Texas Senate panel OKs naming section of Fort Worth freeway for Cesar Chavez

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN -- A bill to name a stretch of Interstate 35W through Fort Worth after civil rights activist Cesar Chavez barely passed out of a Senate committee on Wednesday and faces an uncertain outcome on the Senate floor, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth said.

Davis' bill, which was approved by a 5-4 vote in the Senate Transportation Committee, would designate a nearly 10 mile-stretch of I-35W as the Cesar Chavez Memorial Freeway. The Rev. Stephen Jasso of Fort Worth's All Saints Catholic Church has told lawmakers that the designation "would be a significant symbol for the Hispanic Community in Fort Worth."

Davis and the committee's four other Democrats joined Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, in voting for SB1314. Voting against the bill were Republican Sens. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Ken Paxton of McKinney and Dan Patrick of Houston.

Davis said she was surprised by the opposition to the bill and expressed concern that the close vote could signal trouble for the measure in the full Senate.

"When a bill comes out on a 5-4 vote, it causes staff to look at that and probably to recommend to their bosses that they should think very seriously about how they're going to vote on it," Davis said. "I certainly hope the collection of members who voted against it today is not representative of the mindset of other senators on the floor."

Paxton, who is sponsoring a bill to name a section of highway after Republican U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano, said he feels Texas highways should be named for "American heroes and leaders [who] call Texas home."

"When we name a Texas highway, I think it is important to use that opportunity to honor Texas heroes," Paxton said in an email.

Johnson, who was recognized by the Legislature recently, was a POW during the Vietnam War.

Campbell, asked about her opposition to naming the highway after Chavez, said, "I don't believe in his policies." Hancock, who represents parts of Tarrant and Dallas counties, and Patrick could not be reached for comment.

"This is a local bill and typically we treat each other with deference in regard to bills that affect only our local community," said Davis. "It seems like a little bit of a double standard and you can't help wonder if the double standard is motivated by the person who they want to recognize."

Chavez, who died in 1993, was an American labor leader who championed Latino rights and co-founded the United Farm Workers Union. His birthday, March 31, is celebrated as a state holiday in Texas, California and Colorado. President Barack Obama has also proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day, although it is not a federal holiday.

The companion bills by Davis and Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, would place the Chavez designation on the section of I-35W that bisects Fort Worth, running from Interstate 20/Loop 820 on the south to Texas 183 on the north.

It would be the third highway in Texas with Chavez's name. Others are in Corpus Christi and El Paso County.

"Our local community wants to name a portion of I -35 for someone that they admire and see as a role model, not only for the Hispanic community but for the community at large," said Davis. "And this is a person who obviously fought very hard to be sure that people were treated fairly."

In a letter to members of the House Transportation Committee, Jasso said Fort Worth's Hispanic community "has a rich tradition of community service and has long embraced the organization efforts of Cesar Chavez.

"This historical designation will run through many Hispanic neighborhoods in Fort Worth and will be a reminder for our community of all that we have accomplished," he said.

Burnam also authored similar legislation during the 2011 Legislature. The bill passed the House on the non-controversial local and consent calendar but died in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin

Bureau chief.

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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