District 16 Congressional Race: Reyes, O'Rourke Talk Jobs, Economy In El Paso

EL PASO, Texas - It's the most heated race in the Democratic primary in the Borderland.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes is trying to win another term in office. But his main challenger, Beto O?Rourke, is fiercely trying to win the seat.

The biggest issues: Jobs and the economy.

The East Side Spaghetti Bowl - just one of the job-producing projects that Congressman Reyes says he worked for. The construction was made possible by $98 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus bill. It was legislation Reyes voted for.

"That's my job -- advocating for this community," Reyes said.

But O'Rourke says there's a difference between advocating and simply voting.

"I can't point to a single piece of legislation that Silvestre Reyes was instrumental in bringing about that has resulted in jobs in El Paso. He may have voted on certain bills or certain acts, like the stimulus but in the 16 years that he's been in Congress, he's only authored and passed six bills and none of them had to do with creating jobs in El Paso," O'Rourke said.

Despite not authoring many bills Reyes said he's still getting money to El Paso by using his political know-how and his connections he's built.

"Seniority is important," Reyes said. "The fact that I've been a chairman, so I have helped other members in their projects because that's how the system works. And working together, working on projects that are important to other members, and asking them to advocate for us, that's how we get things done."

O'Rourke pointed toward Reyes' voting attendance as a way of gauging the congressman's credibility.

"In the 16 years that he's been in Congress, he's missed more votes than almost any other member of Congress," O'Rourke said. "So I don't know that there's a lot of credibility to his claims of bringing any jobs to El Paso."

Reyes said he has proof of his influence in Congress: The massive expansion and construction at Fort Bliss that has infused El Paso's economy.

"We're approaching half a billion dollars in contracts that have gone to the El Paso contractors here," Reyes said.

O'Rourke doesn't think half a billion is not enough considering all the money that went to out-of-town companies and El Paso companies are only subcontractors in Fort Bliss projects.

"Five billion dollars have been invested at Fort Bliss by the federal government over the last five years but the lion's share of those dollars, the contracts and jobs associated with them, have gone to out-of-town firms and their out-of-town employees," O'Rourke said. "It helps explain why this is the single greatest infusion of federal cash into El Paso in our history and our unemployment rate is still near 10 percent."

Reyes disputed O'Rourke's assessment.

"My opponent says a lot but he doesn't know what he's talking about," Reyes said. "With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we've brought in about $1.7 billion which has both protected and created jobs."

When it comes to legislation, leadership plays an important role in O'Rourke's opinion.

"Congressman Reyes is well known for voting along party lines and sometimes he votes the right way but it's not enough to do that," O'Rourke said. "You need to be a leader and Congressman Reyes hasn't helped author any of this legislation, hasn't helped push it through."

"He's got his own opinion. We're going to find out on the 29th who's right ultimately," Reyes said.

Early voting ends May 25 for the May 29 primary election. Other Democratic candidates for the 16th Congressional seat are Ben E. ?Buddy, Mendoza, Paul Johnson Jr. and Jerome Tilghman. Republican candidates for the 16th Congressional seat are Corey Roen and Barbara Carrasco. Winners of the primaries will face off in the November general election.

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