This article was originally published by Rio Grande Guardian

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – State Rep. Erin Elizabeth Gámez felt she had no choice but to bring politics into the conversation during a panel discussion at RGV StartUp Week.

The weeklong event, held at the eBridge Center for Business & Commercialization, was designed to foster and celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as help startup businesses in the Rio Grande Valley.

It was co-hosted by the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation and UT-Rio Grande Valley’s Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center.

Rep. Gámez, D-Brownsville, participated in a panel discussion titled “Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders.” She was joined on the stage by Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda, Daniella Lopez Valdez, executive director of the Mitte Cultural District and vice president of Brownsville ISD board of trustees, and Ron Garza, associate vice president of workforce and economic development at UTRGV.

“I promised not to throw grenades, but I have to talk about two potentially sensitive subjects,” Gámez said. She proceeded to criticize the level of funding public education receives in Texas and the increased militarization of the Texas-Mexico border.

“When we talk about entrepreneurship, we cannot just expect it to flourish and happen without watering the grass, so to speak. Addressing some basic infrastructure,” Gámez said.

“If we do not address the fact that Texas is 42nd in funding public education… if we don’t address that issue, we cannot expect entrepreneurship to continue to flourish.

“When we want to try to convince our peers to move back home, they’re not going to do it if we don’t have an A-rated school system down here. When we want to convince large businesses to move down here, to move their workers and employees down here, and to invest down here, they’re not going to want to do it if we don’t have a top tier A-rated school system.”

Fortunately, Gámez said, Brownsville does have an A-rated school system.

“We are fighting tooth and nail for every dime that we have gotten (for public education) in the past two years. We cannot talk about one without the other. Whether we went to a private school like me or to a public school, it does not matter. We are all in this together and we have to focus and care about the effort, or lack thereof of, and the attention that we’re putting into our public education. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to all fight for in the future and in the next biennium.”

Gámez then discussed the increased militarization of the border region.

“This is an issue that is unique to a certain sliver of Texas, i.e., the border, and – in particular – Brownsville, South Texas. We cannot expect families to move down if we are fostering a conversation of chaos at the border.”

Gámez said StartUp Week was being held in a beautiful building in downtown Brownsville. “Some of us could throw a baseball across the border right now. That’s how close we are. If we don’t talk about reality versus Instagram, we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Gámez said it was incumbent on all border residents to “correct that narrative.”

She said: “There is no (political) party in the House right now that supports lawlessness or open borders. That is false. There is no party right now that supports de-funding the police or not supporting our law enforcement. That is false.”

Gámez said law enforcement personnel deserve the community’s support.

“We’re going to do everything that we have to do to protect and defend our borders and to correct the narrative that there’s any sort of lawlessness down here. And, in particular, that means by funding and supporting law enforcement. We cannot talk about fostering entrepreneurship without protecting and supporting and defending those that protect and defend us.”

Gámez continued:

“When we talk about entrepreneurship, we cannot foster a narrative that supports a military presence in front of our universities. That’s my job. That’s what I do in Austin. I talk about, hey, if you’re not going to put it in downtown Dallas, don’t you dare put it in downtown Brownsville.

“When we talk about fostering entrepreneurship, we have to say, hold on. If you haven’t been here, speak slowly. Because you don’t know. That’s our job. And that’s what we do as elected officials, is tell them, we are not all the same. So, when we talk about policies, hold on, do not pass something, do not do something that is going to destroy the loving, incredible environment that you’ve created in downtown Brownsville.”

Gámez later took to social media to say how pleased she was to have participated in RGV StartUp Week.

“Thrilled to have been part of RGV Start Up Week’s “Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders” panel. Had an amazing discussion with esteemed panelists Daniella Lopez Valdez, vice president of the Brownsville ISD Board; Norma Sepulveda, mayor of Harlingen; and Ron Garza, associate vice president for Workforce and Economic Development at UTRGV.

“Big thanks to Skylar Howell for moderating! We delved into fostering leadership skills, promoting diversity, and tackling today’s challenges.

“It was great to see so many passionate individuals coming together to celebrate and build on the big things we are doing in the RGV.”