County Judge 2014 Election Posturing

2014_cnty_jdgeWith the primary elections less than seven days away, we will soon know who the next county judge will be. Will the incumbent, Veronica Escobar remain in office or will someone new take over? As there is no Republican candidate in the race the primary will determine the next county judge. Many political pundits are predicting a run-off race between Aliana Apodaca and Veronica Escobar. Personally, I am not really sure how close the race will be. There are too many dynamics at play at the moment that making an election prediction is a foolhardy endeavor.

The fact of the matter is that the election will come down to who has been the most effective in mobilizing the electorate. Historically, in El Paso, the election results have been determined in the early election cycle, as election night voters tend to mimic the early voters. Although there are many countywide and state candidates, the marquee race is the one for county judge because it is barometer on whether the Ray Caballero led public policy agenda will continue or will another take its place.

A win by Veronica Escobar will allow the Susie Byrd-Veronica Escobar-Steve OrtegaBeto O’Rourke public agenda some breathing room to continue in light of Steve Ortega’s repudiation by the voters. A loss by Escobar would end the Caballero public policy agenda in El Paso.

A factor at play in this election is one that is unclear at the moment on whether it will affect voter turnout; the new requirement for an identification to cast a vote. What effect, if any this requirement would have on any candidate is unclear at this time and although many will speculate the fact is that it would be difficult to quantify any affects from it.

The other factor at play is what I have coined, the “Steve Ortega affect” on Veronica Escobar. During a televised debate on KVIA, Eddie Holguin pointed out numerous times that Veronica Escobar and Steve Ortega worked together on the public policy agenda currently dominating politics. The fact that Steve Ortega was defeated by a high-margin by a political newcomer has forced Veronica Escobar to distance herself from him. During the KVIA debate, Escobar pointedly stated that she was not “Steve Ortega’s mother”.

Escobar’s apparent discomfort in associating herself to Steve Ortega publicly during the election seems to indicate to me that Veronica Escobar is worried that Ortega’s repudiation by the electorate would repeat itself on her. I believe that the public policy agenda that has driven taxes up and destroyed the city hall building is once again being tested by the electorate, though this time at a countywide level. Whether the electorate sends a clear message about city hall, the ballpark and taxes will be interesting to discern once the ballot boxes are closed.

The third factor at play, at least from my perspective, is a continued power play for control of the Democratic Party in El Paso. As far as I can tell, from a distance, is that there are three major alignments attempting to dominate the party. On one end, I see the Silvestre Reyes group attempting to wrest control from the Veronica Escobar cohorts that took control of the party with their public agenda policy a few years ago. In that mix, between the Reyes and Escobar camp are some of the traditional party operatives vacillating between the two groups.

Then there are the former party players. For example, Norma Chavez that is unclear at the moment where in the mix she fits in. On one hand, the Veronica Escobar group wants nothing to do with her while at the same time the Reyes camp hasn’t been exactly welcoming of her, at least publicly. However, in my opinion, she does not squarely fit into the third leg of the power struggle that I have dubbed the independents, because she has some residual influence from her previous stint at the state legislature.

In this election, the independent’s face is Eddie Holguin however, I believe that the independents are not organized and each individual is working independently of the other. This makes them the third-leg in the power struggle for controlling the local Democratic Party unfortunately one that is unlikely to dominate as their independence makes them working in unison to achieve control impossible. Without an organized structure under a unified leadership, each component of the “independents” weakens each other within the party politics as political operatives vote for the whole rather than the independent agendas.

The new public player in the party politics is Oscar Leeser who by his recent actions has firmly ascribed himself to the Silvestre Reyes group. Leeser, when given the opportunity to choose between the Eddie Holguin candidacy and the Aliana Apodaca one, he aligned himself to the Reyes candidate, Aliana Apodaca.

For the general not politically savvy voter who will cast a vote this election cycle the general rhetoric between the three contenders for the county judge seat is simply divided into the issue of taxes and a political newcomer. Basically, the three contenders have clearly delineated their positions.

Aliana Apodaca has been playing the “I’m a business woman and not a politician” card as her 30-second sound bite driving it home every opportunity she gets. She has positioned herself as anti-tax however; her only opportunity to create a public record has led to her voting to increase taxes. She has attempted to justify the tax increase as a necessary result of incomplete information given to her however, it seems that Escobar has been effective in creating the notion that Apodaca will say one thing and act the opposite in regards to taxes if elected.

Veronica Escobar, on the other hand has been running on the notion that when she took office public corruption was rampant at the county and that she has focused her time on creating the necessary processes to eradicate it from the county. As the incumbent, she is constantly defending the tax hikes that occurred under her tenure and is asking the voters for the opportunity to finish what she started. However, this strategy has forced her to justify the tax increases while distancing herself from Steve Ortega although she clearly subscribes to the same public policy agenda.

For his part, Eddie Holguin is running on the simple message that his political tenure has proven that he is a “representative” politician who votes as the constituency asks rather than the “trustee” that votes according to his personal belief system. Holguin has constantly reinforced that he votes against increased taxes and fees and that is what he would do as the county judge.

Whether this political rhetoric will have a significant effect on the voters is something that will be argued ad nauseam after the elections. Many political observers pontificate that the election results can be determined by the amounts in campaign contributions raised by each candidate however, I am not convinced that amounts raised by candidates are an indication of the election outcome. The vote cast by a voter is secret whereas any money given to a politician is public information.

In a city where you-scratch-my-back and I’ll-scratch-yours mentality is the rule rather than the exception it can be reasonably argued that someone may give publicly to safeguard their interests yet vote something completely different when they cast their vote. Yet, it is important to note that voter turnout is lackluster at best and therefore mobilization of the electorate is more about keeping a public policy agenda in play rather than a decision based on each individual candidate’s specific qualities.

If the voters that are mobilized are those that are voting to keep certain benefits in place, for example the EPISO-led electorate then their vote is cast for the public policy that would serve their immediate need. Unfortunately, this is what I expect to see as the results trickle in, an electorate casting a vote to safeguard a public policy agenda that trickles down an artificial government subsidized economy.

As the ballot, results become known we should get a better understanding on whether the electorate is still upset about the public policy agenda that led to the ballpark fiasco or if the anger has disappeared. What is unlikely to get resolved is whether the Silvestre Reyes group has wrestled control from the Veronica Escobar wing of the local Democratic Party. This is because, unless Veronica Escobar is summarily dismissed as her cohort Steve Ortega was, the results may be skewed by the other factors at play, only a few of which I addressed in today’s post.

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