Beto O’Rourke saunters 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 proposal, multi-millionaire real estate magnate William Sanders. Months after O’Rourke connected the council, he married Amy Sanders and William Sanders became his father-in-law.
The downtown project was a private-public partnership. The private line-up 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 deal and another 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 increase strategy, but as local fight developed he recused himself from various key votes. Further cries of foul play pitched 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 sacrificing 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” did it the standard rules that he religiously followed, never to talk politics”, he said.
But the Sanders connection still chafes with activists opposed to the downtown scheme such as David Romo, a guiding member of the primary dissent radical Paso del Sur. He said that O’Rourke’s connections to Sanders takes the radiance off his current claim that as a presidential campaigner he eschews big bucks and is running a ” people’s expedition “.
Romo told the Guardian that in his view O’Rourke’s role in the redevelopment sheds doubts concerning his 2020 candidacy.” What is true in El Paso is said that the solution to our national questions does not come from a multi-millionaire funded by billionaires who does their dictate .”
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 foist on good Latino residents and historic El Paso.” He was the moderately face of ugly gentrification .”
O’Rourke denies that he backed with gentrifiers, contending his intention was to breathe new life into the dilapidated center of a major municipality. He did tell the American Prospect, though, that in hindsight he is of the view that he did” a really poor profession of listening to that review “.
‘He really 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 dogma, or whether it was because of his roots in Texas, a state that has been dominated by Republicans for the past 20 years, his voting record in Congress was striking for the current lack of defendant 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 rivals: Kamala Harris( 17% ), Bernie Sanders( 14%) or Elizabeth Warren( 13% ).
That didn’t matter much in his senatorial hasten 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 several of the qualities that might appeal to Democratic voters looking for a presidential nominee capable of beating Trump, first and foremost his ability to turn out the vote. He proved himself adept in charm to young people, African Americans, Latinos and suburban white dames- electoral groups all likely to play a crucial role in 2020 in deciding Trump’s fate.
But the road to the presidential nomination is proving to be a stonier path for O’Rourke than his road last year. By taking his expedition national he has moved on to much more fertile ground for a Democrat than the traditionally arid soil of Texas, hitherto it has come at the price of sharply intensified scrutiny.
Which accompanies O’Rourke back to his climate change announcement amid the splendour of Yosemite Falls. Fossil fuel activists may have been agreeably surprised by O’Rourke’s robust program, 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 subscriptions above $200 from Pacs, lobbyists and executives of fossil fuel fellowships. The assurance was particularly sensitive for O’Rourke, who according to Open Secrets accepted more contributions from oil and gas in 2018 than any congressional candidate other than Ted Cruz.
He has said his hesitancy was because of concerns for everyday employees in the industry who should be allowed to participate. The organizers of the pledge nonetheless was also emphasized that exclusively the donations of top bosses were excluded.
In the end, he did sign the pledge, two days after his Yosemite declaration.
Another sticking point is that O’Rourke voted twice in Congress to elevate 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 people, by arguing that US crude was cleaner than that of other countries and” the oil that affords 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 period currently.” There’s been a hazardous and problematic an increasing number of the distillation of crude oil driven by exportations in the US. He genuinely does need to answer questions about that referendum ,” 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 room back into the Democratic spotlight. The Yosemite announcement made a solid start, introducing American voters to a more serious, focused politician than they had previously been shown.
Now the real scramble begins.