Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EP's Beto O'Rourke: 70% now back drug legalization resolution

A new update on the El Paso City Council's Resolution to Legalize Drugs in the hope of reducing drug murders across the river in Juarez from the January 18, 2009 edition of the El Paso Times:

Rep. Beto O'Rourke: 70% now back drug legalization resolution


By Gustavo Reveles Acosta / El Paso Times
Posted: 01/18/2009 10:02:47 PM MST

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EL PASO -- South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke has been in the hot seat since he successfully lobbied the rest of City Council to approve a resolution that included an amendment that asked for an open and honest debate on the legalization of narcotics.

The resolution by the Border Relations Committee called for federal intervention to quell the crime wave in Juárez that claimed 1,600 lives in 2008. O'Rourke added the part of a debate
South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke spoke recently about his addition to a Border Relations Committee resolution. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times)
on legalizing narcotics, the rest of council agreed with him but Mayor John Cook vetoed it.

After making national headlines, being on the losing end of the veto and taking on a congressman, O'Rourke discussed the interesting week-and-a-half he has had.

Q You praised the original resolution drafted by the Border Relations Committee as well thought out, yet you decided to add the amendment on the drug legalization debate. Why?

A It appropriately expressed our solidarity for our sister city and the compassion for the people who have suffered terrible violence. It also made some strong policy recommendations. But it just didn't go far enough. To not say something that significantly changes the equation, I felt, would
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not be responsible. And so with that I added the famous -- or now infamous -- 12 words asking for an open and honest debate ending the prohibition of drugs.

Q The reaction to the City Council's support of the amendment has garnered regional and national attention. Did you know what you were getting into?

A To a degree. We were certainly trying to draw regional and national focus on an incredibly significant problem that affects not only Juárez and not only El Paso but

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the entire country. To a degree, it was designed to draw the attention of the country ... and to that degree it worked.

Q All city representatives said they received a lot of calls and e-mails on this issue. Can you share some of the feedback you received?

A Right off the bat most of my correspondence was split 50/50 pro and con. Later on, I got more 70 percent pro and 30 percent con. Someone at my Monday morning breakfast meeting said that when they first read the headline he wondered what I and the rest of City Council were doing. But that then, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that we were right. That all options needed to be on the table.

Q Is it your belief that El Paso would have lost federal and state funds if the veto had been reversed on Tuesday?

A The honest answer is I don't know. And part of why I don't know is because the congressman (U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas) and his office and the state House delegation offered no specifics or facts. In fact, what they did offer was speculative. It's speculation. There is no specific threat, no specific dollar amount or no specific project that is in peril. It's just too bad that there wasn't more I believe, is not well founded.

Q Talk about Mayor John Cook's role in this issue. You had said earlier that you were disappointed with the way he went about his veto. How is your relationship with him right now?

A The mayor is doing a good job. He has a really tough job. I have 80,000 constituents I hear from. He has almost 700,000. He issued his veto based on his convictions and he stood up for that. I was disappointed last because he said not a word during the meeting anddidn't issue his veto until the last minute of the business day. He also didn't have the courtesy to let me know he was vetoing it. He has apologized publically and privately, which I think says a lot of about him and the kind of character he has. He was very tactful and didn't pressure council to change their votes. We're lucky to have him as our mayor.

Q Another controversial issue is the city's approval of more than $90,000 in waived fees, in-kind donations and actual general budget funds to help in the filming of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in El Paso last week. Why did you vote against funding this project?

A Wow, this is such a feel-good project. Here we have a nationally televised program that comes to El Paso and they're going to help out a very worthy family in town. I am not against it as a project.

What I oppose is spending $90,000 in cash and in-kind city services on a project from a company like the Disney Corp. (which owns ABC) that would have done the project anyway without the city having to spend the money.

I also was disappointed that when a woman in Chihuahuita who wanted to distribute toys to the children in that neighborhood, one of our poorest, she was told that she needed to pay all the fees for using the recreation center. Where do we draw the line?

Q Another hot topic is the management of the stormwater utility, which you and most on council think should remain with the Public Service Board. Yet, nearly 5,000 people signed a petition saying they want to have a chance to change that. Has the majority on council lost touch with the voters?

A We made the unpopular decision to create the utility. We then made the appropriate decision that this utility should run as efficiently as possible. No one, then, could do it better than the PSB. The city tried managing stormwater for 100 years and we did an extremely poor job of that. Storm 2006 is proof of that.

Having said that, there is significant discontent out there and there must be some way to address the legitimate concerns people have brought up. Issues like access to information, transparency and the public's ability to participate in the rate-making decisions and the capital decisions.

There definitely needs to be some kind of release.

Q Finally, for all the CNN anchors of the world, including Rick Sanchez, could you please tell us how to properly pronounce your first name?

A Beto does not rhyme with veto. Another way they said it was "bayto." That's wrong, too. I've been getting some funny responses from friends on this. But if nothing else, we got some much-needed attention on a real serious problem in our area. I don't mind the mispronunciation in the context of everything else.

Gustavo Reveles Acosta may be reached at greveles@elpasotimes.com; 546-6133.

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