Beto O’Rourke strolls with his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders, and his three children, Ulysses, Henry and Molly in El Paso on 6 November 2018. Photograph: Paul Ratje/ AFP/ Getty Images
His involvement became problematic for two main reasons. The first was his family ties to the mastermind behind the plan, multi-millionaire real estate magnate William Sanders. Months after O’Rourke assembled the council, he married Amy Sanders and William Sanders became his father-in-law.
The downtown project was a private-public partnership. The private area involved a civic organization called the Paso del Norte Group, PDNG, which Sanders set up with some of his super-wealthy friends from El Paso.
Controversy erupted when it emerged that O’Rourke was also a member. Did his position, with one foot in the private PDNG side of the bargain and the other on the public council side, amount to a conflict of interest? He was slapped with an ethics complaint, later dismissed.
O’Rourke initially voted in the council to go ahead with the progress propose, but as local opposition flourished he recused himself from several key votes. Further cries of foul play tumbled on him in 2012, when O’Rourke made an insurgent’s bid to depose the incumbent Congressman for El Paso, Silvestre Reyes.
A company owned by Sanders contributed $40,000 to a Republican-backedSuper Pac that invested in attack ads against Reyes, contributing to O’Rourke’s underdog victory and affording him a leg-up to Washington.
In a recent interrogation with the American Prospect, O’Rourke disavowed any conflict relating to his father-in-law. Sanders” saw it a rule that he religiously followed, never to talk politics”, he said.
But the Sanders connection still irks with activists opposed to the downtown scheme such as David Romo, a conducting member of the prime demonstrate group Paso del Sur. He said that O’Rourke’s connections to Sanders takes the gleam off his current claim that as a presidential candidate he eschews big money and is running a ” people’s safarus “.
Romo told the Guardian that in his view O’Rourke’s role in the redevelopment shoots doubt on his 2020 candidacy.” What happened in El Paso tells me that the solution to our national problems does not come from a multi-millionaire funded by billionaires who does their auction .”
Romo is a celebrated historian of El Paso’s revolutionary past and as such is an articulate exponent of the second criticism leveled at O’Rourke over the redevelopment scheme- that he surfaced with gentrification despite the impairment it would inflict on good Latino residents and historic El Paso.” He was the somewhat face of ugly gentrification .”
O’Rourke is denying that he surfaced with gentrifiers, insisting his intention was to breathe new life into the dilapidated heart of a major metropolitan. He did tell the American Prospect, though, that in hindsight he is of the view that he did” a really poor responsibility of listening to that criticism “.
‘He truly does need to answer questions’
Similar controversy followed O’Rourke to Washington. Whether it originated from his innate pragmatism as a politician who tends to decide each edition as it comes rather than following ideology, or whether it was because of his beginnings in Texas, a state that has been dominated by Republicans for the past 20 years, his voting record in Congress was impressing for the current lack of party purity.
Although El Paso veers overwhelmingly Democratic, a fivethirtyeight.com tracker shows that he voted 30% of the time in line with Trump. Compare that to his presidential adversaries: Kamala Harris( 17% ), Bernie Sanders( 14%) or Elizabeth Warren( 13% ).
That didn’t matter much in his senatorial race last-place November. But then he was running against Ted Cruz, one of the most toxic rightwing senators who even fellow Republicans call ” Lucifer in the flesh “.
In that race he proved himself to have various of the qualities that might appeal to Democratic voters looking for a presidential campaigner capable of beating Trump, first and foremost his ability to turn out the vote. He showed himself adept in appealing to young person, African Americans, Latinos and suburban white girls- electoral radicals all likely to play a crucial role in 2020 for the purpose of determining Trump’s fate.
But the road to the presidential nomination is proving to be a stonier path for O’Rourke than his direction last year. By taking his campaign national he has moved on to much more fertile ground for a Democrat than the traditionally arid clay of Texas, hitherto it has come at the price of sharply intensified scrutiny.
Which introduces O’Rourke back to his climate change announcement amid the splendour of Yosemite Falls. Fossil fuel activists may only be pleasantly surprised by O’Rourke’s robust plan, but that doesn’t mean they have forgotten that his relationship with the oil industry has been complicated.
He paused for weeks before agreeing to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge in which candidates forego all donations above $200 from Pacs, lobbyists and executives of fossil fuel corporations. The donate was particularly sensitive for O’Rourke, who according to Open Secrets admitted more contributions from oil and gas in 2018 than any congressional candidate other than Ted Cruz.
He has said his hesitancy was out of concern for everyday proletarians in service industries who should be allowed to participate. The the organisers of the pledge however stressed that merely the donations of top boss were excluded.
In the end, he did sign the assurance, two days after his Yosemite declaration.
Another sticking point is that O’Rourke voted twice in Congress to promote a 40 -year ban on US exports of crude oil. He tried to justify the voting rights in October 2015, two months before the Paris Agreement on combating climate change was adopted by 195 nations, by arguing that US crude was cleaner than that of other countries and” the petroleum that quantities the current dominant mode of transportation will have to come from somewhere “.
The lifting of the ban has led to a massive spike in US crude exportations, from well under 1m barrels per day to more than 3m per daylight currently.” There’s been a hazardous and problematic increase in the distillation of crude oil driven by exportations in the US. He truly does need to answer questions about that poll ,” David Turnbull of Oil Change US said.
It all points to the steep uphill climb that Beto O’Rourke faces if he is to claw his route back into the Democratic spotlight. The Yosemite announcement made a solid start, establishing American voters to a more serious, focused politician than they had previously been shown.
Now the real scramble begins.