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El Paso no longer 'poor man of Texas' says its U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke

El Paso is 'no longer the poor man of Texas,' says its Rep. Beto O'Rourke. One example: new Southwest University Park, home of El Paso Chihuahuas, Triple-A minor league baseball team.
El Paso is 'no longer the poor man of Texas,' says its Rep. Beto O'Rourke. One example: new Southwest University Park, home of El Paso Chihuahuas, Triple-A minor league baseball team.
El Paso Chihuahuas' new Southwest University Park. Photo Evan Pierre Aguirre, El Paso Chihuahuas

El Paso is "no longer the poor man of Texas," Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas, 16th District) told visiting journalists May 28.

El Paso is no longer 'poor man of Texas', says its U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Seen here with El Paso mascot 'Amigo Man'
El Paso is no longer 'poor man of Texas', says its U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Seen here with El Paso mascot 'Amigo Man'
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas)

Rep. O'Rourke credited El Paso's thriving revitalization to elected officials' "concerted effort to work together...we realized that it's the only way we're going to get things done."

(May the gridlocked U.S. Congress heed the wise words of this first-term Representative. The Democrat has introduced bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored with New Mexican Republican Steve Pearce, on crucial issues of immigration and U.S.-Mexico border enforcement.)

Meanwhile, back in El Paso, native son O'Rourke said that in all his 41 years, "This's the first time that all local entities -- the Mayor, the State Congress, City Council...are on the same page."

Such working together has resulted in "the community's investing in itself to create a great quality of life". El Paso has passed major bond issues totaling more than half a billion dollars. The most recent is a 2012 Quality of Life bond issue of $470 million. Even in Texas, that's big money.

Self-investment is self-evident everywhere in this vibrant city: the brand new Southwest University Park for El Paso Chihuahuas Triple-A minor league team, a field of dreams built in only 370 days; a planned Multipurpose Cultural and Performing Arts Facility; Hispanic Cultural Center; Children's Museum; upgrades at the El Paso Zoo and at libraries; restorations of the historic San Jacinto Plaza...

El Paso was even selected by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of 100 Resilient Cities around the world. Click here for its milestones.

Rep. O'Rourke terms El Paso "the world's largest binational, bicultural, bilingual city." El Paso's metro area population is about 800,000, and the border city of Juarez, Mexico has about 1.5 million people.

As we walked together to the newly opened Southwest University (Ball) Park, he pointed and said, "See all those houses, mountains -- that's Mexico. El Paso is where two worlds meet."

Rep. O'Rourke mentioned "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez", the opening line of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues".

Not just like, but not unlike Dylan, O'Rourke played bass with the indie rock band Foss. And unlike Foss players like drummer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, who joined The Mars Volta Grammy®-winning band (for Best Hard Rock Performance), O'Rourke chose entrepreneurship, and then politics.

He co-founded an internet company, Stanton Street Technology, and later served two terms on El Paso's City Council before being elected to Congress in 2012.

"Like most El Pasoans back when I graduated high school, I thought, 'I'm outta here; can't get far enough away,'" he said. "But like many Generation Xers, Millennials, and others, I moved back."

He'd fled from El Paso to New York City, where he graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in English literature.

And he sure knows about writers associated with El Paso.

  • Cormac McCarthy ("All the Pretty Horses", "No Country for Old Men"), "wrote some of his best works here," O'Rourke noted.

McCarthy wrote "Suttree" and "Blood Meridian" in El Paso, where he lived for almost two decades. The MacArthur "genius grant recipient" also got the idea for his Pulitzer-winning novel "The Road" in El Paso. While his young son John Francis slept, the author gazed out a window and wondered what El Paso might look like in 50 or 100 years.

McCarthy once termed El Paso "one of the last real cities left in America".

Rep. O'Rourke believes that McCarthy's comment remains true today. "El Paso is authentic, raw. And it's not pretending to be anything else but what it is."

  • Raymond Carver ("What We Talk About When We Talk of Love", "Where I'm Calling From"), got his first teaching job at University of Texas at El Paso. He was dubbed "the American Chekov". Stephen King termed Carver "surely the most influential writer of American short stories in the second half of the 20th century".
  • Author and doctor Abraham Verghese wrote two autobiographical books, "My Own Country" and "The Tennis Partner: A Story of Friendship and Loss", while in El Paso as chief of Texas Tech Medical School's Division of Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Verghese, recipient of the 2014 Heinz Foundation's Arts and Humanities Award, has said, "El Paso remains the landscape of many of my dreams. I suspect it always will."

El Paso remains the landscape of many of Rep. Robert Francis (Beto) O'Rourke's own dreams. He looks like a dreamy version of another Robert Francis, (Bobby) Kennedy.

As Congressman O'Rourke and I reached our destination, "Born to Run" was playing. That could be the El Paso Representative's theme song.

For more info: Rep. Beto O'Rourke, www.orourke.house.gov, 1721 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 202-225-4831. El Paso District Office, 303 N. Oregon Street, Suite 210, El Paso, Texas, 915-541-1400. Destination El Paso, www.destinationelpaso.com, One Civic Center Plaza, El Paso, Texas, 915-534-0600 or 800-351-6024.