District 8 Election Candidates Interviews

I’m going to preface this by stating, I was pretty surprised that I’m now in District 8. When we moved here 2.5 years ago, I bought specifically in District 1 because I didn’t want to pay the extra tax to UMC, which seemed odd to me that only certain areas paid extra taxes. I was told to avoid it if possible.

Well, because of the census, which takes place every 10 years, El Paso has grown, and the growth in my area was concentrated in the Northwest and so the districts were unbalanced. Each district needs to be as equal to 84,851 residents as possible. Therefore my little plot of land became District 8 even though I’m closer to Redd and Resler than Copia and Gateway East. District 8 boundaries edges are weird and none of the neighborhoods know each other well, the only ones that stand out to me are Downtown and the Chamizal area. Compare the old 2020 District Map (on the left) and the new 2022 District Map (right). If you’re unsure of where you are now click HERE and find out.

I don’t think my neighborhood even knows we’re now District 8 since I saw signs supporting District 1 candidates. I also heard that in District 1, which has a huge amount of candidates, one candidate who is running didn’t even know their district changed and when told that the district was now District 1, they shrugged and said whatever and to sign them up. That made me upset and wonder if people were running for the actual constituents and cared about the area they were running for, so I set off to ask the candidates running in MY district, District 8. I also heard about the current District 8 council member’s reputation for not responding to constituents in her district so I wanted to know what the candidate’s communication styles were. I’m writing this as a voting constituent, who wanted to genuinely know who the candidates are and what they stand for and against.

Rich Wright 8/23/22

Rich Wright

This was the 1st candidate I reached out to and met. I’ve been following his blog El Chuqueno for a while now and have enjoyed reading his take on the city policies and especially their budget. He touches a lot on the dissatisfaction of the ordinary citizen and shines a light on what the city was like before and writes a lot about taxes, like a lot. I called the number listed and texted him and after a day or so he agreed on a last-minute meeting. We met Downtown because I had plans to be there to see the live demonstration for the Cirque Du Soleil act in OVO, which I thought was cool since meet and greets were always my favorite part of live shows.

We met and walked around a bit in the Wells Fargo Bank since he needed change for his meter and he pointed out historical and architectural details Downtown. He operates a walking tour company and does historical and architectural walks in El Paso and Juarez. He talked about how he used to own a bar and worked at bars and did a little bit of everything to survive; he hugged me and he smelled like he was already enjoying the benefits of a bar which left an effect on me since it was barely noon. I asked him questions and it was obvious to me that his focus would shift in and out as he stared into space for a long while before I would direct the question and prompt him for an answer time and time again.

Question #1: Who are you and why are you running?

I asked him what he was currently doing and why he was running. He stated that he’s really old and living off social security for his kids, because apparently if you’re older and have young kids, the government would pay you to take care of your kids. It was a bit disingenuous and surprising, being that his articles would rail against taxes and unnecessary government spending, yet here he was proudly admitting that he was living on government benefits. There would be a lot of jarring moments for me that afternoon, like how he stated that the city council salary was enticing to him and would help out a lot, even though he was against increasing it in the 1st place. It was meant to be competitive so that we can attract more quality candidates, but according to him, it didn’t work.

Question #2: What are you planning on doing to revitalize Downtown since Fallas and CVS and countless other small shops have left?

We went to eat as the performance was later than I had thought. Over lunch, again in bit and starts, as he would often zone out during the conversation, he told me that he’s against raising taxes and supporting women’s rights. We spoke about how all the shops are leaving and he gave me some back history about how most of the buildings were subsidized and the city was playing around with advertising budgets and how the venues were operated by outside companies. It was a mini rant of sorts and hard to follow, but I read his articles and those were far more focused.

I asked him if he’s against new taxes, and what would he do to revitalize Downtown, and he didn’t have an answer beyond we’re being taxed too much for what it is. I asked him about the programs and the trolley and all the other incentives that the Downtown Management District was putting in place; he didn’t have anything to offer besides it costing too much to operate and our taxes were too high. I spoke of all the new small businesses that opened Downtown like Toltec Tiki, how Deadbeach Brewery is looking to expand, and even about the Blue Flame building. He didn’t know about the growth and said he doesn’t go out much because he has young kids (newsflash, so do I).

I also touched on the growth in Santa Teresa and the opportunities for El Paso to be a huge warehousing destination and also a leader in aerospace with the addition of UTEP’s agreement with the U.S. Space Force (only one of 7 campuses in the nation to do so). He implied that I was being too positive and that in the past a lot of things were promised that didn’t pan out. I said maybe I try to see the good in El Paso and that’s what I highlight in my blog and he sees the past and what didn’t come to fruition under past leadership and was very jaded.

I was confused because in his blog there was an article that actually touched on Santa Teresa and the opportunities there and here he was in person telling me that it’s not possible. I ended up sending him the article, later on, to showcase that it was really on his blog, but I guess it was written by someone else in his team, which made me wonder if he doesn’t even know what’s on his blog and under his organization, how well would he do in council?

I left our lunch disappointed to be very honest. I was so excited to meet him because he posited himself as an outsider who can shake things up at council, and yes, who wouldn’t want lower taxes? We also spoke about how weird the mapping is and how would he represent all the different neighborhoods in the district; he responded that he’s focused on lowering taxes and he’s for women’s right to choose. He told me that the boundaries of District 8 were expanded the way it was because the current representative was stepping down and wanted to make sure that someone in her office would be able to run and his house would qualify in the new maps. That made me angry as I couldn’t believe that my house was added to the district for political maneuverings.

This turned out to be untrue as I asked the other 2 candidates and other members of the city government and locals. It would be ridiculously hard to make up data and there were so many checks and balances to make sure that wouldn’t happen. He lost my trust after that since we talked about how dirty the politics are in El Paso and smear campaigns were pushing quality candidates away from running, and yet here he was indulging in his own.

Chris Canales 9/15/22

Chris Canales

I’ve known Chris online; we have exchanged information back and forth thru the Moms on Board Facebook group and also on the Nextdoor app. I’ve met him briefly on occasion running into him at the zoo and museum (his fiancée, now wife, works in the Museum of History) and I love going to her events. I didn’t even know he was running until Rich told me his conspiracy theory as to why the boundaries were moved. I reached out to Chris and he said he was still crafting his website; after 2 weeks, we finally were able to meet at Savage Goods.

I told him his website Canales For Council was hard to read for older folks with weak eyes like mine, especially the color of his name. I didn’t see any changes made and he said he consulted with his friends and supporters and didn’t see a need to change it. I impulsively went into his site and pulled it up on my phone and showed a college-aged girl and asked her if was hard to read. She said yes, the color was too bright and he might want to tone it down. He said thank you he appreciates the feedback and will see about toning it down. I just went on his site right now and it doesn’t look to me on my phone that he changed the colors, it’s just as hard to read. *update, he’s changed his website since I drafted this at 10:30 am. It’s now 1:02 pm.

We started talking about how his personal life has changed since we 1st spoke to each other and how he had a fiancée when I first met him and now she’s his wife. I’ve always appreciated how he led with facts when arguments ensued online about the city council and what the news put out. He’s very calm online and in person, and that poise is striking in someone so young. I pointed this out and he said that he’s learned coping techniques as a referee. He moonlights as a professional referee and he said it’s really weird to be booed and yelled at by large amounts of people for decisions that aren’t necessarily yours. That was a great segue into my 1st question so I asked him:

Question #1: Who are you and why are you running?

He said that he was a native El Pasoan and the spark of leadership and giving back thru service started when he was at Franklin High School. He interacted with Beto O’Rourke when he was on city council and he promised Beto that he would come back as Beto said El Paso needs people like Chris. He left for Columbia University and got his degree in Sustainable Development and got a great job in New York City making great money in consultant work. He met his now wife there and remembered his promise to Beto and made his way back to El Paso, bringing her along, another Columbia graduate.

He currently has a job in District 8 as the Chief of Staff and is involved in the day-to-day operations of the city council. He’s a policy wonk who reads the ENTIRE agenda (a couple of hundred pages) before the city council meetings (it’s in the front and center of the El Paso government site btw) and he believes strongly that good policies make good cities. His website has a list of all the points he wants to focus on if he gets elected and he’s the only one who has publicly come out to say he has a cap on his campaign contributions even though rumor states that he’s favored and so the majority of the big donors will spend on him as he has the connections, but so far it’s only been individuals contributing and not big donors.

Speaking of rumors, I asked him point blank if Rich’s assertations about the redistricting were about him and how it would qualify him now that it’s been changed. He laughed and said no, he’s been living in District 8 and the house he’s in didn’t move districts. Even if he doesn’t win, and he has to move on from his position at the current rep’s office, he has had several offers elsewhere that have been on the table for years since his work speaks for itself and others want to hire him. He said that he would be working for less money as an elected council member but he would do more good in helping not only shape and craft policies but be able to vote on them.

Question #2: What are you planning on doing to revitalize Downtown since Fallas and CVS and countless other small shops have left?

We touched on some of the issues he’s passionate about, like smart city planning, and utilizing tax incentives to revitalize the city’s core, which includes Downtown. We already had argued online before as I wrote that the Kress building shouldn’t have had to be incentivized in the 1st place with taxpayer monies. He stated that it was future growth that will fund the tax breaks and it is an incentive to grow the area. I still don’t think that it’s a wise idea to give tax breaks to fund improvements on your property, but if it will bring jobs and growth to Downtown, it might be a start.

We also spoke about accessibility and how Downtown and Chamizal are not very friendly to locals and that the improvements not only should target out-of-towners but also locals. He agreed and we discussed some ideas on how to make it easier to find parking and activities Downtown. He also mentioned he was open to changing the concept of the Arena and also looking at raising impact fees to developers as they now pay a very small percentage of the fees which haven’t been revisited by the council, to fund a lot of the improvements that are needed. Right now they are building beyond city limits and the county takes some of the taxes from the city to help them develop land outside the city, which doesn’t make sense to me, why am I paying to help develop places that won’t pay the same taxes like Socorro, etc? Per Chris: “The low impact fees now incentivize them to move people out to the edge of the cities, and in particular that’s hurting EPISD schools who are losing students.”

We also spoke about how he would make it easier on people to throw events by streamlining the process to apply for permits etc. We talked about the rec centers and libraries across the district and how they need to open and be easier to access online information about them. We also spoke about how any new debt should be put to a vote including caps on donations. He spoke about Savage Goods and other businesses that he sees growing and thriving in the city.

I went away from the meeting feeling very confused. I was angry when we met up because of the false information I was fed, and I left feeling optimistic about the issues facing the district. I know he’s got stated goals and is willing to put some in writing. He’s going to spend, didn’t say much on lowering taxes, but he will be fair and put it to the voters to make the decision, which is better than what happened in the past, I think.

Bettina Olivares 9/21/22

Bettina Olivares

The last person I connected with was someone I wasn’t familiar with. It was Chris Canales who gave me her site and encouraged me to contact her. I used her contact me form and a few days later we scheduled an online Zoom meeting since my schedule was jam-packed. We met up online and she said she already coordinates events thru my site for the city rep she works for, we just never formally met.

I explained what my site was for and why it was created to fill in the gaps for the city events that have too many departments (Visit El Paso, Destination El Paso, and Downtown Management District) and not enough engagement. We spoke about my background and her background and it naturally progressed to my 1st question:

Question #1: Who are you and why are you running?

She said she was born and raised here in South Central and saw her neighborhood ignored by the city and wanted to help be a voice. She has wanted to work in government since high school and has worked hard to break thru since she neither had the finances (she’s always had to work multiple jobs) nor the connections to be able to work in the government (no unpaid internships for her). Through perseverance, she was able to graduate with a Liberal Arts degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin, all the while serving various reps up and down the government chain. She is currently the Chief of Staff for District 3. She says she has the most experience of all the candidates and not only for the city but state reps as well.

She said the city position attracts her because even while state policies grab headlines, the city policies are the ones that will affect your daily lives, so in essence, it is more important. She kept touting her experience and how it’s hard to break thru the government ranks as a female and minority Latina without connections. She was frustrated because it seems like she has to work harder than most to be seen even though she had the most experience.

She said she initially moved back and lived with her mom in District 8 and she wanted to run for office, but she was shy of the residency requirement by 1 month. I could tell she was really upset by that setback and so she started working for the reps to learn as much as she could to position herself as a candidate in the future. She was unsure of running since she was initially going to be in District 1 and she wanted to fulfill her childhood goal of helping her neighborhood, but as soon as the redistricting happened and she was back in District 8, she immediately applied to run. I wonder if this was the candidate that Rich alluded to changing the district boundaries to include, but got the candidates confused? I started to ask her what her goals would be:

Question #2: What are you planning on doing to revitalize Downtown since Fallas and CVS and countless other small shops have left?

We started talking about how parking was a pain in the butt in Downtown and how most of the spending depended so much on the border crossings for the small mom-and-pop shops. The large corporations got tax incentives to build hotels and other amenities but the small retailers were left to figure it out on their own. She said as a rep, she would walk the streets and talk to the shopkeepers to see what they needed help with, maybe advertising, or how to create a website, etc. They shouldn’t be forgotten in the name of progress. “Not everyone will walk away happy but when that happens, if I did my best in listening to stakeholders, constituents and educating myself on the topic, then my decision was made in the best interest of the whole. “

She’s not a policy wonk, but a people person. She believes very firmly that a rep needs to listen to the people and engage them. She said that in District 3 where she works, she already does that and tries to communicate to their constituents and even takes on helping answer calls and emails from other areas, even though that’s not their district because their rep isn’t responding. I’ve seen this happen and commend District 3 for keeping the lines of communication open when other districts don’t reply (ahem District 1). She wants to change how the city communicates so that more people are engaged and understand how progress is being made with the public’s input.

She’s for pro-business policies and hopes to attract larger businesses and conventions to El Paso like the Democratic Convention that is coming in 2 years, before El Paso wouldn’t even have been a contender as we didn’t have the hotels or amenities to accommodate. This will diversify the tax base that relies heavily on property owners to larger corporate entities that will pay more. She does support the Arena as a Multipurpose Center so that the entire community can come together and everyone can utilize it and the businesses around it flourish. She sees transportation as key to uniting the community and will expand on the trolley and Sun Metro bus systems and wants to fix the roadways so it’s not a deterrent to traveling across the city.

I left the Zoom meeting feeling very enthusiastic about her after speaking with her about all the possibilities. I asked for a sign since I’ll be posting all 3 candidate’s signs on my lawn to hopefully educate passersby that our district has changed from District 1 to District 8 because of rezoning.

So my opinion is that El Paso, especially District 8, is lucky to have such passionate candidates.
Click on their names to go to their respective websites. 🙂

Rich Wright
Chris Canales
Bettina Olivares

If I was marketing them, based on my conversation with each, I’d label them as the Rogue, the Pragmatist, and the Communicator.

Rich Wright is the Rogue, someone with no experience in government and barely trusts the city to do its job so will be a wild card.

Pros: he’ll hold people accountable with his blog and point fingers at officials who may not do what he wants them to do. He’ll also vote no on new taxes, no matter what the cost.

Cons: he’s an obstructionist that might create gridlock (which you can see with Congress nowadays). He doesn’t have a plan for Downtown besides lowering taxes and continuously looks backward at past policies as reasons to fear growth. I see the lack of focus on everything else besides lowering taxes, reminds me of District 1 rep and the trolleys.

Chris Canales is the Pragmatist, someone who has a clear decided path in mind, who’s been trained in growing cities, and who is the safe choice for larger entities and corporate interests.

Pros: his approach will be slow and deliberate. His focus on issues will probably be outlined and included in any legislative agenda. He focuses on facts and data so will have measurable results.

Cons: he might already have a set agenda in place, so not sure if he will listen to the constituents. He’s molded by the same people that set the agendas for progress in El Paso, whether they want it or not. Sometimes it works but they’ll be lots of complaints along the way.

Bettina Olivares is the Communicator, someone who has worked her entire adult life to be given a chance to make a change, to have a voice and a seat at the table.

Pros: she’ll help the little businesses have a voice because she’s been a little voice for a long time. She wants to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard. She’s already shown she’s willing to put in the work and step out of the “ivory policy tower” and walk the streets to find the pain points of the people.

Cons: she’s probably going to advocate for spending on projects that may have a large impact on the community as a whole, which can divide neighborhoods, (for example the Arena). I didn’t hear her state anything about lowering taxes but just trying to diversify the tax base. Her communication with so many people and different interests maybe lead to oversaturation and so much compromising among various groups that it doesn’t satisfy anyone, Build Back Better ring a bell?

If you want to form your own opinion, I suggest you reach out to them, as all 3 are very responsive, and I hope to see public forums to hear them speak to one another and the community at large. The only one I heard of where the 3 were together is at a Democratic gathering. At the very least, even if you don’t have time to research as much as you can, just remember to VOTE, and let your voice be heard. As I told people I’ve met who haven’t voted in the past, “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain”.

November 2022 General Election

EARLY VOTING

Monday, October 24, 2022 – Friday, November 4, 2022

Did you know that you can vote at ANY Early Voting Location? Skip the lines and cast your vote before Election Day.

https://epcountyvotes.com/quick_links/early_voting

How do I vote in person?

Vote on Election Day
Election Day will be Tuesday, November 8, 2022 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.. 

Voters in Texas can look up where to vote on Texas’s site.

Vote early

Texas does offer early voting. Learn more about voting early in Texas.

What to bring

You will be asked to show photo ID to vote in Texas.

Acceptable forms include:

  • Texas driver’s license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Texas election ID certificate
  • Texas personal ID card
  • Texas handgun license
  • US military ID with photo
  • US citizenship certificate with photograph (doesn’t need to be current)
  • US passport

Forms must be current or expired less than four years. For voters aged 70 or older, the acceptable form of photo identification may be expired for any length of time if the identification is otherwise valid. For voters aged 18-69, the acceptable form of photo identification may be expired no more than four years before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place.

Voters without ID:

If you don’t have ID and cannot obtain one due to a reasonable impediment, you’ll need to sign a sworn statement that there is a reason why you don’t have any of the accepted IDs, and present one of the following:

  • certified birth certificate
  • valid voter registration certificate
  • or a current utility bill, government check, bank statement or paycheck, or government document with your name and an address.

If you meet these requirements and are eligible to vote, you may vote in the election.

If you don’t have ID and do not have a reasonable impediment to obtaining one or did not bring ID to the polling place, you may cast a provisional ballot. In order to have the provisional ballot counted, you will be required to visit the voter registrar’s office within six (6) calendar days of the date of the election to either present one of the forms of photo ID or submit a temporary affidavit, or, if applicable, qualify for the disability exemption, in the presence of the county voter registrar while attesting to the fact that you do not have any of the required photo IDs.

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