AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new digital ad by Sen. Ted Cruz’s re-election campaign will soon appear on computer screens near you.
As polls tighten it represents the most up-front attack on the past of his Democratic opponent, Congressman Beto O’Rourke. While there’s some truth to it, the advertisement does not tell you the entire story.
“As El Paso City Councilman. Beto O’Rourke used his position to push insider deals to benefit his own family,” a narrator reads. The ad claims that O’Rourke voted to use eminent domain for a land development project which his father-in-law would profit from.
The project included a small part of the Segundo Barrio, a historic Hispanic neighborhood in south El Paso.
Cruz spokesman Catherine Frazier wrote in a press release that “O’Rourke showed a callous disregard for so many El Pasoans, ignoring their pleas to recuse himself from voting on the project for the sake of enriching his own family. If he wouldn’t listen to his constituents’ concerns then, Texans across the state cannot trust him to listen to them now.”
These accusations are not new against the congressman. They were used against him in a 2012 attack ad from his then opponent, Democrat Sylvestre Reyes.
All day KXAN dug through old articles, videos and our El Paso station’s coverage of the controversy.
In the early 2000s, O’Rourke did push for what was called The Downtown Plan to be part of the city’s master plan.
Beto’s father-in-law, Bill Sanders, was one of many business and civic leaders advocating for the plan through a group called the Paso Del Norte Group. People living in the Segundo Barrio were upset that O’Rourke did not recuse himself from votes on the issue.
There were two ethics complaints filed. However, they were dismissed and an ethics commission found no wrongdoing according to El Paso newspaper articles at the time.
But what about eminent domain? A former council member says the Cruz ad is history out of context.
“It really laid the groundwork for all of the investment you’ve seen in downtown El Paso since then,” said Susie Byrd about the idea. She’s a former city council member who served with O’Rourke.
She says in 2006, he supported the option of taking private land if needed to get rid of unreliable landlords. But after community pushback, she says O’Rourke voted with the rest of council to ban eminent domain in the first year of the final proposal.
“We took that off the table when we finally adopted,” she said. “It was based on a lot of feedback from the community. We realized it was a huge distraction.”
Did his father-in-law profit? Sanders and O’Rourke were quoted at the time saying any profits would go to a downtown nonprofit. However, the project never came together fully. KXAN hasn’t found any record of Sanders or O’Rourke making any profit from it.
A new CNN analysis predicts the Texas Senate race might be closer than they originally thought. This Texas race was pegged as a “likely” Republican victory. Now, the race is listed as “lean Republican.” That’s just one step away from “toss-up.”
The Emerson College poll released last week shows Cruz just one point ahead of O’Rourke. Twenty percent of registered voters are still undecided.