Buoyed by the support of two Democratic members of the El Paso delegation, incumbent state Rep. Dee Margo, R-El Paso, seems to have the wind at his back leading up to next month's general election.
Margo, 60, the CEO of an insurance sales company, says the support from Reps. Naomi Gonzalez and Marisa Marquez, who represent House districts 76 and 77, respectively, indicate the delegation is not made up of “drama queens” but rather a unit that can do what’s the best for the district.
“I just think it speaks volumes about bipartisanship, which is what people talk about they want to see evidence of, and I think our delegation works well together on behalf of El Paso,” Margo said.
It’s Margo’s third HD-78 bout against attorney Joe Moody, a Democrat who defeated Margo in 2008 by 3,200 votes. Moody then lost to his former challenger in 2010 by about 1,400 votes. This time, the endorsements and straight-ticket voting in a presidential election year paint this rematch as too close to call five weeks away from the Nov. 6 election.
Moody isn’t sure what prompted the Margo support from his fellow Democrats, but he said that’s the nature of politics and that he remains undeterred.
“He appreciates the support he gets, and I appreciate the support I get,” Moody said. “But endorsements are very rarely what elections are about, and I am focused on talking about where this community needs to go, and really the damage that was done by this Legislature.”
Marquez told the El Paso Times recently that the support wasn’t a nod in favor of the Republican Party or its platform, but as recognition that Margo is an important part of the delegation.
Moody aims to remind voters of the GOP's budget cuts for public and higher education, which he said have resulted in hundreds of fewer teachers in El Paso County and millions in losses for the University of Texas at El Paso.
“Closing the achievement gap in schools and building higher education into something that is great is something that is great for our community and something that we should focus on, not tearing it down,” he said. “And Dee was the sole vote for that [budget]. Every member of this delegation voted against that, and that’s why I think there are two very clear choices in this election.”
Like several Republican candidates defending the state’s budget cuts, Margo, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said his party and the budget writers were merely playing the cards they were dealt.
“We dealt with the revenue numbers that we were given. Remember 95 percent of our budget goes to Medicaid, education and our criminal justice system. There isn’t a whole lot of room,” he said, adding that the only option would be to raise taxes. “And my question to Mr. Moody would be, ‘Okay, tell me where you want to raise taxes? And what is your priority, education or Medicaid?’”
Margo said his conservative voice should be a welcome return to El Paso’s six-person delegation, which also includes veteran lawmaker Joe Pickett, from HD-79, incoming member Mary Gonzalez from HD-75 and state Sen. José Rodríguez, all of whom are Democrats.
“We have a red state with red houses of government [so] it helps from El Paso’s standpoint, irrespective of the desire to remain blue from the Democratic partisan side,” he said. “It certainly does not hurt to have one member of the delegation represent the other majority party as we work through issues related to El Paso.”
Moody’s support includes some local star power in the form of El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, District Attorney Jaime Esparza and Sheriff Richard Wiles. Wiles specifically cited Moody’s support for local law enforcement’s ability to fight cartels and transnational gangs, something Moody said is indicative of his own ability to work with Republicans. He cites his work with state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, on HB 2086, passed in 2009, which strengthened punishment for criminals involved in various gang activities.
“I don’t think there is anything about my record that shows that I haven’t been able to work well with people and get things done,” Moody said. “And that was a major piece of legislation — that wasn’t a local bill; that was something that impacted the entire state.”
The most recent campaign finance reports, filed in June, showed Margo with a steady advantage over Moody, with about $71,000 raised, $97,600 spent and $41,700 maintained since January. He also had about $126,000 in loan balances. During that same time period, Moody raised about $26,000, spent $10,100 and had about $27,300 maintained. Updated reports are due next week.
Moody and Margo downplay the potential of straight-ticket voters to affect the race, but historical patterns in El Paso County reflect Democrats' strong edge in that category.
In 2010, about 31,000 Democrats voted straight ticket, compared with about 15,500 Republicans. In 2008, the last presidential year, the Democrats had more than three times the number of straight-ticket ballots cast, with about 76,700 to the GOP’s 23,600. Asked if he was concerned about a repeat from 2008, when support for Barack Obama in El Paso helped propel Moody to victory, Margo said that year was an anomaly.
“I don’t hear a lot of enthusiastic response” this year, he said, about local support for the president.