Political Cronyism and Veronica Escobar

Politicians are driven by the need to be reelected. A politico will perform at the minimum threshold needed to be reelected. That is the nature of the political beast. Accepting this inconvenient reality, then it makes perfect sense on why the new County Judge for El Paso is Ruben Vogt, Escobar’s Chief of Staff. El Paso is generally considered the armpit of Texas, where crony politics dominates the Democratic Party which has a stranglehold on the city. In Texas, where Republicans control the state’s politics, El Paso is nothing more than an itch in the politics of the state. As such, El Paso is ignored and left alone to be what it is – a footnote in the politics of the nation.

Ask most anyone outside of El Paso what El Paso is and most will tell you it is a border city on the U.S.-México border – some might even volunteer it is the birthplace of Marty Robbin’s El Paso song – believing that El Paso is an old western town replete with cowboys, señoritas and tequila. But ask them if El Paso is a political bastion for national policy, or even state public policy, and at most you’d get a smile at the stupidity of your question.

Ask an El Pasoan about El Paso’s place in the national stage and you’ll get two answers. Most would tell you how El Paso is 80% Hispanic and the safest city in the nation. A smaller group will tell you that El Paso is on the brink of becoming the next great city of the world, if only some pesky Mexicans would get out of the way and let progress lead the way with ballparks and sports arenas galore. The taxpayers, for their part, will tell you that the taxes are killing them.

But what very few people, who call El Paso home, will tell you is that El Paso is the leading gateway for drugs into the country and is one of the largest money laundering operations in the world. The official numbers won’t prove this because no one wants to make El Paso an issue. This is because the law-and-order types want to leave it as it is – manageable – and the crooks love the place. Everyone is happy except the taxpayers toiling each day to feed the government trough.

Cronyism, favoritism and nepotism defines El Paso politics.

“It’s not what you know but who you know” that is the slogan of El Paso politics. It starts at the lowest level and works its way up to the highest levels of the city. Cronyism is the “good old boys club” that Veronica Escobar tried to pretend she was fighting during the height of the many El Paso politicians that went to jail starting around 2004 for public corruption. Escobar led a group of like-minded politicos to sign a pledge absolving themselves of all public corruption.

But as you look at the definitions of cronyism and favoritism you see a clear pattern in the politics of Veronica Escobar.

Susie Byrd is a close friend of Veronica Escobar. They worked together for Ray Caballero who created the downtown revitalization plan that has attempted to eradicate as much of the Mexican culture as possible from the city. (Glass Beach Study, 2006) Byrd was an executive secretary for Caballero and Escobar was Caballero’s press secretary. They have been inseparable since then, working together in incubating like-minded young adults as future candidates and running and supporting each other’s political candidacies. Not to mention ensuring revenues streams for each other from public funds. (Byrd, El Paso Children’s Hospital; Community Scholars: Escobar & O’Rourke)

Favoritism is defined as favoring one person over another, not because of their qualifications, but because of personal likes or dislikes. Cronyism is more focused in that friends or family members confer favors on each other for their own gain.

The dynamic over the years between Susie Byrd, Veronica Escobar and others certainly defines cronyism.

Even nepotism plays an indirect part in the politics of Veronica Escobar. While her husband, an immigration judge appointed by the Donald Trump administration is busy deporting undocumented immigrants, Veronica Escobar is on the pulpit screaming about how she supports the plight of immigrants – conveniently forgetting that it is those same immigrants that help fund the local jail, and thus floats the County’s failed economy, by incarcerating them there.

Unfortunately, the argument from many is that cronyism and favoritism is part of the political machine. Recruiting candidates is not cronyism, but rather supporting a public policy agenda someone believes in.

It comes down to ethics.

For politics to work it must ensure an even and transparent playing field. Cronyism and favoritism do not encourage fairness because it empowers one person over another based-on friendship rather than in ability. Cronyism creates individuals that deliver public policy based on their mentor’s, or patron’s political needs rather than in the benefits to the community at large.

When Veronica Escobar found herself without a public job in 2003, she went to work for Community Scholars. The non-profit was financed principally by taxpayer dollars taken from the local school districts. In 2007, Escobar left Community Scholars and started receiving another taxpayer-funded paycheck as the Commissioner for the County’s Precinct 2 spot.

Tied to Ray Caballero and Community Scholars is Eliot Shapleigh.

In 1998, Eliot Shapleigh, along with Mary Hull-Caballero, formed Community Scholars. Hull-Caballero is wife of Ray Caballero. Prior to working under Veronica Escobar, Ruben Vogt worked for Eliot Shapleigh as a legislative analyst while Shapleigh was a state senator.

As Escobar’s employee, there is no doubt that Ruben Vogt is beholden to Veronica Escobar and favors Eliot Shapleigh’s and by extension Ray Caballero’s public policy agenda.

In 2012, after much acrimony about the Glass Beach Study and the secrecy of the Paso del Norte Group (PDNG) downtown revitalization endeavors, the City of El Paso commissioned and produced a study called the El Paso Plan. The study purports to be “A Policy Guide for El Paso for the next 25 years and beyond”.

Ruben Vogt is credited in the report as forming part of the “Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee” that contributed to the policy direction of the plan.

Additionally, Eliot Shapleigh is referenced as an authority in renewable energy legislation in that report.

The plan “provides the basis for El Paso’s regulations and policies that guide its physical and economic development,” according to the document’s introduction. The plan is the framework by which the City of El Paso is managing the economic development initiatives that created the taxpayer debt-ridden ballpark and proposes to build a downtown sports arena using 2012 Quality of Life funds. The sports arena is at the heart of controversy involving the Duranguito community.

Ruben Vogt may well be qualified for the position of County Judge but the optics of the appointment is wrong on all counts. The issue is an issue of trust.

El Paso, who has an extraordinary long history of official public corruption – drug dealing politicians and multiple convictions of elected officials – has an ethical dilemma. Appointed leaders who are appointed through cronyism have an inherent issue of competence. Did Vogt earn the position by being elected or did he get appointed to serve an ulterior motive?

Veronica Escobar is one scandal away from losing her election. Escobar must control the public narrative of her public record until the final ballot is cast. To do so, Escobar must limit what, if any skeletons, from her time at the county are allowed into the public realm. Vogt, as County Judge, has control over the public agenda of the county. Vogt, is in the position to limit any damage towards Veronica Escobar’s public record before the election.

Consider the El Paso Children’s Hospital which was saved from financial ruin by taxpayer funds recently. The business model of the hospitals, both children’s and UMC relies extensively on federal funds that are controlled by Congress. Those federal funds are in extreme flux not just because of the on-again, off-again attempts to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act (ObamaCare) but also because the Republican-controlled Congress must not only deal with funding unprecedented hurricane disasters but because of Trump’s national agenda that puts extreme pressure on redirecting funds away from public services towards border security and a border wall.

As a financially failed children’s hospital, built on a dubious financial model, it puts much pressure on the taxpayer-funded public hospital which also relies on federal funds for sustainability. The failure of either, or both hospitals, lies squarely on Veronica Escobar’s shoulders. Any negative news about the potential failure of either hospital must be contained prior to Escobar’s election.

Ruben Vogt, has multiple historical ties to the political faction that would benefit from a successful Veronica Escobar candidacy. Those are the optics under which the appointment of Ruben Vogt must be analyzed.

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