What 8.57% Means

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.

14 comments

  1. I wonder if it would make any difference if we had just one candidate stand up and say, “I am against this ridiculous City Manager form of government, and I say it is time to have a referendum to overturn it, and go back to a strong Mayor form.” I guess we’ll never know. Hell, for that matter, wouldn’t it have been nice for one to say that they were against this stupid unnecessary arena that was never part of the almost forgotter QoL bond issues of 2012? Five freaking years ago!!!

    1. John, who did you vote for in the first round of mayoral elections? I ask hoping that your answer would be Jaime O. Perez, because if it wasn’t, and that was a major concern of yours (strong mayor form of govt and public input via ballot referendums), you need to be paying more attention. After working on his campaign, which took in no donations, a mistake I think on his part to take nothing, I know that we did our best to get out our message out on-line. I share many of the same concerns with you and the author of el chuqueno, and thank him for making the effort to blog with this perspective, but it is frustrating work to promote a “qualified, charismatic candidate” when earning support is a fruitless effort.

      I see all the frustrated taxpayers comments on facebook and blogs online, but too few of them were able to turn that frustration into productive energy and get good candidates elected. Jaime O. Perez took in ~151 votes, humiliating defeat. It’s much easier to complain, and write about the many absurd mistakes made by this city, than to stand by a good candidate, and find ways to get them votes. I say that a bit cynically, I respect the fact that I think I know the name of the author of these articles, and in this town that does take some cajones.

      But in a city where the monied establishment is supported by the El Paso Slimes, GEPCC, KVIA, and KTSM, and the candidates of principle have too few backing them, our city remains in the hands of the status quo where it shall remain until people do more than critique.

  2. I wonder if it would make any difference if we had just one candidate stand up and say, “I am against this ridiculous City Manager form of government, and I say it is time to have a referendum to overturn it, and go back to a strong Mayor form.” I guess we’ll never know. Hell, for that matter, wouldn’t it have been nice for one to say that they were against this stupid unnecessary arena that was never part of the almost forgotten QoL bond issues of 2012? Five freaking years ago!!!

    1. Thank you, Mr. R. That’s an interesting piece. But still. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean that we have to like it.

      1. However it does make it seem like the ballpark and many of your other EP specific points might not be the actual problem.

        I suspect the issue has more to do with the internet and how we are all able to listen to the echo chamber of things we like and not listen to things we don’t like. I’ve noticed that overall many people are disillusioned because they want someone to do things the way they want and they are no terribly good at compromising. Look at the people already demanding a recall election in District 2. Or folks who are adamant that the City Manager form of government is the source of all evil in the world. We tend to get way too polarized and I think that makes large swaths of the population check-out when it comes time to vote. This time around we had 2 republicans running for mayor. Right there you probably lost a good chunk of reliable voters. To begin with there were only 4 districts up for election so some folks in the other 4 might not have even bothered to vote the first time around. Basically if different people had run on different platforms we probably would have had a similar turn out but different people would have probably voted.

        1. I meant to address that echo chamber problem in my original post but things got away from me. Good point. (And by “good point,” I mean I agree with you.)

      2. Nobody said anything about anyone having to “like it”. The point is you are making a sensationalist and dubious claim about El Paso having a pathetically low turnout. I live in Dallas and we actually had a lower turnout two years ago for our Mayoral election at 6.1%! So the point is, do your research. That’s what journalists do. Journalists also follow good rules of grammar. “But still.” isn’t even a proper OR a complete sentence, good lord.

  3. lol, isn’t it odd that people always point to another city? We don’t live in Dallas, we live in El Paso. So it is a problem ! A problem that we need to fix.

    Jaime is a winner, he stepped up and stated what the real issues are and how to fix them. His courage made him a winner.

    1. What is even more odd is the fixation that people who live in El Paso have on non-issues! AGAIN, the point, which you obviously missed, is that this is a problem everywhere! So why is the writer making this out to be an El Paso-only problem? Do you get it now “ignorant facts”? If you’re not going to use other cities, even other Tx cities as a reference what are you comparing yourself to with your criticism? Juarez?? Or do you just like to complain for the sake of complaining?

  4. “We don’t live in Dallas, we live in El Paso. So it is a problem!” Wow, wonderful logic you used there ignorant facts ????????

  5. I think we should have our polling places at monster truck shows. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

  6. Mark R – Is it good journalistic form in Big D to put eight (8) question marks after a sentence?

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