At El Pasoans, Beto O’Rourke’s race for governor excites loyal fans and rekindles long-standing grudges

Ariana Escudero first met Beto O’Rourke in 2015, when she was an intern for the former congressman in her Washington, DC office.

When she learned on Monday morning that O’Rourke was running for governor from Texas, she felt a familiar hope dawning in her for the candidate who has become something of a hometown hero.

“I’ll probably call her and ask her, ‘What do you need? “” Escudero said Monday as she left a Barnes & Noble bookstore in eastern El Paso, where she was looking for new leisure readings. Escudero, who is now a lawyer, said she supports him because he is a hard worker with whom she shares similar political values. “He’s grown more mature and better” both as a politician and as a person since his days in Congress, she said.

Escudero, like many other El Paso residents, followed O’Rourke’s political trajectory from city council member to presidential candidate who nearly defeated the Republican United States senator. Ted cruz over three years ago. If elected, O’Rourke would be the first Democrat since 1994 to be elected to a statewide office in Texas.

Throughout his campaigns, O’Rourke has shared his spotlight with El Paso. He proudly touted the binational city as one of the safest in America as former President Donald Trump tried to label border communities as dangerous. In 2019, after gunman targeting Hispanics killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart, O’Rourke changed his presidential campaign tactics to become one of the strongest voices among Democratic gun control candidates.

O’Rourke’s announcement was widely praised in El Paso, where the former Democratic congressman launched his political career, serving six years on city council after being first elected in 2005. O ‘ Rourke then represented El Paso in the United States House. Representatives for six years.

The news quickly spread around town on Monday. Vanessa Vasquez, 22, a psychology student at the University of Texas at El Paso, said she first heard of O’Rourke when he ran for the US Senate. She said she “was disappointed” that he lost, but that she was delighted that he had decided to run for governor.

Her younger sister, Brisa Vasquez, 17, said that even though she couldn’t vote now, she would vote for O’Rourke on election day. The sisters said they have family in Ciudad Juárez and so O’Rourke understands the bicultural way of life in a border town.

“I think he’s just very passionate about people,” Elder Vasquez said.

Even with his celebrity status here, O’Rourke has his detractors, some of whom still blame him for his actions as a member of city council.

“El Paso and Texas deserve better than a privileged white man who makes decisions for our communities,” said Cynthia Renteria, who was 21 and was a volunteer with her neighborhood association when she met O’Rourke.

Renteria underlines its support in 2006 to development plan for business leaders this would have forced the relocation of residents from the historic Hispanic area known as Segundo Barrio, south of downtown El Paso.

At the time, the city hired a company that did a marketing study on whether El Paso would go through with the development plan. In the 129-page presentation, there were two slides that sparked controversy. The first depicted the neighborhood at the time with the image of an older Hispanic man, described as “gritty, dirty, lazy” and Spanish speaking. The next slide shows how the development plan could improve the neighborhood in the future. He used words like “educated, entrepreneurial” and “bilingual,” paired with photos of Spanish actress Penélope Cruz and Texas-born actor Matthew McConaughey.

O’Rourke initially voted to move the plan forward, but then withdrew from the other votes because the plan was backed by Paso del Norte Group, which was led by O’Rourke’s stepfather. The plan ultimately failed after a public outcry.

“He was placing his political career above the families and neighborhoods of the Mexican-American working class,” Renteria said. “Since then, I no longer supported him.

Democrat Renteria has said she plans to leave the governor’s section blank on her ballot if O’Rourke is the candidate, which she did in the past when he was the candidate.

Jaime Abeytia, a political blogger in El Paso, said there has always been a group of opponents who do not support O’Rourke in part because he is a wealthy white man with a Spanish nickname. Abeytia said he hoped voters did not continue to blame him for the 2006 development plan, saying a “good leader” can learn from the mistakes of the past and move on.

He said he voted for then-US Representative Silvestre Reyes against O’Rourke in the 2012 primaries because Reyes was the longtime Democrat who represented El Paso in Congress. But O’Rourke’s stance on legalizing same-sex marriage at the time is what changed Abeytia’s opinion.

“I think he has a way to energize voters from different sectors,” Abeytia said.

In his announcement, O’Rourke said his time as a board member and congressman had prepared him for his last campaign, saying that “these experiences have taught me that we are more successful when we focus on them. people”.

Some of those who have worked with and known O’Rourke since his days on city council have praised him, saying he would be a great governor and a much-needed change after three decades as Republican governors. They say O’Rourke was a progressive ahead of his time, taking a stand on some issues that are now part of the Democratic Party’s platform, such as government employee benefits for same-sex partners. O’Rourke lobbied the council at a time when same-sex marriage was illegal.

“He was always a visionary of what El Paso needed,” said Dora Oaxaca, president of the El Paso County Democratic Party.

In 2009, O’Rourke, who expressed his support for the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana, introduced a resolution to initiate a debate “on ending the ban on narcotics” and expressing his support for Ciudad Juárez , where thousands of people have died as a result of the war on drugs and which has seen heavy fighting between Mexico’s drug cartels. City council unanimously approved the resolution, but the then mayor vetoed it, sparking debate within the local Democratic Party, said Steve Ortega, who served on city council with O’Rourke. .

“I have no doubt that he will put his energy into [running for governor] and provide a stark contrast to what we currently have in Austin, “Ortega said, adding that O’Rourke would also” provide a voice that understands the dynamics of the border “to audiences across the state” rather than use it as a wedge problem ”.

During his failed presidential run, O’Rourke frequently thwarted Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric. Raised in a predominantly Hispanic city, O’Rourke learned Spanish and used it to his advantage to reach out to voters.

“He debunked a lot of negative myths and misinformation about the border and El Paso,” Oaxaca said. “He has always been in solidarity with our community. Beto es verdad, which means he’s real, he’s what Texas needs.

Rep. the United States Véronique Escobar, who succeeded O’Rourke to represent the El Paso district in Congress, also expressed support for O’Rourke.

“Through the blackout of the power grid, the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the refusal to expand health care in Texas, Greg Abbott’s failures have claimed the lives of Texans,” Escobar said in a press release sent by his campaign manager. “It’s time we had a governor ready to serve Texans and meet the needs of our state. I am happy to support Beto in his bid for governor and look forward to the upcoming elections.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a suit list of them here.

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