It is that time of year when we look to close out the year and make plans for the new year. For the last three weeks of the year, we will be taking an in depth look at how Hispanics wield political power in El Paso. We will use the sports arena to demonstrate El Paso’s politics. There is also an election coming up next year that will create news as candidates position themselves. We expect the final weeks of 2021 will be politically busy as the 2022 elections ramp up.
Over the last few months, we have been developing a thesis over who speaks for El Paso. Who speaks for El Paso is not just who the voices are but who makes the rules – the public policy of El Paso. On the surface it may seem to readers to be a case about ethnicity – Anglos v. Hispanics leaders. It is so but much more as we will explore. Political power requires many moving pieces and willing participants. Hispanics are the majority in El Paso, but it is the minority – the Anglos – that sets the public policy for the city. Is it wealth? Is it education? Those are components of the problem. A minority needs components of a willing majority to help them enact their will. Over the next few articles, we will lay out why the majority Hispanics let the minority Anglos dictate policy in El Paso.
To fully understand the how and the why, it is important that readers understand the history of how Latinos gave way to the Anglos. But to be clear, this is not a case of ethnicity. Ethnicity is too simple of an excuse. It is a case of culture and identity, and of self-dealing.
The controversial arena provides the perfect explanation of how political power has been leveraged and by whom. It is the how and the why. Many readers may believe that the current iteration of the downtown sports arena is the only one. They may believe it proves the power of Paul Foster and Woody Hunt over El Paso’s political scene. But taxpayer funded arena projects have been around for generations.
History provides answers to the who and the why. As we previously wrote, the current arena project is not the first, nor the second. There have been several arena projects throughout the history of El Paso. But three arena projects standout as a demonstration of the tension between the Anglos and the Latinos in the community, and who rules El Paso.
As readers may remember there was a sports arena controversy in 1938. It involved many of the same issues as today. A sports arena – the Arroyo Park – pitted homeowners, business owners, the local newspapers and city officials against each other. It included threats of lawsuits and who would be allowed to vote on the measure for a Kern Place arena. In the end, the proposed stadium was not built but the proponents did not easily give up.
Readers should note that Kern Place at the time was affluent. It consisted of Anglo homeowners who opposed an arena project in their neighborhood. Now the roles are reversed. The Kern Place arena controversy was not the last significant controversial arena project in El Paso. There was another, an Hispanic led one.
In 1999 there was a controversial arena project that is the perfect segue into the thesis of who speaks for El Paso. To understand how that project fits into our discussion, the reader must first understand the context of the events leading up to the controversy, and who had a part in it. The players are important as is the context.
What is significant to know about the 1999 controversy is that it was envisioned and pushed by Hispanic businessmen who wanted a sports arena in El Paso.
Over the next few articles, we will introduce the readers to events, controversies and personalities leading up to the second significant arena controversy and how the controversy shows not only who speaks for El Paso but also why Anglos continue to set the public policy agenda and why Anglos want the Latinos to pay for an arena today.
In the last few weeks of the year, we are going to introduce the readers to two important community controversies between Anglos and Hispanics. They are the Abraham Chavez and the Fermin Dorado controversies. As readers may have noted in our evolving political power article, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Latinos started to make inroads into the political structure of El Paso. Chavez and Dorado are examples of the political power tensions between El Paso’s Anglos and Latinos. The tensions led Dorado to label Larry Francis as “very redneck”.
Over the last two decades El Paso Latinos have wielded political power but have also yielded their political clout to the Anglos. Our upcoming article on the Hispanic Leadership Institute (HLI) demonstrates this. As one founder of the HLI explained, the demise of the HLI – an Hispanic-empowering group – was because of “people getting into political office for self-gain, not for community service.”
Empowered Latinos have looked to operate for themselves, leaving the Anglo minority to take control.
Before we get to the Hispanic-led arena project, we must look at an important political player behind the arena project to better understand why El Paso Latinos yield their majority political power to the minority Anglo power brokers. He was not only a government official, business owner held to a high esteem by El Paso’s Latino leaders, a director of the El Paso Electric Company but also a public corruption felon. The Latino political power player takes us directly to the Hispanic-led arena project.
From the 1999 arena project, we will then round out the series by closing the year with how Bob Moore has positioned his publication – El Paso Matters – to be the newspaper of record for the city. Not only does becoming the paper of record open an important revenue stream to maintain the El Paso Matters, but it allows the publication to set the tone for El Paso. The tone that El Paso Matters will be championing is the narrative that the proponents of the downtown sports arena need to succeed in their goal for a taxpayer-funded arena. Readers should note that in 2022 there are important elections that arena proponents need to secure their dream of the latest iteration of an El Paso multi-purpose arena paid for by El Paso’s, mostly, Latino taxpayers.
We hope that this series allows readers to understand the larger picture of the politics of El Paso and the sports arena by understanding how political power has been wielded and yielded. It is easy to believe that the sports arena and the highway expansion projects are not related. But history shows that is not the case. With this foundation about the politics of El Paso, readers will better appreciate the nuances of the upcoming elections and why they are happening.