Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Valley Politics - A Primer

I happen to know a thing or two about politics in the valley.

If central is the heart of El Paso, then the valley is definitely the soul of the El Paso. Don't believe me? El Paso might be the most Catholic town in America other than Boston. Where is the Diocese located? Yep, the valley.

This will be a three-part piece, first giving you some context. Then focusing on water boards (who works there, what they are up to, and their boards) and municipalities, and finally...Clint ISD and the screw job they are doing to the people of Horizon City and Montana Vista. Its the biggest injustice I can think of in our community and we should be embarrassed as a community that we let it happen.

Obviously the County Commissioner and two State Representative Races along with two El Paso City Council seats are the most important races to the area. But perhaps just as important, with almost no scrutiny are the races for the various water boards, municipalities, and school boards. Trust me when I tell you that stuff happens down in the valley that would not be tolerated anywhere else. And frankly, I'm not sure it will be tolerated much longer.

Walk with me, because this one might take awhile. Since I realize a great many of you have no idea what "The Valley" is, I'll help you out. (Take note, these aren't exact boundaries of the places I identify. People often debate what is and what isn't the valley. I put this together from the most commonly accepted local definitions. Trust me, people in Fabens and Tornillo consider themselves more valley than people in Socorro and none of them think the people near Riverside are the valley. Its complicated, work with me.)

The Map

First, let me give you some definitions to help identify what I mean by the valley. People loosely refer to the valley as neighborhoods south and east of Ascarate Park all the out to Tornillo, south of the freeway. (See Map #1) There are basically two parts of the valley. The urban and the rural. You can tell immediately by looking at the maps that one part is concrete jungle and the other part is lush farmland.

Map # 1
Ascarate to Ysleta is commonly referred to now as the Lower Valley. From Ysleta on out to San Elizario its referred to as the Mission Valley. Although a great many people just call anything outside of El Paso out to the county line as the valley. Ascarate to Ysleta is urban and a mixture of poor, working-class, and upper middle class neighborhoods, although there aren't many of those. Since El Pasoans are big on identifying themselves by high schools it covers Riverside, Bel Air, Del Valle, and Ysleta High Schools. (See Map #2)

Map 2

Once you leave the city limits its Socorro, San Elizario, Clint, Fabens, and Tornillo. There's also a place called Cuadrilla which is about halfway between San Eli and Fabens. And there's La Isla, which I guess is technically part of Fabens but has its own unique identity. (See Map #3)

Map 3
Socorro is a mix or urban, suburban, and rural communities. It has for many years struggled with corruption, mostly because of the Gandaras. Its a community that is trying very hard to get past their history of corruption and move forward. San Elizario is one of the older communities in the County, and El Paso's first County Seat, but is also our newest municipality. Its a city, but its very rural and only incorporated because they needed to protect themselves from the Gandaras. Oops I mean the City of Socorro. 

No, I really mean the Gandaras. 

Clint is also a municipality although Clint proper is a very small little square with a bunch of areas just outside their city limits that identify as Clint. Fabens, Cuadrilla, Tornillo, and La Isla are all unincorporated communities. There are also a ton of colonias but thats getting lost in the weeds a bit. The areas I identified are the most known parts of the valley.

Point blank, Lower/Mission/the valley is the poorest, brownest part of the County. Its my favorite part of town because its most like the area I grew up in back home.

The People

Like I said, the Soul of El Paso. Mostly Latino families that are largely Spanish-dominant. The main anglo population in the valley is in Clint with some residing in Fabens as well. Near Ysleta and outside the city limits you start seeing families that have literally been in the area for hundreds of years. Thats not an exaggeration either. 

The Politics

Its the bluest part of a blue county. The Valley is overwhelmingly Democratic. What is unique about valley politics is the fact that for a very long time the power has been in families. The farmer families like the Surratts and the Iveys, then all the elected families like the Terans, the Gandaras, the Martinezes, a couple of clans of Sanchez, the Sernas, etc. Big families that have lived in the area for a long time are a natural voting block and so its easy to see how families end up dominating the political scene. 

For years the valley has had a well-earned reputation for throwing a few elbows. It gets pretty rough down in the valley during campaign season. Hell I used to like to hang out at Carolina or Pavo Real during early voting just because I knew sooner or later the shizzle was gonna go down. I've seen more than one fist-fight there and have even broken one up. It was between a man and a woman. The guy is lucky we stepped in. 

Poll workers are usually paid to give push cards to potential voters and its the funniest thing you ever saw. Imagine being at a park full of pigeons. Imagine you are the only person there. Imagine you have a loaf of bread in your hands. Thats the kind of attention a voter gets when they pull into the parking lot. And since its all raza down in the valley, poll workers get cussed at in two languages by annoyed voters. 

I'd love to see the look on a white person's face when they early vote at Carolina or Pavo. But white folks don't vote there. Still, I bet their expression would be priceless.

Dirty campaigning has been refined to nuclear-grade capacity in the valley. But there's another side that gets lost in all the craziness of Carolina and Pavo. Often campaigns organize a carne asada for all the campaign workers at the polling places. Even in the heat of campaign battle, rival campaigns routinely offer their opponents volunteers something to drink cuz the heat during a run-off kicks everyone's butt. Many, many, many voters invite you inside to get out of the heat, cold, rain depending on what time of year you knock on their door. And yes, they often offer to feed you. 

Why? Because its the valley and they are decent people. It might not be fancy food, but even if its their last olla of beans, they will offer you some. Its how they roll.

I'll end this post with an interesting fact that probably drives the crazies nuts. Sorry, thats redundant. 

In the city limits, the area has been represented by the household names in El Paso politics. Norma Chavez and Chente Quintanilla (rural part of the valley), Eddie Holguin, Miguel Teran and Willie Gandara. Those folks have now been replaced by a group of leaders that are decidedly younger, more educated, and wait for it...more progressive. 

In fact since 2010 the voters in the valley have swept out their older leadership in favor of young, educated, and progressive leaders. And most of the time its been by pretty healthy margins. The area is now represented by State Reps Cesar Blanco and Mary Gonzalez, City Rep Claudia Ordaz and County Commissioner Vince Perez. But the mayor of the county's second-largest municipality, the City of Socorro, is Jesus Ruiz who is the youngest of all the electeds in the county and has a degree from NMSU. Maya Sanchez, Mayor of the City of San Elizario is yet another example of young, educated, and progressive leaders elected to lead their communities.

Clearly the voters of the valley are far more sophisticated than they are given credit.

Up next, the interesting folks working at the water boards and the dynamics of the municipalities...


Jose Parra said...

What have you heard in El Paso about this topic? The author is Allen West, a Republican and Fox contributor. It appeared on my Facebook.

"Here's something else you might not want to hear. High-level sources say ISIS is operating just across the border from El Paso, TX and an attack is "imminent."

The Lion Star said...

The only thing I've heard is from official sources here in El Paso who have repeatedly said its not true. Its more fear-mongering from Republicans who don't live in, or care about, El Paso.