Lena Guerrero

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Lena Guerrero Aguirre

Texas State Representative
for District 51 (Travis County)
In office
1985–1991
Preceded by Gonzalo Barrientos
Succeeded by Glen Maxey

Texas Railroad Commissioner
In office
1991–1992
Governor Ann Richards
Preceded by John Sharp
Succeeded by Jim Wallace (temporary); Barry Williamson (full term)

Born November 27, 1957
Mission, Hidalgo County, Texas
Died April 24, 2008 (aged 50)
Austin, Texas
Resting place Texas State Cemetery]in Austin,
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Lionel "Leo" Aguirre
(married 1983-2008, her death)
Children Leo G. Aguirre (born 1987)
Residence Austin, Texas
Occupation Lobbyist
Religion Roman Catholic
Notes:
  • Though Guerrero was the first person of ethnic minority status and the first female to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory body at the time of her death in 2008 was all minority--an African American, an Hispanic, and a white female--and all Republican.
  • The Railroad Commission no longer regulates railroads, but its primary duty is to regulate the oil and natural gas industries.
  • Guerrero's once bright political prospects ended in a dispute over falsification of her résumé in regard to a then nonexistent degree from the University of Texas.
  • Though a staunch Democrat, Guerrero crossed party lines in 2006 to endorse an old friend for reelection, then Governor Rick Perry.

Lena Guerrero Aguirre (November 27, 1957 – April 24, 2008), known as Lena Guerrero, was the first woman and the first person of ethnic minority background to have served on the Texas Railroad Commission, an elected body that currently regulates the oil and natural gas industries. In 1992, her once promising political career ended over a falsified résumé. Sixteen years later she died of brain cancer at the age of fifty.

Background

Guerrero was the fifth of nine children of Alvaro Guerrero (1918-1969) and the former Adela Salazar (born ca. 1921). She was born in Mission, near McAllen in the Rio GrandeValley.[1] As a child in the 1960s, she worked during summers as a migrant laborer alongside her eight siblings.[2]

Political career

As a student at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1970s, Guerrero became interested in politics. At the age of twenty-one in 1979, she was elected president of the Young Democrats of Texas.

State representative

In 1984, at the age of twenty-five, she became the second female Hispanic to be elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Based in District 51, she defeated five male opponents in a then Anglo-but-Democratic-majority district. No Republican contested the seat despite the landslide victory that year of Ronald W. Reagan as U.S. President.[3] Guerrero's district included parts of Central and East Austin.[1]

In 1989, Guerrero was named among the "Top 10" legislators by Texas Monthly magazine. She was cited in Newsweek and USA Today and, having left the legislature, was awarded a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City,[4] which nominated Bill Clinton of Arkansas to oppose incumbent George Herbert Walker Bush of Texas. She was also executive director of the Texas Women's Political Caucus.[3]

Railroad commissioner

In 1991, Governor Ann Richards, a fellow Democrat, appointed Guerrero to fill a vacancy on the three-member Railroad Commission. Her selection was said to have symbolized Richards' hope of a "New Texas"; prior to that, the commission's members had been only white males.[4]

In 1992, Guerrero faced voters in her bid for a six-year term on the Railroad Commission. When it was revealed that Guerrero had lied about having graduated from UT, the momentum shifted heavily to her Republican opponent, attorney Barry Williamson, a native of Arkansas.

Guerrero later obtained her UT degree—she had been nineteen credits short of a bachelor's degree—and became an Austin lobbyist for Bravo Communications, representing such clients as American Telephone & Telegraph, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Tigua Indians, for whom she helped to pass a bill to allow casinos on reservation lands. In defending her position, Guerrero said that the issue "is not about gambling. This is about the Indians and their right to use their land."[2]

In the race for Railroad Commissioner, Guerrero had expected to face Carole Rylander, then a Democrat Guerrero had supported in the successful nonpartisa] race for mayor of Austin in 1977. However, Rylander, later Carole Strayhorn, lost the Republican primary to Williamson. Strayhorn's second husband, Hill Rylander, as president of the UT Alumni Association, learned that Guerrero did not have the college degree that she claimed when the association planned to honor her as a "distinguished alumna."[3] Some official biographies at the time indicated Guerrero was a member of Phi Beta Kappa; she was not.[5]

In a 1998 interview with The Houston Chronicle, Guerrero reflected that she had mishandled her resignation from the Railroad Commission. "... if you can't learn and go on and you dwell too much in the past, then you're really wasting your present." She resigned two months short of her being able to enter the state health insurance program, which worked against her financially when she was stricken in 2000 with two malignant brain tumors.

Guerrero underwent proton beam therapy at Loma Linda University Medical Center near San Bernardino, California. Lobbyist Mignon McGarry said that Guerrero went for treatment at Loma Linda after having been admonished by physicians at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that she would otherwise not live much longer than two years.[4]

Endorsing Rick Perry

Though a staunch Democrat, Guerrero endorsed the reelection in 2006 of Republican Governor Rick Perry; the two had a friendship that began in 1985 when both were freshmen Democratic legislators. Guerrero said that while she and Perry disagreed on certain issues, they had a relationship of "civility." Perry won his general election with 39 percent of the vote over four rivals, including Carole Strayhorn, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent. On Guerrero's death, Perry directed that flags at the Texas State Capitol and other state buildings be flown at half-staff in her memory. He described Guerrero as a "bright, passionate woman who worked hard to represent the interests of her constituents. ... She was the sort of person who placed loyalty and principle ahead of politics."[3] Former state House Speaker Pete Laney of|Hale Center, a Democrat, agreed with Perry: "I don't think there was anyone who was more passionate about their service in the legislature or (about) their constituents and beliefs."[4] Strayhorn said that Guerrero "did so much at a very young age, certainly knocked down a lot of barriers for women and Hispanics and all of the above."[3]

Death and legacy

In addition to her mother and siblings, she was survived by her husband, Lionel "Leo" Aguirre of Austin, and a son, Leo G. Aguirre (born 1987), who played baseball at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.[1] J. Thomas Stewart, a former aide to Guerrero, issued this statement for the family: "Lena was a champion. She dealt with the struggles in her personal life in the same way she dealt with those in her public life — with tenacity, vigor and a sense of humor that we will miss more than words can say." Though her doctors estimated she would only live six months with the diagnosis of brain cancer, she survived nearly eight years.[4]

Her funeral mass was held on April 26 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church in Austin. Burial was in the Monument Hill section of the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.[1]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lena Guerrero. Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved on August 4, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lena Guerrero, Texas Monthly, September 2001.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Lena Guerrero, once a rising star in Texas politics, dies after battling cancer," The Austin American-Statesman, April 25, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Guerrero, Railroad Commission pioneer, dies. The Houston Chronicle (April 25, 2008). Retrieved on August 4, 2020.
  5. Roberto Suro (October 12, 1992). Lie by Texas Politician Puts Twist in Campaign. The New York Times. Retrieved on August 4, 2020.