We are rapidly approaching mid-term elections for Congress. Running for office is not an easy task. Deciding to toss your hat into the political arena will open your life up to some of the most intense scrutiny known to man.
People will be scouring your private life, your social media profiles, and dissecting everything you’ve ever said, done or shared. During this, it’s easy to lose sight of what each candidate stands for, what their platform is, and exactly why they are standing for election. I’ve seen it time an again.
In El Paso’s 16th Congressional district we have four candidates: Veronica Escobar, Samuel Williams, Rick Seeberger and Ben Mendoza. Editor In Chief Chris Babcock and I set out to meet with each of the candidates and questions ranging from why they feel they are qualified for office, national defence issues, education and more.
Williams and Seeberger were interviewed together during a one hour session, the exact same questions were then asked of Escobar and Mendoza during individual interview sessions.
Now, a short disclaimer. The El Paso Herald-Post does not, and will not endorse an individual candidate, party, or platform. We are simply presenting this to help you make informed choices when voting this November.
What follows is where each candidate stands on each of the issues we presented.
What is your qualification to hold the office of Congressman/Congresswoman?
Each of the candidates possesses different qualifications that they feel has prepared them to hold the office of Congressman/Congresswoman. I will sum up their answers and invite you to listen to the audio for each candidate.
Samuel Williams has served in the military (US Army) and as such has worked with a diverse group of individuals and in many different locations around the world.
“You’re on a world stage,” says Samuel Williams about his qualifications for Congress. “You’re not just supporting the people at home, here in your local district, your state, but it puts you on a world stage. With my military background, I’ve worked with a lot of these people. I understand the worldview. I retired five years ago from the military.”
Rick Seeberger has worked both internationally and with businesses he founded and ran.
“I’ve owned a number of companies,” says Rick Seeberger. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Only one of our companies did not last for five years. Every one of them significantly beyond that. We had a marketing organisation for twenty years, and training organisation for sixteen years. Non-profit organisation for 14 years.”
Seeberger has also led leadership and strategic initiatives in 43 nations and completed over 400 projects.
“I don’t believe there is anyone else is qualified that is qualified to lead change the way I am. Why?” says Seeberger. “Because I did a nine-year project in Paraguay. Saw the nation go from the second most corrupt nation in the world to one of the top ten countries in the world.”
Veronica Escobar, other than being a past member of Commissioners Court and County Judge, has run a non-profit and taught within the public school system.
“I bring a variety of skills and a multi-faceted background to the position,” says Escobar. “I’ve been the chief executive of the County, where, along with four other members of Commissioners Court, we passed a, combined with UMC a half a billion-dollar budget annually, investments in health care, overhauls and reforms that made the government more responsive, transparent, and accountable.”
She points out that for the past eleven years she has served the El Paso community and thereby gained the experience needed to represent us in Congress.
“I think really, a very fundamental component of what I bring to office, should I have it, is a very deep love for El Paso,” says Escobar. “It’s in my blood; it’s in my DNA.”
For Ben Mendoza, he emphasized his age. “First of all, I certainly qualify as far as age goes. I’m 63 years old. I meet the age requirement. I also am, since I have a degree in criminal justice, I took constitutional law, and I am familiar with the constitution.”
Mendoza says that he, unlike the other candidates in this election, understands the constitution and how sacred it is.
What would you say is the number one issue facing the El Paso Congressional district right now?
“I think it’s economic,” said Rick Seeberger. “In the past year our income in El Paso has gone down 4.68%, our taxes continue to go up.”
Seeberger mentioned the last seventy-seven quality of live initiatives, the time and money spent on them and re-emphasized that our collection income has declined.
“We’re isolating El Paso,” said Seeberger, “in our economic development, in a border-plex concept, where we can’t see the true picture of El Paso.”
He did mention that we must look at El Paso by itself. We must look to see if El Pasoans are benefiting from what’s being done.
Chris Babcock asked Seeberger what he could do if elected to Congress, to change that situation. He said that we should be building projects that center around the military, the Department of Defense, and the scientific communities.
Sam Williams also sees the economy as the number one issue facing El Paso.
“Our economy right here in El Paso is dying,” says Williams. “We’ve turned to an industry service type of economy,” says Williams. “It doesn’t promote the welfare of the community. It doesn’t build anything, doesn’t create a tax base.”
Williams has already begun speaking with different companies about moving to El Paso.
“We’ve had several companies try to come into El Paso,” says Williams. “The City and the County don’t want to give any type of incentive to allow those companies to start operations.”
Most companies, according to Samuel Williams, are going to want, need a reason to come. The City and the County refuse to give tax breaks that would allow these companies the opportunity to relocate or open new operations to the city.
“El Paso is a great place. We’re in the middle of the country. Shipping from here,” says Samuel Williams, “we can go anywhere. It’s not very far to get into a port, trucking it out of here, rail; we have that.”
Samuel Williams points out that Union Pacific located their railyard in Santa Teresa, and not El Paso simply because Santa Teresa provided tax breaks and incentives for the move.
“You get a lot of temporary jobs with defense contracts,” said Samuel Williams speaking of Ft. Bliss. “They are not going to be full, lifetime jobs.”
He continued with the idea that we can bring civilian employers back to El Paso. Bring the industrial base back. “NAFTA killed our industrial base in El Paso, as well as Juarez,” says Samuel Williams.
According to Mr Williams, many workers in Juarez began to ask for higher wages which caused many companies to move to China where the wages were lower.
What would Samuel Williams do?
“First thing I would do is,” he said, “I’ve already talked to a couple of companies that are interested in coming to El Paso. There are several major corporations that are interested.”
However, Williams did note that many of these companies are looking for some incentive to move here. He also mentioned that we need to work on and improve our infrastructure.
“Our infrastructure is part of the problem. Our road system here in El Paso is very degraded,” says Williams. “We can get federal funding to help those roads, to get that stuff done, get our streets back up to standard, to where they can carry a load.” Williams believes these are some of the things that will bring industry back to El Paso.
“There are several challenges,” says Ben Mendoza. “Basically, this job, the job description is to continue with constituent services. There are a lot of people here who have issues which pertain to Social Security and VA benefits.”
According to Mendoza, the main problems facing El Paso are immigration and the drug trade.
“Not just automobile and interstate commerce traffic, but there is a lot of drug traffic in El Paso. Aside from Ft. Bliss, the drug industry is the largest employer of people in this community.”
Veronica Escobar says there are two parts to this question. The first, what she sees. Secondly, what the people of El Paso have told her over the past eleven years.
“At the door, almost consistently, whenever voters would take the time to share with me what their major issue is, almost to a person, health care,” says Escobar.
Some are afraid of losing the few healthcare gains made under Obama Care, such as pre-existing conditions. Others, she said, are upset that El Paso didn’t receive the benefits of an expansion because the Governor rejected them. Still, others worry about cuts to Medicaid.
“So, for me,” says Veronica Escobar, “those are going to be the number one, those are my marching orders from the community.”
She then pointed out that she is hearing from more and more people expressing concern over family separations at the border.
“That speaks to my own personal motivator,” she says, “which is to ensure that we have a very zealous advocate for the border, for border communities, for how safe we are, how vibrant we are, how proud we are of our immigrant families and roots.”
As a member of Congress, what would you take to DC about the border that they are not talking about now?
Samuel Williams says he would work on trade, with Mexico so that it would benefit El Paso.
“I would try to negotiate with Mexico, what is actually being done right now, to change that trade agreement so that we can get our commerce here to benefit from the trade with Mexico,” says Williams.
Most everything, he points out, that comes from Mexico only passes through El Paso.
“Our biggest issue is the economic impact between both cities,” said Samuel Williams talking of El Paso and Juarez. “It’s economics because Juarez is suffering just as much as El Paso. Because both cities are forgotten by their states is what it comes down to.”
Rick Seeberger has a different view from that of Samuel Williams.
“First of all,” he says, “I think the mistake that we’ve made is trying to take El Paso to Washington D.C.”
Seeberger says we need a Congressman who is going to bring policymakers and legislators here, to El Paso. To understand, he said, how this city can be an engine of change for their communities, and how the city can meet the needs of the nation.
“We’re not going to do that in Washington D.C.,” says Seeberger. “It’s a pit. We have to take those people out of their comfort zone; we have to bring them here. We have to have leaders who can communicate effectively. It has to be initiated at the Federal level; it can’t be initiated at the State or Local level, because that’s been tried.”
The largest employer in El Paso, Seeberger pointed out, is the Federal government. So, his plan would have to be done on a federal level for this reason, and for the clout, it brings to bear.
“We need to host a summit here,” continues Seeberger. “You need to educate congressional leaders to understand why El Paso can be an economic engine for the US and how it can support its communities.”
Veronica Escobar says we must stop allowing ourselves falling into the narrative that we need to secure the border.
“One of the things I’ve been saying consistently to people is that we have to stop allowing ourselves to fall into this fifteen-year narrative that we need to secure the border. We have to begin pushing back and reminding people that we’ve never been safer,” says Escobar.
She points out that migration has fallen to historic lows over the past decade.
“Communities like El Paso, still extremely safe. And safer than most major cities,” says Veronica Escobar. “We have to stop engaging in the rhetoric that before we can talk about immigration reform or before we can talk about humane public policy, we’ve got to secure the border. It is secure; it is safe!”
Ben Mendoza has a different view of El Paso, calling it the ‘Bad Lands of New Mexico.’
“This is like nowhere-land. We are in a different time zone than the rest of Texas. We have never really been recognized by the rest of the State. I would tell them El Paso has great weather, and aside from great weather it’s a great place to grow up in because the schools are relativity safe and the crime rate is low. There’s a vast opportunity that seizes the moment.”
“The trucking industry is quite prevalent because it’s a border town,” says Mendoza, speaking of El Paso. “There’s also great opportunity to have industry move here. Because, as I mentioned, the climate and the schools are relatively safe. And it seems like the city fathers are taking a very progressive and aggressive posture to bring in new industry.”
He also says that the wages here, in El Paso, are very competitive as compared to other parts of the country.
You can’t do this by yourself, once in office, you will need a team. How do you plan to build a team?
“You have to use a strategic process,” says Seeberger, “to bring people around common values and common incentives, common concerns.” This is how you build consensus according to Seeberger. He also points out that there will be more than a few new members of Congress this election and they will have that in common which will make them amenable to working together.
Williams agrees with Seeberger, in so far that there are going to be a lot of new congressmen in Washington D.C. this year.
“Everyone is going to be eager to try and get something done as quickly as possible and get that legislation through,” says Samuel Williams. “It’s going to be easier to build your team around all these new ideas that are coming in because Congress has been stagnant for the last thirty years.”
With his background in the Military, Williams has built teams in the past. He has been able not only to work with them but instruct them as well.
“You build your team to survive,” says Williams. “You can’t dictate things. You have to get that buy-in from everybody. You have to make it appealing to the other congressmen that we can help them. It’s a two-way street.”
Veronica reiterated that she has already begun reaching out to others.
“As I mentioned, I’ve already started to try to build relationships,” says Escobar. “It’s those relationships that are really key to the success to a member. It’s those relationships that dictate what committees you will serve on. It’s those relationships that dictate whether you will be on a path to leadership in the future.”
Escobar says she has begun to build relationships with those who are in the Texas delegation, as well as groups like members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Those are the folks I really want to work with,” says Escobar.
If you could select one issue if you were going to sponsor one bill, what would that be?
“I would focus on commerce and industry,” says Rick Seeberger. “And, work with leaders to have them understand, first of all, why their community, why their state would benefit by having a relationship with El Paso.”
Williams says he would center his team around the economic development of El Paso and bringing back industry, which we’ve lost.
Veronica Escobar would focus on trust, and fighting corruption.
“I will be a freshman, in a majority. Freshmen have very little power,” says Veronica Escobar. “If there were one piece of legislation that I could get past… it would be a corruption-fighting bill.”
Ben Mendoza says the first thing he would do is submit a bill concerning campaign financing reform.
“Do away with campaign funding. There would no longer be campaign funding from corporations and banks. I would favour a bill that would support state foundered free elections.” He would also bar personal contributions to campaigns.
How would you approach the issue of immigration?
Rick Seeberger declined to answer this question by saying that he was not ready to go public with his plans on immigration. He did, however, say he is for legal immigration.
“Executive orders don’t hold any teeth. There’s no funding for them,” says Samuel Williams talking about Immigration. “The President can write an executive order, and we can follow it, but how do we pay for it?”
“Take the DACA program for instance,” continued Williams. “It was done to appease a certain group of people, and it only covers a short period of time…DACA ends.”
Williams says that once one graduates, the program ends for them. He says fixing the DACA program is a quick fix.
“The ones that would actually qualify as a child we give them temporary residency status, in the United States, until they finish their schooling,” says Williams. “At the end of their schooling, they have a five years grace period to become a permanent resident.”
He says if they have not participated in any sort of entitlement program or picked up a felony, and they have a stable job, they would be assigned permanent resident states at that point. Speaking of border security, Williams says we have the technology to secure our borders if we use some of the same equipment the United States Military uses.
“We don’t have to build a wall right away,” he says. “We sill have enough surplus electronic surveillance devices, ground surveillance that we can use. We have seismic sensors we use to find tunnels and find people walking through the desert.” Williams says this same equipment was used successfully while he was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veronica Escobar has worked on the issue of immigration with others who have worked with migrants and immigrants and those who have studied immigration law.
“We have a very broken system,” Escobar said. “My approach would be multi-faceted.” She says that everyone should be able to understand what the laws are. She would call for a for a humane overhaul of current legislation, saying that they must be easy for the public, migrants and immigrants to understand.
“We have to deal with the millions of migrants who are in our country,” she says. “For those who are otherwise law-abiding, they deserve a path to citizenship.” She says that this must be a partisan effort, not just one-sided.
Ben Mendoza says one must follow the rules.
“I don’t see any reason to change anything. I believe that if people want to come into this country, they must wait their turn like everyone else,” says Mendoza. “I certainly don’t believe in open borders. I don’t think people should just come here because we have open arms.”
This one is about national defense. Some people say that we do not have a clear idea or strategy as to where the next threat is coming from, the next threat towards the United States. Some say Russia; some say it’s Northern Africa. As a Member of Congress where you start looking as far as preparation for national defense, where would you be looking for that next danger?
“I believe you defend through strength, you don’t defend through weakness,” says Rick Seeberger. “I think the Obama years weakened our military. So, I think the first step, which we are doing now, is strengthening the military.” Another step Seeberger points out is dealing with countries like North Korea, Iran, and other nations of threat.
“I think we made some really, really bad deals,” he says, speaking of those countries. “We gotta go back and re-evaluate ‘what do we want’.”
Seeberger also says that we need to discover and understand the story of where we are on a lot of these issues as Congress is not always briefed on what is happening.
“I would want to learn where we are today,” says Seeberger. “I haven’t heard anybody declare where we are today. I think President Trump has taken the right approach in saying ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do.’ I think that’s one of the stupid things we’ve done in the past. You don’t go tell your enemy what you are going to do before you do it.”
Seeberger says that those going into Congress next year need to understand and learn where we are before they start drawing conclusions. “I don’t think we have enough of the facts,” he said.
Samuel Williams, on the other hand, says that our next threat may be coming out of China.
“In the military, the biggest threat the United States faces right now, Russia is not the largest threat, It’s China,” says Williams. “China has dumped so much US money into their military. They are building their second or third aircraft carrier.”
Williams says that China is making huge steps in their military technology, including incorporating some of our stealth technology into their current programs.
“From what I’ve been briefed over the years,” says Williams, “The last ten years, China is our largest advisory.” Russia, according to Williams, is broke. They are still paying for the fall of communism, which is why they are seeking to take back former territories.
Veronica Escobar identifies threats from Iran, Syria, as well as others.
“These are very troubling times,” says Veronica Escobar. “I do not think we have a cohesive national strategy coming from the White House. I do not believe we have a president who consults national security experts or the State Department. He has left post unfilled, important diplomatic posts unfilled. His North Korea Strategy I guess we have to wait for a Tweet to understand that strategy.”
Escobar pointed out that many individuals have had their security clearance removed for political reasons.
“The reason we want them to have national, we want them to have their clearance because is they have the long view that many newcomers don’t have,” says Escobar.
“There are threats coming from all over the world, but there is a threat also inside the Oval Office,” she says. “If we get a majority of Congress, and hopefully we have turnover in the White House in 2020 maybe we can govern via strategic decisions based on national security expertise and State Department expertise.”
Ben Mendoza says Russia and China are not necessarily our enemies.
“I believe our enemy is in our backyard,” says Mendoza, “and that’s Mexico and Latin America. For the last forty-five years, the United States has pretty much neglected Latin America.”
Mendoza pointed out what is happening in Venezuela saying that they are an oil-rich nation and should not be in that situation.
“What we need to do is strengthen the Organization of American States that was founded by John F. Kennedy back in the sixties.”
We are no longer one of the top countries, as far as education goes. What would you do to help improve our global standing in education? How do we get there?
“First thing,” says Samuel Williams, “we have to return our education system to the state level. Having a federal education department with common core – common core is killing our kids. It doesn’t work. Teachers are teaching to the test.”
According to Williams, we also need to change the way fund schools as far as federal funding goes. He says that every school, across the board, should get the same dollar amount. Not an amount based on test scores.
“With higher education, there is too much government influence into the student loan system,” says Samuel Williams. “The average student loan value right now is about $33,000. But it will take them till they are 40 years old to pay that off.”
Williams says that a 2% cap should be placed on student loan interest rates. Additionally, he says that the banks need to compete for the loans.
“There’s no reason to be making a profit off of our children, but it should be a social program either,” says Williams.
Additionally, Williams says that free college for all is not the answer either. Not all students will be able to attend college. He does say that we need to bring back trade schools.
Rick Seeberger quoted General Schwarzkopf, “raise standards and people will meet it.”
“I don’t think we should have a federal education department,” says Seeberger. “We should have a federal educational standard.”
He then says the states should work towards those standards and that schools would be paid based on how they meet those standards. As an example, Seeberger points out that incentivized educational programs have worked in places such as Harlem, Brooklyn, and the kids excelled.
“If you produce, you get paid,” he says. “If you don’t produce, you don’t get paid.”
(Author’s note: Initially, I had forgotten to ask this question of Ben Mendoza.) I did reach out to him via email, and this was his written response: “The ANSWER is SIMPLE! COLLEGIATE Education Is Still #1. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY HAVE Been Down GRADED. Now Let’s See Why..No More Board of Education In The Classroom.The Licensed Professional’s Ability To Maintain Disciple Has Been Usurped. The In Result Is Those That Have A Desire To Learn Do So. The Vast Majority Unfortunately DO NOT. Bring Back THE PADDLE In The Classroom!”
Veronica Escobar says there should be a pipeline from pre-K to high school and beyond to college or trade school.
“The Federal Government has a role in that, a very important role in that,” Veronica Escobar says. “But so, does the State Government and local government. In fact, K-12, the biggest impact, if someone wants to make the biggest impact on K-12 education, it’s on their local school boards or in the state legislature.”
However, the Federal Government does have a role according to Escobar. The first thing she says it to pay our teachers more and not use federal funding to pay to arm teachers and stop teaching to a test.
“The Federal Government should fund pre-K education, nationally,” says Escobar.
“Study after study will tell you that pre-K education provides the greatest head start for a child. It sets them on a footing that gives them an advantage going into that pipeline.” After graduation, she says the government should allow for student loans to be refinanced.
“I can refinance my home, my mortgage when interest rates are low. But people who are in serious debt from medical school, or from college or from trade school, they cannot refinance their student debt. It doesn’t make sense,” adds Escobar.
She also says we should consider loan forgiveness for individuals going into certain fields, like mental health.
Why are you running for Congress?
“I’m running because I am answering a call that I believe God has in my life to do this,” says Rick Seeberger. “I’m focusing on our kids and grandkids. I believe it’s going to be essential for us to stand up for what we believe.”
“I’ve always had that fight, that drive,” says Samuel Williams. “When I saw the fractures in the parties, coming through the military over the past twenty years, we paid the price for what the parties are doing. We didn’t always have the equipment we needed when we needed it. It’s all fractured along the party lines. You can’t get anything done in Congress. When you get elected to an office, you are not a leader; you are an employee.”
Veronica Escobar is running for two reasons. “Primarily my deep love of our community,” she says. “It were what motivated me and inspired me to run in the first place. Because I know that government has an important role in community building, protecting us, making sure we have clean air and water… There are a number of important roles for government. I love El Paso very, very much.”
“Also, to be honest, we are living in very troubling times,” says Veronica Escobar. “There’s no way I could sit on the sidelines while we see the politics of cruelty unfold right before our eyes. While we see an administration that is working to erode voting rights, women’s rights, all the gains that have been so hard fought.”
Ben Mendoza is running for Congress because of something he received from Ron White as a child.
“I’m going to tell you,” begins Mendoza, “I’m an Eagle Scout. Back in 1970 when I became an Eagle Scout, I got a letter from our then Congressman Richard White, and I thought that was a great gesture on his part. I always said, one day, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to write other Eagle Scouts.”
We’ve uploaded the audio as a playlist on SoundCloud. Simply follow the link above and listen to your candidate, or all of them.
You may also visit each candidate’s website:
Lastly, I would encourage you to vote. No matter who you choose to support, do get out this November and exercise your right to vote.