Charges of racial bigotry were not intended in statements from high-ranking Democrats who warned this week that a new super PAC supporting Beto O'Rourke in the 16th Congressional District race will "endanger the interests of the broader Latino community."
U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, chairman of the national Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said on Thursday that his press release referred to the fact that political action committee money from outside the community could disenfranchise El Paso voters, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic.
In the statement, Gonzalez denounced the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super PAC that has targeted for defeat U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and other longtime incumbents nationwide.
The campaign is "a well-funded attack on priorities of hardworking Hispanic families in El Paso and throughout the country," Gonzalez wrote.
He also condemned the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision allowing creation of super PACs, which can spend unlimited money from individuals, unions and corporations as long as they do not coordinate with the candidates they support.
That decision, he wrote, "accelerated a dangerous trend toward a democracy increasingly dominated by big-money interests, who can more disproportionately influence our elections and government, and in this case, endanger the interests of the broader Latino community."
El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Danny Anchondo said on Thursday that his press release
also expressed opposition to super PACs in general and specifically the Campaign for Primary Accountability.
Neither Gonzalez nor Anchondo said he attributed racial or ethnic motives to the campaign.
"I am not saying there are ethnic or racial overtones, that there's some kind of bigoted thing going on," Gonzalez said in a telephone interview. And he said his characterization of Reyes as "El Paso's first Latino elected to Congress," was not meant to imply that people should ignore other factors and cast their vote based solely on ethnicity.
"I don't think you've earned a vote based on ethnicity, race or gender," said Gonzalez, who endorses Reyes. "But you also have to give recognition to someone who was the first. I also think he's (Reyes) done a heck of a good job in El Paso."
Anchondo, who also mentioned Reyes being the first El Paso-area Hispanic in the House, said his statement was not meant as a Reyes endorsement.
"We're not endorsing anyone," Anchondo said. "We are attacking any of the super PACs and especially when they come out and get into El Paso politics."
Former El Paso city Rep. O'Rourke declined to enter the fray.
"I've knocked on almost 10,000 doors (in El Paso) so far, and not one person has brought up race or ethnicity," O'Rourke said. "People care about finding a job, turning around this economy and making sure our VA can take care of the veterans who've taken care of us. These are the issues I'm addressing in this campaign and will be my top priorities if elected to Congress."
O'Rourke, whose first name is Robert, said he received the nickname "Beto" when he was a child. He does not represent himself as Hispanic, he said, but speaks fluent Spanish.
"I'm a fourth-generation El Pasoan," he said, "I feel like I have a pretty strong connection with the issues and values most El Pasoans care about."
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