Beto-Cruz debate: El Paso a focal point of Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz debate

By By Madlin Mekelburg, El Paso Times, Texas

El Paso wasn’t selected as a location for the debates between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke but the border city was mentioned multiple times Friday when the candidates faced each other for the first time.

Cruz and O’Rourke exchanged frequent barbs during Friday’s debate in Dallas, each criticizing his opponent for his record while in office and attempting to paint him as wrong for Texas.

O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, often talks about Texas’ sixth largest city where he lives with his wife, Amy, and three children.

Friday’s debate was no different as O’Rourke talked about going on his first blind date with Amy in neighboring Ciudad Juárez — “before Tinder” — and choosing to raise his children in the border city.

But O’Rourke wasn’t the only candidate on the stage Friday who talked about El Paso. Cruz frequently spoke about O’Rourke’s time as a City Council member in various attacks against his challenger.

Drug policy on El Paso City Council

Cruz said he took issue with drug policies O’Rourke pursued. In addition to advocating for legalizing marijuana, Cruz said, while on El Paso City Council, the Democrat wanted to have a debate about legalizing all narcotics.

“I suspect Congressman O’Rourke will say he was just calling for a debate on it,” Cruz said. “Well, we’re on a debate stage now. I will tell you I think it would be a profound mistake to legalize all narcotics and it would hurt the children of this country. That would be a serious mistake.”

PolitiFact investigated Cruz’s claim in May and said it was false.

O’Rourke discussed the resolution referenced by Cruz at length in a book he wrote in 2011 with fellow-City Council member Susie Byrd called, “Dealing Death and Drugs.”

The El Paso City Council was debating a resolution in early 2009 that was a response to violence in Ciudad Juárez.

The resolution included recommendations for improving the relationship between the United States and Mexico and calls for stronger efforts to stop the movement of weapons and cash southbound through El Paso.

O’Rourke proposed an amendment asking whether “we should more aggressively address the issues related to demand and prohibition” by encouraging “an honest, open, national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

In the book, O’Rourke said the amendment was “artless” and didn’t accomplish his goal, which was to facilitate a conversation about marijuana.

“It was an artless and even inaccurate amendment to the larger resolution (I only learned later that marijuana is not a narcotic, even though it is precisely the drug that I felt people would be most open to debating), but it got the point across,” he wrote.

On Friday, O’Rourke fought Cruz’s allegations and said he does not want to legalize heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.

Cruz fired back and said O’Rourke may deny wanting to legalize narcotics now, but the resolution “was only nine years ago.”

“My older sister Miriam died of a drug overdose,” Cruz said. “People all across the state of Texas, 70,000 people a year, are dying of drug overdoses in the country. We have an opioid crisis and I think talking about legalizing all narcotics, I think that is profoundly dangerous and it doesn’t represent the interests of Texans.’

Law enforcement in the U.S. Senate race

Moderators asked Cruz why he cautioned O’Rourke not to jump to conclusions in the Dallas shooting in which officer Amber Guyger killed Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, when the Texas Rangers and the District Attorney said she committed manslaughter.

Cruz answered that what happened to Jean was horrific and no one should be shot in their home, saying Guyger’s account that she mistook his apartment for her own suggested it was a tragic mistake.

“Right now today, I don’t know what happened that evening,” Cruz said. “Congressman O’Rourke doesn’t know what happened that evening but he immediately called for firing the officer. I think that’s a mistake.”

Cruz then said he wasn’t surprised by O’Rourke’s comments because the Democrat is quick to criticize law enforcement officers.

“Over and over again, Congressman O’Rourke, when faced with an issue about police and law enforcement, he sides against the police,” said Cruz, who shared stories of officers hurt or killed in the line of duty.

O’Rourke denied Cruz’s allegation and pointed to his uncle’s service for the El Paso County Sheriff’s office as evidence of his support of law enforcement.

“He’s the one who taught me to shoot and the responsibility and accountability that comes with owning a gun but he also taught me what it means to be sworn to protect and serve everyone, not just some people,” O’Rourke said.

The Democrat added that Jean’s death was tragic and something “no member of law enforcement wants to happen.” But he said the officer needs to be held accountable.

“We’ve got to do something better than what we’ve been doing so far,” he said.

Cruz attacks O’Rourke on taxes

During the debate, Cruz used O’Rourke’s time on El Paso City Council to attack him on taxes.

“When he was on the El Paso City Council, he voted three times to increase property taxes in El Paso,” Cruz said. “He voted in favor of a rain tax, which I don’t even know what that is. I guess a tax on rain but I’m not sure.”

The City Council in 2007 voted in favor of creating a storm water utility, under the El Paso Water Utilities’ Public Service Board, to raise money necessary to fix the damage caused by storms and flooding in 2006, as well as to build more flood-prevention infrastructure.

The Public Service Board raised water bills for home and business owners to collect the money, at rates determined by the board — not El Paso’sCity Council.

The total estimated cost of repairs and improvements for the city at the time was more than $200 million. The city of El Paso decided to divert $115 million in bond money that would be paid for by property taxes to deal with the most significant problems, but the utility would handle the rest, according to a 2007 El Paso Times article.

O’Rourke responded by defending his financial know-how. He said the City Council was able to balance the budget during each year he was a member. He also talked about running a small business, which involved taking out loans and working to attract new customers.

“That required balancing a budget and understanding how to make ends meet,” O’Rourke said. “I want to make sure that, again, we’re not giving away to corporations and special interests.”

O’Rourke’s personal history and the Clash’s Clampdown

O’Rourke also fielded a question from moderators on his 1998 arrest for driving under the influence, as Julie Fine and Gromer Jeffers asked whether it was true he tried to leave the scene of the accident.

“I did not try to leave the scene of the accident,” O’Rourke said. “Although driving drunk, which I did, is a terrible mistake for which there is no excuse or justification or defense and I will not try to provide one.”

He said after his arrest he was given a “second chance” to contribute to society, by starting a business with friends in El Paso, serving on City Council and then in Congress.

As he does frequently when asked about his arrest, O’Rourke used it to talk about racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

“What I do know is that, as a white man in this country, there is a privilege that I enjoy that many African American men and women do not,” O’Rourke said. “They do not have that second chance.”

As the evening wound down, O’Rourke alluded to his past as a punk rock musician in El Paso.

He said Cruz is “working for the clampdown and the corporations and the special interests,” using a term made famous in The Clash’s anti-oppression anthem “Clampdown.”

“He’s not working for the people of Texas,” O’Rourke said.

The candidates will debate two more times before the November election. The next debate will be Sept. 30 in Houston and the final debate will be Oct. 16 in San Antonio.

This article provided by NewsEdge.