The Russ Belville Show

First it was Steve Cooley, running for Attorney General in California in 2010, who learned that it wasn’t a good idea to be seen as an anti-marijuana candidate in a pro-medical marijuana state.  Next it was Dwight Holton, suffering the same fate in the Attorney General race in Oregon this month, beaten by pro-marijuana political organizing in the first state to decriminalize personal marijuana possession.

Now the power of the pro-marijuana vote has shifted to a decidedly non-medical marijuana state, Texas.  Specifically, El Paso, just across the border from the second most violent city in the world, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, where eight-term congressman Sylvestre Reyes just lost the Democratic primary to El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke.

O’Rourke made news in 2009 when he spearheaded a resolution in the city council that called on the federal government to have a serious debate about legalization of marijuana to help combat the Prohibition War violence just over the border.  After the council approved that unanimously, the mayor vetoed it.  Mayor Cook said it would make El Paso a laughingstock and “I don’t think anybody thinks we should be able to run down to the corner drug store and be able to buy heroin or cocaine or methamphetamines.”  As a re-vote on the resolution was prepared, the Mayor urged the “silent majority” to make their voices heard against the resolution because “I can tell you that all the pot heads have sent their e-mails and they are encouraging the reps to stand by their decision.”

That’s when Congressman Reyes stepped into the fray and lobbied the city council with threats that federal funds might be cut off to El Paso if they were to pass this resolution.  Undeterred, O’Rourke to the challenge right to Congressman Reyes and now the only federal funds being cut off to El Paso is Rep. Reyes’ congressional paycheck.

On Tuesday night, El Paso voters ousted Reyes in a Democratic primary, in favor of the council member who had pushed the 2009 legalization resolution, Beto O’Rourke.

Reyes, a former border control agent who was elected to Congress in 1996, had the backing of President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton. Reyes brought the popular Clinton to the district to campaign for him this year and dredged up his opponent’s burglary and driving while intoxicated charges from the 1990s. It wasn’t enough.

O’Rourke didn’t give up the fight for legalization, instead challenging Reyes for his job in the 2012 primary. In April, he told HuffPost the drug war was a failure and is fueling the violence across the border.

Reyes tried to make it a campaign issue, telling voters to “Say NO to drugs. Say NO to Beto.”

They said no to Reyes.

via How Congressman Sylvestre Reyes’ Anti-Pot Lobbying Cost Him His Job.

I know many pot reformers get discouraged by politics.  I hear a lot of “lesser of two evils is still evil”* and “they’re all just bought-out corporate shills”** and “the system is broken”*** and “we need third parties”**** talk.  But these recent defeats of anti-reform candidates, whether it’s Cooley the Republican in a general election losing to a Democrat or Democrats like Ellen Rosenblum and Beto O’Rourke taking out DNC-backed administration-favorites like Dwight Holton and Sylvestre Reyes, provide the blueprint for serious marijuana legalizers to get their way.

It’s all about the local elections and the primaries.  Certainly the pro-reform calls of El Paso voters ring louder in the city council’s office than they do the halls of Congress.  Definitely the votes of a committed, organized pro-reform bloc count for more in a sparsely-attended May primary election than a heavy-turnout presidential election.  If you really want marijuana legalized, learn the lesson the conservatives did when they were at their nadir in the Goldwater years – build your movement from the school boards on up, not the president on down.

FOOTNOTES
* So, what, let the greater of two evils win?  Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!
** Unless you’re working for yourself, you probably are, too.
*** No.  If you want to see a broken system, try Somalia, Mexico, Greece, or even Italy.  Our system works exactly as it was designed – slowly and resistant to sudden radical change.
**** The higher up the political food chain you go, the less possible a third party candidacy is.  It’s nothing to do with platforms, ideologies, or voters’ preferences, it’s just the winner-takes-all voting system we’re stuck with.  If you want real third party power in America, you’ll need to change the math to a system of range voting.

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  • jontomas

    Unfortunately, there’s a new twist to this story. From the Huffington Post:

    >>>”In the final weeks of the Texas race, O’Rourke had somewhat downplayed his views on legalization. He said that it was a low priority for El Paso voters and not something he would pursue in Congress.

    “He’s backed off a lot on the talking points about the need to legalize marijuana or the impact it has on this border community,” said Richard Pineda, associate director of Sam Donaldson Center at University of Texas El Paso. “I think that it’s unlikely he’s going to be a champion for that issue.”

    It seems there is something about success that takes marijuana reform out of candidates. I can only assume it’s the strings attached to the ‘big money’ once it starts rolling in.

    Should we call this horrible effect the “Obama Syndrome?”

    This is quite discouraging.

  • jontomas

    Excuse me, but why does editing a post get it removed and “flagged for review?”

    The only editing I ever do is to clean up sytax, grammar mistakes, spelling, and faulty copying from word pad where I compose.  Many times the copy comes out all jumbled up into one run-on paragraph, so I edit to put back in proper spacing to improve comprehension. I never make material changes in the posts.

    Again, why are posts removed over this?

    • http://radicalruss.com/ RadicalRuss

      Huh, I don’t know what you’re referring to.  I haven’t flagged anything.  Is it a Disqus feature I’m not aware of?

      • jontomas

        Thanks, Russ.  It must be a Disqus issue.  This has happened at a couple of other Disqus sites.  Sometimes Disqus just acts flaky.  I’ll research Discus if it happens again.