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It’s More than Just Ceremony for Citizen-Lobbyists at Capitol

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Martin Cantu and other members of UT-Pan American play for a full crowd at the capitol.
Beth Cortez-Neavel
Martin Cantu and other members of UT-Pan American play for a full crowd at the capitol.

For many, a trip to the Capitol doesn’t just mean sitting in the gallery for a few minutes until the applause is over, it can also mean a day of petitioning lawmakers to address issues vital to their communities. It can mean the difference between winning a new medical school or protecting a local water supply.

Two such communities came to the Capitol on Wednesday, one from the Valley and one from Central Texas.

At noon in the Capitol Rotunda,one could hear the joyous whoops of mariachi music, the dulcet tones of twenty or so classical guitars and the chattering of legislators, students, school officials and representatives from the University of Texas-Pan American and UT-Brownsville.

A few members of UTPA’s Mariachi Azatlán, dressed in green velvet suits with beige sombreros, posed for photos with freshman Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen) while Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) jokingly acted as composer in front of the seated UT-Brownsville One O’ Clock Guitar Ensemble.

Rep. Bobby Guerra and Rep. Dan Branch pose for a photo-op with a few members of Mariachi Azatlan.
Beth Cortez-Neavel
Rep. Bobby Guerra and Rep. Dan Branch pose for a photo-op with a few members of Mariachi Azatlan.

But the Valley delegation also had important business today: They were promoting the merger of UTPA and UT-Brownsville into one regional university. Although the University of Texas System has approved the merger, the new university will need the Legislature’s blessing.

UT-Brownsville sophomore Moises Grimaldo said the Capitol concert was a way to introduce lawmakers to the university’s cultural richness.

“We want to show our culture and what we have to offer with this partnership,” Grimaldo said.

Rep. Guerra, a graduate of UTPA, told the Observer that many legislators are ready to listen. “We’re gonna show the rest of Texas what we can do,” he said, “and turn out quality, quality students, which we’ve already been doing in the past, but now we can expand on that.”

Two floors below in the Capitol Extension, a contingent of more than eighty parents, educators, community members and city officials from Elgin, Texas lined up for lunch at the Capitol Grill. The group had been recognized in the House and Senate earlier in the day.

“We’re concerned about water,” said Elgin Mayor Marc Holm, who was queued up for lunch. “We have water of course, but we realize other areas around us don’t. Water is the new gold, or new oil… and a lot of people would like to export it. We need to pay attention to that so it’s done equitably.”

Stephanie Lippke, a “motivated parent” who has two kids attending school in Elgin, said she was asking legislators to repeal the requirement that scores from the controversial STAAR test count toward students’ grades.

“There’s a large group that are starting to be aware of the STAAR [test] and the pitfalls that we’re falling into,” she said. “A lot of parents and community members are getting involved in that, letting our representatives know that we’d like some changes.”

The city of Elgin works so closely with the school district that most of the group rode to the Capitol on school buses.

“We set all this up and thought it would be an educational day,” Carter said. “You know as a kid you come to the Capitol, but as you grow up sometimes you don’t. We just felt like it would be neat.”