Sen. Hinojosa

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS 

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced the completion of a drug incinerator in Hidalgo County that will be used for the destruction of marijuana.  DPS labs receive approximately 150,000 pounds of marijuana alone each year, and this new facility, soon scheduled to be operational, will allow local law enforcement to destroy drug contraband without driving hundreds of miles to destruction facilities as far away as Carthage, Chambers County, and El Paso. 

Hinojosa stressed the importance of having this facility made available to regional law enforcement agencies. 

"The state’s commitment to combat drug trafficking requires a total investment in the resources necessary to reduce the volume of drugs in our community," he said. "When contraband can be destroyed quickly and locally, there is less risk of it falling into the wrong hands, and our local law enforcement can save fuel costs by not having to transport marijuana to incinerators in other parts of the state." 

Hinojosa commented on the investment the state is making to bring this incinerator online. 

"This facility will require a full-time local DPS employee, and the majority of costs associated with it will consist of electricity and propane expenses.  In helping us bring this facility to South Texas, the state and DPS are showing confidence in our region’s dedication to taking drugs off the streets," Hinojosa said. 

Due to the sensitive nature of housing large quantities of drugs and other contraband, the exact location of the incinerator is not being made public. 

The Texas Department of Public Safety is an agency of Texas created to provide public safety services to those people in the state of Texas by enforcing laws, administering regulatory programs, managing records, educating the public, and managing emergencies, both directly and through interaction with other agencies. 

According to the official minutes from a March 11, 2008 Department of Public Safety Commission meeting, 33 acres of forfeited property in Hidalgo County was dedicated for housing the drug incinerator. 

The Public Safety Commission oversees the DPS. Its five members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate for staggered, six-year terms. 

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Trustee battle between Bunch, Ramos and Treviño could shape new voting bloc on ECISD school board

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

The media battle between Gilbert Enríquez and Carmen González, two veteran school board members, may be drawing the lion’s share of attention from voters in the Edinburg school board race. But that doesn’t mean the behind-the-scenes competition for the seat currently held by first-term Place 7 incumbent Ciro Treviño isn’t just as important. 

Treviño is facing challenges from Carlos Ramos, a former police officer with the Edinburg school district, and Roger C. Bunch, Jr. a teacher at the Edinburg Alternative Education Academy. 

The terms for both trustee spots are four years. The election is on Tuesday, November 4. 

Early voting by personal appearance is from Monday, October 20 through Friday, October 31. There will be early weekend voting on Saturday, October 25 and Sunday, October 26. 

According to campaign finance reports that all local candidates were required to file 30 days before the November 4 election, Enríquez and González combined have raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars in their pitched battle for Place 6 on the seven-member ECISD board of trustees. 

The perceived political control of the Edinburg school board is presumably at stake, with González and fellow trustees Omar Palacios, David Torres, and Treviño comprising the political majority on the board, while Robert Peña, Jr., Jaime Chavana, and Greg García, Jr. representing the loyal opposition. 

If either González or Treviño are not reelected – or both suffer defeats – a new voting bloc could be in power – and with it, a possible change in direction for the school district, ranging from the doling out of powerful jobs and lucrative contracts, dealing with filed grievances from ECISD employees, and implementing a $112 million school bond construction, approved by voters last May, over the next several years. 

Should Bunch be elected, the veteran educator would have to give up his teaching job in the Edinburg school district in order to serve on the school board, according to state law, the school district’s attorney, Jacques Treviño, has announced. 

The race for Treviño’s spot has drawn a fraction of the money that has fueled the Enríquez/González race, according to campaign finance reports filed on October 6 with the Edinburg school district. 

According to those reports, Treviño has raised $2,000 in political contributions from eight supporters, and has spent $2,641.30 between July 1 and September 25.  He also listed making an $820 personal loan to his campaign. 

Armando Barrera, the Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector, is Treviño’s campaign treasurer. 

Treviño’s address is 1206 South 7th Avenue in Edinburg. Barrera’s address is listed as Bluebonnet in Edinburg. 

Meanwhile, Ramos has approached Treviño’s efforts, reporting $2,600 in contributions from seven supporters and $2,650 in expenditures during the same period. He did not list any loans to his campaign.

Ramos’ address is listed as 2214 Annette Avenue in Edinburg.  

Leonel Guerrero, who ran for Edinburg City Council last May against Gene Espinoza, is Guerrero’s campaign treasurer.  Guerrero lists his address as 4101 Michael Boulevard in Edinburg. 

Bunch has reported no contributions, expenditures or loans during that same time, according to his report. 

Bunch’s address is listed as 815 Lee Circle in Edinburg. He also lists himself as the campaign treasurer. 

A detailed breakdown of the campaign finance reports follows.  

Roger Bunch, Jr. Contributions 

No contributions listed. 

Roger C. Bunch, Jr., Expenditures 

No expenditures listed. 

Ciro Treviño Contributions 

  • $1,000 (no date listed), Linebarger Googan and Blair, (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $200 on September 10 from Armando Barrera, (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $200 on September 10 from Chuy Muñiz, (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $200 (no date listed) from Mike Garza, (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $100 on September 10 from Robert de la Garza (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $100 on September 10 from Yolanda Villegas, (no street address listed), Edinburg;
  • $100 on September 10 from Paul Valencia, (no street address listed), Edinburg; and
  • $100 (no date listed) from Georgina Florez, (no street address listed), Edinburg. 

Ciro Treviño Expenditures 

$2,641.30 (no date listed) to M5 Designs, 424 W. Harrison, Harlingen, for signs. 

Carlos Ramos Contributions 

  • $800 on September 21 from Louis H. Jones, Jr. (no address, hometown listed);
  • $600 on September 20 from Lupe Enríquez (no address, hometown listed);
  • $500 on October 3 from Linebarger Law Firm (no address, hometown listed);
  • $250 on September 17 from Enrique Ramos (no address, hometown listed);
  • $250 on September 17 from Patricia Ramos (no address, hometown listed);
  • $100 on September 21 from María C. Leal (no address, hometown listed); and
  • $100 on September 21 from Roberto Olivarez (no address, hometown listed). 

Carlos Ramos Expenditures 

  • $1,000 on September 27 to Rush Signs for signs (no street address, hometown listed);
  • $550 on September 22 to Alex Pinzón for catering (no street address, hometown listed);
  • $500 on October 3 to Rush Signs for signs (no street address, hometown listed);
  • $350 on September 20 to Regino Salinas for labor (no street address, hometown listed); and
  • $250 on September 19 to René Salinas for DJ services (no street address, hometown listed). 

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ECISD announces 16 polling places for November 4 school trustee election, which features two races

By GILBERT TAGLE 

Edinburg Consolidated ISD will have 16 polling places where school voters will cast their votes for school trustees on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4. 

School voters should note that changes have been made in some polling places where they customarily vote during school elections on Election Day. This year, the polling places for school elections correspond with the polling places being used by the County of Hidalgo in this year’s county, state and presidential elections on November 4. 

“Voters need to study the polling places for the November 4 election,” said Mario Salinas, secretary ex-officio for elections. “There are some polling precincts that will be directly affected by the changes and these voters will need to know where they will be voting.” 

Salinas said that voters who normally vote at Edinburg City Hall, the Fountain Center, Freddy González Elementary, Lee Elementary and Brewster School will be affected by the change in polling places. 

“In order to avoid any confusion and frustration on Election Day, we are urging all voters to study where this year’s polling places will be before going to vote on Election Day,” said Salinas. 

The key changes in polling places are: 

  • Precincts 13 and 107 will move from Lee School to South Middle School;
  • Precinct 54 will move from Lee School to Cavazos Elementary;
  • Precinct 30 will move from the Firemen’s Training Room to Edinburg North High School;
  • Precinct 105 will move from the Firemen’s Training Room to B.L. Garza Middle School;
  • Precinct 109 will remain at the Firemen’s Training Room;
  • Precincts 52 and 106 will move from Freddy González to Canterbury Elementary;
  • Precinct 31 will move from the Fountain Center to Memorial Middle School;
  • Precinct 69 will move from the Fountain Center to Camp Loma de Vida;
  • Precinct 108 will move from the Fountain Center to Lincoln Elementary; and
  • Precinct 19 will move from Brewster School to St. Anne Church in San Manuel 

Two board seats up for election 

The November 4 school election ballot will see voters voting for trustees for Place 6 and 7.

On the ballot for the Place 6 trustee seat are Carmen González, incumbent trustee and a longtime retired educator, and Gilbert Enriquez, former ECISD board member.  

On the ballot for Place 7 trustee seat are Ciro Treviño, incumbent trustee and longtime retired Hidalgo County tax assessor-collector; Carlos Ramos, a former ECISD police officer; and Roger C. Bunch, a teacher at the Edinburg Alternative Education Academy.  

Early Voting 

Early voting by personal appearance in the November 4 school election begins Monday, October 20 and runs through Friday, October 31. 

The early voting locations for the November 4 school election are: 

  • Hidalgo County Elections Office, 101 S. 10th Avenue;
  • UT Pan American Library, 1201 W. University Drive; and
  • Old Hidalgo County Administration Building, 100 N. Closner Boulevard 

There will be early weekend voting by personal appearance at the same three locations on Saturday, October 25 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sunday, October 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Salinas. 

Requests for mail ballot applications should be sent to Early Voting Clerk, P.O. Box 659, Edinburg, Texas 78540. Disabled voters on Election Day can request assistance at their designated polling place. 

Voters and early voters voting by personal appearance will use ADA iVotronic voting machines. Paper ballots will be provided to votes voting early by mail. 

On Election Day, the designated polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  

The November 4 polling places are as follows:

  • Precincts 107 and 13
    South Middle School, 601 W. Freddy González 

  • Precinct 14
    Jefferson Elementary, 904 S. 13th Street 

  • Precinct 18
    Hargill Elementary, 11 Miles North 281 

  • Precinct 19
    St. Anne Church, San Manuel 

  • Precincts 24 and 76 
    McCook Building, Hwy. 281 – 20 Mi. W 490 

  • Precinct 30
    Edinburg North High School, 3101 N. Closner Boulevard 

  • Precinct 31
    Memorial Middle School, 3105 N. Doolittle Road 

  • Precincts 43 and 104  
    San Carlos Elementary, Third Street 

  • Precincts 53 and 110  
    Barrientes Middle School, 1100 E. Ebony Street 

  • Precinct 68   
    Lull-Capilla de San José, 4401 Flores Street 

  • Precinct 69   
    Camp Loma de Vida, 12505 North Highway 281 

  • Precinct 105   
    B.L. Garza Middle School, 1202 N. MonMack Pérez 

  • Precincts 106 and 52  
    Canterbury Elementary, 2821 W. Canton Road    

  • Precinct 108   
    Lincoln Elementary, 1319 Lovett Street 

  • Precinct 109   
    Edinburg Fire Station, 212 W. McIntyre Street 

  • Precinct 54   
    Cavazos Elementary, 1501 W. Freddy González 

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Early voting for presidential election will be available at Edinburg Regional Medical Center on Saturday, October 25

By DALINDA GUILLEN 

The 2008 election cycle is especially important since the president will be elected, and in addition to the economy, health care is another major issue in the campaign. 

In Texas, all 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives and 15 Texas Senate members – plus a few seats on statewide courts – will be on the ballot. In addition, Texans will elect 32 congressional representatives and a U.S. senator. There are 13 open seats in the Texas House, and many incumbents will face opposition in the General Election. 

When the Texas Legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will have an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on the national debate regarding the future of health care – and, ultimately, the future of health care in the Rio Grande Valley. Of particular concern to Texans will be the state’s growing uninsured population, the continued health care workforce shortage and funding for a variety of programs, such as Medicaid and the state’s trauma care system. 

“I encourage everyone to learn about the candidates and issues, form their own opinions, and cast their votes,” says Douglas Matney, Vice President – Acute Division and Group Vice President at South Texas Health System. “The public officials who are elected will make many critical decisions about the future of health care – and ultimately the future of health care in the Rio Grande Valley.” 

South Texas Health System hospitals are participating in a statewide campaign called “VOTE. Your Health Care Depends on It,” which is designed to mobilize Texas’ more than 340,000 hospital employees and make them influential participants in political decision-making. The theme of the campaign reflects the fact that health care is very much influenced by the political process. 

“As individuals, many of us wonder whether our vote makes a difference, but it’s obvious that 340,000 plus informed and concerned health care professionals can have a tremendous influence on health policy in Texas,” says Matney. 

Early voting begins on Monday, October 20 through Friday, October 31, and Election Day is Tuesday, November 4. Edinburg Regional Medical Center is also serving as a mobile early voting location on Saturday, October 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

Election information for Hidalgo County is also available online at http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us  

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Early voting convenience should boost South Texas turnout 

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR. 

This election year I join our new Secretary of State Hope Andrade in encouraging people to vote and to do so early to avoid long lines. 

Ms. Andrade says that her office "is committed to ensuring that every eligible Texan has an opportunity to exercise their right to vote and participate in fair and credible elections." 

Early voting runs from Monday, October 20 to 31, and polls are open even on weekends to help those with hectic schedules. 

Unfortunately, low voter turnout is prevalent in this country, and especially in regions like South Texas. We can change that! Today’s early voting system provides greater convenience for people to exercise this fundamental right regardless of party preference or political affiliation. No one should stay home either during early voting or on Tuesday, November 4, Election Day. 

Most tend to agree that in these elections involvement by our younger generation is unprecedented and should have far-reaching implications for everyone. For South Texas, our young voter registration is the highest in four of the five counties within Senatorial District 27, and second highest in the fifth. 

For example, out of 173,086 registered voters in Cameron, 21.40 percent are between the ages of 19 to 29, followed closely by 19.90 percent for 30 to 39 year olds. 

In Hidalgo, out of 301,237 voters, 22.39 percent are between 19 and 29, and 21.56 percent  are 30 to 39 years old. The same holds true for Kenedy with 356 voters of whom 24.16 percent are under 30  and Kleberg with 18,706 voters of whom 24.53 percent are in the same age bracket. 

Only Willacy has more voters age 65 and over comprising the largest group by 20.59 percent, followed by 19.71 percent for those between 19 and 29, still the second highest group. The next three age categories fall in a range of about 17 percent. 

It’s true that younger voters are often busy with school, raising families and managing new jobs, but their involvement in these elections will help shape the future of South Texas for themselves and their children. 

There are two ways to vote early. People can vote in person at various locations convenient to their political subdivisions. 

For those who have difficulty walking or standing for long periods but can drive or be driven to the polls, a call in advance to notify the early voting clerk of the situation affords them the privilege of "curbside voting."  State and federal law requires all early and Election Day polling locations to be physically accessible to voters with disabilities. 

The other form of voting is by mail. People may vote early by mail if they are going to be away from their county on Election Day and during early voting. Also, those sick or disabled, 65 years of age or older on Election Day, or confined in jail, but eligible to vote, can mail in their ballots. 

Applications for a mail-in ballot must be received by the Early Voting Clerk in the voter’s home county by October 28.  The early voting clerk must receive the marked ballot by 7 p.m. on Election Day unless it is mailed from outside the United States. 

Secretary of State Andrade plans to visit with election officials in our area between now and the end of October  to offer assistance and address any concerns particular to South Texas. Her goal is to ensure that every county and every voter has access to the necessary information that will streamline voting and enhance accuracy. 

This additional communication between Ms. Andrade and our election officials will  enable them to be even better prepared to assist. 

For more information, people may contact their county clerk, county elections administrator or their voter registrar in their counties. They may also log onto the Secretary of State’s web site at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/earlyvoting.shtml or call 1-800-252-VOTE (8683) toll-free for either English or Spanish. Anyone with concerns can call the SOS legal staff toll-free at 1-800-252.VOTE (8683) for advice on voters’ rights. 

While easier access to voting is a privilege, the act of voting is a guaranteed right for all eligible Americans.   

Instead of making excuses for not voting, let’s take advantage of today’s convenience provided by early voting. Ms. Andrade and I encourage every registered South Texan to take time and cast either an early ballot or vote on November 4. 

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Hispanic leaders report registering almost 10,000 new voters in the Valley, surpassed October 6 goal

Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), the country’s leading Latino voter registration organization, announced on Monday, October 13, that it registered 9,884 new voters and surpassed its goal by 2,381. The initial goal was to register 7,500 Latino voters in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties in advance of the November election. SVREP conducts nonpartisan voter registration efforts with participation from local businesses, colleges and high schools, churches and communities. 

"This is an historic moment for the Latino electorate," said Antonio González, SVREP President. "We anticipate that Tejanos will reach 2.5 million registrations and cast nearly 2 million votes in November, making certain that our community’s voices will make a difference in the critical upcoming elections.  Latinos are concerned about the economy, want to see an end to the war in Iraq, and believe that access to health care, improved public education and legalization of undocumented immigrants are top tier issues,” stated González. 

“The Valley voter registration effort is key to Latinos determining their own destiny,” added Lydia Camarillo, SVREP Vice President.  “The voter registration effort follows SVREP’s $100,000 investment in the Valley to turnout 10,000 Latina voters.  We are proud of our contribution to be part of an empowerment effort in the Rio Grande Valley. SVREP registered 9,881 voters in the lower Rio Grande Valley with the effort of many leaders interested in the Valley’s future.” 

A breakdown of the SVREP registered, 9,884, voters: 825 new voters through the businesses, 1,474 students registered at high schools and 7,585 through the SVREP nonpartisan community based projects.  

Community Based Projects 

SVREP formed 12 steering committees in the community. These committees have registered 7,673 since July. The structure of the steering committees consists of committee leaders, paid coordinators and volunteers.  The volunteers, led by paid coordinators, target places of commerce, colleges and universities, high schools, technical and vocational institutions, sports events and events where large numbers of Latinos and other potential voters gather.  

The Business Campaign 

SVREP has partnered with Lone Star National Bank, First National Bank, IBC, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR), and Rio Grande Pharmacy Association to train 203 employees to conduct voter registration efforts at their place of business. Lone Star National Bank registered 291 voters, First National Bank 490, DHR 20 and the rest did 24. 

Youth Vote Campaign 

SVREP organized nine school districts (13 high schools) during the months of April and May.  During this phase, SVREP registered 1,474 high schools students. SVREP registered high school students this September and October up until the deadline of October 6th. 

“Latinos are well aware that the next president and congress will shape national policies concerning immigration issues, like the ‘border wall’. These and other issues will help drive Latinos in the Texas Valley to the polls," concluded Camarillo. 

SVREP is a national, nonpartisan organization committed solely to the political empowerment of Latino communities. SVREP was established in 1974 by the late Willie Velásquez to encourage civic and political participation in Latino and other underrepresented communities. Since its inception, SVREP had registered over 2.3 million Latino voters. 

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Senate panel looks at election security; witness calls electronic voting machines "amazingly insecure"

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES 

With the general election only a few weeks away, and early voting now underway, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony on Wednesday, October 15, related to the security of elections conducted in Texas. Following passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, all polling places in the US are required to offer electronic voting options at elections. State officials testified that the Texas election process is secure and efficient, but later testimony warned of possible gaps in election security. 

Ann McGeehan, director of the Elections Division Office for the Secretary of State, testified that there has never been a documented case of voting system manipulation in Texas. Her office has approved three different companies that make electronic voting machines for use in the state, and sets standards for chain-of-custody of voting data, testing of machines and disaster recovery of ballots. Most of the work of preserving the fairness of the electoral process, she said, falls to county elections officials. 

There have only been a handful of prosecutions for election related crime in Texas; 28 since 2005, according to Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Eric Nichols. While there have been instances of people trying to cast votes for others, Nichols said there is no evidence of manipulation of electronic voting machines. 

Later testimony cast doubt on the security of electronic voting machines. Dr. Dan Wallach, a professor of computer science at Rice University, called these machines "amazingly insecure". The machines are easy to tamper with, he said, and tampering with one machine can compromise every machine in a given jurisdiction. One recommendation he offered was following the lead of states like California and Ohio, and reducing the number of electronic voting machines in favor of traditional paper ballots. 

The Senate State Affairs Committee is chaired by Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and vice-chaired by Sen. Tommy Williams, R- The Woodlands. It consists of Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio; Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. 

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages. 

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Edinburg’s 5.4 percent unemployment rate in September better than national average

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Edinburg posted a 5.4 percent unemployment rate in September 2008, the second best showing among the major Valley cities, and better than the nation’s  6.1 percent average, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. 

By comparison, Texas unemployment rate in September was 5.1 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. 

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley, had the best showing among major Valley cities in September 2008 at 5.3 percent, compared with 5.3 percent in August, 5.1 percent in July, 4.8 percent in June, 4.3 percent in May, 3.9 percent in April, 4.3 percent in March, 4.5 percent in February, and 4.8 percent in January. 

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. 

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D. 

In August, Edinburg’s unemployment rate also was 5.4 percent, compared with 5.3 percent in July; 5.3 percent in June; 4.6 percent in May; 4.1 percent in April; 4.5 percent in March; 4.4 percent in February; and 4.9 percent in January. 

In September, there were 28,443 persons employed in the three-time All-America City, while 1,631 were actively looking for work. 

The September 2008 unemployment rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,885 jobs since September 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. 

So far this year, the city unemployment rate has averaged slightly more than 5.2 percent. 

In 2007, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 4.8 percent. 

In 2006, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent, while in 2005, Edinburg’s unemployment rate averaged 4.9 percent. 

The best showing in history for Edinburg came in November 2007, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent. 

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in September 2008 at 6.4 percent, compared with 6.2 percent in August, six percent in July, 5.9 percent in June, 5.3 percent in May, 4.8 percent in April, five percent in March, 5.1 percent in February, and 5.4 percent in January. 

Among the Valley’s largest cities in September 2008, Mission posted a seven percent unemployment rate, compared 6.8 percent in August, 6.7 percent  in July, and 5.9 percent in June, while Pharr reported a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, compared with seven percent in August, 6.8 percent in July, and 6.4 percent in June. 

Brownsville posted a 7.6 percent unemployment rate in September, compared with 7.5 in August, 7.2 percent in July and seven percent in June, followed by Weslaco, which reported an 8.2 percent unemployment rate in September, compared with 8.1 percent in August, 7.9 percent in July, and 7.4 percent in June. 

All cities in Hidalgo County for September 2008 had a combined unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, compared with 7.8 percent in August, 7.7 percent in July, 7.2 percent in June, 6.1 percent in May, 5.7 percent in April, 6.4 percent in March, 6.6 percent in February, and 7.3 percent in January. 

In September, there were 260,994 persons employed in Hidalgo County, with 22,515 actively looking for work. 

For September 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 7.5 percent, compared with 7.4 percent in August, seven percent in July, 6.8 percent in June, 5.9 percent in May, 5.4 percent in April, 5.8 percent in March, 5.9 percent in February, and 6.5 percent in January. 

In September, there were 134,634 persons employed in Cameron County, with 10,902 actively looking for work. 

For all of 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg averaged 4.8 percent, according to the latest state figures compiled by the TWC. 

In September 2007, there were 27,466 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In September 2007, the unemployment rate was five percent. 

In September 2006, there were 26,730 people employed in Edinburg. In September 2006, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. 

In September 2005, there were 25,558 people employed in Edinburg. In September 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. 

Those levels represent some of the lowest unemployment rates and the largest numbers of people employed in the city’s history. 

The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force. 

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and  actively seeking work. 

The breakdown of Edinburg’s unemployment rate for the past 21 months follows: 

  • September 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • August 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • July 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • June 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • May 2008: 4.6 percent.
  • April 2008: 4.1 percent.
  • March 2008: 4.5 percent.
  • February 2008: 4.4 percent.
  • January 2008: 4.9 percent.
  • December 2007: 4.7 percent.
  • November 2007: 3.7 percent.
  • October 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • September 2007: 5 percent.
  • August 2007: 4.9 percent.
  • July 2007: 5.8 percent.
  • June 2007: 5.5 percent.
  • May 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • April 2007: 4.3 percent.
  • March 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • February 2007: 4.8 percent.
  • January 2007: 4.9 percent. 

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission: 

The Texas seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 5.1 percent in September, up from five percent in August 2008 and 4.3 percent in September 2007. 

Texas’ unemployment rate remained well below the national rate of 6.1 percent. Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment  in Texas fell by 4,000 jobs in September. Texas employers have added 247,900 jobs over the past 12 months, for an annual growth rate of 2.4 percent.       

“September job losses in Texas reflect continued turbulence in the national economy,” said Texas  Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “Hurricane Ike has had a major impact on the  state’s unemployment claims, which have swelled by nearly 300 percent over the past month. Due to  the statistical formula used in our monthly calculations, the negative effect of Hurricane Ike won’t  begin to register until our October numbers are released.”     

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the  state at 3.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.8 percent, followed by  the Amarillo MSA at 3.9 percent.     

Despite the net job loss for September, many industries experienced job growth. Education and Health  Services added 2,300 positions in September, for a total of 38,800 jobs created since September 2007.   

Leisure and Hospitality increased by 1,600 positions last month, for a total of 41,900 jobs added in the  past 12 months. 

Professional and Business Services saw gains of 1,100 positions in September, with  59,400 jobs added over the year.     

“With nearly 11.8 million workers, Texas has recorded the largest labor force in the state’s history,  despite national economic challenges,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny  Congleton.      

Natural Resources and Mining grew by 2,200 jobs in September, adding 18,000 positions in the past  12 months. The industry’s annual growth rate is still a strong 8.7 percent.     

“Although up slightly, the Texas unemployment rate remains a full percentage point below the  unemployment rate for the nation as a whole,” said TWC Commissioner Representing the Public Andres Alcántara. “Nine of eleven industries displayed positive annual job growth, resulting in nearly a  quarter of a million jobs added in the last year.”        

•••••• 

Edinburg’s retail economy through August 2008 up almost four percent over same period in 2007

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Edinburg’s retail economy between January and August 2008, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up almost four percent during the first eight months of 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. 

For the month of August 2008, Edinburg’s economy was up almost 10 percent in the amount of local sales taxes generated during August 2007. 

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.  

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. 

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president; Fred Palacios; Dr. Glenn E. Martínez, Ph.D.; and Elias Longoria, Jr. 

The local sales taxes are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax, and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the EEDC. 

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated. 

The August 2008 figure represents local sales taxes collected during that month and reported to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in September. Then, in October, the state sent the August 2008 local sales tax revenue back to the city in the form of a rebate. 

During the first eight months of 2008, Edinburg has generated $11,563,858.15 in local sales taxes, compared with $11,140,300.48 from January through August 2007 – an increase of 3.80 percent. 

For the month of August 2008, Edinburg generated $1,147,959.41 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,045,385.58 in August 2007 – an increase of 9.81 percent. 

McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – along with all major cities in the Valley, showed an increase in local sales taxes generated for the month of August. 

McAllen’s economy generated more than $4.4 million in local sales taxes in August 2008, compared with more than $4.1 million during the same month in 2007, an increase of 6.92 percent. 

According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County reported an almost six percent increase in total local sales taxes collectively generated by the cities in the county.  The county itself does not collect a local sales tax. 

For the month of August 2008, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $9.5 million in local sales taxes, up 5.92 percent compared with August 2007, which reached more than $9 million. 

Year-to-date, all cities in Hidalgo County have generated more than $104 million in local sales taxes, up more than 3.7 percent over the same period in 2007, when total local sales taxes were more than $100.6 million. 

For the month of August 2008, all cities in Cameron County generated more than $5.1 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $4.9 million during the same month in 2007, an increase of almost five percent. 

Cameron County also does not collect a local sales tax. 

Year-t0-date, all cities in Cameron County collected more than $53 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $50.7 million during the same period in 2007. 

Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following monthly sales tax figures. 

  • Brownsville’s retail economy generated more than $2.6 million in local sales taxes in August 2008 – more than 1.5 percent better than the August 2007 level of more than $2.5 million. 
  • Harlingen’s retail economy showed the largest increase in local sales tax collections in August among major Valley cities. That community generated slightly more than $1.6 million in local sales taxes in August 2008, compared with slightly more than $1.4 million in August 2007 – a 13.66 percent improvement. 
  • Mission’s retail economy showed an almost three percent increase in its monthly sales tax revenue during August 2008, generating almost $970,000, compared with almost $943,000 in August 2007. 
  • Pharr’s retail economy generated almost $930,000 in local sales taxes in August 2008, compared with more than $902,000 during the same month in 2007, an increase of more than three percent. 
  • Weslaco’s retail economy generated more than $717,000 in local sales taxes in August 2008, compared with almost $669,000 during August 2007, an increase of 7.2 percent. 

According to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs: 

The state took in $1.68 billion in sales tax in September, a 3.7 percent increase over September 2007. 

“Growth in sales tax collections continued at a modest pace in the first month of fiscal 2009,” Combs said. “While growth remains positive overall, sectors such as construction, retail trade and restaurants are showing signs of slowing down.” 

Combs sent $452.7 million in monthly sales tax payments to Texas cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts, up 2 percent compared to last October. So far in calendar year 2008, local sales tax allocations average 6.2 percent higher than last year. 

Combs sent sales tax allocations of $305.1 million to Texas cities, 1.4 percent more than October 2007. Calendar year-to-date, city sales tax allocations are up 5.4 percent. Texas counties received October sales tax payments of $28.6 million, up 2.6 percent compared to a year ago. Calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are 7.4 percent higher than last year. 

The 138 special purpose taxing districts throughout Texas received $16.9 million in sales tax, up 15.3 percent compared to last October. So far this year, sales tax allocations to special purpose districts are up 17.9 percent compared to 2007. 

Ten local transit systems received $102 million in October sales tax allocations, up 1.8 percent compared to a year ago. Year-to-date, transit sales tax revenues are up 6.9 percent. 

September state sales tax collections and October allocations of local tax revenue represent sales that occurred in August and were reported to the Comptroller in September. 

For details of October sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, see the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s  Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html

The comptroller’s next local sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, November 7. 

•••••• 

Irene García, longtime South Texas College trustee, resigns in order to take office as La Joya ISD trustee

By HELEN ESCOBAR 

Irene García, District 2 representative on South Texas College’s Board of Trustees, will serve on the La Joya Independent School District Board of Trustees upon being sworn in on Nov. 5, 2008. 

García is the mother-in-law of Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview. 

“I retired from the LJISD administration team after a career spanning four decades of service in the classroom and at many levels of administration with both the La Joya and Hidalgo ISDs. So, understandably, I have a real love and passion for this work,” said García. “I am moving my focus back to LJISD because I feel that my skills and knowledge would be a great benefit to the district’s board. I look forward to joining the board in November, working hard to continue LJISD’s tradition of excellence. 

“I know that I am leaving STC in good hands and feel that my work with the board has had a big impact on the communities of Hidalgo and Starr counties. I will never forget STC and will continue to be an advocate for the college and its constituents.” 

Elected to STC’s Board of Trustees in May 2000, García has represented the interests of the constituents of La Joya, western Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Penitas and western Alton for more than eight years. She served as secretary, vice chair and chair of STC’s board. She also helped steer the goals and actions of the board’s facility, finance and human resources, and education and workforce innovations committees. 

During her tenure, the college has seen tremendous growth, including serving more than 22,000 students in the fall 2008 semester. She has been instrumental in keeping tuition and fee increases minimal, focusing on adding student life activities and the addition of a variety of free student support services like tutoring and open computer labs. She served as secretary of the Association of Latino Community College Trustees for two years, and represented the college with the association since 2002.    

Previously, García served on the LJISD Board of Trustees for 17 years and the district named The Irene M. García Middle School in her honor. In 1991, she was appointed by Gov. Ann Richards to serve on the Texas Successful Schools Award Systems Committee. While at the Hidalgo School District, she was named to the district’s Hall of Fame for her work as an exemplary elementary principal. García has also been recognized with the passage of a resolution by the Texas Legislature for her public service to her community in the area of education. 

“There are no words to express our gratitude to Irene for her work and commitment to the college,” said Mike Allen, chair of STC’s Board of Trustees. “She is an amazing woman with an infectious enthusiasm and passion for education. She has totally devoted herself to STC during the past eight years, ensuring student access to and success in higher education. She is to be commended for her hard work. We also extend our best wishes to her in her work with LJISD, which is truly blessed to bring on such an experienced and knowledgeable professional.” 

At its October 2008 meeting, García announced she will take her seat on the La Joya ISD Board of Trustees upon being sworn in for the position. García’s seat on the LJISD Board of Trustees vacates her seat on the South Texas College Board of Trustees as the elected board member for District 2. 

For additional information about STC’s Board of Trustees or the vacant Distinct 2 seat call Velisa Reyes at 872-3555. For additional information about the La Joya Independent School District and the LJISD Board of Trustees contact Jessica O. Ochoa at 580-6025. 

•••••• 

Area’s university, college administrators discuss benefits of new Higher Education Opportunity Act

By GAIL FAGAN 

Key leaders of South Texas colleges and universities joined Congressman Rubén Hinojosa at a Friday, October 9 press conference at The University of Texas-Pan American to discuss the key provisions and benefits to the region of the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act (H.R. 4137), which provides greater accessibility and affordability to higher education for the nation’s students. 

The legislation, which passed in August 2008 and is the first reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 10 years, contains strategies in place to encourage colleges and universities to restore student loan program integrity and accountability, to require transparency and consumer-friendly information on college tuition, student loans and college textbook costs, to simplify the application process for federal student aid, and to expand financial support for low-income, minority and first-generation students. 

“This law will have a significant impact on South Texas by improving the accessibility and affordability of higher education,” said Hinojosa, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee and introduced the bill in November 2007 with Education Committee chairman George Miller (CA-7). “It will also strengthen our Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), such as all of the campuses represented here today, by enabling them to serve more students and respond to our nation’s growing needs in high demand fields such as STEM (science, math, engineering and technology), teaching, nursing and other health professions.” 

The act will increase the maximum Pell grant, a need-based grant, from $4,731 currently to $8,000 by 2014 and expands the program to accommodate year-round study. It will increase aid and support programs to help returning veterans successfully transition to college life. It also includes a new program to expand master’s and doctoral degree programs at HSIs as well as strengthens programs critical to the Valley in supporting college going and student success, including GEAR UP, TRIO, and the High School Equivalency and College Assistance Migrant Programs. 

Success of programs such as UTPA’s annual event Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week was additionally recognized in the legislation by establishing a grant program for Minority Serving Institutions to replicate the HESTEC model across the country to encourage young people, especially minorities to pursue STEM careers. 

“It just shows you that perseverance pays off in Washington,” said Hinojosa, who said it was the best piece of legislation he had seen since the G.I. bill enacted after World War II. 

Dr. Miguel A. Zúñiga, director of the South Texas Center, Texas A&M University Health Center said the law will help prepare professionals needed to meet the nation’s healthcare workforce shortages in medicine, nursing, pharmacy and other health-related areas and Dr. Antonio Zavaleta, vice president for External Affairs at The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, called the legislation a “dream bill” from the perspective of a higher education leader. 

Dean of the UTPA College of Education Dr. Hector Ochoa, who moderated the event, said he particularly appreciated the law’s inclusion of monies to establish Centers of Excellence in Teacher Education in colleges of education to improve the training of future teachers and the faculty training them as well as the provision for fellowships for graduate students pursuing doctorates who might possibly return to the University, as he did, to serve as a faculty member. 

UTPA President Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas praised Hinojosa’s committed leadership and said he recognizes that making South Texas higher education institutions stronger and better and able to serve more kids has a direct impact on the well-being of the whole nation. 

“For what you have done for our country, I thank you,” she said, noting his vision and longtime advocacy for advancement of educational opportunities in the region. “You know that the interest of the whole are served when you don’t let a single human being who has the capacity to contribute do so.” 

The full text of the bill is available at http://www.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea08/index.html. Hinojosa said technical assistance to apply for competitive funding for programs made available under the act is available from his Congressional office. 

•••••• 

Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra indicted by federal grand jury on cocaine, marijuana charges

Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra, 52, of Rio Grande City, on Tuesday, October 14, was indicted by a federal grand jury on drug charges, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle and Ralph G. Díaz, Special Agent in Charge of FBI San Antonio announced. 

An indictment or superseding indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law. 

“We shall continue to address public corruption, a major priority in the Southern District of Texas,” DeGabrielle said. 

Guerra is named as a defendant in a 19-count second superseding indictment returned under seal on Wednesday, October 8, 2008. The charges against Guerra were unsealed on October 14 following his arrest by FBI agents at his office in Rio Grande City. 

“We are hopeful that this type of investigation will prove to be a deterrent to those who are considering engaging in violations of the law while enjoying the public’s trust,” Díaz said. 

Reymundo Guerra, aka Tio, is accused along with numerous other individuals – many of whom have been previously arrested and charged – of being part of a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both cocaine and marijuana. Count five of the 19-count indictment accuses Guerra with being an accessory after the fact on or about June 27, 2007. The charge relates to an offense allegedly committed by three co-conspirators – Jose De Jesus Hernández; Hernández’ wife, Mayra Trevino Flores; and Jose Carlos Hinojosa – involving possession with intent to distribute approximately 314 kilograms of marijuana and more than a kilogram of cocaine found at a residence owned by Flores as alleged in count four of the indictment. Guerra allegedly assisted Hernández by suggesting the production of fraudulent lease documents in an effort to hinder and prevent the apprehension of Hernández, according to the indictment. 

Hernández, 29, a resident alien from Mexico residing in Houston; Flores, 25, of Houston; and Jose Carlos Hinojosa, aka Sobrino, 31, a resident alien from Mexico residing in Roma, have all been previously arrested and are pending trial. Hernández, Flores and Hinojosa are among those also named with Guerra in count one of the indictment. 

Guerra is also charged in count 10 with facilitating the drug trafficking conspiracy through the use of a telephone on October 13, 2007. 

Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances as alleged in count one of the indictment, carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment upon conviction as well as $4 million fine. If convicted of being an accessory after the fact, Guerra faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $2 million fine. A conviction for using a telephone to further a drug conspiracy carries a maximum four-year prison term and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

The indictment naming Guerra is the second superseding indictment returned in this case which resulted from Operation Carlito’s Weigh, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) operation and a part of Operation Dos Equis. The first indictment in this case was returned in August 2008. 

In addition to Guerra and the other three defendants named above, the following 11 individuals also named in the second superceding indictment have been arrested and are pending trial:  Raymundo Edgar González, 37, of Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, Mexico; Sergio Iván Olivarez-Flores, a Mexican citizen, 24, of Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, Mexico; Saúl Méndez Jr., 31, of Rio Grande City; Mario Alberto Mascorro, 33, of McAllen; Jesús Fabiel Mendoza, 29, of Richmond; Jaime Herrera, 33, of Edinburg; San Juanita M. García, 55, of Garcíasville; Tarsila Villarreal Vidal, 37, of Salineno; Yanira Barrera, 33,of Houston; and Jorge Alberto Ramos, 29 of Roma. 

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted special agents of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division,  officers of the Houston Police Department and the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force. 

•••••• 

FBI reports that major attacks on U.S. Internet system are on the rise

Crooks and spies using the Internet to commit crimes against U.S. businesses and to attack government networks are getting more sophisticated, and the increasing number of such crimes not only impacts the economy but threatens national security, reports the FBI. 

That’s the message Shawn Henry, recently appointed head of the FBI’s Cyber Division, delivered to a group of reporters on Wednesday, October 15, revealing that the government has thousands of open cases into cyber crimes and organized cyber attacks and detailing the FBI’s strategy to protect the nation’s networks. 

One case in point:  the FBI joined international partners on Tuesday, October 14, in announcing a major takedown of a transnational criminal network that was buying and selling stolen financial information through an online forum known as “Dark Market.” 

“The business of the United States is done on the Internet,” said Henry, a veteran cyber crime investigator. And the information that flows electronically 24/7 is increasingly the target of not only identity thieves and scammers, but organized crime groups, terrorists, and overseas governments. 

“There are a number of countries who have an interest in stealing information from the United States,” Henry said, explaining that as many as two dozen nations have taken an “aggressive interest” in penetrating our networks. In the past year, he added, “the malicious activity has become much more prevalent.” 

Malicious activity could come in the form of attacks that deny access to websites, that compromise sensitive information, or that introduce “botnets” that spread viruses and covertly co-opt computers to carry out data theft.  

“There are a number of countries who have an interest in stealing information from the United States,” Henry said, explaining that as many as two dozen nations have taken an “aggressive interest” in penetrating our networks. 

New groups of hackers — virtual gangs — are a growing threat as well, banding together to pool their expertise and carry out coordinated cyber attacks. Henry pointed out that in years gone by, if a gang wanted to rob a bank, it needed crooks with various skills — safe cracker, get-away driver, look-out, etc. That’s essentially what we’re seeing in the cyber world today, only these virtual gang members have never met in the physical world. “There are organized groups that are very successful,” Henry said. 

The 3 Ps 

To address the rising threat, the Cyber Division has a threefold strategic plan — “Prioritize, Proactive, Partnerships.” 

By prioritizing our efforts, the FBI can go after the most critical threats. Being proactive means adopting the same time-tested investigative techniques that have been so successful in their physical crime investigations — the use of informants, electronic surveillance, and placement of undercover agents to penetrate and dismantle virtual criminal operations. 

The third “P” — partnerships — means building even stronger relationships with law enforcement agencies worldwide. He said the FBI has worked with such countries as Great Britain, Canada, Russia, and Turkey to swap best practices and techniques. The FBI also sent agents to Romania to work with law enforcement there, leading to nearly 100 arrests in cyber crime cases representing “tens of millions of dollars” in losses, Henry said. 

And the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3 — a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center — continues to assist state and local law enforcement in fighting cyber crime. Since its establishment in 2000, IC3 has received more than a million complaints. In the last couple of years, there’s been an “uptick” in the number of reports, according to Henry. Lately, they’re coming in at the rate of nearly 20,000 per month.  

•••••• 

Gov. Perry says state agencies must cut discretionary spending following impact of Hurricane Ike, economic downturn

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, October 15, credited the state’s strong economic policies for preparing it to withstand both Hurricane Ike and the current national economic downturn. While the Texas economy is strong, the economic downturn that the rest of the nation is facing will eventually hit Texas. For that reason, Gov. Perry this week asked state agencies to begin taking measures to cut discretionary spending within their divisions and limit travel. 

“As good stewards of the resources entrusted to us by Texas taxpayers, we are obligated to not only watch the outside forces affecting our economy, but deal with them proactively,” Perry said. “We have made tough choices throughout the years that have helped our state attain the overall strength we enjoy today, and we must continue to follow these principles as we prepare for the long-term effects of this national economic downturn.” 

Texas’ policies of limited growth in spending, low taxes and a reasonable regulatory environment have strengthened the Texas economy, preparing the state to handle the national economy’s current instability. Stronger guidelines for home equity borrowing and lending have resulted in Texas having some of the lowest levels of mortgage defaults among the nation’s top 10 most populous states. 

The Financial Times recently named Texas the number one state economy in the nation in light of the ongoing economic and financial slowdown. States’ positions were based on a ranking of four separate economic indicators: employment growth rate, state product growth rate, personal income growth rate and home foreclosure rate. 

Texas continues to be a leader in job creation, generating nearly half of all jobs created in the nation from August 2007 to August 2008. The state’s unemployment rate remains at 5 percent, 1.1 percent below the national average. Texas also remains home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other state in the nation. 

The governor credited Houston’s strong business environment with attracting national accolades, including Best City to Live, Work, and Play by Kiplinger’s; Best City for Your Job by Business Week; and Best U.S. City to Earn a Living, Best City to Buy a Home and Best City for Recent College Grads by Forbes

•••••• 

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announces end of telecommunications infrastructure fund tax

Texas consumers could see a slight drop in their telecommunications bill, as a tax used to build technology infrastructure expires. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced at a press conference Thursday, October 16, the end of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) tax on service providers.  This program was used to improve connections at rural schools and hospitals, but Dewhurst said it has fulfilled its purpose.  

"This has been a good program, it’s literally wired the state for a lot of people, for our schools, so there’s been a lot of benefit. The job had been done, so we eliminated the tax, over the next three years, we’re going to reduce $600 million in taxes for Texas taxpayers," he said. "I think that’s good news." 

Dewhurst also took the opportunity address the impact of the current economic crisis on Texas.  While the rest of the country endures an economic downturn, Dewhurst said the Texas economy remains strong.  

"Obviously, around the country, these are tough times. but we’re in pretty good shape here in Texas, because we’ve had to make some hard decisions over the past couple of years," he said. He pointed to the $1.4 billion reduction in property tax rates passed last session, as well as a lower tax rate compared to other states, and pro-growth business policies as reasons Texas should weather the economic storm. "We’ve tried to be very conservative over the last five years, we tried to keep our taxes low here in Texas. We tried to make sure that in the legislature, any time we saw a speed bump to the growth of our economy, we kicked that speed bump down." 

Though the state could see a small surplus as the Legislature begins session in January, Dewhurst told reporters that lawmakers must continue this trend of fiscal conservatism. He warned that the new business tax looks to bring in $1.4 billion less than was estimated, and that costs to the state from Hurricane Ike could range in to the billions of dollars. Combined with rising growth, rising fuel costs, and a possible increase in the state’s Medicaid burden, he said legislators must be very careful with spending. 

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages. 

•••••• 

Jay Kimbrough, former Texas A&M University System official, named chief of staff for Gov. Perry

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, October 16, named Jay Kimbrough, deputy chancellor and general counsel of Texas A&M University System, as chief of staff. 

“I am excited that Jay is returning to my staff. He is a man of integrity with a proven track record and my complete trust,” Perry said. “Jay is a decorated combat veteran, a man of action and sound judgment, and will help lead us through the upcoming session.” 

Kimbrough previously served in the Perry Administration as homeland security director and twice as deputy chief of staff.  In December 2002, Kimbrough was named deputy attorney general for criminal justice by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.  In that position, Kimbrough continued to coordinate homeland security efforts for the state, working directly with the governor. 

Kimbrough also was the first conservator of the Texas Youth Commission, taking decisive steps to fix the troubled agency when it was placed in conservatorship in 2007.  He played a similar role several years earlier for then-Gov. George Bush, fixing the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (TCADA) when it was in conservatorship. 

Kimbrough also served as director of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division and in a variety of roles in federal, state and local government since 1966. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Kimbrough was awarded the Purple Heart for his service in the Marine Corps and served as a prosecutor in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He also is a former county judge and county attorney in Bee County.  He also has served as the executive director of the Texas Commission on Private Security and TCADA. 

Kimbrough will officially assume duties on Monday, replacing Brian Newby, who has been named to co-lead the Hurricane Ike Recovery and Coordination Effort.

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