My Conversation with a Politician

hypocrisyLast week I had a conversation with an El Paso politician. The politician asked me why was it that I did not run for office. The politician stated that I was very in tune to the politics and obviously passionate about them. The individual told me that instead of sitting on the sidelines and criticizing that I should instead be taking direct action by running for office. Obviously, there are two legal impediments to me running for office, I do not live in the city and I am not a citizen. Setting aside those facts for a moment, I indulged the politician with an explanation.

It is because of the hypocrisy in the whole process I told him.

I explained; politics in the United State is about popularity contests bought by those who can afford to buy politicians. It is not about what is good for the community, but rather how public money can be used for certain economic benefits for a few.

This is especially true in El Paso.

I am not naive enough to believe that the world is a fair and equitable place. I do not expect it to ever change. It is the nature of life; the strongest survive and the weak do not.

My problem is that I do not have the ability to stay quiet and play nice. I do not have the ability to sit idly by and mince my words in political rhetoric so as not to offend someone.

I told the individual; “It would take exactly 15 minutes of me attending the first meeting at city council before the police would have to step in and forcefully remove me for loosing decorum”. I just do not have the ability to do what the politician does day and day out.

I am not a violent person however, nothing angers me more than eye-rolling insolence or outright hypocrisy. It would start out with raised voices and it would quickly escalated out of control especially if someone like Steve Ortega was pontificating.

The individual asked me to explain.

I told him, take for example the $50,000 in campaign contributions that Steve Ortega accepted from Woody Hunt and Paul Foster after Steve had lost the mayoral race.

The timing and the amount of money has all of the hallmarks of political influence peddling. It is a large amount of money given to the candidate that had lost a political race, after he had lost that race.

Most politicians will tell you that media companies do not accept payment terms from politicians for advertising purchases, especially during the political season. Everyone knows that a politician uses campaign funds to pay for advertising and very few can afford to pay for it out of pocket.

As the runoff race came down to the wire, Steve Ortega went on a media-purchasing binge, buying about $50,000 worth of advertising. Problem was that Ortega didn’t have the money in his campaign coffers and the general consensus was that he was going to lose.

Based on what I know at this point I believe some conversation was had where someone was promised that the media buys would be paid for. The advertising sellers had to had felt comfortable knowing that $50,000 in fees would be paid, or else they would not have sold them on credit.

After the race was over and Steve Ortega had lost, the bills came due and Steve Ortega’s campaign received $50,000 from two of the most recent controversial figures in El Paso; Paul Foster and Woody Hunt.

Everyone knows that Foster and Hunt benefited from Steve Ortega’s leadership and votes on city council. Putting Ortega in the mayor’s seat would have capitalized on that.

The politician retorted, well isn’t that how politics is played?

I responded that yes, that is how politics is played, by influence peddling.

What my biggest problem is, is the hypocrisy about the whole thing.

Woody Hunt has come out proclaiming that corruption is stifling El Paso’s future and he has also stated that influence peddling is a symptom of it.

Yet, and this is where the hypocrisy therein lies, Woody Hunt uses his money to buy political influence. It may be legal but it is not right. It is hypocritical to criticize the process and yet partake of it.

The worst part for me is that the news media doesn’t really do in depth investigative reporting in order to expose the hypocrisy. They partake of it as well.

Oh, they will argue that laws were not broken or that their mandate is to accurately report actionable items and not to editorialize what-if scenarios or suppositions.

Again, it is the hypocrisy that grates me.

The local newspaper has written news stories opining that the Texas Open Meetings laws may have been broken because city council may have voted, in executive session, to extend a contract offer to Tommy Gonzalez.

Yet, Steve Ortega has publicly acknowledged that he holds in his possession public documents that he refuses to release that involve the ballpark.

The local paper has yet to editorialize on Steve Ortega withholding public documents, much less accurately report that fact.

But, but started to say the politician when I interrupted by continuing; “let me finish”.

On one hand, the paper writes that the city may have broken the law with the alleged vote. That has not been proven in a court of law. In fact, the city attorney has argued that the city did not break the law. At this point, it is only an allegation. Therefore, what the newspaper reported was opinion. It is also important to point out that the newspaper is the one that originally leveled the allegation and thus it belongs in the editorial pages.
Yet, in the case of Steve Ortega’s emails, the paper, although reporting on the legal case, has yet to take a position on the merits of a politician withholding public documents.

Is it because Steve Ortega voted to buy the local paper’s building with city monies?

That, right there, is hypocrisy at its worst.

I concluded, I wouldn’t last for long as a politician because the system is so messed up that there is no way a politician won’t succumb to the corruption.

“Are you saying all politicians are corrupt!”; exclaimed the now upset politician.

“No”, I replied. What I am telling you is that in order to be a viable politician under the current system you need to be able to play the game. There are three possible scenarios in the game.

You buy into the corruption and maximize your profits.

You try to stay away from the corruption but allow yourself to be manipulated through political pressures, money or outright quid-pro-quos, because you need money to run for office.

Or, you are unelectable under the system. You might get lucky when the stars line up or the electorate might be angry enough to turn out to allow you to win one race but you’ll never be a career politician. Because without the money, to grease the wheels, you would soon succumb to the influence peddlers that are funding your competitors.

“What about the voters”, once again retorted the political figure.

“What about them”, I replied.

Although it is difficult to prove, my feeling is that the majority of the voters in El Paso vote because they have a stake in keeping taxes high in the community. Look at the percentages of the voting populations over the years. There is a core group of voters that are engaged and look for candidates advocating decreasing taxes, yet they are a small subset.

Then there is the so-called retired voters that live on a fixed income, however for most the issue of higher taxes is somewhat abated by frozen taxes. Within this group, there is also the retiree that depends on the government for their retirement. Keep in mind that the greatest concentration of employment in El Paso is in the government sector.

Knowing that the largest job market in El Paso is the government sector then it becomes clear as to why someone advocating lower taxes is unlikely to be elected. Consider a police officer. His paycheck depends on the politician that advocates higher salaries for public workers. Even his retirement is tied to the rhetoric from the politician.

However let us expand on that a little. The police officer isn’t the only one dependent on his paycheck, so is his family. So now we don’t just have one voter but two voters dependent on that paycheck. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. At the next family gathering, the police officer is asked by a family member about the upcoming elections. The officer replies that so-and-so isn’t good for the city. He is likely to tell his family that a politician advocating for reducing taxes by eliminating retirement benefits or other incentives would hurt him and his family. In other words, if you vote for them it will hurt our family. The lower taxes candidate is now facing a voting bloc that increases as each family member is engaged.

Now trickle that scenario across the police force, the city employees and the fire department. That’s a pretty strong voting bloc. Oh and how about the school districts and other government offices and you can see how the voting bloc is big.

“They pay taxes as well”, interrupted the politico. Yes, I replied, but if it’s a case of your livelihood and your family’s welfare are you really going to care about the taxes you pay?

The vast majority of the voters that moan and gripe about higher taxes are the ones too busy to stay engaged and so they do not vote on Election Day.

The vast majority have also given up on the system.

Thus, the current system is supported by an electorate that depends on government largess to tweak out a living and thus those promising bigger public works, higher salaries, or more jobs in the public sector are the ones that will be elected.

I haven’t even mentioned the services industry like architects and engineering firms that need large public works to stay in business. They have employees with families as well that vote.

Before the politico had a moment to interrupt I added, take a look at the Veronica Escobar and Eddie Holguin race. Both politicians were honest; Escobar needs to raise taxes to deliver her vision and Holguin wanted to hold the line on taxes. You all know the outcome.

I told the politician that many, if not all, political pundits likely strongly disagree with me. It doesn’t matter because the thesis is unprovable one way or another because of the secrecy of the vote.

Getting back on topic, I closed by telling the politician that for those reasons I couldn’t run for office even if I wanted to because in the end there is nothing any one can do until the disenchanted electorate decides to take back control in mass.

What I can do, I concluded, is do what I do through my blog, continue to expose the hypocrisy.

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