Texas Chapter Leader Honored for Advocacy Work

Texas Chapter Leader Honored for Advocacy Work
Texas State Sen. Jose Menendez, left; Col. Bob Certain, USAF (Ret), second from left, MOAA board of directors; and Lt. Col. Lawrence Petrash, USA (Ret), far right, Texas Council of Chapters, present the 2019 Colonel Steve Strobridge Legislative Liaison Award to Maj. James Cunningham USA (Ret). (Courtesy photo)

By Blair Drake, Contributing Editor


The grassroots advocacy efforts of MOAA’s Texas Council of Chapters (CoC) are making a difference in the lives of veterans and military families in the state. From state property tax exemptions for 100% disabled veterans to a scratch-off lottery ticket to benefit the Texas Veterans Assistance Fund and extending Hazelwood Act tuition benefits to the spouses and children of servicemembers, among other successes, council and chapter members in the Lone Star state continue to work extensively advocating for the military community at both the state and national levels.


Maj. James Cunningham USA (Ret), legislative vice president of the Alamo Chapter of MOAA, is one of these members. In addition to his role in the chapter, he is the current president and a past legislative liaison of the Texas CoC and serves as chair of the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organizations (TCVO) and of the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Retiree Council. Through his involvement with these organizations, he keeps his finger on the pulse of issues affecting veterans and servicemembers and their families and has developed relationships with key members of the community and elected officials.


[Related: Learn More About MOAA's State Legislative Consortium, and How to Take Part]


For his leadership and initiative, Cunningham was the recipient of MOAA’s 2019 Colonel Steve Strobridge Legislative Liaison Award.


“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Cunningham said of receiving the award. “[Grassroots advocacy] is something I do because I enjoy it. I enjoy being a leader and a servant leader.”


He attributes the legislative success to relationships and partnerships, such as the TCVO, a group of 37 veterans’ organizations, including MOAA, from across the state that work together to advance state legislation. Cunningham and other members of the coalition volunteer their time to determine and evaluate issues, meet with state legislators, write bills, and testify at hearings.


“We have become the go-to organization for anything to do with the military community,” Cunningham says. “Legislators don’t always listen to us, but we have developed a reputation and clout, so in many cases they do. None of it is perfect, but I think we’ve done a fantastic job in the state of Texas to do some things that really help the military community.”


During the 2019 session of the Texas Legislature, over 60 bills passed related to active duty servicemembers, Guard and Reserve members, veterans, and spouses.


Cunningham, who served for 21 years in the Army National Guard, worked as a schoolteacher and in marketing. He didn’t develop an interest in advocacy until he got involved with the Texas CoC in the late 1990s. Then-Council President Lt. Col. Ed Marvin, USAF (Ret), encouraged him to get involved, and Cunningham got hooked.


[RELATED: More About MOAA's Councils and Chapters]


“I’m a very social guy and enjoy social interaction,” he said, “and I enjoy getting things done and seeing positive results for my fellow veterans.”


Lt. Col. Lawrence Petrash, USA (Ret), immediate past president of the Texas CoC, nominated Cunningham for the Strobridge Award. He says Cunningham’s exemplary work and leadership have not only made a difference with the state legislature but also with his peers in MOAA, who have become leaders in advocacy by his example. “It’s this type of leadership that has helped to make MOAA the nation’s largest and most influential association of military officers,” says Petrash. “He is truly deserving on this award.”


Learn more about Council and Chapter award programs here.

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