Home Uncategorized O’Rourke Vs. Hernandez: 2016 Democratic Primary Repeating Itself in TX

O’Rourke Vs. Hernandez: 2016 Democratic Primary Repeating Itself in TX

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Beto O’Rourke is a U.S. Senate hopeful aiming to take down Ted Cruz. Beto has garnered a large amount of attention because he’s running a very populist and grassroots oriented campaign.

Beto supports legalizing recreational marijuana, ending the drug war, Medicare For All, overturning Citizens United, his campaign doesn’t take corporate PAC money, and he’s charismatic and charming. It’s very easy to see why Beto gets progressives excited. Kyle Kuklinski of Secular Talk even referred to Beto as a “Bernie-style Democrat.”

I liked Beto as a candidate a lot at first. To be completely honest, there are still a lot of things I do like about him. However, when examining Beto’s actions, it becomes readily apparent he has adopted Bernie’s style of running a campaign, thus lending him the credibility of being a true anti-establishment progressive.

However, his actions dictate he is more of a Clinton-style corporate-friendly centrist Democrat. Beto also has a very progressive primary challenger,  Irasema “Sema” Hernandez, who you have probably never heard of.

Breaking Down Beto’s Centrism

Beto Is A Member Of The Centrist New Democrat Caucus

In the late 1980s the Democratic Party felt the need to shift away from their progressive roots and promote “centrism.” What eventually emerged from this was Bill Clinton’s New Democratic Caucus. The New Democrat Coalition has dominated Democratic Party politics for three decades. The New Democrats regularly use Republican talking points about the economy, referring to themselves as being “committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible.”

Frequently that translates into tax cuts for the wealthy, and minimal regulation protecting the environment, consumers, and workers. Rather than being a part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Beto opted for membership to the Congressional New Democratic Caucus. Beto’s record reflects his choice in Caucus membership.

Beto Has Only Shown Nominal Support For Medicare For All

Beto has refused to cosponsor John Conyers’ H.R. 676: The Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act no matter how frequently people tell him they want him to do so. Beto’s refusal to cosponsor H.R. 676 infuriates me so much that I confronted him about it myself at one of his town halls. Beto’s stated reason for not cosponsoring H.R. 676 is that the bill does not reimburse for-profit healthcare companies.

To be fair, I now agree with Beto: H.R. 676 needs to be amended. Without Medicare either reimbursing for-profit healthcare establishments or simply nationalizing the healthcare industry, H.R. 676 would likely leave a massive hole in our healthcare system. It’s difficult to say how big that hole would be without an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

I also no longer believe Beto has refused to cosponsor H.R. 676 because of “big money” donations. If you are wondering why, read Nic’s comment on the article I wrote.

However, Beto’s refusal to cosponsor H.R. 676 is still extremely concerning. If Beto supports Medicare For All, single payer, universal healthcare, as he often claims he does, why not simply cosponsor H.R. 676 and work to make it better or introduce his own single payer health-care legislation? It just makes me (and other people in the Democratic Party’s left flank) feel like he doesn’t actually support Medicare For All.

Former President Obama pushed for a public option, then he gave up on it. Without Beto cosponsoring H.R. 676, or at least introducing and actively pushing for his own version of Medicare For All in the House, progressives have every reason to believe he’s going to go back on his promise—just like Obama did for the sake of “getting a bill passed.”

Beto Has Yet To Demonstrate He Is Dedicated To Progressive Causes

If Democrats actually ran (and followed through) on their ideas, they would win every time. Large majorities of the American people want universal healthcare, a raise in the minimum wage, raising taxes on the wealthy, reducing military spending, the list just goes on and on. Beto is running these ideas, but you will see he isn’t following through on them.

In the Summer of 2017, a large number of grassroots organizations put together the project Summer For Progress. This effort culminated into the People’s Platform. The People’s Platform is a collection of eight bills promoting economic and social equality.

The People’s Platform includes Medicare For All, a $15/hr minimum wage, free college tuition, ending private prisons and more. The Summer For Progress called all Democratic members of congress to cosponsor these bills, thus demonstrating their dedication to progressive causes. The petition received over 140,000 signatures.

Beto has only cosponsored two out of eight bills on the People’s Platform. Given the current political climate, getting progressive legislation passed is next to impossible. Progressive legislation is unlikely to even come to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.

To be fair, cosponsoring a bill is not the same thing as actually voting for or supporting a bill. However, cosponsoring the bills on the People’s Platform is the most effective way to demonstrate your support for progressive causes, which is something Beto has simply not done.

Beto Voted For The Drastic Increase In Military Spending…

Additionally Beto, along with the majority of other House Democrats, voted for a $113.8 billion increase in military spending when he was previously against increasing military spending. To put that into perspective, free college would cost $62.6 billion.

One of the bills on the People’s Platform, H.R. 118, The College For All Act, would effectively make college tuition free for students coming from households making under $125,000 annually. There is no logical reason for Beto to have failed to cosponsor a bill which would cost half of the recent increase in military spending.

Beto has failed to cosponsor H.R. 676 because he’s worried about for-profit healthcare companies not being reimbursed by Medicare.  Additionally Beto has failed to cosponsor five other bills on the People’s Platform, but he voted for a drastic increase in military spending without a second thought. All of this combined makes it difficult for progressives like me to believe Beto will fight for progressive causes.

… But He Has Trouble Cosponsoring The College For All Act.

The list of things Beto says he supports but has yet to cosponsored a bill which would do exactly what he wants goes on and on. Beto’s website says he’s against private prisons. But he hasn’t cosponsored H.R. 3227, the Justice Is Not For Sale Act.

Beto’s website also says he wants to end the federal prohibition on Marijuana. I was actually surprised to find out he has cosponsored H.R. 1227, The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. But that just goes to show if Beto truly does feel strong about something, he makes sure to cosponsor the bill to show his support.

Beto Has A Questionable History With Eminent Domain

As A City Councilman Beto Pushed For A Revitalization Project In Downtown El Paso…

Beto has an extremely questionable history with eminent domain. Beto’s father-in-law,  Bill Sanders,  is a wealthy real estate developer. In 2006,while Beto was on the city council, he and Bill Sanders were pushing a “revitalization project” in Beto’s downtown district. It’s unclear whether or not Beto and Bill Sanders were pushing this for their own personal gain.

…When He Potentially Had Financial Ties To The Project Through His Father-In-Law, Bill Sanders.

One business owner in the revitalization area by the name of Gil Kimmelman certainly believed that to be the case. Kimmelman stated, “Beto’s got to get out of the scene. That’s not fair that he’s sitting there on the council as a spy for his father in law. That’s outrageous. That’s horrible. It’s a clear conflict of interest that he’s sitting there in meetings on behalf of his father-in-law and not on behalf of his constituents” (April 17th, 2006).

Beto’s Father-In-Law, Bill Sanders, Was Not Supposed To Be Investing Downtown…

In response Beto stated, “Bill (Sanders) is not going to invest in downtown, for sure. He’s made that clear… So, honestly, I just don’t see where a conflict exists. Yes, he’s my father-in-law, but if he can’t profit from it and I can’t profit from it, I’m not sure where the conflict is” (April 17th, 2006).

However, in October 2006 Bill Sanders changed his mind and decided he would be investing his own money in the revitalization area. Mayor of El Paso at the time, John Cook, recommended Beto recuse himself on votes related to the revitalization project from then on. However, on January 29th, 2007, Beto did not recuse himself in a deciding 4 to 3 city council vote to prohibit the city government from seizing and condemning buildings in the revitalization area.

…But Reversed That Decision And Decided He Would Invest In The Revitalization Area.

The ordinance would have prohibited the city government from seizing and condemning buildings in the revitalization area as “blighted” regardless of the condition of the building.

On April 17th, 2006 Bill Sanders made his intentions clear, stating that if they had to they would use eminent domain to forcibly remove folks from the revitalization area. Bill Sanders stated they would give residents options but if necessary “we have to flex muscles, if you will, and use eminent domain.”

Bill Sanders Talked About ‘Flexing Our Muscles And Using Eminent Domain’…

Why would Bill Sanders be talking about the possibility of using eminent domain to force people out of their businesses? Bill Sanders didn’t have the power to do that himself; only by proxy because his son-in-law, Beto, was on the city council.

…When He Couldn’t Do That Without Beto’s Help.

When I confronted Beto about this issue myself, he stated, “I [Beto] never voted for the use of eminent domain. All of those communities are still there and they re-elected me. Those are my friends. Neighbors, and other people I care about.”

It does appear to be true Beto never actually voted for the use of eminent domain. However, Bill Sanders April 2006 comment about having to “flex muscles, if you will, and use eminent domain,”  coupled with his October 2006 decision to invest money in the revitalization area, while in April 2006 claiming he would not be doing so, gives us reason to believe Sanders may have intended on using his relationship with Beto to forcibly remove people from the revitalization area for his own personal enrichment the entire time.

This Was Just An All Around Ethical No-No

Being realistic, almost every politician has their faults. Most, if not all of them, are going to be corrupt in some way at some point in time. Even some of my favorite members of congress, Tulsi Gabbard, Keith Ellison, and Elizabeth Warren have done things that made me angry.

This entire thing is sketchy, but when it comes down to it there simply isn’t enough proof to definitively conclude Beto intended on using his power to enrich himself and his father-in-law, Bill Sanders. Nonetheless, it is still extremely concerning and eyebrow raising. This is something that I personally would be willing to forgive, on the condition that nothing like it ever happens again. Ever.

Beto Has A Progressive Primary Challenger: Sema Hernandez

When I found out Beto has a primary opponent, Sema Hernandez, it thrilled me to death. I found Sema through a Berniecrat Facebook group. I had asked Beto if he supports single payer healthcare, the response I got is below. I liked that Beto said he supported single payer healthcare, but not cosponsoring H.R. 676 really bothered me. I posted the conversation with Beto below in the Berniecrat Facebook group to get their opinion, and that’s how I found out about Sema.

Sema supports all of the planks of the People’s Platform. Sema may believe there is room for improvement, but if she were in Congress she would still cosponsor the platform and work to improve the components. Sema wouldn’t have voted for the uncalled for massive increase in military spending either. She is a strong progressive on every single issue you can think of.

Sema Is The Type Of Person To Fight For Everybody

Sema has a history of political activism. In summer 2017, Sema, alongside other Pasadena, TX residents, protested outside City Hall until the city would sue the state of Texas over SB4.

At the launch of Sema’s campaign Jessica Rangel, founder of Eyes of a Dreamer, an organization aimed at fighting for Immigrant rights, testified on her behalf.

“Sema was automatically stereotyped as an undocumented woman. We (all of the protesters) were told we should be sitting in the back of an ICE bus. Even though Sema and no one and her family would be affected by SB4, she was still there to fight for us. That was when  I knew I had to support Sema in her bid for the Senate.”

Why Did Sema Decide to Run? Why Not A Smaller Office First?

Sema received an unexpected phone call one day from Our Revolution, a nonprofit 501(c)(4) founded by Bernie Sanders aimed at championing progressive causes and electing progressive candidates. Our Revolution told Sema they wanted her to run. Sema thought to herself “I don’t know how I can run, I have no political experience and no money.”

That changed when Sema was watching Bernie Sanders debate Ted Cruz during a CNN town hall. Sema was so angry she was yelling at the TV. Ted Cruz spreading misinformation infuriated Sema so much she decided to run against Ted Cruz herself.

Sema called the national DNC to find out who was running in Texas. They told her “we don’t know, you’ll have to call the Texas Democratic Party.” Sema called them and asked who they were running, and they said “we don’t know,  we’re currently discussing Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro’s feasibility.” Sema replied “With all due respect… I am running, and I don’t need to see if it’s feasible.” Sema never heard back from the Texas Democratic Party.

People often ask Sema why she isn’t running for a smaller office first? The answer is simple: Sema wants to take down Ted Cruz. Sema can’t take down Ted Cruz by running for the Pasadena City Council or local school board.

The Texas Democratic Party And Beto Are Not Taking Sema Seriously

Sema has been gaining traction and her support base is growing. Despite this, Beto and most of the Texas Democratic Party has largely ignored her existence.

Kevin Price, Gulf Coast Regional Director of the Texas Young Democrats, invited Beto to debate Sema on her behalf. The response? “Thanks so much for reaching out. Regretfully, I do not have any available dates for this event. We appreciate your kind invitation and support.”

Beto Essentially Told Sema “I’m Too Busy Campaigning To Debate You”…

This explanation doesn’t make any sense. Beto is taking the time to visit literally every single tiny town in Texas (which is excellent and to be commended), but he can’t find time in his schedule for a 90-minute debate with his only primary opponent.  Beto doesn’t even necessarily have to debate Sema in person; they could do a series of debates over a live stream.

Beto recently flew out to Los Angeles, California to do an interview with TYT’s Cenk Uygar. Beto has all the time in the world to do things which will improve his chances of beating Ted Cruz. At the 31:00 mark Cenk asked “I assume you guys (Beto and Ted Cruz)  are going to be having debates,” Beto replied “I really we so.”

…But Beto Wants Ted Cruz To Debate Him.

Of course Beto wants Ted Cruz to debate him—this would give him more name recognition, and the opportunity to make Ted Cruz look stupid. But does Beto have time to debate his only primary opponent, Sema Hernandez, potentially giving her exposure so people can choose between two candidates? Apparently not.

Beto stated, “I’m a super delegate and I hate that we have we superdelegates. I don’t think I should have more of an influence on the outcome than any other American. So I waited until the primaries were over to endorse Hillary Clinton.” (He said this at about the 32:00 minute mark in the TYT interview.)

This statement, coupled with the facts that Beto doesn’t accept PAC money and makes a point of talking to ordinary citizens in the state of Texas, demonstrates that a central component of his campaign is restoring fairness to our democracy. If Beto supports fairness in our democracy, he should have no problem with debating Sema and allowing other people to know she exists.

The Texas Democratic Party Is More Interested In Promoting Beto Than Having A Primary

Other than Kevin Price (the Gulf Coast Regional Director of Texas Young Democrats and the person who invited Beto to debate Sema) and some members of the Texas Young Democratic Socialist Caucus, very few leaders in the Texas Democratic Party have demonstrated any interest in getting to know Sema as a candidate. They have all made up their minds that Beto is who they like, and who they are going to push.

I don’t blame the TDP for wanting Ted Cruz gone so badly; he’s awful in so many ways. One wouldn’t reasonably expect individual members of the Texas Democratic Party to support Sema when they have known Beto for years and like him.

What one would reasonably expect is for the Texas Democratic Party to welcome Sema to the race, make her existence known, and give voters the chance to choose between her and Beto based off of who they think would be a better leader.

Bernie’s Situation Was Extremely Similar To Sema’s

There’s no doubt that Sema is the underdog in the primary. At the same time, when Bernie first challenged Hillary Clinton, he was polling at around three to four percent. Bernie was well known in his home state and in some progressive circles nationally, but compared to Hillary Clinton he was virtually unknown.

Sema has very few resources, name recognition, and political experience in comparison to Beto in the state of Texas. But literally the same exact thing can be said when comparing Bernie to Hillary at the national stage when he first started campaigning in January 2015.

Bernie gained traction because people loved his message and his history of political activism. Sema captured my attention for all of the same reasons Bernie did: she doesn’t just say the right things, she does the right things as well.

For Many Progressives, Beto Is Simply Far Too Centrist. Someone Like Sema Is Our Candidate Of Choice

Beto talks a great game, but far too frequently he fails to put his money where his mouth is. He sits somewhere between being a Clinton style corporate centrist and Berniecrat. He’s what Kyle Kuklinski would refer to as a “Bubble Boy”—someone that is a corporate Democrat like Hillary Clinton, but to a lesser degree.

When I referred to Beto as the lesser of two evils, my friend and fellow progressive Austin protested, “There is a difference between someone who isn’t ideal and someone that is the lesser of two evils.”

When I really begin to think about it, he’s right to an extent. Beto is definitely above average for a Democrat. I would personally have to give him a grade of “C-.”

But when it comes down to it, Beto is still part of the establishment and the political elite. That coupled with Beto’s centrist tendencies makes it extremely difficult for progressives like me to support him. We want to be given an opportunity to make a real choice.  A meaningful choice. We are tired of choosing between candidates hand picked by the political establishment.

Someone like Sema is not part of the political establishment, and she will fight relentlessly for progressive causes. That’s why someone like her will always be our candidate of choice. Some of us would reluctantly vote for a person like Beto, just like we did with Hillary Clinton. But large numbers of us would refuse to “fall in line,” resulting in another Democratic loss in a race they should have won.

The Democratic Party can’t continue to snub it’s base and expect to win. Especially when the things the base wants are overwhelmingly popular. Instead of shaming us and expecting us to fall in line, maybe they should actually run (and follow through) on the things we and the American people want.

Maybe the Democratic Party should stop trying to hand pick who is going to be the party candidate, and actually acknowledge the existence of all potential contenders. If America is actually going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, we need representation from all walks of life. Not just people the political elite think can win elections.

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