Judge candidates answer questions about region

BROWNSVILLE — Cameron County judge candidates Elizabeth Garza, Dan Sanchez and Eddie Treviño Jr. explained their positions on key issues facing Cameron County citizens at the Brownsville/South Padre Island Board of Realtors meeting room last week.

On Thursday, each candidate was asked the same set of questions by moderator Larry Jokl, a director of the board.

The first question was where the candidates saw the county heading in the next four years.

Garza recalled not only the growth she had seen in Cameron County since she returned to Brownsville but also the problems, some of which were still there from when she was growing up.

“I am all for supporting growth and roads, but we need to start now with what’s not fixed. If we don’t do that, we’re just going to sink ourselves,” Garza said.

Treviño emphasized it was the county’s responsibility to maintain the areas outside city boundaries so residents could have the proper streets, lighting and drainage they desperately need.

“They’ve been ignored and that’s the county’s responsibility. We need to also work with the cities to make sure there is a plan in place for the future,” Treviño said.

Sanchez said there was a lot of funding potential the region could tap into, but the lack of a single metropolitan planning organization is hurting not just Cameron County, but all of South Texas.

“(If we had one MPO), instead of sharing one million dollars, we’d be sharing $50 million…we need to start planning for the future and think outside the box,” Sanchez said.

The second question was whether the candidates supported a car-free trail in West Brownsville.

Sanchez said he would support the combination of a road and walking/biking trail, but he probably would not be in favor of just a walking trail because of potential congestion issues down the line.

“I understand 5,000 residents want a trail, but what about everyone else that needs access in and out of Brownsville? As county judge, you have to think globally about the entire region,” Sanchez said. “If we focus on one little area, then we’ve lost our job and focus as county leader.”

Treviño was completely in favor of a trail only, saying the discussion on what to do with the area has been around for 20 years.

“I respectfully disagree with Commissioner Sanchez. The reality is, if congestion develops down the road, we can put a road in after the fact. If you do it now, guess who wins in the event of an impact, a car or a biker?” Treviño said.

Garza also expressed her complete support of the trail only.

“We live in one of the most beautiful counties with beautiful weather, but we have the highest rate of diabetes especially with technology today,” Garza said. “When I am walking with my daughters and see all those people on bikes or jogging, it’s a great thing… the trail would unite families.”

The third question asked was how the candidates felt about a regional convention center.

Treviño spoke of the time when he was mayor and how Harlingen, South Padre Island, and Rancho Viejo wanted to build a convention center north of Brownsville, but it did not happen because the commission did not support the proposal.

“Instead, we built a sports park, and at the time, they said they wouldn’t spend as much money, but I knew it was an opportunity lost,” Treviño said. “Pretty much what we would have spent for the entire facility we spent on just the park. It was a big disappointment.”

Sanchez fully supported the idea. He also proposed the addition of a light rail that would connect all of South Texas from Edinburg all the way to Brownsville.

“The rail can stop and bring people from Hidalgo to the convention center, or it can take people back to Brownsville or SPI…that’s why it’s important to think big. The center, I think, should be a multi-used facility so you don’t just use it for big events. You create meeting room shops so it is used constantly,” Sanchez said.

Garza said a regional convention center was long overdue. It would take advantage of all the local tourist attractions in the county.

“Cameron County is huge. And for our neighbors to get the piece of the pie (Hidalgo‘s State Farm Arena)…we have so much more to offer: SPI, the zoo, the border,” Garza said. “People should not have to go to San Antonio to experience culture and food. We have it here.”

The final question asked to the candidates was how they would utilize new funding streams coming into the county.

Garza reiterated her point that the county had a lot to offer in tourism. She also said people were concerned with fixing what we already have, such as the roads.

“This county is not progressing as much as it should be. New restaurants and new businesses come in but shut down. We are growing but not progressing,” Garza said. “We need to fix what we have and build from there.”

Treviño said he would direct new funding streams into economic development. But it was important to work with the various partners that could make it happen.

“The last I checked, over 50 percent of the community over the age of 25 need… good-paying jobs that provide real quality of life wages. That’s what they’re entitled to and that’s what we should encourage,” Treviño said.

Sanchez emphasized the impact a light rail system would make in South Texas. He also said developing infrastructure in general was key to economic development.

“For infrastructure, it’s very important to dedicate money. It creates our ability for economic development. The light rail would be a great connector for infrastructure because all of a sudden, you have people coming in that don’t need to drive to SPI,” Sanchez said. “If we didn’t just have to focus on infrastructure, I’d create a county veteran’s commission and create an economic development department at the county.”

The early voting period for the primary election will remain open until Feb. 26. The primary election day is March 1.

For a list of available early voting locations, visit http://www.co.cameron.tx.us/administration/elections_voter_registration/index.php.