A Critical Review of Who Rules El Paso?

Who Rules El Paso? has recently been making the rounds through social media as the primer on El Paso political power, namely arguing that money buys control of the city. Unfortunately, the book glosses over many important details, leaves many out and offers little to no concrete facts from which to prove their central thesis. Facts are sparse, at best, and when facts are pointed out, the facts presented are wrong.

The biggest issue with the book is the missing context. Events are used to make the argument but the why and the how are missing. Without the why and the how the events depicted in the book leaves the reader without a clear understanding as to why certain politicians take money from the city’s power brokers.

For example, the TIF district battle in 2002.

The issue with the omission of the TIF district controversy is not only about the omission but also the political figures involved in them. The people involved and the outcome of the controversy is central to the thesis laid out in the book. The omission of arguably the first successful community fight against eminent domain in recent El Paso history is at best an oversight, but at worst an intentional omission.

They are important to understand as they were the genesis of how the current crop of power brokers wield the power of eminent domain to displace community members for development. Most important is that the TIF district controversy taught both community activists and power brokers how grassroots community involvement can thwart the displacement of residents and how to bypass grassroots efforts in future uses of eminent domain.

The book cites very few facts. The ones it lists are prone to errors.

I analyzed the political contributions table provided by Kathleen Staudt. My analysis demonstrates a discrepancy of $8,323.44 between the contributions reported in the book and the campaign contributions reported in the candidate campaign reports. Other discrepancies in the numbers were noted, by me.

Because of the sloppiness in the reporting of the campaign totals table any other contributions by Kathleen Staudt to the book must also be critically analyzed before the assumption can be accepted as valid.

The biggest element missing in the context of the book’s central thesis is the part the County plays in the whole scheme. Although the County is severely limited in its ability to enact laws, levy taxes or control land development in the city limits its participation is essential to the scheme. The city does not operate in a vacuum. It needs the support, at least tacitly, from other governmental bodies to allow the scheme to work.

Around 2004, the FBI launched Operation Poisoned Pawns investigating public corruption in El Paso. By April 2014, about 41 El Paso county officials and business principals had pleaded guilty or had been convicted on public corruption charges.

Almost all the El Paso corruption cases involved elected officials at the County who misused county money, yet, at most José Rodríguez investigated one, or two cases leaving the rest to federal officials. Likewise, Jaime Esparza, who has been the District Attorney for 28 years turns a blind eye to corruption in the very building he works out of. Esparza is in the unique position to address corruption through campaign donations. He does not prosecute campaign abuses.

It should also be noted that one of the book’s authors, Carmen E. Rodríguez is married to José Rodríguez.

The book does not mention either Jaime Esparza or José Rodríguez, nor the public corruption cases, leaving a significant gap to the context of the book’s underlining thesis.

The most glaring omission in the book are the lack of important and relevant interviews that the book neglected to include. Among them are Lilly Limón and Eddie Holguin who can offer important details of how fellow city council members addressed the important issues discussed in the book.

Holguin continues to be active in El Paso politics. Is it really possible that he was unreachable by the authors of the book?

Or, was his omission from the book a matter of convenience?

The book spends considerable ink exposing Paul Foster and Woody Hunt. It offers, at best, a token discussion about the politicos and Hispanics who partake in the corruption. Several wealthy Mexicans, through bi-national children, continue to contribute political funds to El Paso candidates. Some bi-nationals sit on community boards and partake in public contracts. Most important is that the book attempts to make its case while ignoring the part several Hispanic politicians have played in the issues depicted by the authors. Several of these politicians remain in elected offices today. Other significant players that are missing in the book are Susie Byrd, Ray Caballero, Veronica Escobar and Joyce Wilson.

Are the omissions of these individuals an oversight or an attempt to keep inconvenient questions out of the discussion? The readers can decide for themselves.

This is condensed overview of the problems I identified in the book.

To fully understand what is missing, I encourage you to download and read the full review. It is freely available at this link.

Please scroll to the bottom of the page and find the blue button, “download” and click on it to download the full PDF document.

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