Monday, April 11, 2011

EPISO Holds Accountability Session; Candidates Waver

For those who don't know EPISO (El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization) is a church based group that holds "Accountability Sessions" at churches and claim they are to allow their members to get to know the candidates. But don't be fooled by the fact that they are church based. It's not exactly Sunday morning mass. Sunday's "Accountability Session" took place at St. Tomas Aquina Church in East El Paso. For years candidates have complained about these "Accountability Sessions" that are more like the last cigarette before a firing squad than a way of educating voters like EPISO claims they are. But for some reason candidates always find a way to show up to these events. Off the record, yeah right like posting this on the internet is off the record, at least three candidates came up to me as they walked off the firing squad platform (the stage) and said that the forum was a bunch of bull caca. OK they used the real word but you know me, I don't curse on my blog.

Sunday's session had Candidates for El Paso Independent School Board District 3, City Council Representative Districts 5 & 6. I missed the School Board candidates but was their for the train wreck that took place with the City Representative candidates. All the candidates were asked 5 questions at a briefing before the session. The candidates were expected to answer the questions with a simple yes or no without qualifying their answers. In other words, yes or no without any buts. Next to the firing platform was a huge score board. A member of EPISO took a big red marker and wrote a big "Y" or a big "N" depending on the candidates answers. The candidates were allowed three minutes to answer the questions and explain any answers. The rules have changed a little since the last time I attended one of these sessions. Back in 2008 you were not allowed to talk to the crowd. It was a simple Yes or No answer and the crowd was urged to boo at the candidates by the person asking the questions. Just because some of the rules have changed doesn't mean things are any better. They still have people standing and strategic points (handlers) ordering people when they have to clap, when they have to be quiet, when they have to stand and when they have to sit. Once again, not exactly what you would think a church based group should be doing. But you have to realize, "The model for EPISO  was created by a tough community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who founded the Industrial Areas Foundation in the late 1960s as a training school for professional organizers." -David Crowder Aug. 1, 2008 Alinsky is not exactly a favorite among conservatives.

The questions were asked in what seemed to be a pretty simple manner to the EPISO members. Unfortunately EPISO always finds a way to ask a question that at least one of the candidates has no jurisdiction over and somehow expects them to say they will support that issue even though they know they can't and hold them "accountable" if they refuse to support the cause. Does that make any sense to you? It doesn't to me. But that's EPISO for you. Say yes ore we will hold you accountable. That to me says do what I tell you or we wont vote for you. We, as in EPISO, as in we will tell all our members and the people we talk to not no vote for you. Hey wait. Isn't EPISO a non-profit organization. Isn't it against some sort of law for Churches to tell their congregations who to or who not to vote for? I'm pretty sure that's the rule for all churches. So why has EPISO been allowed to do this election after election? Why hasn't the mainstream media wrote a story about it. I'll tell you why. It's the same old El Paso story. They do good things for the poor so we will look the other way when they do something illegal. That has to stop. If anyone should be held accountable it is the people who run EPISO.

Anyway, back to the firing squad. I was surprised to see how the candidates answered the questions. No, I mean I was in awe to hear what I heard from every single candidate. I'll break it down for you by candidate. I know I'm going to make some candidates mad by posting this but this is what not only I saw but what everyone else in the room saw. So forgive me but your going to have to swallow this lump, not throw a fit and move on with your campaign. Hopefully making the necessary changes to help your campaign and not hurt it anymore.

I'll start from the top of the scoreboard and work my way down.

George "No Wine" Atkins: Mr.Atkins turned down the invitation by EPISO. Probably the smartest candidate of the bunch. Look at the picture above in case your wondering why I put "No Wine". It's a play with words people. Laugh and move on.

Sonia Brown: Answered the first question that dealt with funding Project Arriba in a fiscally responsible manner. Let the fact that she is a Reverend at a church influence her answer about voting booths at churches. She completely went against conservative beliefs when she voted to keep El Paso an immigrant friendly city by not expecting police officers to enforce federal laws. We all know immigrant friendly means keep people in the shadows instead of helping them become legal. She had originally had answered no to supporting the opposition, (kinda confusing supporting the opposition of) of colonias being islands then changed her answer. But I'll get to that a little later. Then like every other candidate said yes to willing to be available to speak to EPISO and that she would serve with integrity, honesty and transparency if she was elected.

Mayela Mejia: This will be short and sweet. I was really disappointed with Mayela. She was a lay-down for EPISO. What do I mean by that? She enthusiastically answered yes to everything. Even to the question that was out of her jurisdiction. I understand that she is a Democrat so its no surprise to hear her answers on some of the questions but come on, how can you say you are going to support a county issue when you(if you would get elected) be a CITY representative. I just don't know about her. Did she not realize her jurisdiction or was she just telling EPISO what they wanted to hear? Both answers would be equally detrimental.

Michiel (Its pronounced Michael) Noe: The Doctor surprised me with his first answer. I had heard he was a little fiscally conservative so when he answered yes to fund Arriba $300,000 I was disappointed considering the city's budget woes. He then said yes to the next two answers and it started to sound like another clean sweep for EPISO. But then he said no to the colonia growth question. He said he would support the opposition, here we go again, as long as no taxes were raised. Now he wants to be fiscally conservative. He repeated it over several times saying he would support the opposition as long as tax payers did not have to pay for it and finished off by saying that EPISO was asking him to serve with integrity, honesty and transparency yet they were asking him to do something illegal.

Eddie Holguin: Said no to funding to Arriba because the city cannot afford it. Pretty fiscally conservative answer. He also answered no to having voting booths put back at churches. He said it would give people an unfair advantage. After attending this "Accountability Session" at a church I can see how he came to that conclusion. He answered yes to preventing police officers from enforcing federal laws. I think laws are laws and law enforcement agents should enforce laws. But that's just me. He answered no to the question dealing with the colonias, considering the colonias are out of the city limits and a City representative has no jurisdiction outside the city limits and then answered yes to the last question like every other candidate.

Zulema Lazarin: Lazarin obviously has been getting very bad advice throughout her campaign and it was very evident at this forum. No really it was literally visable. Nacho Padilla was in the front row sending in signals like a third base coach to her causing her to flip flop her answers and come across as unprepared and lost in some cases. She had to go back and clarify just about every single one of her answers. It is obvious that Nacho Padilla was coaching her because her answers were not even conservative. Padilla is a Democrat and a former elected official. For some reason he thinks he has the experience needed to help someone win an election. He doesn't exactly have a winning track record to back that. Honestly, I think Lazarin needs to make a major change in her strategy because the election is right around the corner and she doesn't have much time.

Jose Gerardo Rosiles: Mr. Rosiles answered yes to all of EPISO's questions but I didn't know that until I got home and replayed the forum on my voice recorder. Rosiles has such a bad accent that I didn't understand most of his answers. I feel bad saying this but Rosiles needs to work on his English. It is great that he immigrated legally to the US and has earned his Ph.D, he is an inspiration to all immigrants, but he needs to be able to communicate clearly with his constituents. I think he just told EPISO what they wanted to hear, but I'm just not sure if they understood him. (Now I'm going to be called a jerk in the morning.)

Handlers had passed out commitment cards to each person that walked in to the meeting. After the first round of questions for the candidates two ladies came on stage and told the congregation in both English and in Spanish: We will now show the candidates our power! Are you going to vote!? Are you going to walk!? Are you going to get at least ten others to vote!? Sign your cards now!  The whole room signed the cards and threw them into these baskets that were being passed around by the handlers. I was in shock. The handlers were  more like guards than ushers. They were there to control the crowd by intimidating them. One of the female handlers put the basket in front of me and bumped me with it to get me to put in my signed card in the basket. First of all I had politely declined to receive a card when I walked in and second I certainly do not respond well to being hit with inanimate objects. The women gave me this intimidating look then I put the voice recorder right to her face then she walked away. To me this was a way of telling the candidates that their members had the power to vote them out of office. But that was just an assumption at this point.

After all the candidates were asked questions Mr.Eloiso Avila, co-chairman of EPISO, came out and told the candidates that the question dealing with the colonias was a "soft" question. He told the panel of candidates that EPISO was not asking them to raise taxes or to do anything else. He told the panel he would give the candidates the chance to change their answer if they wanted. Avila then called out each candidate and told them to reconsider. Eddie Holguin did not even stand up. He nicely said no. Avila attempted to get Holguin to change his mind but Holguin said "my answer is still no." Unfortunately the other candidates who had originally said no fell to the pressure tactics of Avila. Brown, Lazarin and Noe broke under the pressure and allowed Avila to get them to change their answer. It was pretty disappointing. At least Dr. Noe tried to stick to his answer, arguing back and forth with Avila before finally changing his answer.  A church based group coercing candidates to answer a questions to their liking, cornering them on an issue that they have no jurisdiction over and threatening to hold them accountable if they don't keep their promise. It's just sickening. If that wasn't bad enough Avila pointed at the "score board" and told the lynch mob that now they knew where the candidates stood in accordance to EPISO's agenda and urged them all to go tell everyone they talk to where the candidates stood as well. In other words, EPISO co-chairman Eliso Avila told all of his members, that were in a church at the time, to vote according to the score board and to tell their friends to do so as well. The funny thing is that there were signs outside the church telling people that there was no campaigning allowed on church grounds yet church leaders were telling church goers how they should vote. I guess its a do as we say and not as we do kind of thing. This is the kind of things that EPISO has been getting away with for many years yet no one has called them out on it.....until now. I hear Border Interfaith, EPISO's sister organization, is having another accountability session next week. You can count on me being there and taking my video camera this time. Let's see how long these Accountability Sessions last.

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