Shapleigh will not seek re-election; Chavez, Rodriguez, maybe Cook and others interested
by David Crowder and Sito Negron
Posted on October 16, 2009
El Paso State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh surprised the political community and his own staff by announcing Friday that he will not seek re-election next year.
The fact that the El Paso senate seat will be open is already creating a lot of speculation about and interest in the 2010 race.
State Rep. Norma Chavez and El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez have already said they’re interested, and state Rep. Joe Pickett said his phone is ringing off the hook with calls from politicos around the state urging him to jump in.
Shapleigh made a brief, four-sentence statement to reporters in his office that closed one door but opened another to a possible run for higher office. (Announcement and news release at bottom of story)
“In our family, public service is the highest calling,” he said. “While other public service may lie ahead, I will not run for the Texas Senate in 2010.”
A bi-lingual lawyer from an old El Paso family, Shapleigh rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a volunteer prosecutor in the courts of inquiry investigation into inequities in state funding and as the co-chairman of Unite El Paso, a nonprofit organization that rallied thousands of El Pasoans to the cause of community improvement.
He first ran in 1996 on a platform to win El Paso’s “fair share” in the Legislature after years of being shorted in funding for everything from state highways to programs for the elderly.
As one of the senate’s most liberal members, Shapleigh has campaigned across Texas for a state income tax to cure the inequities and chronic shortages in education funding and pushed hard in several sessions for the creation of and funding for a full-fledged, four-year medical school in El Paso.
He counts the creation of that school as one of his greatest achievements.
Asked what he wished he had accomplished, Shapleigh listed a state health care bill, a higher education plan to send more kids to college, better public schools and a stable funding source for them.
“All those are dreams for another day,” he said wistfully.
Chavez and Rodriguez were the first to put down their place holders for next year’s senate race.
Chavez said "of course" she was considering a run for the Senate seat.
"I'm a senior member of the house delegation … of course I will look at it seriously," she said.
Speaking by telephone from Dallas where she said she was attending the Texas-Oklahoma football game, Chavez said that she had been preparing a poll for November anyway. "That still stands, so obviously I will have more names to add to the poll."
Chavez said friends and supporters in El Paso and Austin are urging her to run.
"I have a record to run on, 13 years of accomplishments, and I'm ready to go to the next step if my constituents and broad base of support, including the business community, the medical community, the education community and my support network, are ready for that," she said.
Shapleigh's announcement will mean “a definite shuffling of the deck" for the seats of the members of El Paso’s House delegation who decide to run.
Chavez said she wasn't sure who would step in to replace her, although she noted that there are two City Council members in her House district: city Reps. Eddie Holguin and Emma Acosta. Chavez also said one of her top aides, Lily Ruiz, might be interested in taking a crack at the seat.
When asked who she might support between Holguin and Ruiz, she replied: "Those are the decisions the people will have to consider."
Unlike Chavez, Rodriguez has run countywide four times and would, as a long time friend and ally of Shapleigh’s, have the incumbent’s support.
While Shapleigh is out of pocket for three weeks, Rodriguez said, he will be looking into the support he might have in El Paso and Austin as a Senate candidate.
“If there’s enough support, I might just do it,” Rodriguez said.
He said he would have to weigh the decision carefully because he was elected to a fourth term last year to a position that pays well over $100,000 a year compared to the paltry $7,200 salary of a state senator.
“I need to get a strong sense that there’s good support because I’d be a fool to leave office with three years to go if I didn’t,” he said.
Pickett, another veteran member of the El Paso delegation, has no such worries since the salary for state representatives and senate members are the same.
But, he said, he will have to think hard about the advantages of being a senator compared with the influential position he now holds as chairman of the House transportation committee.
“I don’t know that a lot of people realize that a House member in my position is more powerful than a lot of senate members,” he said, noting that a committee chairman has the ability to help other House members and their legislation.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Eliot’s announcement. But there’s a lot to consider,” Pickett said. “I don’t know that a lot of people realize that a House member in my position is more powerful than a lot of senate members.”
“A lot of my decision will have to do with who’s running for the Senate,” he said. “Mayor (John) Cook is having to think about it, too. I think he would like to do it. And then there are names we haven’t heard that may come up.”
They could include city Rep. Beto O’Rourke and members of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes’ family, he said.
“I’m really trying to think of what is the best thing for El Paso and me,” Pickett said. “I love the ruckus of the House.”
* * *
News release from Shapleigh's office:
"In our family, public service is the highest calling. While other public service may lie ahead, I will not run for the Texas Senate in 2010. During each day of the last decade, we have endeavored to do our very best for the people of our great community and state. In public life, especially in Texas during this decade, doing what’s right, not what’s expedient is what matters. I am grateful to the people who elected me for the opportunity to serve.”
First elected in 1996, Shapleigh spearheaded the creation of the El Paso Medical School—the first new medical school in the US in 30 years. In the early 90’s, working with Judge Marquez and others, he brought attention to dramatic underfunding of Texas Border communities, then crafted innovative laws to create the Regional Mobility Authority, move people and products faster and safer across international borders, and fund $1b in infrastructure money to complete El Paso’s outer loop.
In 2001, he established the “International Intelligent Transportation Center” in El Paso, to research and promote state of the art technology solutions to safer, smarter mobility. From 2000, to date, working with regional state, federal and municipal leaders, he led the fight to stop ASARCO’s 7,000 air permit, remediate and redevelop what is one of America’s most contaminated sites. Over the last decade, Senator Shapleigh co-founded “Community Scholars’, a nationally recognized youth leadership program to build a new generation of ethical regional leaders, and worked across business and governmental agencies to promote the first County Ethics Commission in Texas. More recently, he and other community leaders launched “Invest in the American Dream” a community wide effort to build financial literacy and entrepreneurial expertise.
In the Senate, he authored or sponsored over 400 bills and resolutions. As Senate BRAC chair, he passed laws to promote Texas’ military value, and worked hard to increase troops, funding and new programs across Texas’ 18 military installations—including historic growth at Ft. Bliss and Ft. Sam Houston. Early on, as a member of the CHIP conference committee, he worked to add 300,000 children across Texas to quality health care. For his work on CHIP, he received the Hannah Solomon Award in El Paso.
For his work on “Texas On Line” and laptops in schools, he was named a “Visionary Technology Innovator” by the Center for Digital Government. In 2001, the American School Health Association, named him national “Legislator of the Year” for his pioneering work to combat obesity among young Texans in public schools.
During the Sensenbrenner hearings on immigration, when Texas lawmakers were barred from testifying in Congressional field hearings, Shapleigh organized the City of El Paso to pass a ‘common sense resolution on immigration reform’, then fought and beat every extreme and harmful immigration measure in the Texas Senate. For his work, he was given the “Matt Garcia-Public Official of the Year’ by MALDEF.
Consistently a strong, clear voice for better schools, rigorous curriculum, competitive universities, and quality 21st education, in the contentious debates of 2003—2005, Senator Shapleigh worked to improve school funding formulas, make the Texas tax system more fair, and bring Texas teachers to national pay standards. For his work, he was named “Conscience of the Senate” by Texas Monthly, “Texas Classroom Advocate of the Year” by the Classroom Teachers Association and “Texas Education Leader” by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.
His work on improving funding equity for all Texas schoolchildren earned him the “Champion for Children’ award from the Texas Equity Center. In the Texas Senate, he is the recognized expert on cutting edge, evidence based bilingual education programs. He is the Senate’s lead voice on improving financial literacy and his fight to rein in predatory lenders whose annual interest rates now exceed 1100% has gained national recognition
As a member of the Texas Sunset Commission he wrote the Texas Higher Education Sunset bill to require performance measure reports of Texas’ 35 universities to improve value to students, transparency to parents and graduation rates as low as 3.8%. Last session, he worked hard to establish more Tier One Universities in Texas, and to create a ‘competitive, transparent’ process for all seven emerging Tier One universities.
In October in Ft. Worth, the National Association of Social Workers—Texas Chapter will honor him as “Texas Legislator of the Year” for his determined fight for better schools, quality heath care, and improving tax equity in Texas.
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