On, Tuesday, June 14, 2011 Mayor John Cook, Representatives Susie Byrd, Rachel Quintana, Beto O’Rourke and Steve Ortega have decided that there is no place for Democracy in El Paso. In 2009, city council decided to extend domestic health benefits to unmarried couples. Shortly after that, a citizen driven referendum was initiated whereby citizens of El Paso demanded the city change its position. First they asked council, then they gathered the necessary voter signatures to force city council to vote on the matter via a citizen presented ordinance.
Unable to overcome the majority of the city representatives’ insistence on extending health benefits to unmarried couples, the citizens forced a referendum via signatures for the voters of the community to vote on. The measure passed and the city council was forced to take the matter to court in order to attempt to prevail against the wishes of those who voted. The citizens once again prevailed when the court found that the citizen driven referendum, although not perfect, was constitutionally valid.
Not content with the court’s ruling, the city council, through Byrd, Cook, Quintana, O’Rourke and Ortega decided that not the citizens, those that vote and not the court who found the referendum to be valid – but they, and only they know what is good for the community and forced the matter back to where it all begun.
Notwithstanding the arrogance of the four, greater than thou politicians, their actions smack of a serious threat to citizen participation in El Paso. Wrapping themselves around a false cloak of defending the minority in the community, the four have created a situation whereby they dictate what is right for the community. This is a serious offense to democracy and it must not stand.
It is dangerous to allow four individuals to set a precedent whereby four individuals decide what direction the community should take. Their actions are not one of defenders of the downtrodden but of a few individuals who feel that their arrogance supersedes the will of the voting community and the dictum of a court ruling stating that the citizens have adhered to the constitutional requirement to implement their choice for the community.
Today it is an additional cost to the taxpayers of the community, however small, for something the community clearly does not want. Tomorrow, four politicians might decide that city elections are just too expensive and maybe even, too inconvenient, and decide that El Paso should have elections every ten years. Once allowed a measure of unchecked power, a politician might decide that they want more.
The citizens of El Paso cannot and should not allow Byrd, Cook, Quintana, O’Rourke and Ortega to go unchecked. For Quintana and O’Rourke there is nothing the voters can do, other than publically chastise them as their terms are over, but for Byrd, Cook and Ortega a challenged in the form of recall petition is not only warranted but required.