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Home | News | Election Center: Vote2018 | Cruz Allies Take Aim at O’Rourke Over Eminent Domain, Father-in-Law
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso (left), is challenging Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Marjorie Kamys Cotera: O'Rourke/Bob Daemmrich: Cruz | Texas Tribune

Cruz Allies Take Aim at O’Rourke Over Eminent Domain, Father-in-Law

Allies of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are targeting his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, in a new TV ad over his support on the El Paso City Council for a plan to redevelop downtown El Paso that raised the threat of eminent domain.

The plan never went that far but fueled a contentious chapter in El Paso politics starting over a decade ago. The new TV ad from the Club for Growth — a national conservative group that recently announced a seven-figure offensive in the race — portrays O’Rourke as a puppet of wealthy developers who pushed the project, including his father-in-law, Bill Sanders.

“El Paso’s rich and powerful stay that way by controlling politicians like Beto O’Rourke,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot. “As a councilman, Beto carried water for his wealthy father-in-law, the developer behind a downtown redevelopment scheme, pushing the city to bulldoze an historic Hispanic neighborhood using eminent domain.”

The ad goes on to refer to eminent domain as a “government wrecking ball” and ends by tagging O’Rourke as “Beto the Bully.”

The O’Rourke campaign did not have an immediate comment on the ad.

Titled “Bulldozer,” the spot starts airing Tuesday in San Antonio, and the Club for Growth plans to also run it in Dallas and Houston in the coming weeks. The group’s super PAC arm, Club for Growth Action, is spending $200,000 on the ad for now.The commercial is part of an at least $1 million investment in the race that the organization announced last month, seeing a tightening race between O’Rourke and Cruz, on whom it spent lavishly in 2012.

The Club for Growth commercial involves an episode that has come up in O’Rourke’s previous races for City Council and Congress but not in the Senate contest until recently. The downtown revitalization plan was introduced in March 2006 by the Paso Del Norte Group —a private organization made up of regional business elite including Sanders — and would have impacted the historic Mexican-American neighborhood of Segundo Barrio.

While eminent domain was never used in conjunction with the project, the specter of it was controversial from the start. O’Rourke was among those on the council who at least initially wanted to preserve the option of eminent domain as a last resort and, for example, helped defeat a June 2006 motion to rule it out. A month later, as public concerns were growing about the plan, the council — including O’Rourke — voted to ban the use of eminent domain during the first year of the project.

Sanders initially said in April 2006 that he would not invest in the project to avoid creating an ethical dilemma for his son-in-law, according to El Paso Times articles from the time. Later in the year, however, he decided to invest in the plan after all, citing encouragement he received from then-Mayor John Cook, and promised any dividends would go to a downtown nonprofit.

O’Rourke appeared to cite that promise in denying there was any conflict of interest. Sanders “cannot profit from this plan, nor can I, nor can any member of my family,” O’Rourke wrote in an email to the Texas Observer for a 2007 story on the project titled, “Eminent Disaster.”

Still, opponents of the plan hounded O’Rourke as the council grappled with the issue in 2006. There was the threat of a recall petition — the signatures were never turned in — and two ethics complaints filed against O’Rourke, both of which were ultimately dismissed, the El Paso Times reported.

O’Rourke went on to easily win re-election the council in 2007, defeating a challenger who had made the project an issue. It came up again in his successful 2012 bid to defeat then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, whose campaign raised the potential destruction of Segundo Barrio homes in an attack ad against O’Rourke.

By the end of the decade, the plan — at least as initially conceived — had lost steam. The issue was further complicated in 2009 when Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment tightening eminent domain rules in the state.

In O’Rourke’s race against Cruz, the line of attack involving eminent domain is relatively new. Before Tuesday’s ad, it was only included on a long list of O’Rourke hits featured on a website launched last week by Texans Are, the other pro-Cruz super PAC.

On the campaign trail, O’Rourke often talks about eminent domain in the context of his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, O’Rourke introduced a bill to ban eminent domain for the purpose of the wall.

Cruz supports the wall, though he does not talk much about the use of eminent domain to construct it. Some other top Texas Republicans, such as Attorney General Ken Paxtonhave said they are OK with eminent domain for the wall.

Another super PAC, Texans Are, is also planning to spend into the seven figures on the race and its first TV ads are also set to hit the air Tuesday. One of them, seen on air in San Antonio, attacks O’Rourke over his record on border security and immigration.

“Lawless borders, reckless politician — that’s Beto O’Rourke,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

About The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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5 comments

  1. #MAGA = MUELLER AIN'T GOING AWAY!

    I’ve seen this lame anti Beto O’Rourke TV commercial on MSNBC! and it’s junk garbage about the 2006 Paso Del Norte Group Plan El Paso for the Segundo Barrio.That was the start of the downtown revitalization process which didn’t fair well with the southsiders so the the project was dead for South El Paso.
    So is that the best that Ted Cruz can come after our congressman! I think that David Hogg’s billboard ad in Texas about Ted Cruz cuddling to Donald Trump speaks how weak Ted Cruz is.
    He had the nerve to invite Donald Trump who is under criminal investigation to come to Texas to rally his basket of deplorables. With a friend like Donald Trump who needs enemies! the same CROOKED Donald Trump that let Ted Cruz have it, by comparing Heidi Cruz to Melania Trump. Oh lying Ted, digging up garbage against Beto only makes Beto more popular.
    Tomorrow Beto will appear on the Ellen Degeneres Show September 5th,and Beto is gaining more momentum by the hour everyday till the midterm elections.
    Real Native Texans should all unite and buy Ted Cruz a one way not stop flight back to Canada for his family when he exists the United States senate five months from now.And that includes air fare for his family since he’ll be retiring from the republican cesspool swamp. LYING TED! YOUR TIME IS ALMOST UP! so start packing! BTW! there’s that YouTube video song from the BETONES campaigning for Beto O’Rourke for United States Senate. It’s cool to watch as is makes fun at Ted Cruz and exposes him about what a fat liar he is.

  2. Sorry, but the ad was completely accurate about Beto’s corporatist past. He’s often been cited as taking ownership over the whole Caballero/ central planning/ leave the actual citizens out of the discussion way of governance. Him and Susie Byrd, Ray Ortega, Veronica Escobar, John Cook, they’re all part of the cartel in bed with PDNG>REDCO>Borderplex Alliance. The only reason people eagerly dismiss this fact is b/c they dislike Ted Cruz so much. But no matter how much you dislike his opponent, there’s no doubt Beto played a hand in the fiscally burdened and corrupt El Paso we live in today. Thankfully Beto will soon be back in the private sector, and may he never be governing over others again. LULZ at progressives who champion this guy as a representation of their values. What a joke.

    • #MAGA = MUELLER AIN'T GOING AWAY!

      Sorry but NO! I don’t buy your baloney, obviously you have your facts all WRONG! Ray Caballero was a good El Paso mayor. You support Ted Cruz that makes you a sorry republican that is responsible for messing up our country. Even as I said before the anti Beto TV commercial I see is PURE FAKE! That is how Ted Cruz runs his campaign, like a COWARD LYING TED!
      I have a gut feeling that Beto is going to beat your NON AMerican Citizen Teddy the non speaking Spanish wannabe Huedo. BTW are you a republicano VENDIDO?
      Ted Cruz! What a FREAKING JOKE! the fool isn’t even a real Texan Native let alone an American citizen….He should have worked for Cambridge Analytica as he don’t belong in the United States Senate! DEPORT BACK TO CANADA!

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