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 project, multi-millionaire real estate magnate William Sanders. Months after O’Rourke joined 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 transaction and another on the public council side, amount to a conflict of interest? He was slapped with an moralities complaint, later dismissed.
O’Rourke initially voted in the council to go ahead with the exploitation contrive, but as neighbourhood resist proliferated he recused himself from several key referendums. Further cries of foul play pitched on him in 2012, when O’Rourke made an insurgent’s bid to unseat 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 passing 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” prepared it the standard rules 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 extending is part of the main assert group Paso del Sur. He said that O’Rourke’s connections to Sanders takes the gleam off his current claim that as a presidential nominee he eschews big money and is running a ” people’s expedition “.
Romo told the Guardian that in his view O’Rourke’s role in the redevelopment throws doubt on his 2020 candidacy.” What happened in El Paso tells me that the solution to our national questions does not come from a multi-millionaire funded by billionaires who does their dictation .”
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 strategy- that he surfaced with gentrification despite the injure it would foist on poor Latino residents and historic El Paso.” He was the reasonably face of ugly gentrification .”
O’Rourke is denying that he sided with gentrifiers, insisting his intention was to breathe new life into the dilapidated middle of a major municipality. He did tell the American Prospect, though, that in hindsight he accepts that he did” a really poor place of like to hear 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 its lack of party purity.
Although El Paso strays overwhelmingly Democratic, a fivethirtyeight.com tracker indicates that he voted 30% of the time in accordance with Trump. Compare that to his presidential competitors: Kamala Harris( 17% ), Bernie Sanders( 14%) or Elizabeth Warren( 13% ).
That didn’t matter much in his senatorial race last November. But then he was running against Ted Cruz, one of the most toxic rightwing senators who even fellow Republicans announce ” 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 pictured himself adept in appeal to young person, African Americans, Latinos and suburban lily-white dames- electoral groups 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 itinerary last year. By taking his campaign national he has moved on to much more fertile ground for a Democrat than the traditionally arid soil of Texas, yet it has come at the price of crisply intensified scrutiny.
Which makes O’Rourke back to his climate change announcement amid the splendor of Yosemite Falls. Fossil fuel activists may only be agreeably surprised by O’Rourke’s robust program, but that doesn’t mean they have forgotten that his relationship with the petroleum 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 assurance was particularly sensitive for O’Rourke, who according to Open Secrets accepted more contributions from oil and gas in 2018 than any congressional nominee other than Ted Cruz.
He has said his hesitancy was out of concern for ordinary workers in service industries who should be allowed to participate. The the organisers of the donate however was also emphasized that only the donations of top leaders 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 hoist a 40 -year ban on US exports of crude oil. He tried to justify the vote in October 2015, two months before the Paris Agreement on combating climate change was adopted by 195 commonwealths, by arguing that US crude was cleaner than that of other countries and” the oil that equips 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 exports, from well under 1m barrels a day to more than 3m per date currently.” There’s been a hazardous and problematic an increasing number of the extraction of crude oil driven by exports 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 way back into the Democratic spotlight. The Yosemite announcement made a solid start, acquainting American voters to a more serious, focused politician than they had previously been shown.
Now the real scramble begins.