Writer looks behind the scenes of TV congressional debate

Miguel Juárez is a history doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso focusing on United States, Borderlands and Digital Humanities/Urban History.


Editor’s note: Comments and opposing viewpoints are always welcome.

Miguel Juárez

Among the many opinions in the public comments section of an El Paso Times article, “New Silvestre Reyes ad attacks Beto O’Rourke’s character,” on May 23, by Chris Roberts, one reader stated that O’Rourke had won the debate on News 7 Extra against Silvestre Reyes on Sunday, May 20. Yet he offered no real evidence.

Let’s analyze what happened in the debate. From personal, experience having been on the News7 Exta program, I see several things happen. First, the favored guest gets to sit closest to the host. The chair farther from him is also shorter and off-balanced — either that or the floor is slanted so the second guest looks smaller. This is a tactic used to make the other person look less important.
Also, host Darren Hunt usually confers with his favored guest before the program airs. I imagine before the debate, Hunt conferred with O’Rourke separately while Reyes waited in the studio. He did this to me when I debated city Rep. Steve Ortega over the Los Lagartos issue several months ago. Unfortunately, all people remember from that debate were Ortega’s silly socks. Hunt conferred with Ortega, while I had the opportunity to watch Paul Cicala present the sports segment in a blazer and shorts.

In the News 7 Extra debate, O’Rourke stated that bridge waiting was a big issue in his campaign, but bridge wait times result from bridges being understaffed, not from Reyes’ legislation. O’Rourke stated that he was the candidate who would “go and get the job done.” This is what Reyes has been doing — effectively — for years. O’Rourke offered nothing significantly new — just buzz terms and ambition and the illusion that he would ride a white horse into Washington and magically influence Congress.

Click here to view the televised debate

Unlike Reyes, O’Rourke has no experience in border enforcement. Reyes has a verifiable track record. He voted on American Recovery and Re-investment Act that brought in a billion dollars to the local economy. He has a congressional voting record of 92 percent compared to O’Rourke serving six years on city council.

The Veterans Administration’s services are important in El Paso, but to base an entire campaign on the VA’s ineffectiveness is a shallow argument at best. Improving VA services is a complex issue needing attention, but it should not be reduced to a sound bite in a congressional campaign. On the Merida Initiative, O’Rourke didn’t really address it, but blamed its failure on the drug war. He didn’t know the specific limits of the initiative or how the money has been dispersed and to whom.

It doesn’t go to Mexico or drug dealers, as he implied. It was not like the Paso Del Norte Group’s “Amor Por Juárez,” million-dollar campaign that used funds to wine and dine politicos and build community centers in Ciudad Juárez. Discussion of Merida in the debate took a turn and at one point O’Rourke seemed laughable. His attempt at discrediting Reyes’ work on Merida resembled a skit on Saturday Night Live. Reyes reiterated that the campaign should focus on issues and not personal attacks. O’Rourke just sat there. Thankfully, the voice of reason prevailed.

The debate between Reyes and O’Rourke seemed comical at times when the challenger raised his voice during the conversation, apparently trying to get an edge in on the conversation. O’Rourke came off as ill-prepared in the interview and offered not substantive comments but statements of desperation—pulling at whatever terms be could conjure as opposed to his scripted infomercials. O’Rourke stated he wanted to end prohibition of marijuana and said he would confer with his constituents about it. But who does he mean?

On the Yarbrough Bridge, it will be a reality if O’Rourke is elected, as well as other bridges; one will not be enough. Again he cited long bridge-crossing times as deficiencies. So, does fixing that issue for him translate into creating more ports of entry? Reyes is a full committee chair, and El Paso has benefitted immensely from his appointments. Congressional appointments take time, and O’Rourke will not have any of them unless his father-in-law, Bill Sanders, or the Super PAC can pull some strings.

On camera, O’Rourke accused Reyes of enabling corruption, but he offered no evidence and had no basis. Reyes’ IBWC speech did not violate the Hatch Act. Attention on the Yarbrough Bridge came at the request of a concerned community and residents. Reyes did not spearhead that issue — and this is why the Times is going after the YISD superintendent and using Freedom of Information Act (FOIAs) requests to bleed the issue. It seems more like retribution than getting the story about a recording studio.  Since when does a school district’s recording studio make front-page news?

Throughout the campaign, it has been painfully obvious the El Paso Times is trying hard to throw the congressional race, even going to the point of not accepting advertising from the candidate they disfavor. Too bad Newspaper Tree has not been able to publish during the heated campaign. No doubt there would have been balanced reporting on the issues.

During the debate, O’Rourke said he was happy to know Sanders because he is married to his daughter. Sanders owns real estate on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, those bridges are coming, and O’Rourke needs to get elected to deliver them.

Both candidates seem supportive of the president’s views on gay marriage.

O’Rourke stated he would improve the ports of entry, but this is already happening under Reyes’ watch. Reyes has a track record and has delivered significant results. He represents everyone and not just special interests.  O’Rourke is mainly using rhetoric, his boyish good looks, ambitious talk and downplaying the fact that he came from a moneyed background, but he was able to pull himself out of his coming-of-age exploits and legal troubles to become a potential political candidate. Talk is cheap. Don’t be cheap with your vote on May 29th, because it will cost us.

Like Monsignor Arturo Bañuelos recently stated from the pulpit at St. Pius Church: “We have a voice and that voice is to vote.”

Miguel Juárez is a history doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso focusing on United States, Borderlands and Digital Humanities/Urban History.



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