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The Sweetwater Ripple Effect

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
posted by South Bay Sunnycrest

You wouldn’t think a corruption scandal in San Diego’s South Bay could have repercussions 700 miles to our east in El Paso, TX.

However, the same night Mitt Romney clinched the GOP nomination, 8-term Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes was denied a return pass to Congress — despite recent high-profile endorsements and events hosted by former President Clinton, and President Obama.

Former El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke defeated the embattled Reyes by less than 3,000 votes.

Why does this matter? The Sweetwater connection.Former Sweetwater Union High School superintendent Jesus Gandara was originally brought to South Bay San Diego from the El Paso region where his family has long held various political positions. Gandara, who was fired from the school district last year, is currently facing multiple felony charges (along with Arlie Ricasa and others) in the largest public corruption case in San Diego history.

Gandara’s son, Jesus Gandara Jr., serves as a city councilman in Socorro where voters have been pressuring him to resign. The elder Gandara’s brother, Willie Gandara Sr., served as Mayor of Socorro until a May 2011 recall election ousted him from office. Willie Gandara Sr. was indicted in 2010 for corruption charges by the FBI.

In February, Willie’s son (Willie Gandara Jr.) who served as an El Paso County Commissioner and was a candidate for the Texas legislature, was arrested with two others on charges of drug-smuggling. Their trial is expected in late October.

So, now that we’ve determined this family has seen better days, how does it relate to a Congressional race? Why was a Latino Democrat like Silvestre Reyes defeated in an urban, Latino, Democratic stronghold? Corruption.

Members of the Gandara family had donated up to $9,500 to Reyes’ campaigns over the years. His challenger, O’Rourke, rightfully pounced on it and was successful last night.

Political repercussions continued last night, however. Due to Willie Gandara Jr.’s arrest on drug-smuggling charges, he was forced to resign his position as a County Commissioner. In an election for his former seat, two candidates will enter into a run-off — both having defeated Gandara-backed former staffer Dora Oaxaca by a combined 41 points.

Results like these certainly lend credibility to the fact that voters are waking up. They are simply tired of the self-service politics has become. When it is no longer about the interest of public service and good public policy, voters have found the will to reject the pigs denigrating our system of government. Call me an old softy, but that’s how I see it.

The only disappointment regarding the political successors throughout this unnecessary drama is that they’ve all been Democrats. So, in a way nothing will really change for the people of El Paso except putting a new face from the same party in an old, familiar position.

However, the underlying theme in all this could be a voter education lesson for both parties down the road. The ever-growing emergence of more educated and sophisticated minority voters rejecting corruption even in their own communities. Of course, it could also be an emerging trend of more educated voters, in general, rejecting corrupted politics as usual for a new, definitive direction in transparent government. Time, as they say, will tell.

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One Response to “The Sweetwater Ripple Effect”

  1. Deb Whalen says:

    The GCR lawfirm including Yuri Calderon stirred the pot in Sweetwater. Now he is in Calexico. Before that, he was in El Paso with Gadara. Socorro-Horizon wastewater fight goes on
    by Aileen B. Flores \ El Paso Times
    Posted: 03/28/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT

    SOCORRO — A fight between the Horizon Municipal Utility District and the city of Socorro over a wastewater discharge project here continues.
    Most recently, a district judge ruled the Horizon Municipal Utility District has to get proper permits to continue with the project.
    However, Benny Davis, president of the Horizon Municipal Utility District board of directors, said the district is appealing the court’s decision.
    The Horizon Municipal Utility District sued Socorro in November for allegedly not letting them finish a $2.2 million wastewater discharge project in the Mesa Spur Drain, an irrigation canal owned and operated by El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.
    In a written statement, the city of Socorro said a judge ruled the utility district has to apply for the permits in order to discharge three million gallons of wastewater per day through a pipeline that flows into the Mesa Spur Drain.
    Socorro officials said these rules are designed to protect the Lower Valley community’s public health and safety.
    Davis said the project would not harm Socorro’s citizens. He said Socorro officials are using false statements to scare residents.
    “In the first place, they should not have people playing in the drain,” he said. “They have no facts to support their statement.”
    Manny Soto, interim city manager, said the utility district believes it is above the law.
    “The city must protect the health and safety of our residents and will not be shaken by these bully tactics,” he said.
    Socorro officials said the Horizon utility district would force the city to spend more taxpayers’ money in defense against the appeal.
    The city of Socorro hired attorney Yuri Calderon, who practices law in San Diego and has offices in Houston, Los Angeles and Denver.
    City officials do not have the exact amount the city is paying Calderon, but it could be up to $100,000.
    Calderon has worked for the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calif., where Jesus Gandara, father of city Rep. Jesse Gandara and brother of Mayor Guillermo Gandara, works as superintendent.
    According to the lawsuit, Socorro asked the Horizon utility district to comply with a series of permits, including the application for a zone change, for the construction of a rock wall and the installation of a pipeline within city limits.
    The document states that Socorro has denied these permits and the utility district has not been able to complete the project, which was due to be finished by the end of 2010.
    Davis said because the Horizon Municipal Utility District has not been able to complete the project in Socorro, the utility district faces additional legal issues.
    The Horizon Municipal Utility District sued the owner of a golf course in Horizon where the district is currently discharging wastewater.
    Davis said the owner is not cooperating with the district to meet Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements.
    The city of Socorro has also asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to revoke the Horizon Municipal Utility District’s permit to discharge wastewater in Socorro.
    Socorro officials said they found out about the project last year by accident.
    Davis said the state was in charge of making any necessary notifications.
    Even though there was not an official notice given the city of Socorro, it is hard to believe Socorro officials were not aware of the project, Davis said.
    Davis also said there were several legal notices published in the newspaper.
    Aileen B. Flores may be reached at aflores@elpasotimes.com; 546-6362.

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