Beto on the Border: An Old Face on an Old Problem

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The campaign bells are ringing. Politicians are coming out of the woodwork to polish off their rhetoric and don their walking shoes.

Beto O’Rourke, darling of the borderland, is no exception.

Scores of people joined Beto for a Downtown rally at DeadBeach Brewery in El Paso, TX as he began his gubernatorial campaign against Greg Abbott. As when he ran for the Senate seat against Ted Cruz, O’Rourke towed his quasi-progressive line advocating for “well-paying jobs, improving public schools and expanding Medicaid.”

However, the progressive stance his platform proclaims is tarnished by Beto’s own voting history as an El Paso City Council member. Though Beto says he supports working-class people, his record on voting in local elections skews towards the economic aspirations of El Paso’s oligarchy.

Beto will be sure to garner much support from locals, but it is no secret that there are various groups and coalitions that continue to advocate against O’Rourke. In an interview for the Texas Tribune, Cynthia Renteria rejects the premise that Beto is the borderlands savior. Very accurately, she states “El Paso and Texas deserve better than a white-privileged male making decisions for our communities.” Moreover, locals groups such as El Paso del Sur openly run campaigns against Beto in an attempt to educate the general public as to Beto’s local voting record and previous political affiliations.

As Beto continues his campaign, and as he picks up almost-certain momentum, it is important to contextualize his run with the history of his politics as well as within his opponents own political shortcomings. Abbott poorly handled the Texas energy crisis in the winter of 2020, and he has also mismanaged the COVID situation in Texas. Both of these situations are salient running points for Beto to harp on, and I assume he will. However, Texas constituents must not be assuaged by Beto simply being better-than-the-alternative.

These sort of political pain points for Abbott will be crucial for Beto to win voters in rural Texas who may have been drastically impacted by the energy crisis or COVID. The ongoing COVID situation will surely consecrate most voters that are slightly left of center for Beto. But for him to swing the state, Beto needs progressives, especially as the state goes through redistricting due to a recent boom in population.

At the rally, Beto was incredibly vocal of Governor Abbott’s handling of the COVID situation in Texas, specifically in our borderland. O’Rourke announced that the border was a political pawn for Abbott to “prop” and “stoke anxiety, fear or even hatred.” However, borderland residents need more than Beto’s rhetoric, and they certainly need more than his voting record offers.

Beto’s focus on the border and his ability to speak to the most emotional issues that affect the border will deliver the momentum he needs to get his campaign off the ground. Politics, above all, is still very much a rhetorical game, and Beto can play that game decently. This— compounded by Abbotts perceived failures in handling two important moments in Texas history— could be the sort of brew that Beto needs to flip the state.

As a borderland educator and member of the Mexican-American community, my eyes and ears will be tuned to Beto’s message beyond the rhetoric. The problems our communities face right now are not too different than the ones he voted on during his time on the city council. Our neighborhoods are losing while our politicians and oligarchs are winning. To gain the support of this progressive, he will need to provide specific stances against the conservative and economic forces of Texas and the border. He will need to present a new face to an ever lasting problem—can he side with the people against the implacable draw of the political economy?

By how much exactly will he increase the minimum wage in the state? What are his plans to remediate the learning gaps in our borderland schools post-COVID? What kind of funding will he provide for districts in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades? Does he have a plan to help the homeless population across the state? Will he modernize and extend current public transportation in major cities?

Will the trajectory of his politics bend towards relieving the conditions of those most in need, in the places most in need, or will he again cast his vote against the people?