Its been yet another wild and crazy political ride in El Paso this year. And yet again, we've had our share of scandal, laughs, sadness, and every once in a while, some good news.
I compiled a list of what I think are the top political stories of the year. I was going to rank them but its hard to figure out a way to rank which ones were more important than others. Some are obvious but others make it difficult to distinguish which is more impactful than the other. So here they are, in no particular order.
Changing of the Guard
Beto Beats Reyes - This is one of the obvious ones. The first Chicano congressman to represent El Paso was defeated by a young, dynamic politico from a rival faction. Congressman Reyes had the sitting President and the most popular Democrat this side of JFK endorse him and he still lost. For the first time in a decade and a half, El Paso has a new rep in congress. That makes the story a big deal.
Vince Beats Chente - There have only been three people represent Precinct 3 in the last 50 years. The last couple left a cloud of controversy because of the FBI Public Corruption Scandal and a drug bust. Vince Perez had every political disadvantage thrown in front of him, from his old boss the Congressman to contributions to PACs to his opponents, to being out-raised and out-spent and yet still managed to find a way to be a household name in the valley. It was part of an election of change and that makes the story a big deal.
Mary Beats Nobody - The race was over before it started because other candidates ended up not getting in this race for the House District 75 seat that was vacated by State Rep Chente Quintanilla in his bid for the Commissioner's seat. State Representative-Elect Mary Gonzalez beat a weak field of candidates and effectively utilized her advantage in fundraising and ground ops. That doesn't mean the race was easy. Gonzalez was running against history more so than her opponents. There has never been a woman elected to represent a major seat in the valley. Ever. Gonzalez not only made history by being the first woman elected to a major seat in the valley, she did so by being open about her sexuality. She made national news and became a rock star in the LGBT community for declaring she is pansexual. She even was mentioned on Jay Leno. She broke two cielings and that makes the story a big deal.
More Government Scandals
I guess El Paso led the way in corruption scandals over the last few years and this year the outlying communities were not going to take being left out of the picture. Actually if it wasn't for Sunland Park and Vinton, this list would be all about Socorro.
Soco-Loco - The city with the biggest potential in the region, and I would argue the city making some of the most visible progress in El Paso County, has been plagued with taking two steps forward and one step back. In fact, it should be called the Socorro Two Step. They had three scandals that make the list - the scandal involving travel with members of council, the scandal involving members of their police department, and the sudden resignation of Mayor Trini Lopez. I don't know how one town can have so much progress and so much drama all at the same time.
Weed with Willie - Its not just a song by Toby Keith anymore. Former El Paso Precinct 3 County Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr was convicted of drug charges. Apparently El Padrino had quite the weed operation going on. Ironically he was popped at the same check-point as Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg. I'd like to say thats just me being witty, but reality is better than fiction.
Sunland Park - I guess our friends in the Land of Enchantment were tired of Socorro hogging all the headlines. Sunland Park had such a broad and sensational year that it made Socorro look like it was a seminary. I'll see your travel and police scandal and I'll raise you a alleged lap-dance and alleged political extortion. And that's just the start of the scandal there.
Vinton - Seriously I think my daughter's third grade class makes better government decisions than some of the members of that city council. The people blocking progress need to be voted out. I said it before and I'll say it again, I am willing to help if anyone wants it.
State Level Stuff
Moody Beats Margo...Again - State Rep-Elect Moody beat soon-to-be former State Rep Dee Margo in the third of their trilogy. Education took center stage in this race and for some reason Dee Margo left beaucoup money in his campaign account. In the last round you're supposed to leave it all in the ring. He apparently left it all in the bank.
Et Tu? - I can't talk about the Moody-Margo race without mentioning the fact that two Democratic members of the delegation supported the Republican candidate over Moody because it was personally better for them. Citing how great the delegation was getting along, the two did more to damage unity in the delegation by supporting the Republican over the Democratic candidate. They faced a lot of heat from other members of the legislature for what they did but it helped Moody raise more money as other members of the delegation and legislature rallied to Moody's support. Interestingly I received some calls from Austin lobbyists that asked me "What is up with your delegation? We though the drama was going to be over when Norma and Shapleigh left."
Redistricting - The 10 year mandate to redraw political lines caused yet another cluster in elections. Talk about a major political story! It made every campaign have to work harder and spend more money. That helped some, that hurt some. Some candidates jumped in races, some stayed out. It changed a lot of races. It impacted House District 78 and House District 77, which may be part of the reason that Marquez chose to endorse Margo over Moody. Moody was drawn out and had to move back in to the district he'd previously represented. Its biggest impact though was in the Congressional race. The new lines made the district much more winnable for Beto O'Rourke and took a big chunk of Reyes's support out. There was also an impact in the 23rd Congressional district which was ultimately one by Pete Gallego.
Leads & Caballero - The two are facing action from the State Bar for conduct relating to their court cases defending former Judge Regina Arditti. The outcome of this race is going to be important to the city as a whole in terms of how things operate in Courthouse.
Its not just in the headlines lately, its been an on-going story and it seems to never want to die. But there are two parts of the story that are especially significant and thats why they make the list.
Dr. Garcia - The minute he started at EPISD the rumors of his weakness for women started flying around town. Interestingly it was getting caught funneling a contract to an alleged mistress that not only led to his indictment but to the revelation of a cheating scandal that is still being sorted out.
Board of Managers The same state entity that originally cleared the EPISD of any wrong-doing then turned around and said the trustees weren't doing enough to fix what they had cleared them of originally and appointed a Board of Managers and a Conservator to oversee the district. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what happens to the election in May for 4 of the 7 members of the Board of Trustees.
Baseball Stadium - This is another one of those stories that really got the blood pumping in this town. Until the election anyway. There was a perception that there was significant opposition to the baseball stadium and the propositions. Based on the results of the election, there clearly wasn't significant opposition to the stadium and propositions. El Paso showed its ready to move forward - and that is significant.
Document Dump - Emails will get ya busted every time. The document dump is now keeping government workers on their toes about what they say in email. The revelation of the documents is a victory for transparency and therefore a victory for the people and that's why its a big deal.
Corruption Scandal on the Road to Resolution
Chilo Madrid Conviction - This one is pretty self-explanatory. Chilo Madrid, who is politically connected to many current and former elected officials in this town was found guilty. For the first time former Judge Dolores Briones was officially named, and several key figures pleaded guilty to corruption.
This story has been going for many years and it really wasn't until this year that things started to look like they were going to be resolved.
Beginning and the End
Steve O's in - Lets start with the beginning. City Rep Steve Ortega announced the start of his Mayoral bid. This is a big deal because if he wins, which he will, it will mean that one political faction will control almost every level of government in El Paso with Beto O'Rourke as the member of Congress, Jose Rodriguez as the State Senator, and Veronica Escobar as the County Judge. If there is a play for EPISD, then it will be every level of government in town.
End of the Road - Pachanga-gate. Because of this last election season we have probably seen the end of political pachangas as we know them in this town. Its what happens when a good idea gets out of hand. Giving away bikes to underprivileged youth and having food and beer for their parents is one thing. Having lavish events at night clubs and giving out high dollar electronics and cold-hard cash is a whole other story. All it took was a little public attention to these types of events for people to see them for what they are. Thankfully we have seen the end of those particular style of pachangas.
The Honorable Mention goes to Martha Dominguez. The only significant campaign activity she did for her bid to be the next, and eventual, member of the State Board of Edcuation was to try to drop out of the race. Yes, only in El Paso can someone who didn't appear to want the position and damn sure didn't campaign to win, actually win and be our representative to the State Board of Education. That's weird even by El Paso political standards.
Thats the list. I know there are others that you think should've been included, so post them in the comments below. I chose what was the most significant locally in terms of policy, media coverage, or general impact on the community. There are others that could've been included, like the fact that a Presidential candidate made a campaign stop in El Paso, but since he wasn't viable and it didn't have an impact to the community or politics in El Paso it didn't make the list. I'm sure you all have others. Should be an interesting discussion.