Author’s note: The following is an analysis of an ongoing and developing political power readjustment in El Paso’s Democratic Party.
Shortly after the election ended last week an interesting battle began to brew in El Paso’s Democratic Party. There is a larger battle going on at the national level, but the El Paso one provides a glimpse into the politics of El Paso’s political leadership. Like the national debate, the El Paso brawl is the battle of the progressives versus the establishment. It is nothing new as the Democratic Party has had these battles since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) cemented herself on the national stage and forced the Democratic Party to decide how far left the party wanted to go. At the local level, the same battle is being played out. It started with Carlos Gallinar and it blew up from there. Veronica Carbajal had in impact on El Paso’s election and Veronica Escobar took notice.
There are several fast-moving pieces in this fast-developing brawl between Carbajal and Escobar.
To understand the political undercurrent playing out behind the scenes it is important to put context into the fracas.
Understanding how the pieces fall into place is important for understanding the larger battle between the progressive movement within the Democratic Party. Because there is an ongoing national debate there are many places where the reader can get an in-depth analysis of the issue at the national level. For purposes of this analysis, we will offer a quick recap to the reader as a starting point.
As the reader likely knows, Joe Biden has been named the president-elect. Notwithstanding the last-minute challenges from Donald Trump, Biden will likely be inaugurated on January 20 as the next president. However, right now, there is an ongoing debate about the place that AOC and her progressives hold in the Democratic Party.
Democratic House members have blamed the progressives for the loss of Democratic seats at the House. AOC has pushed back calling the Democrats who lost their seats “sitting ducks”.
The Democratic Party establishment is still having a difficult time reconciling with the progressives within their ranks.
Stacey Abrams Holds The Democratic Party Cards
Joe Biden received an important push by the voter turnout in Georgia. One million more Georgians voted last week than they did in 2016. These new voters turned Georgia blue. Stacey Abrams has been credited with the voter turnout. The former Georgia House Minority Leader created the New Georgia Project to register minority voters in Georgia. Her efforts were resisted by the Democratic Party establishment who did not believe that first-time voters could be mobilized. This is the same narrative in El Paso – younger voters are unreliable. In many ways, the data sustains this notion, but the data also supports the idea that an organized voter turnout can upset the balance of power, as demonstrated by Georgia and Abrams.
In El Paso, Veronica Carbajal demonstrated this, and Veronica Escobar took notice.
Like the Democratic Party establishment that ignored Abrams, Escobar did not notice Carbajal until it was too late. This becomes clear later as we explore Escobar’s response on Facebook.
The poignant thing about Stacey Abrams and her voter drive is that the Democratic Party, that ignored her, is now dependent on her to deliver the Senate to the Democrats.
Carbajal v. Escobar
In El Paso, a similar battle is brewing.
The Carlos Gallinar Factor
The divisions within the El Paso Democratic Party politicos came into view with an innocuous Facebook post by Dominic Chacon. Chacon argued on his post that Carlos Gallinar was placed by Veronica Escobar and Beto O’Rourke as “a cookie cutter Democrat in a Non-Partisan race.” Chacon went on to argue that Gallinar split the vote denying Carbajal the opportunity to win.
El Paso Politics posed the question of why Carlos Gallinar felt the need to bolster his Democratic Party credentials before the election in a non-partisan race. On the surface the target was Dee Margo, a known Republican. But was there more? Was Carlos trying to insinuate that his closest challenger wasn’t a known Democratic Party member?
Also, as readers may remember, El Paso News recently addressed the ongoing debate over the County’s order to shutdown in response to the growing threat of the pandemic was part of an effort by Veronica Escobar to help Carlos Gallinar in the race for mayor.
It is also important to remind readers that Bob Moore allowed Gallinar to use his online platform to further Gallinar’s Democratic Party credentials. Moore provided more coverage of Gallinar than any other mayoral candidate, including Veronica Carbajal’s candidacy. Gallinar also donated to Bob Moore’s online publication.
Gallinar came in last among the top four mayoral candidates, receiving 7% of the vote.
In response to Chacon’s post, Christopher Hernandez, a political consultant, made a simple observation: “Carbajal would make an excellent Congresswoman.”
It would have normally fizzled out, but Hernandez’ comment landed on Facebook like an explosion within the El Paso Democrats.
As with most Facebook posts, most of the comments degenerated into name-calling, although there were some attempts to discourage a continued public party fight.
But within the name-calling some interesting things emerged.
Escobar Helped Dee Margo Win
Debbie Nathan chimed in with, “Veronica Escobar you helped Dee Margo possibly win another term.” Nathan’s comment is in the same vein as the original post by Chacon in that Gallinar only siphoned votes from Carbajal. The evidence gathered by El Paso Politics suggests the same scenario.
Michael Wyatt, a close ally of Escobar added, “what’s the point in bashing fellow liberal and progressive democrats?” Wyatt urged people to “focus,” presumably on the issue of working together, on unity.
Wyatt’s comment follows the same theme that the national party operatives are using, focus on party unity. But unity seems to be valid only as long as the establishment continues to lead.
The back-and-forth went one for a few more comments.
Then, Veronica Escobar chimed in.
Veronica Escobar Jumps Into The Fray
Escobar wrote on Facebook, in part: “First – as to whether Carlos was ‘put up’ by anyone, while I don’t speak for him, he is a friend I’ve known for over 20 years, and he is no one’s puppet. He decided to run for office well over a year ago, and he did it because he loves El Paso and wants more for our community. Despite how some of you have characterized my support of Carlos, it was not an ‘anti-Veronica Carbajal’ effort or vote (I didn’t even know she was running when he and I spoke about his potential candidacy last summer). In fact, my support of Carlos had absolutely zero to do with her.”
Note: readers can view her whole response at the end of the article, as well as Carbajal’s comments.
What is important to note is that Veronica Escobar felt compelled to address the Facebook post. The reasons for this are better understood once the rest of the picture is framed. The other thing that readers should note is that Escobar makes it a point to paint her support of Gallinar as having “absolutely zero” to do with Carbajal.
Escobar is correct in that Gallinar was supported by her and Beto O’Rourke as part of their pattern of consolidating political power by encouraging like minded candidates to run for key offices in El Paso – school boards, city council and county commissioners court, and not to siphon votes from Carbajal. Carbajal did not factor into the political equation at first.
That was the original plan, but then Carbajal showed up on the scene.
As discussed at the beginning of the article, there is the ongoing battle between the Democratic Party establishment and the progressives. Escobar represents the establishment. She will vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House not because she believes that Pelosi is the better candidate but because Pelosi wields the power. Escobar will not support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unless and until AOC can muster enough political power that Escobar recognizes.
But that is just one small part of the many moving pieces.
Beto O’Rourke is another piece of the puzzle. O’Rourke has a national platform. He has a political power base that he and Escobar want to leverage. Whether O’Rourke runs for Texas governor is immaterial at this point because of the political power he wields now is what is important. So much so that there is talk that Biden may bring O’Rourke on board.
But the O’Rourke power is nothing with a fractured Democratic Party in El Paso.
These two items must be tied to other moving pieces so that they make more sense.
The next thing to note is that Susie Byrd is no longer the District Director for Veronica Escobar. Emily Martin Loya, formerly of KCOS, is now Escobar’s liaison in El Paso.
Susie Byrd, Free To Run?
Byrd is now a free agent, is the best way to describe it. But is she really free to pursue her own ambitions or she part of a larger plan?
Why did Susie Byrd depart is the question readers should be asking themselves. Is she planning a run for office in an upcoming election? Perhaps for County Judge? Or is Byrd just another piece in Veronica Escobar’s political playground? It should be noted that the next election is still two years away.
The other moving pieces on this political game board are Jose and Carmen Rodriguez.
As readers may remember, Jose Rodriguez was part of the Eliot Shapleigh and Ray Caballero team that brought forth the threat of eminent domain to El Paso with the TIF Districts. Veronica Escobar and Susie Byrd worked with Caballero during this time. Carlos Gallinar is the face of the El Paso Plan that targets Segundo Barrio with eminent domain.
Somewhere along the line, Jose Rodriguez and his wife split from them and ended up on Veronica Carbajal’s team.
Why? What happened?
Is it as simple as protecting Segundo Barrio from the oligarchs? Or is there more? Perhaps a power reallocation within the political elite in El Paso?
Why The Brawl
El Paso Politics spoke to several former and current politicians in El Paso on the condition that our conversations would be for background purposes only. None wanted to go on the record. All agreed that Veronica Escobar fears Carbajal’s voter infrastructure which can become challenging to Escobar.
“Escobar likes to call the shots,” said one individual. Another individual asked where will progressives, like Susie Byrd and Beto O’Rourke stand in a battle between Carbajal and Escobar? Another individual added that it is wrong to label Byrd and O’Rourke as progressives when they are “neoliberals.”
Another politician, who also spoke to us on the condition of background, noted that the El Paso Democratic Party division is deeper, than normal, because the party chair has lost control of the party. They said that rather than unite the party behind a common goal, Dora Oaxaca has exacerbated the divide within the party.
The individual pointed to the failure of the local Democratic Party to provide a cohesive “unity” platform for the El Paso Democrats leading up to the election. As readers may remember, Oaxaca attended a Republican event while El Paso Democrats were outside protesting it. Oaxaca has been criticized for this.
The debate over the establishment and the progressives is telling, but to fully understand the reason for it in El Paso more moving pieces need to be added to the chaotic board.
The first is the obvious.
Looking at the voter turnout Veronica Carbajal had an opportunity to upset the balance of power in El Paso. Carbajal ended up with 22% of the vote. Without Gallinar in the mix, it is likely that there would be runoff between Carbajal and Oscar Leeser today.
Even if Gallinar’s 7% voter turnout did not go to Carbajal, it is unlikely they would have gone to Dee Margo, thus Carbajal would have been in the runoff and not Margo.
Therein lies the fear in Veronica Escobar and Beto O’Rourke.
The other thing to look at is Veronica Carbajal’s apparent resistance to endorsing Oscar Leeser.
Somewhere between her first public response to her loss, Carbajal seemed to grow into the reality that she now has a strong political base from which to leverage political power in El Paso.
There is no way that Carbajal will endorse Margo. It appears that her resistance to endorsing Leeser has more to do with her consolidating her powerbase than withholding the endorsement. Whether she ultimately endorses Leeser is unimportant because now Veronica Carbajal is consolidating her power base and strengthening her voter infrastructure.
Unlike AOC at the national stage, Carbajal does have a substantial voter base she can leverage in El Paso.
This is why Veronica Escobar felt compelled to engage her in the Facebook exchange. It is Escobar’s attempt at controlling the El Paso political narrative.
The moving pieces to keep an eye on are Susie Byrd and Beto O’Rourke. Where they emerge next will give readers a greater understanding of Escobar’s political ambitions. Readers should also keep an eye on Dora Oaxaca now that the election is over. Will the local Democrats force a change in party leadership?
Escobar’s political ambitions now seem threatened by a Latina woman who lives the fronteriza narrative rather than just noting it.
The full Facebook posts for Veronica Escobar and Veronica Carbajal:
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