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4 “1i. 1-111r Ole* speak on the record, but when I started asking about Corpus’s political heavyweights, he was one of the few people I talked with who didn’t gaze around the room to see who was sitting nearby. Carranza blames many of Corpus’s troubles on its isolation. To make his point, Carranza borrowed my notebook and drew a finger-shaped loop to represent South Texas. “This whole area has been left behind, except for the [Rio Grande] Valley because it’s on the border,” he says. He drew a line down the middle of his crude map to represent Interstate 35. “The towns on the main arteries, they’re doing okay. Corpus is a crossroads to nowhere. Unless you’re on vacation, there’s no reason to come here.” During the past decade, while much of the country, especially the Valley, flourished, Corpus’s population and economy stagnated. The city responded to this malaise with one failed revitalization plan after another. The area relies economically on its status as a mediocre beach resort and on its seaport. But those forces alone haven’t spurred economic growth. In Carranza’s view, Corpus has become a forgotten city while economic and political power shifts to the Valley. This trend has made the city insular, providing Corpus pols an inflated view of their own importance. As a result, they turned on each other. For most of its history, Corpus Christi fancied itself as little more than a sleepy fishing village. But during a 40-year stretch following World War II, the city became a bastion of the Latino civil rights movement. The man perhaps most responsible for this emergence was renowned civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia. Simply put, he is the grandfather of Corpus politics. Even now, eight years after his death, he is so revered in Corpus that he’s universally referred to as Dr. Hector. Dr. Hector rose to prominence in early 1949. In a nowfamous incident, a racist funeral home director, backed by local officials, refused to hold services for a Latino soldier killed in World War II. Outraged at this, Dr. Hector elicited help from a new U.S. Senator from Texas named Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ not only arranged for the veteran’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery but helped bring the family to Washington for the funeral. This led to the rise of the G.I. Forum, which Dr. Hector founded in Corpus, to fight for the rights of Latino veterans. For the next 50 years, Dr. Hector was Corpus’s undisputed political kingmaker. All of Corpus’s major contemporary politicians were either hand-picked by Dr. Hector or earned his approval to run for office, including long-time State Sen. Carlos Truan and State Rep. Hugo Berlanga. In 1980, Solomon Ortiz was Nueces County sheriff when Dr. Hector decided he would make a good congressman. Ortiz has represented Corpus in the U.S. House for nearly 22 years. J.A. “Tony” Canales, who is Dr. Hector’s nephew, represents the next generation of Corpus’s first family. Canales, who turns 60 this year, earned a law degree from St. Mary’s University in Ruben Bonilla personifies the Corpus political establishment. San Antonio. In 1977, thanks in part to Dr. Hector’s influence, Canales was named U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas in Houston, where he served for three years. Since then, Canales has utilized his sharp legal and political skills and family connections to become a multi-millionaire attorney. Known for his bulldog style and quick temper, Canales is one of the most powerful and feared litigators in South Texas. He’s represented major corporations, drug dealers, and everyone in between. For years, he was personal attorney and close friend to failed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez. “All the major litigation went to Tony Canales,” Carranza says. “He represents the old guard who developed in the ’70s. He was the big dog in this community.” In the 2001 legislative redistricting fiasco, Truan’s senate district was redrawn to include McAllen and a large swath of the Valley. Truan, then the Texas Senate’s elder statesman, opted for retirement. State Rep. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa This news was met with near panic in Corpus. The political establishment fretted that the city, represented by the powerful Truan for 25 years, would be left without a voice in the Texas Senate, and the end result would be a further dent in the local economy. At that point, Barbara Canales-Black, even though she was Tony’s daughter, was virtually unknown in Corpus. She 1/30/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER S