The Sweetwater Ripple Effect

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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.