Report on Hidalgo County

Hidalgo County Democratic Party
Update: Does this make you angry?

Dear Aaron Pena from anthony gutierrez on Vimeo.

"Angry people vote."

Those are Paul Burka's words, writing at this week about the potential Democratic candidate for Senate, General Ricardo Sanchez, and how the Latino population would -- or would not -- react to his candidacy.

It was timely that whispers of Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native, began floating around in the days before I made my way to Hidalgo County, where I was invited by the Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Dolly Elizondo-Garcia to speak at their County Executive Committee meeting. This trip down to the Valley was to be my first time in the area, outside of the occasional trip to Laredo.

As I drove through Edinburg, I couldn't get past the burn of what that city had become to me: the home of State Representative Aaron Pena, who saw many of the same problems I see in my state party and yet rather than stay and fight to improve our cause, chose to abandon it. Dusty, yellowed and barren, Edinburg looked like what the rest of the Rio Grande Valley looked like to me during my short time there: poor.

My presentation took place at the International Trade and Technology building at UTPA. Dolly had a large spread of breakfast tacos and coffee ready for guests, and a sign-in table was being worked by Hidalgo County Young Democrats wearing matching HCDP t-shirts. For 10 AM on a Saturday morning, the event was surprisingly well-organized and I realized that Dolly -- or perhaps all of Hidalgo County -- has grown used to the rest of the state underestimating them.

In the meantime, they've continued organizing. Unthreatened and open to new ideas, Dolly has catapulted several strong talents in her area into leadership positions. Eli Olivarez, an immaculate, quick-witted man who founded a chapter of the Stonewall Democrats in Hidalgo County, was encouraged by Dolly to run for the SDEC position in District 20.

Eli credits Dolly for the unity that the Hidalgo County Democrats now reflect. A symbol of this unity can be seen on their "passport" page, a landing page showing four online portals to the many faces of Hidalgo County Democrats. The passport page, which features updates from the local Stonewall Democrats, the Young Democrats, the Democratic Women and the county party itself, implies that everyone isn't the same in Hidalgo County but they all believe in a common vision.

During most of the meeting, an image of Aaron Pena laughing with his Republican cronies was displayed on the big screen at the front of the room, captioned with the words "There's nothing funny about these cuts." At one point in the program, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joel Quintanilla addressed the crowd and, pointing at Aaron Pena's image, said, "Look at this photo and tell me what you see." Spanish curse words were thrown out and someone from the audience said "Judas."

There's a perfect storm brewing in Hidalgo County and it's one that the Republicans have every reason to be afraid of. There's a large population with an intimate knowledge of just how bad the Republican Party can treat its poor, its elderly and its children. There's leadership unlike any I've seen in the Democratic Party since I've been active within it, and I'm confident saying that in Dolly Elizondo-Garcia, I've found my heroine.

But perhaps the final missing piece that could springboard action from Hidalgo County to the rest of the state is anger. The feeling in that room when the subject of Aaron Pena came up wasn't the feeling of a meeting but a revolution.

In questioning whether Latinos in Texas will ever turn out to vote like those in California and Arizona, Paul Burka goes on to write, "Hispanics in Texas are not alienated." Well, thanks to Aaron Pena, they're alienated now and they're angry. The future of the Democratic Party lies in Hidalgo County. They know it, they're uniquely poised to take over and, given the people I met down there this weekend, I don't see how they couldn't.

16 Response to "Report on Hidalgo County"

  • Anonymous Says:

    I take great offense with this comment "Dusty, yellowed and barren, Edinburg looked like what the rest of the Rio Grande Valley looked like to me during my short time there: poor."

    You spent a short time in Edinburg, but didn't drive around to see the McMansions in Edinburg, McAllen, Mission or Pharr (and beyond?). Or see all the commercial development in the area? Or the highest grossing mall (per square foot) in the country? Most of the country's largest stores have their top stores in the valley - Sam's, Walmart, Macy's, Dillards, Lowes...

    You also spent a few days at South Padre Island...which means you passed many small and larger towns on the way with the same development. Yes, just like East Austin, there are pockets of poor here but to say the entire valley is poor and dusty and barren? Shame on you.

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Sorry if I offended you. There were nicer areas, sure, but it mostly appeared poor. Would it have been more accurate for me to say 35% appeared impoverished?

  • Anonymous Says:

    Yes, it would have been "more accurate" to say 35%. You probably spent the majority of your time down here on the expressway from 281 down to 83 and east to the island. So you based your view of our valley on that? I've been to East Austin... do I have a poor view of Austin because of that section of Austin?

    Honestly, you sound like a Republican (ouch, I know) just basing your views of the valley on what you read or hear about on the news. Did you ever think you were in danger from the Cartels "running rampant" around here while you were in the RGV? Most of the rest of the state thinks Pancho Villa is down here attacking women and children. *sigh

    Anyway, you weren't mean enough to Aaron Pena, again. lol

  • Anonymous Says:

    "the event was surprisingly well-organized and I realized that Dolly -- or perhaps all of Hidalgo County -- has grown used to the rest of the state underestimating them."

    I think we need to include YOU in underestimating our County.

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Guilty as charged. I suppose my underestimation came from Aaron Pena's blamegame on the Hidalgo County Democrats being "dead." I realized he couldn't have been more wrong.

  • Anonymous Says:

    We still love you Rachel. We need a "Raquel Mala" down here for the locals though. lol

  • Anonymous Says:

    "There's leadership unlike any I've seen in the Democratic Party since I've been active within it, and I'm confident saying that in Dolly Elizondo-Garcia, I've found my heroine."

    I couldn't agree more. She's done more for the party in the past couple of years than in the past decade. She's basically my heroine too.

  • Anonymous Says:

    They couldn't even get a quorum of precinct chairs to show up. What you saw is a clubby group of wine sipping yuppies that have done nothing to help our party. They have alienated our grassroots by meeting in yuppie art galleries.

  • denise Says:

    That "clubby group of wine sipping yuppies" are doing a hell of a lot more than you are, unless of course, whining anonymously on blogs is helpful.

    How have they alienated the grassroots? Most of the events are free and a little culture never hurt anyone. I'm bummed that I work in La Salle County from M-F, so I can never partake in elitist wine sipping.

    Our web presence is growing with groups for women, GLBT and young Democrats. I propose Dolly form a group for Valley Democrats Resistant To Change and that YOU are appointed as chair.

    *Psst, Rachel: Be meaner!*

  • Anonymous Says:

    I'd say be meaner but the world needs more love.

  • Anonymous Says:

    I agree. Be MEANER Rachel! That video was mean. Your story above was "meh". Meh Rachel. LOL

  • automobile Says:

    Makes me realise how people judge because they need to categorise things....areas, ethnies, religions, races...

  • Big Yellow Dog Says:

    I love the article. The video about Pena is THE BEST! You should be meaner. He's turned into a fat cat republican. Kick the fat cat out!

    Is he with the Republicans who want TX to opt of health care reform? Considering the state's ranking in health care, I'm sure it can not be too high down there. Unless he's standing up to Republicans and giving them firey speeches about why health care reform is important, shame on him. Protest his office. Bring kids and seniors and ask where are they to get care. ER's? He's a pig!

    There, I said it. I'll be mean to that stinkin' fat cat pig.

    Great blog! Have a great day!

  • annette Says:

    I'm from El Paso but have been fortunate to spend time in the Valley. I am thrilled to learn of efforts going on to energize the Dem Party in the area. Unfortunately when someone engages there are those that wish for the time when the party sat idle so any effort was seen as 'something' and accolades followed. If we are to move Texas the Valley has to be a strong part. Congrats to all for working to be a constant not wavering presence.

  • ABR Says:

    Rachel I think you hit the valley spot on. Although there are parts that have a descent amount of wealth it is still deeply impoverished. And for those of you who decide to compare the valley (note several cities not just one) to Austin where is your big buck development and infrastructure? In other words I see your Alonzo Cantu and raise you a Michael Dell.
    True all Texas democrats expect the valley to be the sleeping dragon that will someday make the state competitive (no state wide elected democrat since who knows when). But if education and subsequently wealth levels don't rise in the valley its a tough sell...

  • Anonymous Says:

    Hey Rachel.
    Ever been to that site? Lots and lots of Aaron Pity articles... today's article is about how he thinks Hispanics should be Republicans "like Florida".. not Democrats "like California". I hate that guy.