On Tuesday, a long time member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus from the Texas delegation was defeated by a former El Paso city council representative who favors marijuana legalization. Democratic Representative Silvestre Reyes had endorsements from President Obama and President Clinton, but that wasn’t enough to overcome the momentum of Beto O’Rourke.
Reyes had recently been perceived as being “out of touch” and was the target of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which seeks to level the playing field in primary races. This groups targets incumbents, who enjoy huge advantages of being in office such as access to the media and the name recognition of simply being in “the club” (Congress), by running competitive primaries.
“Rep. Reyes had all the benefits of incumbency. Beltway lobbyists showered money on their long-time friend while Washington party leaders with marquee names tried to lend him their stature,” said Curtis Ellis, a spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability, in a statement. ”The voters exercised their franchise and chose Beto O’Rourke.”
Recently, Congressman Reyes had come under the scrutiny of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for reimbursing family members. More specifically, Reyes’ campaign had paid his niece for fundraising work. This is legal, but it reeks of nepotism. This issue featured prominently in a television attack ad by the Campaign for Primary Accountability:
O’Rourke’s victory over Reyes also may signal a shift in the electorate on the drug war and marijuana legalization. As an El Paso city councilman, O’Rourke supported a resolution calling for the re-examination of the drug war. He also has asserted that marijuana is the “cornerstone of the cartel economy.” During the campaign, Reyes went after O’Rourke for his positions on the drug war and marijuana -even releasing an ad suggesting that the former El Paso councilman was encouraging drug use. This comes at a time when 56 percent of Americans favor legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol and tobacco.
The defeat of Reyes is also symbolic because it marks the loss of a seat held by a Mexican American, which is the largest group within the Latino population in the United States. Mexican Americans represent 63 percent of the 50 million Hispanics in the United States. but there aren’t any Mexican Americans in the Senate (the two Latinos in the Senate are Cuban American). In the House of Representatives, representatives of Mexican descent constitute approximately 3.7 percent of the total Congressional population.