Election Analysis: Is El Paso Now a Two-Party County?

Author: Katherine LeChat

Alejandro Burgos, Chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, was jubilant Election night while being interviewed by a local television reporter. By that time he and the rest of us who were watching election returns knew that the republicans had recaptured the U.S. Senate and Texas republicans had won all the major races. So, he had reason to be on Cloud Nine. The next thing I knew Burgos was telling the reporter: “I guess you can say now that El Paso is finally a two-party county”. When I heard that I remembered thinking: “Based on what?” El Paso demonstrated again Tuesday night that most of us are truly out of step with the rest of the state. While Rick Perry was winning the Governor’s race statewide by a rather large margin, he captured a whopping 34 percent of the vote here in El Paso County. The Lt. Governor’s race saw El Paso voters giving John Sharp 58 percent of the vote while Ron Kirk received 67 percent of El Paso’s votes for U.S. Senator. On and on it went with the candidates who lost the major statewide races winning by a lop-sided margin in El Paso. Even that “tough grandma” Carole Keeton Rylander only got 40 percent of El Paso’s votes for State Comptroller.

Of course, the El Paso County Republican Party can point to its great victories: Republican Pat Haggerty, who was running unopposed for State Representative, will be returning to the Legislature. His brother County Commissioner Dan Haggerty, who did have a Democratic opponent, won his race with 55 percent of the vote. His opponent, who no one had ever heard of and who claimed to work for a company that doesn’t exist, did not really campaign against Commissioner Haggerty. And, he was nice enough to invite the Commissioner to his only fundraiser. So, that was quite a victory for the Republicans. No one can really explain why the Republican Haggertys always manage to be victorious in this overwhelmingly Democratic county when any other Republican would go down to defeat. Oops, I almost forgot. There was one more tremendous Republican victory: Justice of the Peace in District 7–Bruce King. He beat his Democratic opponent with 57 percent of the vote. Even though he is a lone Republican in a den of Democrats, Bruce King always manages to hold onto his J.P. position. In summary, it can be said that three Republican Incumbents (and incumbents always have the edge in a race) held onto their seats. So, what was the big gain here for El Paso County Republicans? Zip, Zero. They already held those positions. They didn’t gain any new positions.

Judge Peter Peca, who switched to the Republican Party after being a Democrat for years, almost pulled off a victory over Chief Justice Richard Barajas of the Eighth Court of Appeals. Everyone thought Peca had lost his mind when he switched parties (I mean this is Democratic El Paso, after all), but he was a sly fox. He had a premonition that Republicans would sweep all the statewide offices, and since the Eighth District covers 21 counties in addition to El Paso County, he thought that he might just have a chance. He did quite well in the 21 smaller counties but lost El Paso County to Barajas by 58 percent. Over all, Peca won 49.3 percent of the total vote to Barajas’ 50.7 percent. That folks is a really close race. But, it was the other 21 counties that helped Peca come close not El Paso County. So, the El Paso County Republicans can’t claim a victory here.

What was Burgos referring to when he said that El Paso is now a two-party county? Undoubtedly he was happy about the national and statewide results. Undoubtedly he wanted to bolster all the local campaign workers and make them think that they had really accomplished a lot this year. But, when you analyze the election results in El Paso County, there can only be one conclusion: Sorry guys, you are not there yet. El Paso County is still dominated by one party and that is the Democratic Party. You still have a lot of work to do to put a dent into this Democratic stronghold called El Paso.

Let’s just take the El Paso County judicial races. On the ballot there were 9 county court judges unopposed, 7 district court judges unopposed, 1 county judge unopposed and 1 probate judge unopposed. Even the Democrats don’t like to vote for unopposed candidates. That’s why there were large numbers of under votes counted for all the unopposed judges (in other words, these unopposed positions are often just skipped over on the ballot). Until the El Paso County Republican Party fields candidates in every race, they cannot claim that El Paso is now a two-party county.

Why wasn’t the Republican Party able to recruit candidates this time around? Possibly because they have two examples of Republican judges who were appointed by the Governor (Kathleen Cardone and Jose Troche) only to lose by a large margin when they ran for election to their respective benches. Seeing that, prospective candidates are reluctant to run as Republicans. Added to that fear is the fear that local Republicans don’t fully support their candidates. An example: When El Paso had a federal judge vacancy awhile back, the Republicans nominated local judge Phillip Martinez, a Democrat, to fill the vacancy rather than support a loyal Republican. That doesn’t send a very good message to other Republicans who may be thinking about running for office. Several new federal judgeships have been recently created by Congress. El Paso will get one or two of them. The El Paso County Republican Party will have another chance to redeem themselves. This time around maybe they’ll get behind and lobby for attorneys from their own party. Only time will tell if El Paso has a chance to become a two-party county.

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