News Room

Unpleasantness grows to animosity between El Paso state representatives
May 28, 2009

"As state Rep. Norma Chávez celebrated one of the biggest accomplishments of her life, she made it clear there was one person she did not want around her -- a fellow El Paso legislator she helped win elected office."

Written by Brandi Grissom, El Paso Times


Rep. Norma Chavez, Rep. Marisa Marquez

AUSTIN -- As state Rep. Norma Chávez celebrated one of the biggest accomplishments of her life, she made it clear there was one person she did not want around her -- a fellow El Paso legislator she helped win elected office.

In electronic notes and messages from lobbyist intermediaries, Chávez told state Rep. Marisa Marquez that she was not welcome to share in Chávez's triumph as she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin.

"Plz do not go to my noon reception. Or I will ask u to leave," Chávez wrote in a text message to Marquez last week.

Trouble between the two began almost immediately after Marquez, with Chávez's help, defeated longtime state Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso, in the primary election last year. The animosity has continued throughout the legislative session.

"It's certainly not healthy," said Marquez, 30. "It doesn't do anything for the way our colleagues perceive us."

Chávez, 48, said Marquez had ridiculed and disrespected her. Now, Chávez says, she wants nothing to do with the freshman lawmaker she once thought would be her partner at the Capitol.

"She didn't just burn the bridge; she blew it up," Chávez said.

During the Democratic primary campaign last year, Chávez said, she dropped a course she was taking at UT Austin and extended her political capital to help Marquez.

Chávez, who also had a tumultuous relationship with Moreno, was the only member of the El Paso delegation to support the political newcomer.

The day after the election, Chávez said, Marquez did not return her calls and responded only by text message.

At a victory party, Chávez said, Marquez "berated" her by asking whether she was prepared to give a speech.

Perhaps the most serious offense came during a dinner with other legislators when, Chávez said, Marquez made fun of a school project that she was working on.

"She's never, never treated me with any kind of respect at all," Chávez said.

By December, when the five El Paso House members met to prepare for the legislative session, the two were having unpleasant exchanges.

Chávez said after the meeting that she gave Marquez a figurative "little swat" for attempting to file legislation that would affect Thomason Hospital. The hospital is in Chávez's district.

For months during the legislative session, Chávez criticized a bill that Marquez filed to allow the creation of an ethics commission in El Paso County. She demanded dozens of changes, and when the bill finally passed, Chávez called it the "witch hunt ethics bill."

When it came time for Chávez to walk across the stage at UT Austin last week to receive her bachelor's degree in government, a diploma 25 years in the making, she had planned festivities galore.

"My graduation was about being with the people who really cared," Chávez said. "It was not about being politically correct or doing things for appearances."

Marquez said a lobbyist contacted her on Chávez's behalf and asked her not to approach Chávez during a ceremony May 21 honoring her on the House floor.

But as the other 149 members of the Texas House filed onto the dais to congratulate Chávez and greet her parents, Marquez joined the procession.

"It was because we're colleagues, and I respect what she accomplished," Marquez said.

She sent Chávez a frame for her diploma and a card that said, "Norma, You did it! Congrats on such a great accomplishment. God bless, Marisa."

Chávez did not take Marquez's gift or her appearance on the dais as signs of respect. In a text message the next morning, she told Marquez not to attend a reception hosted by the Texas Medical Association.

"U ridiculed my education every drunk opportunity u had. U R not my friend," Chávez wrote in the text.

Marquez said she was shocked by the message. She did not respond and did not attend the reception "in order to avoid a scene that was going to embarrass El Paso."

On Wednesday, Chávez had her staff return the gift from Marquez. She even returned the congratulatory card.

Marquez said she never intended to ridicule Chávez, especially for going back to school, and she was not drunk either.

"That goes against everything I stand for," Marquez said.

She said she has thanked Chávez repeatedly for her work in the election and has tried to make peace.

"The response has not been concrete or productive," she said. "I don't understand."

One thing Marquez can be sure of, though, is that Chávez will not be helping in her re-election campaign.

"It's rule Number 1," Chávez said. "Respect the one who brought you to the dance."

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