Dispatch from My Hometown of El Paso

//Dispatch from My Hometown of El Paso

CEO Ann Beeson visits my hometown of El Paso

I recently returned to my hometown of El Paso with our CEO, Ann Beeson, for a series of meetings. The visit was an opportunity for reflection on how CPPP can help advance the needs and concerns of the El Paso community.

Growing up in El Paso, I always felt a sense of disengagement from the Texas Legislature. It’s no secret that El Paso is closer to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, than Austin. Similarly, El Paso has never been at the top of Texas policymakers’ minds.

Representing a beacon of hope, the Grand Candela is a solemn tribute to those who lost their lives on Aug. 3, 2019.

El Pasoans have always been proud to be Texans, but we have always been more economically and socially connected to our neighbors in Ciudad Juárez and Las Cruces than the metropolises of Dallas, Houston and Austin.

But lately, El Paso has been at the political center of attention. First with the historic political run of Congressman Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate, and then with the massive attention of immigrant children being held in deplorable conditions in tent cities just outside of El Paso in Tornillo. Finally, there was the devastating shooting at the Wal-Mart near Cielo Vista Mall on August 3, 2019. These events are igniting a political resurgence in El Paso and a renewed realization that policy matters if we want changes in our communities.

At CPPP, we strengthen public policy to expand opportunity and equity for every Texan. This work is so critical in places like El Paso, where current and historic discrimination and inequitable policies have created lasting challenges. The strength of local leaders and community members in El Paso shows us Texas at its best. It was inspiring to meet with dedicated public officials, advocates and business leaders working to help El Pasoans thrive.

Census 2020

During the visit, we met with political leaders like retiring State Sen. José Rodríguez, House Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody, and State Rep. Dr. Mary González, who serves as Vice-Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. We also met with journalists, business and philanthropic leaders, and other advocates.

Ann was part of a well-received panel at the Texas Conference of Urban Counties’ conference focused on the importance of the 2020 Census. CPPP helped create Texas Counts, a statewide collaborative effort, working to engage cross-sector leaders and organizations to leverage, amplify, and share resources to promote the 2020 Census.

An accurate Census count in communities like El Paso is critical to ensure social justice for every Texan.

El Paso State Rep. César Blanco and Rio Grande Valley State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa filed legislation in 2019 to put a modest amount of state resources behind the 2020 Census to ensure Texas gets its fair share of federal funding and representation. However, the state leadership refused to get behind the effort, leaving communities like El Paso to fend for themselves to promote and educate folks about the 2020 Census. El Paso has a lot riding on the Census and has many obstacles to overcome, including large “hard to count” populations and fears from families of all statuses stemming from the proposed, unconstitutional citizenship question.

El Paso relies on federal funding for rising healthcare, education, and transportation needs. In terms of representation, El Paso may be at risk of losing a House delegation seat due to projections that show El Paso’s growth slowing down, especially in relation to Texas populations along and east of I-35 that have had tremendous growth. El Paso has shown great initiative by rolling out its campaign: “Together, Fearless, We Count – Census 2020.” We are excited to support that effort and to continue to showcase and drive resources to the great work that is happening in El Paso.

Center for Public Policy Priorities CEO Ann Beeson speaks about the Texas Counts campaign at the Texas Conference of Urban Counties in El Paso, Texas.

Public Education in El Paso

Speaking of the Legislature, CPPP is a leading voice for education funding. El Paso’s largest employers are its school districts, and we recognize how vital our schools are to communities like El Paso. Last session, House Bill 3 was an important and significant step to increasing the state share of education costs: it included a $6.5 billion investment in our schools, but it also came with $5.5 billion dollars of local property tax cuts that are not equitably distributed across the state. Since El Paso does not have any property-rich school districts, this means that El Paso residents will be paying more than their fair share long-term to increasingly buy down property tax rates in much wealthier school districts. This is why CPPP is encouraging all Texas legislative members and candidates to start having serious discussions about revenue. More funding sources will mean less reliance on sales and property taxes and will also mean we can generate more funding for other needs like healthcare and transportation. There are too many corporate loopholes and outdated tax exemptions that hold back communities like El Paso from realizing their full potential.

House Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody with Luis Figueroa and Ann Beeson of CPPP.

Health Care for Texans

We were excited to talk to local officials, activists, and philanthropic organizations about El Paso’s health care needs, which are many.

My mother died from complications related to diabetes way too early in her life in El Paso. Thankfully, she had health insurance as a former state employee, but so many El Pasoans don’t and can’t afford health insurance for their family. In 2018, an estimated 26% of people below age 65 living in El Paso County were uninsured, compared with 19% of all Texans. Texas has had many opportunities to improve health care access over the years, but the state continues to stubbornly deny Medicaid expansion for political reasons, despite the trend of other red states moving towards expansion, the large amount of federal revenue it would bring in, and most importantly, the health outcomes it would improve. This last legislative session, the House passed a bill that would have at least allowed children to stay qualified for Medicaid for a full six months without having to re-enroll, but the Texas Senate refused to move the legislation, despite it being a low-cost option to improve health coverage. CPPP and other partners, like the Children’s Defense Fund, are launching the Sick of It campaign (#SickOfItTX) because we are tired of seeing new mothers dying from lack of health care coverage, we are tired of seeing our parents not getting the medications they need due to rising costs, and we are tired of seeing young adults risk everything without proper coverage.

Sen. José Rodríguez’s Director of Special Projects & Office Administrator Samantha Romero, Sen. José Rodríguez, CPPP Legislative & Policy Director Luis Figueroa and CPPP CEO Ann Beeson.

We will post more dispatches from our frequent travels across this great state. It’s time for change in Texas, and we at CPPP are excited to engage more communities across the state because we need every Texan at the table.

Luis Figueroa joined the Center in 2018 as the first Legislative and Policy Director. In this important new role, Luis oversees CPPP's comprehensive legislative strategy and leads our distinguished team of policy experts. He was previously General Counsel for Texas State Senator José Rodríguez and Executive Director of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus. Previously, he served as the Legislative Attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), where he worked from 2004 to 2013. A proud Texan from El Paso, Luis received the 2013 MALDEF Award for services performed on behalf of the Latino community in pursuit of social justice, the 2011 Champion of Equality and Justice Award from LULAC, and the 2009 Spirit of Change Award by State Rep. Joaquin Castro, among other honors. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Speech Communications with a concentration in American Politics and Law from Trinity University in San Antonio, and his Juris Doctorate from the University Of Texas School Of Law. He is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.