Irma Rangel (Texas politician)

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Irma Lerma Rangel
Texas State Representative from the 43rd District
In office
1977–2003
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by Juan Manuel Escobar
Personal details
Born (1931-05-15)May 15, 1931
Starr County, Texas, U.S.
Died March 17, 2003(2003-03-17) (aged 71)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Texas State Cemetery
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Texas A&M University–Kingsville

St. Mary's University Law School

Occupation Activist, educator, lawyer

Irma Lerma Rangel (May 15, 1931 – March 17, 2003) was an attorney and Democratic state legislator based in Kingsville, Texas.

Life and politics[edit]

She was the youngest of three daughters. Her father, Presciliano Martinez Rangel, from Duval County, was orphaned at an early age and was able to attend school for only one year. Her mother, Herminia Lerma, moved with her parents from Starr County to Kingsville. Presciliano worked in farming, ranching, construction, and business. He became a merchant and owned an appliance store, a furniture store, a plumbing service, two barber shops, and a bar. He helped his wife build a successful dress shop located just off the main street of Kingsville, not restricted to the "Mexican side" of town.

In 1947, when Rangel was a teenager, her parents were able to buy some land near Texas College of Arts and Industries and hoped to build a home. But the land was in the "Anglo-white" district and the neighbors organized against allowing a "Mexican" family to build in their neighborhood. Ultimately, the family was allowed to design and build the Spanish Colonial style house across from the college campus that Rangel called home until her dying day. Rangel and her sisters grew up in Kingsville, attending the Mexican Ward School for the elementary grades, and the town's only integrated high school.

Rangel and her oldest sister decided to attend the Texas College of Arts and Industries, now Texas A&M University–Kingsville. After graduating with degrees in education, Rangel began teaching in the neighboring community of Robstown. Then she and her oldest sister, Olga, decided to become teachers in an overseas program in Venezuela. This determination to be of service to society and fight for good causes impelled Rangel to return to Texas and attend St. Mary's University Law School. She went on to become one of the first Hispanic female law clerks. After her clerkship with U.S. District Judge Adrian Spears, she became one of the first Hispanic women assistant district attorneys in Texas by working in the District Attorney's office in Nueces County. She returned to Kingsville, where she opened her own law practice and was the only Hispanic woman attorney in the city.[1]

In 1974, Rangel began her life in politics by running for, and winning, the chairmanship of the Kleberg County Democratic Party. But she had more ambitious goals and decided to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. She gathered her girlhood friends, family, and a few newcomers to Kingsville and worked hard to win the seat that would make her the only Hispanic woman in the legislature. In 1993, she closed her successful law practice in order to serve her district as a legislator full-time. Upon her death on March 17, 2003, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House issued a news release, which summarized her legislative career.[2]

In 1993, she secured $460 million for the South Texas Border Initiative. In the last legislative session, Representative Rangel passed a bill creating the first professional school in South Texas — Texas A&M Health Science Center - Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. In 1995, Speaker Pete Laney appointed Rangel Chair of the Texas House Committee on Higher Education.

As the first Mexican-American to head the committee, Rangel led the charge to ensure educational opportunities for all children. Rangel joint-authored and sponsored legislation creating the TEXAS Grant I and Grant II Programs, which have allocated millions of dollars in financial support to low-income students. In response to the Hopwood v. Texas decision, which ended affirmative action at all state colleges and universities, Rangel pioneered landmark legislation in 1997 (House Bill 588) which requires state colleges and universities to admit automatically all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.[citation needed]

In 1994, Rangel was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame. GEMS television named her Woman of the Year in 1997. In 1998, Rangel became the first Mexican American to receive the Mirabeau B. Lamar Medal from the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities. In 2003, the Mexican American Legislative Foundation Inc., sponsored the inaugural Moreno/Rangel Legislative Leadership Program to encourage the involvement of young Hispanics in the political process. Named for Representatives Rangel and Paul C. Moreno of El Paso, then the dean of the Texas House, the program provides undergraduate and graduate students from across Texas an opportunity to gain first-hand political experience working in the legislature.[citation needed]

Death/legacy[edit]

Rangel grave marker at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin

Rangel died of breast cancer (as well as ovarian and brain cancers) on March 17, 2003.[2] Her legislative collection is stored at the South Texas Archives and Special Collections at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Cecilia Aros Hunter, professor and university archivist, was a personal family friend for more than thirty years. The collection consists mainly of legislative papers created while Rangel served in the Texas State Legislature for almost twenty-six years and papers left in her law office in Kingsville.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rangel profile, University of Texas at Arlington, Center for Mexican American Studies website; accessed December 13, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Irma Rangel biography, texasmonthly.com; accessed December 13, 2014.