Tuesday, September 30, 2014

El Paso GOP Attempts Voter Suppression in Canutillo

In a fairly transparent effort of voter suppression the El Paso Republican Party made a pitch to commissioners court yesterday to remove an early voting location from Canutillo.

The only real question is whether it is because Canutillo votes heavily Democratic or because Canutillo is heavily Latino.

Originally the argument was about a specific voting location, which is the Canutillo ISD Administration building. Essentially the GOP won that argument and another location was chosen. I'll get to why commissioners court screwed Canutillo on that one in a minute.

This started last week and within the last few days Javier Chacon (Elections Department Head) came up with a proposal to move the early voting location to the nutrition center in Canutillo. The Republicans tipped their hand to their true intentions when despite the suggestion of the alternate location, the GOP continued with their efforts to remove a voting location from Canutillo.

Former Judge Bill Hicks addressed the legal portion of their argument. He was followed by all the officers of the GOP. I got a kick out of how all of them started their speeches with "I rise today...:

Obviously the GOP doesn't want a big push of voters coming from Canutillo. The reason we know this is because they haven't raised this issue before. They haven't raised the issue because they were pretty confident that Canutillo wouldn't tip the scales in a given race. Now the Republicans have to defend their last two remaining seats and they are feeling the heat.

Frankly I think they are all wrong about it. Republicans apparently don't get it. You don't need to suppress the Latino vote. We don't that all by ourselves. Its not necessary to suppress a vote that doesn't exist. 

Now here's how commissioner's court screwed the CISD. CISD has a board election in November and there are five seats up for grabs and only one of them has an incumbent. The Cimarron subdivision has over a hundred families living and paying taxes in it. The new site will mean a longer trip for voters to head to the polls to vote. 

Oh and by the way, in case y'all forgot, the school districts had a lot of people involved in the public corruption scandal. We should be bending over backward to increase voter participation not making it more difficult. 

Apparently no one has learned their lesson.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who's in Charge of the Cluster...

Some genius has decided to hold a voter protection training for the Democratic Party and Debate Watching Parties at almost the exact same time.

Not sure who the genius was that thought of that one, but let me speak a little about the colossal waste of time that is a Debate Watching Party. There are apparently several debate watching parties that will be happening tomorrow.

My question is, who gives a damn and why the hell are we wasting energy on that kind of cluster fudge.

Debate parties accomplish nothing except a waste of resources. Time, effort, and whatever someone pays for refreshments. It doesn't move the ball down the field. It in no way helps Wendy Davis be competitive.

Not in the least.

We shouldn't be wasting time on people who are already going to vote for her. We shouldn't waste our time on people who will never vote for her. But we should be focusing on someone that we aren't talking to - persuadable voters.

Its not happening and there doesn't appear to be a plan to touch them either.

But my all means, lets spend our time at debate parties. That'll get the job done...

Why Does Muench Have a Column Again?

For some reason Joe Muench has a political column in the El Paso Times. Not sure why, but somewhere along the way he ended up with the job. Although now I guess he's retired.

I don't really know what the deal is with him and his column but his column on Sunday said something I think he needs to be called to the carpet on.

First, mark the date and time. I am about to defend Norma Chavez. Yes, that Norma Chavez. The one that I've had a very public and often brutal feud with for the past few years.

I don't have to recount why the feud started because you all basically know. But the feud got pretty bad. Very, very, very personal. So you know if I'm defending her, then Muench must really be off the mark.

I mean worse than the time he thought Sergio Lewis and Dan Haggerty lived in the same precinct.

Apparently Muench finds Norma's facebook page quite entertaining and he wrote that she has been "Ms. Congeniality" on facebook lately. He ended the blurb about her by saying, "Norma is now nice, gentle - and boring."

Okay first of all, how bad do things suck that you find entertainment in Norma's facebook page? Granted, I don't have the first clue what she writes on FB because I blocked her or she blocked me or however that shizzle works. But checking out her FB to see what she writes, and then being disappointed by it...that is some teenage ex-girlfriend stuff Joe.

Seriously, you've got to get out more vato.

And then to talk about her FB in your column...thats a little creepy. Trust me, I have my own little army of people who search my page and harass me. Once there was this guy Tierra O. Muerte who later became Dolly Llama who was stalking me and sending me all kinds of messages. I pretty much dared him to meet me in person and eventually found out it was that creepy guy who was harassing Marquez that one time.

And he's a teacher!

Muench, you should be better than that.

But lets actually talk about the sentiment. Muench was actually disappointed that she's nice and sweet on FB now. Isn't that what we all wanted? Didn't we all just want her to go away quietly and do no harm?

Now that she has, Muench is disappointed?

I'll be the first to admit that I have been very critical of Chavez. She once called my show on election day and had a full-blown meltdown on the air. I pleaded with her campaign team, all of whom where friends of mine, to take her phone away from her, wrap it in duct tape and toss it in the largest tower at Asarco.

I've been critical of her style. I've been critical of her approach. I've been critical of her votes. I've been critical of her quotes.

Hell, she once followed me around the courthouse taking pictures of me all the way until I got into an elevator. I think I know how Norma can be more than anyone.

And Norma thinks people write about her because they need attention. She thinks it gets people more traffic on their blog or they sell more papers when they write about her. I know, its silly and not remotely true.

Not in the least.

Muench's column sure makes you wonder though. Why would he bother writing about Chavez. She's gone now. Not only is she gone now, she went out with class. I know my progressive friends won't like to hear this, but she's actually been pretty classy in defeat.

When she lost to Naomi the first time she was very classy in defeat. I know because she called her from my phone to concede. I didn't think she should've run the second time in the recent election. I think she should've let Eddie Holguin run for that seat.

Nonetheless she redeemed herself in her mind by defeating Gonzalez and she didn't whack her in the process. When Chavez lost to State Rep-elect Blanco, she not only conceded, but she showed up to congratulate him in person.

Being graceful and classy in defeat used to be the norm. Somehow that stopped happening.

Even in high profile races people who were once held in high esteem in this community let their defeat affect them personally and they never did a simple thing like reach out to their opponents and congratulate them.

That says much more about our community than the fact that Norma is now Nice Norma on FB.

She's gone. She's done. I think she knows she's not ever going to be viable for another political office. She's wishing people well, asking them to drive safely, and to be "swell".

So what? (Sidebar: Only old white people like Muench use the word "swell". Norma is a lot of things and there are many colorful words in her vocabulary, but "swell" isn't one of them)

Muench has never really been dialed in too well but the Nice Norma isn't new. It started since she became a candidate. I was pessimistic about it as well and I thought that it wouldn't last. I figured the first time she was hit, she'd go back to the same old Norma.

She didn't and from what Muech says, she hasn't.

Maybe this last election has given her some perspective. Maybe she really is different. Maybe its all so that she can have the ability to earn an income.

So what? She's tame, quite, and boring now?


Isn't that better than bitter and angry?

Muench is held to a higher standard. Not because he knows anything more about politics than even the crappiest blogger in the El Paso blogosphere because he clearly doesn't, but because he writes for the paper.

Do I think Norma's off-limits? No. She's a former elected official and will as such always have a level of scrutiny that is more than the average citizen. If she does something crazy, or cool for that matter, it will be of note more so than the average person.

That being said, mentioning that she used to be nuts and now she's boring in a political column lacks relevancy to the reader and is nothing more than a columnist practicing a little figurative public political masturbation.

Including her name in the piece served no purpose other than to expose the fact that Muench clearly has a lot of time on his hands during retirement.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Clint ISD Board Majority Could Change in November Election

If you've haven't kept up with the ongoing issue in the Clint ISD, read this article in the El Paso Times and it should get you up to speed.

Again it is the biggest miscarriage of justice in the county that I can think of in a very long time. Its a social justice issue, there's a racial component, a socio-economic element, fairness and equality element, and equal access to education element.

The fact that the state delegation does nothing about this is an embarrassment.

Luckily, the voters can do something about it. Turns out that three members of the Clint ISD Board of Trustees are up for reelection in the November election. There members of the board are up for reelection.

Jim Pendell - Clint

Janice Armstrong - Clint

Bobby Lara - Clint

As you can see, all of these incumbents. They run on an at-large basis so the incumbents end up with a huge advantage. If there were single member districts there would be equal or at least proportional representation of all the communities served by Clint ISD. But 6 out of 7 board members are from Clint, which might explain why it cost around 66% of the cost of the ballpark downtown to build Clint High School, which is the high school that serves the fewest amount of high school students...by far.

Apparently Clint ISD has money to burn because check out those snazzy suit jackets that have the district logo. That looks like a PGA Tour prize.

If the people of the Town of Horizon City or Montana Vista want equity in funding, they need to vote for everyone on the ballot except the three above.

And the state delegation needs to get off of its ass and represent everyone, not just Clint. This situation is completely unjust.

Two Prominent Birthdays Today

Just noticed something interesting. Two prominent westside Democrats have a birthday today. Congressman O'Rourke and Sergio Coronado.

Beto turns 42 today and Sergio turns 55 years old today.

Congratulations gents. Take some time off from campaigning today to do some celebrating.

Well the Congressman doesn't really need to take time off. He has a Libertarian opponent. So he basically doesn't have an opponent. Oh yeah, the Republicans put someone up again too.

Like I said, he basically doesn't have an opponent.

Thursday, September 25, 2014





EL PASO, TX, SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 – Today, the El Paso Eighth Court of Appeals announced a precedent-setting decision involving intra-school district funding in Texas. In overturning the previous dismissal of the lawsuit in El Paso state district court, the Court found that complaints by parents in the Clint Independent School District of unequal and unequitable funding for certain schools within the district are constitutional by nature.  Therefore, the parents did not have to go through school district’s administrative process first in addressing these complaints. Texas Civil Rights Project cooperating pro bono attorney Ralph Miller, of Weil, Gotshal and Manges handled the parents’ successful appeal before the Court.


The decision will allow parents of Clint ISD students to proceed with their lawsuit, which will show how the Clint ISD’s disparate funding unfairly and unjustly punishes students in the Horizon City and Montana Vista areas. The parents, through the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and co-counsel, Carlos Eduardo Cardenas, will continue to seek a court-ordered corrective injunction, requiring the District to equalize funding for all students in the same grade level, regardless of the school they attend.


“For years, parents and students have complained about substantial differences in spending for academic and sports programs at the different schools in Clint ISD and the District’s self-reported numbers reflect this,” said Jed Untereker, Legal Director of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project. “Education is critical to the economic, political, and social fabric of our society communities, and the parents in this lawsuit and all parents of students in Montana Vista and Horizon City deserve the right to show that they are being cheated. This case will be a milestone for the efforts to equalize intra-districting throughout all of Texas school districts”


This case now moves back to the 205thDistrict Court of El Paso County for trial.


For more information, please contact Jed Untereker at 915-532-3799, x.15. 

See official .pdf Press Release attached.

Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project is the El Paso office of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

City of San Elizario To Hold Community Workshop

Mayor Maya Sanchez (I should say the newly married Mayor Sanchez) of the City of San Elizario, Texas sent out the following announcement about a Community Visioning Workshop coming up this weekend. 

Read more for details. If you have friends or family that live in San Elizario, please let them know about this important meeting. 

Here are the details:

The City of San Elizario is on the move!

What changes would YOU want to see in our community?

What would YOU prefer to keep the same?

Let us know!  Please join us for the City of San Elizario’s first Community Visioning Workshop on Saturday, Sept. 27.  This exciting, highly participatory event will be held at “Maya’s Garden,” 12339 Socorro Rd. in San Eli, starting promptly at 9:00 a.m.  The workshop will run until approximately 1:30 p.m.
and will include a complimentary lunch and break-time snacks.

In this LIVELY, DYNAMIC SESSION we hope to work out the foundation of San Elizario’s COMMUNITY VISION. 
This is an opportunity to make sure your thoughts and ideas will have a direct impact on the City’sFUTURE!  Please see attached statement of the workshop goal, as well as poster announcements in English and Spanish which you can print out and display in order to help us get the word out.

Join us on September 27th!

Maya Sanchez
Mayor of San Elizario
P.O. Box 1723
San Elizario, TX 79849
(915) 252-6599
"Strong Roots are the Foundation of Growth"

Homeboy of the Week / The MP of the Week Award

I wanted the return of the Homeboy of the Week Award to be something important. If you recall I would periodically give out an award for someone who I think did something good and another for someone I think did something bad. The Homeboy of the Week Award was obviously for something good.

The bad award used to be the Douche Bag of the Week Award. Some people have complained about using the word douche bag and requested I use something different. Well I am trying to figure out what else to use not because of their complaints but because I don't think Douche Bag is sufficient.

So after several very good suggestions I came up with the MP of the Week Award. No gringos, its not shorthand for MVP. And as much as I wanted the initials to stand for something else in Spanish, its slang that could be interpreted as a slur so I chose for the MP initials to stand for something else.

The Douche Bag of the Week will now be renamed the Mas Pendejo/a of the Week Award. The "Empe" for short.

Jose Landeros, Homeboy
So I can think of no one better to receive the first Homeboy of the Week Award in Season 2 of the LSB then one of my actual homeboys, Jose Landeros. Landeros, as it is well documented online is a known friend and associate of Jaime Abeytia. Yes, thats an inside joke, but other people's stupidity makes us giggle.

Allow me to be serious for a moment.

He is the Public Policy Advisor for the Precinct 3 Office at Commissioners Court. He successfully developed a plan for commissioners court to allocate $1.325 million to rural parks. There were a ton of obstacles to the success of that plan and Landeros found a way to navigate all the landmines and get the job done.

This is the part where the crazies start losing their mind about how the county shouldn't do parks and its not a mandated service, blah, blah, blah...We get it, you cranky mofo's hate poor brown kids who live in the county. So lets talk how much additional money the tax payers are going to have to pay for that allocation to rural parks.


The brilliance of the plan was that it used existing dollars that came from the 2007 bonds. That money has just been sitting around doing nothing since 2007. The short of it is that $1.325 million would be offset by a corresponding reduction of $1.505 million from capitol bond savings from the Tornillo Port of Entry project.

But the reality is the parks are an investment in public safety. It gives kids and families a safe and designated location for recreation activities. That is cost avoidance in law enforcement and first responders. But more importantly, it improves the quality of life for people that live in the outlying areas. Ruben Estrella Park, named for a veteran of the last Gulf War who was from Montana Vista is located in Montana Vista. There is no grass there. Kids play on dirt and rocks. Actually mostly sand. Yet dogs in East El Paso have grass, playground equipment, and water fountains.


You remember Montana Vista right? Thats the place some of you go to buy beer on the way out to Red Sands to ride quads. Its also the place that many of you have gone to in the past to shoot fireworks and trash up their community.

Landeros & Agua Dulce Senoras
Miguel Teran park is in Agua Dulce. Let's face it, you don't know where that is, wouldn't know how to get there if I gave you directions, and don't ever plan on going to anyway. I don't blame you, there's not really a reason to go out there unless you live there. Well, there are a lot of families that live out there and in the very near future the moms that set-up the soccer leagues for their children (pictured with Landeros) will get to see their kids play on grass instead of a hardened slab of dirt and rocks. Eventually they will even have shade under trees.

I cannot underscore the amount of work that went in to making this allocation happen and thankfully the electeds on commissioners court voted for the money unanimously. That was the right vote. Landeros will never get the credit he deserves for making this happen. No news story will every be written about it. Ironically the park is named after a guy like Teran and a guy like Landeros will probably never have one named after him.

But he should.

A kid who was probably more interested in books while he was in school than in sports grows up to put that talent to work so that other kids who didn't grow up near a park with grass like he did, will have a nice place to play. Thanks to Landeros' effort and the leadership of the office, kids in the far east and west end of the county will have a place to pretend to be the next Omar Quintanilla, Tim Hardaway, or Don Maynard.

¡Te aventaste Homeboy!

The MP of the Week Award

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm going to talk about his crappy poetry.

Well I'm not. It amuses me, but doesn't frustrate me.

What frustrates me about him is his duality.

Ascarate is almost always in the red. Lewis actually used that phrase, "for the record", himself in yesterday's budget hearing.

Its an albatross for tax payers and every year it takes up the lion's share of the funding for county parks.

Look, I get it. Ascarate is in his district so he's gonna wanna have something to show voters come re-election, oh wait...

But you can't hog all the funding so you can tell everyone what a great job you did and then turn around and act like the buck doesn't stop with you when there are big problems at the park. Sorry Sergio, its the pottery barn rules. You have to take the hits along with the praise.

Don't get me wrong, Ascarate certainly had a very strong advocate in Commissioner Lewis. I give him credit for that. When he wasn't walking around the commissioners court suite trying to figure out how Maxi Pad is (and frequently accusing me of being Maxi), he was nearly relentless in his support for Ascarate. I never argued with him when he said that about me out of respect for my boss and because I really couldn't. But I don't work there anymore, so I don't have that problem anymore. And all joking aside, he deserves recognition for his work there.

However, when fighting off an attempt from another commissioner to reduce the amount of spending at Ascarate in favor of additional funding for the rural parks (last year) Lewis had a fit. Forget the fact that there is plenty of green and park space within the city limits of El Paso. Forget that there are plenty of other recreation activities for people who live in the city limits.

Lewis actually tried to argue that the funding that was being proposed to rural parks at the expense of Ascarate should stay with Ascarate because people out in the county use the park too. He specifically said people come from Fabens to use Ascarate. Thats funny because its a 30 mile trip from Fabens to Ascarate...one way! Lewis actually tried to argue, with a straight face mind you, that people regularly drive 60 miles for a park.

I'm not saying I would drive 60 miles, I'm not saying I wouldn't drive 60 miles. I'm just saying I have questions. For the record of course.

What drove me the most nuts watching the budget hearing yesterday during the discussion was to hear Lewis question the maintenance cost of the parks. I swear I was yelling at the screen worse than I was yelling during the Redskins-Eagles game last Sunday. Lewis questioning the maintenance costs of ridiculously small parks in the rural areas was so duplicitous because all those years he was making sure that Ascarate was living high off the hog of the parks funding I never once heard him mention maintenance costs. Hell, last year when he was voting for increased utility costs, while ultimately voting against the tax rate to pay for the increase he supported, he didn't mention a peep about that issue.

Of course not. He wanted the funding.

I see how he rolls. When its funding for his park, its all good in the 'hood. When it comes to people in the outskirts getting a little crumb, all of a sudden he has questions...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Westside Candidate Debates Coming

Looks like there will be a debate coming together for the two races that matter on the westside. I'm speaking of course of the county commissioner race for precinct 4 and the Justice of the Peace race. Once it all comes together I'll share the details but it appears that all four candidates will be participating.

The race for Justice of the Peace which features two actual real-life attorneys facing each other in the November general election. It is probably the most high-profile JP race in El Paso since Texas became a state. Normally no one gives a crap about JP races because, well, they are JP races.

But the JP race is more than just about the actual race. Its actually even more than the fact that its the first time I can remember two real lawyers going at it for a JP seat.

This race is about the Republicans being able to hold on to one of the few offices they have. Its a gubernatorial year and they will have the edge in turnout in the area. Under Tom Holmsely's leadership the Republicans no longer run a sacrificial lamb for the sake of having a Republican on the ballot. The Republican candidates that normally would have run for office for the sake of having their ego stroked have decided to run as Libertarians now.

Its been a while since I've said this but the Republicans actually have strong candidates running. Y'all know I love my boxing analogies so indulge me if you will, but it appears that Holmsley has the Republicans fighting at a much better weight class.

Running people for countywide races was always an exercise in futility and was a waste of time, treasure, and talent. Now the focus appears to be on expending resources in winnable races. It may also be a function of them just getting tired of taking beat downs and now they have to defend seats they didn't have to before.

I know you'll think I'm biased because I'm a Democrat and all but lets do some objective political analysis of the candidates.

So here's a quick tale of the tape between the candidates.

County Commissioner Precinct 4

Candidate: Andrew Haggerty

Party: Republican

Political Assets: He's a Haggerty. He's running to replace a Haggerty. He's from the most storied political family in town. Clan Haggerty has won races at city council, commissioners court, school board, state representative, constable, and JP. Short of congress, a Haggerty has represented part of El Paso at every level of government. And in memory of "Uncle Dan" I'll just tell it like it is, he's replacing someone with near sainthood status. The guy was dying of cancer and still went to work for the people of precinct 4 literally until just before his passing.

Political Liabilities: He's young and thin on experience in government. Although Republicans look at experience in government as a negative. We'll see how that plays with potential cross-overs. No ground-game at all. He didn't have a difficult primary so he didn't really have a tune-up fight prior to this title shot.

Advantage/Equalizer/X-Factor: Money and the fact that he's a Haggerty are his advantages. The fact that the Republicans will likely come out in bigger numbers because of the gubernatorial election is also a big advantage for Haggerty. The X-Factor is work ethic. In close races the person with the best ground game has the advantage. The Republicans don't have anyone on their side with serious ground-game experience.

Candidate: Julio Diaz

Party: Democratic

Political Assets: Hardworking campaigner. Young and good-looking. Diaz won a tough Democratic primary against an opponent who had experience in county government, was young and dynamic. She was also smoking hot! He out-worked her and it was a great tune-up fight for the general election. He knows the groundwork that needs to happen in order to win.

Political Liabilities: No experience in government. He touts military experience, but its not active duty and its some sort of public affairs job in the military. He's an officer and all, but he plays up the military side but the GI Joe act annoys a lot of combat veterans. Veterans vote. There were several legal issues raised in the primary and mug shots leaked but it wasn't done effectively and he largely killed any concerns about the legal stuff. He has a pretty bad accent, but combined with the telenovela looks, he's got an Antonio Banderas thing going on. However the reality is that people incorrectly assume that because you speak with an accent that you think with an accent. They're wrong, but they think that nonetheless and it will likely hurt him.

Advantage/Equalizer/X-Factor: His advantage is that he's going to outwork Andrew Haggerty. Republicans aren't good ground-gamers in general. Its likely that Haggerty will be heavily relying on his name ID so he may not even be working the ground. Not sure if its going to be enough to overcome Haggerty's money, but it might be. The X-Factor is his choice for campaign manager. Her name is Alma Lopez and her political experience is with the PAN. As in the Partido Accion Nacional. The one from Mexico. Ironically its Mexico's Republican Party equivalent. She's helped several PAN candidates get elected so her experience isn't in doubt. I've never heard of her involvement with campaigns on this side of the border so the X-Factor is will the experience translate, no pun intended.

Justice of the Peace

Candidate: Kelly Dickson

Party: Republican

Political Assets: She's an attorney and can self-fund the campaign. She's got a great reputation in the legal community and on the westside. Smart, dynamic, and has been a worker bee in the Republican Party in the past. She's a conservative but doesn't come across as an extremist and could score some cross-over voters if she touches enough of them. She will also benefit from the Republican brand in a gubernatorial election.

Political Liabilities: The Republican Party doesn't have a mechanism in place for the implementation of a ground game or a straight-ticket push. She also has no established base of support.

Advantage/Equalizer/X-Factor: The X-Factor for Dickson is going to be the ability to communicate with the most amount of voters. Its unlikely any of the Republicans will make a pitch towards Spanish-dominant voters. I'm not sure if Dickson is bilingual but it would be good for her if she was.

Candidate: Sergio Coronado

Party: Democratic

Political Assets: Name ID. He ran for county judge in a previous election and he's an elected official in an area that is within the JP precinct. That means he already has a base of support and voters have at least a passive knowledge of his name. He's a seasoned attorney and his bilingual.

Political Liabilities: In terms of a JP race, I don't think he has one. I don't think losing the county judge race is really a liability in this race.

Advantage/Equalizer/X-Factor: Kathy Coronado. She's a huge advantage for Coronado because she has ground game experience and has run races around Texas and even in other parts of the country. She knows what she's doing and in a JP race the ability to run a ground game is extremely advantageous. It will likely be the deciding factor in the race if she's able to overcome the Republican's advantage in turnout through an effective ground game.

UTEP Article About Delegation

Its not a big deal at all and I'm only writing this because I thought it was pretty funny. There's a picture in the Times today along with an article about the UTEP President Diana Natalicio (she's the one in the middle that looks like Granny from the Beverly Hillbilly's) and the delegation.

And by delegation I don't mean The Delegation that sings one of my favorite oldies rolas "Oh Honey"

I mean the state delegation. Looks like they had everyone except Senator Rodriguez in the pic. I thought it was funny because it was obviously a staged picture with all of the members giving the Picks Up hand signal.

Of the five members of the delegation in the pic, I know for a fact that three of them didn't go to UTEP.

Again, not a big deal but it made me giggle.

Monday, September 22, 2014

El Paso GOP Raises Election Fairness Concerns

The El Paso Republican Party attended Commissioner's Court today to raise a concern about the approval of early voting locations. Their focus was one particular location in Canutillo. The El Paso GOP take issue with the fact that one of the locations is at the Canutillo ISD District Office.

Their are two races that will likely be close on the westside, which is the only place in the county that Republicans hold office. In fact, both of the offices they currently hold are up for grabs, the commissioner's seat and the JP seat. That is why the location of an early voting location is a big deal. Any little edge can mean the difference in the election.

The GOP believes that the Canutillo ISD District Office early voting location gives the Democratic candidate for JP Sergio Coronado an unfair advantage. They may have a point, though the remedy is unclear.

The GOP officials in attendance, including Tom Homsley the Chairman of the El Paso Republican Party, Rob Pena the elections administrator for the local GOP and Becky Hermosillo who chairs the West El Paso Republican Women, used points made by County Judge Veronica Escobar in the past to remove some voting locations.

Previously the Court took action to remove locations on private property and churches as early voting locations because of the potential undue influence by employers and clergy over voters. So the Court decided that where ever practicable, the use of government or public facilities would be preferred as early voting locations.

The GOP main argument is that Sergio Coronado is a member of the CISD Board. As a member of the Board they believe it would be the same as being an employer and that he would potentially have undue influence over employees voting at that location primarily because its the same building in which is office is located. They also indicated that the location is not a regular early voting location and that Canutillo has two other early voting locations.

I should note that early voting locations are frequently changed for a myriad of reasons and so I'm not sure how strong of an argument the fact that the district office isn't a regular early voting location really is.

The building is a public/government location though, so I'm not sure what the alternative would be.

The GOP presented documents and information to the Commissioner's Court outlining their position. It appears that everyone was taken by surprise by the issue and the County Judge directed the County Attorney's Office to review the information and advise the Court before any action is taken on the matter.

The GOP was successful in raising enough of a concern that the item was postponed for a week. Final action should presumably take place next Monday.

I'm going to talk with the GOP and with the Dems to find out more about the issue and do a more comprehensive piece on this topic, but thats the overview for now.

Election Manipulation by Serna, Quintanilla, & Lujan Alleged

Chente Quintanilla (Left), Ruben Lujan (Right) handling-out
cash; electronic devices to voters.
Justice of the Peace Rosalie Dominguez filed two lawsuits against Enedina "Nina" Serna, former State Rep Chente Quintanilla and fellow JP Ruben Lujan.

The El Paso Times has a piece on all the details. You can find it here.

Let me tell you something, in my opinion this allegation should surprise no one, especially from this crew of people. And this group of Democrats just handed racist Republicans exactly what they need to justify voter ID laws. I'll explain in a bit.

First, here's some background. Serna comes from one of the more prominent political families in the valley. She lives in Socorro and has been a long-time aid to former State Representative Chente Quintanilla. Even after Quintanilla's departure from the legislature the two have remained close.

The other person mentioned is Justice of the Peace Ruben Lujan. He's another old-school politician that is straight out of the mold of back-slapping valley stereotype. If you want an idea of what that looks like, watch the video below.

And this video is why the allegation made by Judge Dominguez shouldn't come as a surprise. This is video from the classic New Years' Day Pachanga that was a tradition in valley politics for years. Thankfully that tacky and ethically-questionable activity is now dead and gone.

But basically here's what it was. Every year Chente "Por La Gente" Quintanilla would hold the New Years Day event that was theoretically open to the public. It was, but the majority of the invitees were regular voters. For many years it was held at the Mission Valley Ballroom in Socorro. The idea was to have a big spread and offer free food, free booze, and raffle off prizes. The highlight originally was to give away bikes to valley kids. Sure, thats a great cause and a lot of valley kids benefited. I don't know any kid that doesn't love a new bike. It just sure helped if Nana and Tata were regular voters...

Chente would get all the local politicos and invite them to come to the event and bring a bike to donate that could be raffled off to a deserving kid. Who's relatives were regular voters of course. In an election year, he was especially successful at getting lots of bikes for kids because he invited all the elected and all the candidates. They tripped over one another to show the valley voters how generous they all were.

Not a bad idea because most of the people running didn't know where the valley was if their life depended on it. In this particular year, which ended up being the last one by the way, the stakes were especially high because there were dueling pachangas. More on that in a moment.

But perhaps because the stakes were so high or because it was an election year, things got really out of hand. In addition to the bikes that were raffled off, they upped the ante and high-priced electronics and even cold, hard cash was given out to potential voters.

The guy with the microphone that sounds like a low-budget Latin-American game show host is none other than Justice of the Peace Ruben Lujan. Yes you are viewing the video correctly. A sitting judge is handing out cold, hard cash to voters. It was given out in $20 bills. And Lujan was pretty excited about it because he more money was added to the original $20 and in the words of Lujan, "Viente mas. Y viente mas. Ye viente mas!"

I half expected him to turn in to Johnny Canales and say, "Take it away, ju got it".

It was an embarrassing spectacle. For those of us that try to spike voter turnout the right way its frustrating to watch valley politicos patronize good people of limited means. Do you think this kind of shit would be tolerated in any other part of town? Listen to how excited the crowd is for a prize of $20. Its because they are a community of limited resources and every little bit helps. Its sad  when people like Chente and Lujan, who represent those people, are the ones patronizing them.

I only went because I was invited to cover it. I couldn't believe it was happening and I even spoke to a few of the candidates and asked them if they actually thought giving out cash was a good idea.

This kind of shit is why people and candidates who don't live in the valley think that they are ignorant poor people who can be bought off with trinkets, free booze, and a plate of brisket.

Now, back to the reason why this was a particularly over-the-top pachanga. It was a bigger spectacle than normal because two other valley candidates decided they were going to pull the same thing. Willie Gandara, the Commissioner who was running for state rep, and a staffer that was running for his seat on Commissioner's Court, rented the Mission Valley Ballroom from under Chente. They held their own pachanga to give away food, free booze, and bikes.

The Quintanillas were happy about that at all and relatives and staff were dispatched to carry signs that would guide people to Chente's which was held around the corner. The candidates and electeds made the rounds at both events. And to be fair to Willie, his pachanga was no where near the scale of Chente's. It was just keg beer and menudo. Much more humble of an event. But it was an event that was attempting to do exactly what Chente was doing.

Pachangas are just part of the playbook of activities that are done during election season to try to get an edge over an opponent. God forbid the campaigns actually work and go and knock on a door and talk to a voter about issues.

For those of you in the know, you are aware of the fact that there is somewhat of an anomaly in Fabens. Mail-in ballots are always disproportionately higher in the Fabens area than in other parts of the valley.Those of us who have worked campaigns down in the valley know why that is. Its always been something only whispered about but people have always believed that there was some funny business with mail-in ballots. There's an active senior community in Fabens and one particular lady that happens to be very politically involved and frequently paid campaign worker for various candidates. She just so happens to work at a couple of senior centers.

Essentially that is what Judge Dominguez is alleging. And based on the data, I'd say there is certainly something going on, but exactly what that is remains to be seen. In the primary election, when there were even more candidates involved in the race, there were only 24 mail-in ballots for Fabens, Socorro, and Tornillo.

During the run-off that number jumped up to 70. Thats almost triple the amount of the primary. That absolutely defies logic considering less people voted in the run-off but mail-in voters increased to that degree?

Not only no, but hell no do I believe thats legit for one minute.

Serna lives in Socorro. Chente is from Tornillo. You do the math.

Let me be clear, its just an allegation being leveled against Luja, Serna, and Chente at this point and its in the form of a lawsuit. To my knowledge there is no allegation of a crime at this point. I am unable to verify if there is an official investigation into this matter at this point.

But I'll tell you what these allegations against three Democrats do. They justify the move by Republican extremists to push forward with voter ID. If the allegations are ultimately proven, then we can all thank the three of them for making it a reality. Way to go guys. Thanks alot.

On a final note, I do find it interesting that Judge Lujan would be so overt in his opposition to Judge Dominguez. I don't think I've noticed another time when a sitting judge was so concerned with taking out a colleague.

My question is obvious.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Candidate Recruiting in Socorro

There's a reason its called Soco-loco.

Sources in Socorro indicate that former City Manager Lorenza Fraire is recruiting a candidate to replace the late R.E. Chito Bowling for the now vacant District 4 in Socorro.

Thats not really surprising when you consider the fact that that she's a former city manager and was fired. She wants her job back. The fact that she is a former city manager, wants her job back, and is trying to get involved in the campaign of a candidate should send MAJOR red flags.

She's already very tight with Councilman Sergio Cox. It appears that she's looking to elect a majority so that she can get her job back.

I'll let you readers decide if you think thats Kosher, but speaking only for myself, it doesn't pass the smell test.

If you don't know Fraire, there is something you should know. She's fancies herself a good campaigner. She's taken credit for a lot of people getting elected, even people she didn't have anything to do with. She really things that she is the reason that Vince Perez won Socorro in his election for his current office. Mind you no one has ever seen her campaign, no one ever spoke to her, no one ever remembers, but in her mind, she made it happen.

So aside from recruiting candidates, the problem that some in Socorro have is the fact that she was apparently doing so at Councilman Bowling's funeral.

Sources indicate that she was also putting on quite the show last night at the council meeting. She apparently invoked the name of Councilman Bowling several times during the meeting. I guess now she was his best friend.

Por eso les dicen Soco Loco...


Stolen from some vato from KFOX
I hate picking on the crazies...okay I'm lying, I LOVE picking on those idiots, but the latest rants I've seen on Facebook make me laugh.

I know this shit might be hard for you to understand but you can never completely prevent flooding. Every engineering project, no matter how well its designed and constructed, has limits. If the Almighty decides he wants to drop a ton of water in a given location in a very brief amount of time there will be flooding. 

Our drainage systems are designed for your regular rainfall. Hell they are designed to cover above average rainfall too. But when its record-setting rain, there's no system out there that can prevent it. If there was, then there would never be flooding in any city ever.

When it comes to water and flooding, you can minimize it, you can mitigate it, and you can manage it. But you can't PREVENT it! It was record rainfall. Its going to collect. Are you really that fucking stupid? 

The answer is yes, you are. 

And you never fail to amaze me at the depth of your stupid. I swear when everything works, your dumbasses don't notice. When there is biblical amount of rain all of you are now amateur engineers.

Flooding is an inconvenience. It sucks and for those of you that lost vehicles or had damage to your homes you have my sympathy. It a terrible thing to happen. But its not your city reps fault, no matter how unqualified or disconnected from reality your city rep may be. 

Remember hearing about the flood in the Bible? Remember Moses parting the Red Sea? Thats how long flooding has been around. Thats why flooding is considered a natural disaster. 

Cuz its fucking NATURAL.

And another thing. 

Lets talk about sandbags. Sandbags are like condoms. You should make sure you have them BEFORE you need them and they have a shelf life. Both will fall apart on you and be useless if you store them too long before use. If you wait until after the rain has come down you are probably S.O.L. All your neighbors already went. They are gone and the land is all saturated, so you're screwed.

That being said, sandbags should be readily available for distribution. Making sandbags is a bitch. Vince, Jose, Mayor Ruiz, Councilman Rodriguez, and Willie Norfleet (Socorro) all made sandbags during flooding in the valley about a year ago and I can tell you it sucks balls. 

Eddy Pork Chops
Its labor intensive, even with a big machine that they have that makes sand bags in bulk. The thing is huge, loud, and high maintenance, like my little sister.

But there is no centralized sand-bag making/distribution operation in El Paso.

Clearly someone has to be in charge and make sure they are available. 

I remember in 2006 when we had the major flooding Ed Archuleta ran a cluster fuck of a sand bag operation. 

I know a lot of you hold the old-timer in high-esteem but personally I question anyone who is in charge of providing sandbags in the desert and runs out of fucking sand.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lower Valley Politics Part 3 - School Boards

Lets just rip the band-aid off. The school boards in the valley are the areas that need the most help. There's some bad stuff happening there and there are certainly some characters there. Clint ISD is the poster child for a school district that is screwing poor Latinos, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Marty Reyes, wife of Chuy Reyes and sister-in-law of former Congressman Silvestre Reyes sits on the board at Ysleta ISD. She's in a constant battle with the teachers association and is pretty unpopular among staff. If she runs again, she's going to be targeted as one of the priority members of the board to get rid of.

The district is land-locked and the provision of resources to students and schools is going to be a major concern for years. Shane Haggerty is one of the board members and seems to understand that there needs to be a more policy-oriented board. The lady that represents the Del Valle area, Patricia McLean, didn't even send her own kid to Del Valle, she sent her to Eastwood. Ana Duenez from the Riverside area is passionate and teacher-friendly, but abrasive. YISD needs lots of help.

Socorro ISD has the last Gandara still holding office. He recently managed to be reelected without an opponent but some residents in the Thunder Road area say they won't let that happen again. From a reelection standpoint, he's toast. Anyone with a pulse just has to remind the public about all of his quotes when he was defending his dad and brother. (I don't fault him for that btw. Its family, thats what you do.)

From a policy stand point, he has made at least one big mistake. A few months ago there was a family that was trying to get a road officially dedicated in the Sparks area and for the first time in over 30 years, have running water to their homes. Yes, this is still a problem in the 21st century and yes its a problem right here in our back yard.

It was a complicated scenario that I'll write about some day but for now the main point you need to know is that there was really only one hurdle (after many) left to cross. All SISD had to do was accept a settlement for back taxes that the residents weren't even responsible for, from the County. Part of the land was Right of Way belonging to Horizon. No one else across several government entities was a roadblock. Everyone went out of their way to try to solve a very complicated scenario for a few constituents who are hard-working folk.

And of course, it was Socorro ISD and a Gandara that had to be the one who made a fuss. Rather than solve a problem he was more concerned that the land was "prime real estate". Not sure anyone would characterize anything in Sparks as prime real estate.

What is happening at Clint ISD is the biggest miscarriage of social justice in this community and the fact that the state delegation, who is the level of government most responsible for education oversight, hasn't intervened is a damn shame. They know about it, but they just aren't willing to do anything about it. That should infuriate you.

Clint ISD is the largest school district in the county that still has at-large elections instead of single-member districts. At-large elections favor incumbents and make it possible for a given body to be almost entirely government by people from one concentrated area. So the other communities service by Clint ISD like Horizon City and Montana Vista have almost no voice on the school board. One member of the board if from Horizon, none are from Montana Vista.

Its no surprise that the lion's share (see what I did there, get it? Clint Lions?) of the funding goes to the Clint area. Apologists for Clint ISD, including one prominent alum of the Clint ISD, will come up with all sorts of reasons to distract from that fact, but its true. Its also true that the Clint area is where a majority of the anglo population of the district lives.

Community groups have been trying for years to get this situation fixed and move to a single-member district system so that all areas served (and taxed) by the district will have a voice. Father Ed Roden-Lucero and members of the Montana Vista area have approached the school district repeatedly hoping to get some justice.

The fact that there are communities that are taxed by a district that they don't have a voice in represents the biggest miscarriage of justice that the state delegation has allowed to take place in this county. If memory serves, didn't we fight a revolution about a little thing called "No taxation without representation"?

Old King George and the rest of the members of the Clint ISD have very happily spent the tax dollars of the people of Montana Vista and Horizon City on their gucci new high school. The new Clint High School cost the taxpayers of the area almost $40 million. There are 597 students that attend Clint High School. Mountain View in Montana Vista has nearly double that amount with 956 students. Horizon High School has more than 1200 students.

The fact that the majority of the Clint ISD resources are being spent in the Clint area when its only around 10% of the population of the district, and no one at the state level is doing anything about it is an absence of leadership.

Someone needs to advocate for the people of Horizon and Montana Vista. And the minute the people of Montana Vista and Horizon realize that if they vote together they can vote all the Clint people out is the minute that the Clint ISD board will move toward single member districts.

Don't Play in the Water

We have all done it as kids, but you need to make sure you tell your kids that its a bad idea. Especially if you live in the outlying areas, but in general its a bad idea.

That water is dirty.

Dirty means different things to different people but if you live in Montana Vista, then you know a lot of the septic systems are failing. That means that the water your kids are splashing around in probably has fecal matter in it.

If you live in the valley its probably animal feces and pesticide run-off.

Either way its not safe for your kids. Its fun, but when you think of the health risks, be the bad mom/dad and get their butts inside and away from the puddles.

H-Town Has a Cool Website

I have a buddy who lives in the Town of Horizon City, I know its weird to name your town a city, but thats actually the official name of the county's third-largest municipality, and he mentioned all the new things happening in what he refers to as H-Town.

If you haven't been out to Horizon City in a while you might not recognize it because its grown a great deal and the growth doesn't appear to be slowing.

Since this is Texas we all love our football and I saw something online about the play-by-play of football games for Horizon being available online. I thought that was cool since I haven't heard of any other school in the area doing that so I went to check it out.

Turns out theres a whole website about Horizon. Lots of cool stuff in it too. I'm geeky about that kind of stuff but its really well done and I like that its focus is so local.

Click here to check it out. I'll probably hook them up with an ad just so that people will know its out there.

Soco...step up your game...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Perez's Office Secures $1.2 Million for Rural Parks

County Commissioner Vince Perez's office spearheaded an initiative to secure more than a million dollars for rural parks.

Park space within the city of El Paso is in abundance but out in the rural communities there is very little area for children to play in safely. There's a park in Fabens proper, there's San Felipe (you've never heard of it if you aren't from the valley but its on the way to Cattleman's and if you don't know how to get there you'd never find it, even by accident)

Its not an exaggeration at all to say that dog parks in east El Paso have far better amenities than the parks in unincorporated communities. Most of the time what passes for a park is an every-so-often graded patch of dirt.

This has been a need for communities in the unincorporated areas for many, many, years.

While the amount might seem like its a lot of money, it is somewhat of a drop in the bucket when you consider how much need there is in the community for parks. The bulk of the fund will go to two parks, Ruben Estrella Park in Montana Vista and Miguel Teran Park in Agua Dulce.

However, Commissioner Pat Abeln fought hard for funds to be specifically allocated to Precinct 4 as well. Frankly this is pretty commendable on his behalf because he knows that it is highly unlikely that Andrew Haggerty will be defeated by Julio Diaz in November and Haggerty has apparently already questioned the need for any rural parks. So the fact that Abeln wants to get whatever he can for Precinct 4 while he can is to be commended.

Here is a look at the design elements for Miguel Teran and Ruben Estrella Parks.

Currently Miguel Teran Park, which may end up being renamed to Agua Dulce Park by the way, is in pretty bad shape. First of all when you drive by the facility, it looks like a detention center. There are basically no outside amenities other than a small playground. There is an active and organized group out in the Agua Dulce area that has been pursuing more funds and resources for the park. They run a soccer league for their children. Most people in El Paso play soccer on grass. In Agua Dulce, the kids play on dirty. Its basically one big sandbox they play in. Thats the kind of stuff you see in between World Cup games when they profile the poverty in a third-world nation and the conditions the kids play in before they get to the top level of their sport. There are no trees, no grass, no nothin'.

And yet a group of moms volunteers to run the league for their kids and do their best to provide their kids with some recreation space.

Honestly part of the reason I'm writing this piece is because this is a project I worked on while I was with the Commissioner's Office. Do you know how hard it is to talk to a room full of moms who are asking, as they have done in the past, for something so very basic. Something that in the grand scheme of things isn't very expensive and provides a huge public use return on the investment.

It makes it more frustrating when you have to tell them there's no park money because it all goes to Ascarate Park, which is a park within the city and as I said before, park space in El Paso is not in a shortage.

When they heard Commissioner Lewis justify so much of the county's park budget going to Ascarate (he said people drive all the way from Fabens to use Ascarate) they were both amused and annoyed at the same time.

So the allocation of funds for rural parks is a big deal. Its a big win for the community to have an office actually effectively advocate for their community. Same thing with Montana Vista and Ruben Estrella Park. These are areas that are well populated and would be able to maximize the use of the facilities. Just because they are poor and live in a colonia doesn't mean their kids deserve any less of a safe place to play. You'd be surprised what a little thing like grass, some trees, a basketball court or soccer field means for a community.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a video that was part of the presentation made to the Court by Jose Landeros from Perez's office. It contains info like the fact that there are only 6 employees assigned to care for all the rural parks in the County. More importantly it contains pleas directly from the mothers of Agua Dulce.

The great thing about the park in Agua Dulce is the fact that the community is taking responsibility for their asset. Last season they conducted fundraisers to pay for use of goals and to make the field (dirt) for the games.

This isn't the story that is going to make headlines and its not what people call sexy. But its the kind of thing that people who often feel left out by the rest of their leadership care about. Its the leadership they have been wanting for years.

There's probably not a single vote in it for reelection either. This might come as a surprise to the crazies, but sometimes people who are elected do things because its the right thing to do. Not because there's a vote in it for them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Burnt Orange Report Gets a Much-Needed Facelift

The Burnt Orange Report is one of my favorite sites to visit. Its good stuff. Its a progressive liberal site that focuses on Texas politics. 

I've been a faithful reader and occasional contributor for years.

I'm glad to pass on to y'all that it went under the knife and had some work done. Tummy tuck here, face lift there, some fat injected into the lips and now...it looks great.

The old site was pretty ugly. It wasn't easy to find info either. Now the site has a much cleaner layout and intuitive UI. So go check it out, job well done.

Click here to visit their site.

Sunland Park Moves to Annex Santa Teresa

In a move eerily similar to a big fight in the Mission Valley, it now appears that the Upper Valley will have one city trying to annex another community.

The issue will be discussed tonight at a Sunland Park city council meeting. Last year San Elizario faced annexation by a then-corrupt city council led by former city councilman Jesse Gandara.

San Elizario had to gain the permission of Socorro to incorporate within their ETJ. Luckily for San Elizario Socorro had elections and the bad guys were kicked out (mostly).

Santa Teresa's situation may be a little different considering they might not have the option of getting permission to incorporate within the ETJ of Sunland Park.

The move makes sense for Sunland Park. They are a cash-poor community and annexing the businesses and homes of their more affluent neighbor will benefit their constituents.

The meeting takes place at 6:30 tonight at Sunland Park Town Hall Chambers. Sources tell me that there will be some pretty upset Santa Teresa residents in the house tonight.

Sunland Park will face a pretty stiff challenge if the residents get organized because the folks in Santa Teresa aren't poor. I'm sure there will be a team of lawyers ready to fight this one.

Either way, it should be a pretty action-packed meeting tonight.

City of Socorro to Hold Special Election

Sources in the City of Socorro indicate that a special election for District 4 will take place as early as December 20th of this year.

The election is necessary due to the passing of J.E. "Chito" Bowling.

There are no details available yet as to the filing window or deadline, although there are several people in the community that have expressed a desire to fill the seat.

Sources indicate that Anthony Gandara may pursue the seat. The seat was previously held by Jesse Gandara. Anthony Gandara was going to run for mayor against his uncle Willie Gandara Sr at one point but was removed from the ballot on a technicality.

At one point there was an internal dispute between the Gandara clan involving the patrons Willie Sr and Jesse Sr, but apparently they have all kissed and made up and are one big happy political family again.

It will be interesting to see if a Gandara is viable in Socorro again.

Bike Lanes - Why I Don't Really Care About Them (And Neither Do Most People)

I'm just gonna say what a whole lot of other people are thinking, and I know its gonna annoy my fellow progressives but it needs to be said, we focus too much on bike lanes.

If you've ever had the misfortune to sit in on a meeting of the MPO there is inevitably a presentation of something that has to do with bike lanes.

I'm sick of hearing about bike lanes. I'm sick of seeing bike lanes. They take up a lot of real estate and here's a dirty little secret...the are rarely used. Seriously, they are almost always empty. In rural communities a traffic study is done to establish the amount of traffic on a given road. That is how it is determined whether or not the road gets paved. Makes sense. Why they don't do the same thing for bike lanes is beyond me.

Could I use a few miles on a bike every week? Hell yes.

Is it great exercise? Absolutely.

Would I like to see more people use them? Actually I don't really give a shit.

It just seems like we spend a lot of time, treasure, and talent in this town on bike lanes. I certainly don't want to see anyone get hurt. I think obesity is a big problem, especially with our youth and a lifestyle change like riding a bike is cool.

But honestly I roll my eyes in frustration every time I hear someone talk about how "important" bike lanes are to our community.

You know what is important to our community? Rooting out corruption, providing park space for kids in rural areas, fixing potholes in streets, slowing down speeders, addressing drunk driving, economic development, better jobs, expansion of healthcare, addressing the lack of potable water in colonias, etc. Thats important.

Shrinking the infrastructure for cars so that some hipster in spandex slurping his little energy drink and making hand signals just doesn't seem like its a priority.

No matter how you look at it, there are bigger priorities. Lets take mobility.

Very few people use a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation. Sure there are lots of clubs and groups and recreational riders. I don't doubt that. I see that almost every weekend.

Thats cool.

But lets not pretend that bikes are part of mobility in the community. So why the huge public investment in infrastructure? Why not put that dough in to mass transit? Buses and rail would have a much bigger impact on mobility in this community than bike lanes.

The reality is that we will never be China. They have incredible bike use in their country but its mostly out of economic necessity. The poor ride bikes in China because they can't afford a vehicle. El Paso's layout isn't conducive to bike riding either. At least not in the parts of the city the matter. Sure you can get away with it downtown or in central, but what can you do in central other than eat? The parts of town that matter most are more spread out and planned in a manner that just isn't bike-friendly.

Do I think they should've been planned that way? Absolutely. And I think they should've been planned to be more pedestrian friendly as well. But they weren't.

If you're stuck in traffic and are thinking to yourself, "Man, I wouldn't be stuck in this traffic wasting gas and making a huge carbon footprint if only there were another lane available for traffic." And then you look out the window and you see what you see all over town...and empty bike lane.

If you want to make a special lane for a group of people that will enhance mobility for El Pasoans? Make a separate lane for people from New Mexico.

Or better yet...lets talk about tolling bike lanes. Make them pay for the use. That way at least the tax payers gets something out of an empty lane.

It doesn't make sense. Sorry, but I know I'm not the only person that feels that way. Feel free to teach me otherwise. thelionstarblog@gmail.com

Dear Media, This is What You Should Be Paying Attention To Today

In case you haven't noticed, today is the last meaningful budget hearing before the County adopts a new budget and tax rate.

So if anything big is going to happen, its going to happen today. It starts at 9:00am so get your coffee and sharpen your pencil.

The Sheriffs Office and the courts have been under the most scrutiny. Thats likely a couple of areas that will be discussed.

This Court more than others in the past has been focused on structural efficiency. So watch for reforms in those areas.

Also funding for rural parks and pretrial services, which are two really big issues facing the County, were discussed last week but not really finalized. Today is the last day that can happen.

Pay attention...

Oh Yeah, The Real Judges Do It Too

So I mentioned the money that the JPs get from performing weddings.Well I failed to mention that regular courthouse judges do it to. And no, the County doesn't get a piece of that action either. If they do it in the courthouse they are using resources paid by the electorate.

Sources in the courthouse indicate that some judges send their bailiffs or other court personnel down to the Clerk's floor to get couples to come up to their various courts.

It would be really interesting to see a comprehensive look at the amount of revenue collected by the JPs and real judges on quickie weddings.

To be fair to some of the real judges, there are several that don't charge anything or make it a policy to not charge active duty military personnel.

Monday, September 15, 2014

JP Salaries

You should know this if you are a voter but you probably don't.

First you don't have to be an attorney to be a Justice of the Peace. I know, it boggles the mind that someone who will make a legal judgment doesn't actually have to be trained in the law but thats how we roll in Texas.

Second, and probably even more infuriating is that JP's charge a fee to marry someone and the county tax-payers don't see a dime of that revenue. Its sort of a JP's personal little slush fund. In fact, I doubt they even need to track or disclose how much they make on that service. I'll get to that in a minute.

Currently only one of the JP's is actually an attorney. I suppose there's probably a good investigative piece in the works for anyone who actually wants to do some digging and found out how often decisions of JP's are reversed and what the cost to tax payers is.

County Judge Veronica Escobar is proposing cutting the salary of JP's but offering a different pay system for JP's that are actually lawyers. I'm not entirely sure that can actually be done. I've never heard of an elected position having a different salary based on education but I could be wrong about that.

I think there are other problems one has to consider. First, you might end up with the Socorro Municipal Judge problem they had a couple of years ago. Socorro used to let just anyone be a municipal judge. You basically just had to be a friend of whoever was mayor or enough members of council. Eventually that was fixed and a previous council changed the City Charter to require that the Municipal Judge at least have a law degree.

They didn't require that the judge actually pass the bar exam and they had some guy who had a very cozy relationship with Jesse Gandara serve as municipal judge. He failed twice to pass the bar but because he was Jesse's boy he ended up with some ridiculous contract that required something stupid like 9 months notice if city council was going to let him go.

Absolutely stupid contract, but thats Jesse Gandara for you. By the way, I guess he stopped writing his blog, which is interesting because its been a while since I've seen one of his shitty YouTube videos.

So does the proposed salary difference mean you just have to have a JD or actually have had to pass the bar exam?

There's no education requirements for most elected officials except real judges. So it seems impossible, at least politically, to impose an education incentive for JP's and not the rest of the county elected officials.

But I think Judge Escobar is on the right track. The JP's are in need of reform. Ultimately there really is a system already in place that incentives people to run for office. The electorate.

They ultimately decide if a candidate is worthy or not to hold office. The fix is simple. When there is enough political will, a group of savvy political operatives will start replacing the JP's that aren't attorneys. Its not a matter of if, its a matter of when.

That is really the only thing that has allowed non-lawyers win. Attorneys in general make pretty shitty candidates. They can't help but act like they are in a courtroom. They over-articulate and are terrible about leveraging a message. And don't even get me started on their crappy ground games. JP's are one of the easiest races to win, which is why someone like Barbara Perez was able to take out a field of 3 opponents that were attorneys. And honestly, she's got a reputation for being a mediocre campaigner at best. She prefers to mail and endorse her way to a win.

The reason that Texas allows non-lawyers to be JP's is because of the expanse of Texas and so much of it being rural. In rural counties there simply may not be any attorneys. If the requirement is that you be an attorney but none live in the county, then you are in quite the legal quandary. So the fix for that is to remove the requirement of being an attorney.

But the legislative remedy is rather simple. All it takes is a bill that says in counties with populations larger than X amount of people that there is a requirement to be an attorney. Hell even in the unlikely event that a large county doesn't have an attorney living in the area or willing to run, then an exception can be made in those cases.

Its really not that hard.

Sorry, I went off on a tangent.

The JP slush-fund; a dirty little secret

Lets get back to the slush fund. JP's are able to marry people and they have turned it into quite the lucrative enterprise. Its better side-job money than constables get. A JP can pretty much charge what they want to marry someone. The only reason they are able to do so is because of their elective office and county tax-payers never see a dime of those funds.

So when you think about cuts or the needs of departments that go unmet, or worse when you see the JP's go to Commissioners Court to ask for more money, keep in mind that they have a personal slush-fund at their disposal.

A few JP's will be reading this and probably are pretty upset, but what I am saying is 100% true. They make a ton of money marrying people. Hell some of them are so upfront about it that they offer packages and even have structures set-up in their courtroom for photo ops.

Thats revenue that is available to be captured, at least in part, by tax-payers. We deserve a piece of the action because but for the sake of them being elected officials by the people of El Paso County, they would not even have the authority to perform said duty.

They use county staff to support the marriage operations. They use the county facilities to perform the ceremonies, unless of course they are performing the ceremony at another location. Of course they charge extra for that. They use the electricity tax payers fund to keep the building at a comfortable temperature for said occasion.

And yet the public is not compensated. Nor are the JP's really transparent about exactly how much revenue they make off of that enterprise.

That is the kind of tax-payer relief the public should be looking at. Getting a piece of the marriage business will provide fare more relief than lowering the salaries of elected officials. At best, lowering the salaries of electeds is a one-time modest benefit to tax payers. But being able to capture a piece of revenue that will always be available is a far better financial decision for the benefit of tax payers.

UNRELATED SIDEBAR – if you can get married on a whim and basically get married in a day, I think you should be able to undo that mistake in one day as well. Its only fair.

Salaries of Elected Officials

I'm working on a piece about the Justices of the Peace that I'll post later this afternoon but in a recent article in the El Paso Times there was a quote that I wanted to talk about.

El Paso County HR Director Betsy Keller is quoted as being against a reduction in pay for elected officials because El Paso is already lower than the rest of the state.

Keller is 100% right.

First let's be real. You aren't going to provide meaningful tax relief to tax payers through salary cuts of elected officials. It's a symbolic gesture at best. And the gesture says more about acquiring quality candidates than it does about providing tax relief.

It's a crying shame that JP's make more money than County Commissioners. There's no way that should be happening.

Now there are a group of crazies out there that will say that county officials should cut their salaries because they don't deserve it or they don't do anything blah blah blah. That just shows their ignorance. Sure cutting electeds salary is the pandering move to make, but it doesn't help the constituent in the long run and is nothing more than empty symbolism.

If you have low wages for elected officials you create a big problem. The only people that are incentivized to run are people who are retired or independently wealthy. Those may or may not be the best pool of candidates available to run for office but it certainly eliminates people who want to make a career out of government service. Those experienced and degreed professionals we have in our community that haven't left for greener pastures yet choose to work in the private sector. That is a huge talent pool we are missing out on.

But the empty gesture that sounds good in a mailer doesn't help this community in the long run. It's yet another reason why other communities are better at producing quality leadership. We don't compete to keep our own talent.

Interestingly the conspiracy theorist nutball crazies that see something sinister even in a cup of coffee probably have no idea that most of the quality young leaders what we do have in place now took a hefty paycut to serve.

But that doesn't matter to the crazies. They want their empty symbolism.

And the crappy talent that is attracted to a position that doesn't pay well.