I struggled with myself a bit about whether or not to write this post because its about a project I care a lot about and had a front row seat for most of it.
The fact that the project had been stalled for so many years and has finally come through is extremely satisfying - but State Rep Mary Gonzalez taking credit for it is extremely annoying. So despite the fact that I agree with most of her politics and I have supported her in the past, and consider her a friend, I feel I wouldn't be honest with you readers if I didn't set the record straight.
Several hundred residents in the Montana Vista area, the poor part, not the rich part, have been without sewer service for many years and over time many of their septic systems have failed. Some have open cesspools and others leak. Its a terrible situation to have to live in.
State Rep Mary Gonzalez is taking the credit for a project going through that she shouldn't be taking credit for. Well, not to the degree that she is. And it saddens me because its more of the same old type of politics that many of us thought we had turned the page on. Here's a screen shot from her FB page:
And its not the first time she's done it either. Which I guess bothers me as well. But Representative Gonzalez sent out a press release and is taking credit for $2+ million in funding to alleviate a big problem in the area.
If she was intellectually honest, the press release should've been giving credit for the project to the people who really deserve the credit.
Namely a resident and community leader Tina Silva who organized her community and made it her life's mission to get fix a bad problem in her community. She was a pain in the neck for every elected official that represented the area over the greater part of the last decade and she was relentless.
That press release should have given credit to the Ombudsperson for the Secretary of State's Office Kathryn Hairston who busted her ass, held electeds accountable, advocated for every single home in the area individually with state inspectors, and helped the community navigate a complicated process.
That press release should've credited Munzer Alsarraj. He works for the County of El Paso as an Infrastructure Program Manager and is one of the greatest assets the County is lucky enough to have working for them. His tireless dedication and attention to detail was an important part of making the project a success.
That press release should have given credit to Commissioner Vince Perez and his staffer Jose Landeros for working on a plan to organize pre-inspections of septic systems in the area and then went out to personally help with the inspections along with Hairston and one other person that really deserves credit for busting their butt...
Gonzalez's former staffer Arlina Palacios. Hairston and Palacios, two single mothers with small kids at home, not a single state rep with no kids to be taking care of, were the ones that frequently put in 12-16 hour days working out in the dusty community in the far east part of the county that frequently looked more like Tatooine than Texas when the winds picked up. The two literally fought and cried out of frustration from working so hard on the project. They, along with Landeros, were the ones that had to face the community and deal with their questions, concerns, complaints, and frustrations, work with the inspectors until late in the evening, and then start all over before the sun came up the next morning.
Truth be told, many residents thought Palacios was the state rep.
Did Gonzalez acknowledge any of those and other county and water utility staff that worked hard on that project in her little election-time press release?
The only name she included in that press release was her own.
Where was Mary when all this planning was being done?
I don't know - Austin, riding a horse somewhere, taking selfies with a puppy, dancing at Wild Horse - Who knows?
But she damn sure wasn't there doing the work. She never advocated for a resident like Palacios, Hairston, and Landeros did. She didn't ever have to worry about getting bit by a dog or have to lift a large concrete cover off a cess pool (like the one shown in her FB post) only to see a ton of roaches come crawling out just so that an inspector could visually inspect the system.
The only elected official that was actually out there getting their hands dirty and inspecting failing septic systems, which sounds as nasty as you can imagine, was Commissioner Perez. But only one constituent even knew it was him and thats only because they were appreciative of the effort and asked who we (Landeros and I) worked for and we told them we worked for Perez, who was standing right next to us. They asked us to thank him for them.
We pointed to Vince and said, "El es."
Do you think Mary got her hands dirty? Hell no. Not if there wasn't a news camera around to catch her doing it.
Look I know many of you think I might be being too hard on her but the reality is the project could've gotten through quicker but frankly Rep Gonzalez didn't push the state agencies very hard at all. I know all the details of the project because I worked on it, so I feel pretty justified in this critique when I say that Rep Gonzalez personally could have done a lot more. She did the least of anyone involved.
It wasn't until Senator Rodriguez's office got involved that things started moving at the state level. Hell he and his staff deserve as much of the credit as anyone else.
Look, I'm really letting you guys in on some inside valley stuff but damn it, it needs to be said. One of the biggest critiques of Rep Gonzalez from community members, and I've personally told her this already so she already knows, is that she has almost no regular presence in the district. I wrote about this when she was a candidate if you recall, but prior to running for office she hadn't lived any of her adult life in HD 75. She left to school when she turned 18 and hadn't been living here until she decided to come back from Planet Austin and run for office.
She STILL hasn't changed her number from an Austin number. Her cell phone number is still a 512 area code.
Sure she comes back occasionally and will make it a point to have a meal at Cotton-Eyed Joes or a drink a Mammacita's just so that people know she's around, but on the few occasions she is actually in town she doesn't spend much of it in the district. Which I guess isn't that big of a deal if her constituents don't care, but she shouldn't give people the impression she's here a lot because she isn't.
And when she should be...she isn't.
The valley had some really bad flooding a couple years back. It flooded really badly on September 13th a couple years ago, I remember specifically because I had plans that day but all hell broke loose in the valley. So Commissioner Perez and I drove out to the Fabens Road and Bridge Yard and picked up sand bags and delivered them to people in San Elizario that were hit particularly hard. We spent most of the afternoon doing that and we didn't stop until close to 10:00pm that night.
Here are some photos I snapped on my phone to give you an idea of how bad things were. The Old County Jail was literally falling apart.
I know, you probably don't think the scrawny Georgetown college boy with suspenders would be out on the back of a pick-up truck in a rural community personally unloading and stacking sandbags with community members but he did. (He wasn't in his suspenders by the way.)
And where was Rep Gonzalez when her district was under water? Handing out food or bottled water to residents? Working diligently directing state resources in some make shift command center on a farm in Clint?
She was all lipistickiada at a 16 de Septiembre event at the Consulado partying it up. I snapped this photo and took this screen shot because it annoyed me that she would run around the valley saying Vince doesn't really represent the valley, and that she did.
But when her constituents needed her, where was she? No where near where the help was needed.
She sure as hell makes time to show up on MSNBC for stuff that has nothing to do with her district though.
Look, Vince is a terrible politician. He's socially awkward and shy. I remember one of his very first campaign efforts was at a library in his neighborhood and I physically nudged him to go talk to a voter. (I wonder if remembers that) Any who, my point is that if he was a good politician, he would've made the most mileage possible out of that photo.
And if I had my way, he would've. But you didn't see this photo until now and its only because I'm annoyed that Gonzalez is taking credit for something she had very little to do with.
Had it been the other way around Gonzalez would've called a press conference and included a photo of her in some rubber boots wearing a life vest that says FEMA and a hard hat, riding a horse pulling a canoe of supplies down FM 1110 delivering it to someone in Clint.
And what about when Tornillo had a major water disaster recently? Was Mary there passing out water or coordinating relief efforts?
She was on Planet Austin again and yet again, Vince was the one out there slave-driving his staff to help support Tornillo water board folks and all the other people helping out.
But when its time to take credit for a project that is going to help a lot of families that took the sustained effort of several different levels of government and various entities, she pops up in Montana Vista in front of a TV camera.
Look, I'm not stupid. Its election season and she's facing a challenge from the former state rep of the area. Its the first time she's every really had an opponent so I get it, you gotta capitalize on what you can.
But taking credit for something you weren't really involved in is just not right. Gonzalez missed a golden opportunity to recognize the hard work of others. Thats what leaders do.