The El Paso Political Civil War of 2020

Editor’s note:
El Paso News has joined forces with El Paso Politics – which makes for a stronger and agile news source. El Paso Politics is published by Martin Paredes, who has over 20 years of knowledge and experience of El Paso politics to include its social, cultural and historical contexts. To his credit, Martin broke the story about Judge Samaniego’s city closure, almost five hours before any other media source knew about it. You need to know that our online independent citizen journalistic publications are not beholden to special interests and not everything that we publish will be covered by other local media. We strive to connect the dots and report on news and culture which matter to you. – Miguel Juárez, PhD, Editor, El Paso News


El Pasoans on Friday morning woke up to a political power grab being played out before their eyes. Many did not notice because they are focused on health and safety issues versus the economy. Lost in that public debate is what is really happening, which is a public political fight. Usually political factional fighting happens in the background, away from the public eye. In this case, the power grab is in public. In addition to the public fight between political factions there are also mayoral candidates hoping to gain traction due to the chaos. Here is the story behind the El Paso Civil War of 2020.

What Happened

On Thursday evening, County Judge Leo Samaniego ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down at midnight due to the spiking Coronavirus infections in El Paso. It is important that readers note the time was a little after 5:00pm. This will become important later.

Thursday morning there were two press conferences schedule for the day to address the rising cases of pandemic infections and the stress they were putting on the local hospitals. The 1:00pm news conference was scheduled by the mayor, Dee Margo, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign. Another press conference was scheduled for 5:00pm. This one by the County Judge, Ricardo Samaniego.

On Thursday morning, reports of a city shutdown started to trickle throughout the business community. Reports of an impending shutdown started to trickle into the El Paso Politics, as well. Some came from rumors circulating in the community, among businesses and elected officials who were commenting about the closure rumor. Two individuals with first-hand knowledge told us that a closure order would be announced at 5:00pm by Samaniego.

About an hour before the Dee Margo press conference was scheduled to start, it was cancelled by the City without explanation.

Although this is all conjecture because no one is likely to admit to their part in the chaos, it is a reasonable interpretation of the events so far.

The Players

To understand the battle lines, it is important to know the players. In this case the players include Dee Margo and Ricardo Samaniego as the primary protagonists. However, there are other players as well. The mayoral candidates all have an interest in the public fight because it affects Margo’s reelection efforts. Of the three challengers, Oscar Leeser is less interested than the rest of the contenders because he is securely in first place according to polling data published by the El Paso Politics. Veronica Carbajal is hoping to push past Margo and face Leeser in a runoff. Carbajal is hoping to siphon Margo’s votes that he may be losing due to his stance on keeping El Paso open.

However, Carlos Gallinar is the one hoping to benefit the most.

Gallinar has been endorsed by Beto O’Rourke and Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. Escobar was on the video press conference with Samaniego when the County’s closure order was issued. Although Samaniego tried his best to portray a sense of unity among himself and Margo, the reality is that Margo was against the closure order. Veronica Escobar said as much during the press conference.

Because of the closure order, there is an ongoing public debate between those focused on the viability of the economy versus community safety and health. Clearly, Margo is focused on the economy.

Therein lies the reason for the conflict.

According to polling by the El Paso Politics, Carlos Gallinar is placing last between Leeser, Margo and Carbajal. Gallinar needs a strong final push to go up in the polls for the final day of voting.

To do so he needs to mobilize non-traditional voters. A fight over public health and the economy (Margo) may allow that to happen. Angry voters become motivated voters.

But how can the two, Gallinar and the closure order be connected

Enforceability is the key.

Not Enforceable

The underlining problem with the county’s order is enforceability. Any law that is not enforceable is not followed. Take, for example speeding. Most drivers ignore the speed limit when they feel they can get away with it. That is why the police department sets speed traps, to enforce the speed limits by creating a situation for drivers that every time they speed there is the chance they will be fined.

When police do not enforce speed limits very few drivers follow the speed limit.

This is the underlining problem for the county’s order – it is difficult to enforce. It has no teeth.

The only major county enforcement arm is the El Paso County Sheriffs Department. They have authority over the county and the city. Although the sheriff has stated that they will enforce the closure order, there remains the problem of how.

The Order carries with it only fines. There is no jail time. Even if the sheriff’s department were to issue fines, they still must be upheld by the courts. Will the judges uphold the fines?

Ultimately the legality of the order will be litigated over months. In the meantime, the only thing keeping citizens compliant is the fear of fines and the confusion over whether there is a closure order in place. This is where the 5:00pm. press conference comes into play.

It is likely that the County understood the problem with enforceability. By making the announcement at 5:00pm., after most individuals had left work, the County left the closure order as the last thing business owners and employees heard making it difficult among the confusion to get employees back to work on Friday. That gave the County the ability to keep people off the streets Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the legality of the order could trickle down throughout the community.

However, the Gallinar camp knew that Margo would be forced to push back against the order. Margo had said as much on Monday when he refused to order shutdowns at the city.

A public battle between public health and businesses making money thus ensued.

The Gallinar campaign is hoping to capitalize on the debate about health. They are hoping angry voters mobilize for Gallinar on Tuesday.

Veronica Carbajal’s camp has also responded to the chaos but more from a position of reacting to the chaos.

National Referendum

It is easy to dismiss Escobar’s part in the chaos by looking at it from a national issue about Biden versus Trump. However, this can be dismissed when it is understood that almost everyone agrees that El Paso will vote for Biden.

Thus, knowing that Escobar publicly participated in the closure announcement and has opined that it is a health issue, alluding to Margo not protecting the community, connects everything to Gallinar.

The polling data that El Paso Politics has used is likely similar to the results that the Gallinar camp is seeing. Knowing that voting is almost over, the Gallinar camp needs drastic measures to push above Carbajal and Margo to make it into a runoff against Leeser.

The Mayoral Race

What is playing out in public is a multidimensional chess game with various pieces jockeying for position at the same time. This makes the ongoing drama difficult to comprehend. Various players are playing their own game each with their own agenda. Some players, like Samaniego, do not truly comprehend the complicated political game he has been brought into.

Others, like Veronica Carbajal have noted an opportunity to rise in the polls and has taken advantage of it.

Leeser, on the other hand, hopes to face Margo in the runoff for an easy win. He is just hoping Margo hangs on.

But the closure controversy is being driven by the Carlos Gallinar camp. Along with that is a political power struggle that the public is witnessing firsthand.

Keep an eye on the enforcement issue and Veronica Escobar’s participation in the coming days and the reason for the public feud should become evident.

Note: The preceding was the opinion of Martín Paredes and is not necessarily the position of the publication.

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