Politics in El Paso is in a sorry state. There are 364,537 registered voters in El Paso. Only 31,255 of them voted. That’s an abysmal 8.57 percent.
How did we get here? What does it mean?
Sure, most of the choices were lousy. Two Republicans running for mayor in a city that’s decidedly Democrat. The Chairperson of the El Paso County Democratic Party encouraged undervoting, i.e., turning in a ballot without selecting a candidate. Some of the voters chose to save themselves the time and not go to the polls at all.
Not that going to the polls was especially time-consuming. No one had to wait in line.
Elected office used to be prestigious. In the last ten years, the jobs have lost their luster.
The City Manager form of government means that our elected officials are mostly just along for the ride. All the big decisions are made in the hallowed halls of the bureaucracy long before City Council gets a vote. Witness the unanimous 8-0 vote to demolish Duranguito to build an arena, and the subsequent flip-flopping. Do you suppose City Council got a balanced dose of reality before that vote? Or maybe they only got one side of that argument.
Or how about the way a previous City Council railroaded that ballpark through? Posted on a Thursday and approved on a Tuesday with very limited public input.
When you make a practice of excluding the voters, they’re going to feel excluded. And they could vote, and fight, to get effective representation. But losing all the time isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s easier to quit the game.
Right now we have a city government that knows what’s good for us whether we like it or not. And by “us,” I mean the developers and real estate speculators and anyone else who wants to suck on the public tit. The deck is stacked in favor of incumbents, who can use their political power to benefit campaign donors, who, in turn, can funnel more money to the incumbents. Good luck breaking into that cycle.
The resulting perception for much of the community is that local government serves the developers and the leisure class, and lets the taxpayers pick up the tab.
And running for office isn’t particularly cheap, or easy, or fun.
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” said the famous twentieth century political philosopher, Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, the guy who built the California State Treasurer’s office into a political empire.
Robert Cormell took in $23,359.50 towards his bid for the District 8 City Representative seat. Cissy Lizarraga faces him in the runoff. She put $29,388 in her war chest, including a $20,000 loan. And that’s not counting any contributions they may have received during the last week of the campaign. That’s a lot of cheddar to spend for a chance at a job that pays $29,000 a year. And there’s still a runoff.
And financial cost isn’t the only burden a candidate faces. Local political factions are notoriously vindictive and mean-spirited. The anonymity afforded by the internet has intensified the personal attacks political candidates may face. Winners and losers can both be sore, and memories are eternal. And sometimes the worm turns.
So why would any qualified, charismatic candidate bother to run for City Council? And until we get a qualified, charismatic candidate, the citizens aren’t going to get excited about voting.
To restore the electorate’s confidence in the system, our incoming batch of politicians are going to have to stand up to the bureaucracy and the moneyed class.
Good luck with that.