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FEATURE Gannett’s Man in El Paso El Paso is a Democratic bastion. So why is the only newspaper in town so right-wing? BY JAKE BERNSTEIN Kennedy, Hillary, Jesse Jacksonyou name the personI don’t need anybody as an Hispanic to tell me how to act,” he exclaims. Flores is the editor of the El Paso Times. The newspaper has a monopoly in this West Texas city. It’s the only major daily. In fact, as Flores notes, it’s pretty much the only major newspaper between Lubbock and Albuquerque. The editor is sitting in his corner office in the Times’ downtown building, adroitly parrying accusations he has heard before. For most of Flores’ decade-long tenure, the El Paso Times has been roundly criticized both locally and nationally for being out of step with its border community. The region is home to some of the poorest people in both Mexico and the United States. El Paso itself has an overwhelmingly Latino population and its electorate traditionally votes Democratic. Consequently, El Paso ranks as a net loser from the GOP policies coming out of Austin today. Yet on major issues facing the Texas legislature from budget cuts to redistricting to raising university tuition, the Times’ editorials have consistently sided with the Republican leadership to the detriment of its own community. Flores disagrees with this assessment. He believes that his critics have unfairly targeted him and the Times. “I think part of it is racism because they see an Hispanic getting ahead,” he argues. But criticism of the Times in El Paso is not limited to the “white northeasterners” singled out by Flores. Bashing the Times seems to unite Latinos and Anglos in El Paso. Dissatisfaction with the paper can be found from businessmen, labor leaders, and elected officials. In fact, in a deeply divided El Paso, complaining about the Times seems to be one of the few unifiers. Recently, after yet another Times’ editorial trashing his party on redistricting, a clearly exasperated El Paso Democratic Rep. Paul Moreno had had enough. In a letter to the paper in August, Moreno wrote: “Once again … the El Paso Times’ Editorial Board distinguished itself by being out of touch with the rest of the State of Texas.” Never has Moreno’s contention been truer than during the recently concluded legislative marathon in Austin. It began with the budget. On January 13, the Times ran an editorial titled “Tough Times in Texas” with a subhead that read, “Legislators must focus on fiscal responsibility.” In the editorial, the paper provided a cheer chorus to Gov. Rick Perry’s charge to cut spending without raising taxes. El Paso was one of the few, if not the only, newspaper in the state that actively editorialized for increased budget cuts. Contrast the Times position with a newspaper hardly known as a hotbed of liberal radicalism, the Dallas Morning News. The day after the Times editorial, the News ran one that read: “GOP leaders say they can fix the deficit without a tax hike. They’re wrong. They should act sensibly now to avoid a larger tax bite later:’ The Times continued to editorialize against a fictitious flabby government throughout January. On the 24th, the paper ran an editorial that read in part: “Lawmakers should make focusing on cleaning up waste, mismanagement and incompetence in state agencies a priorityand before trying to stick Texans with any new taxes or sneaky expansions of taxes that are already in place:’ In the spring, the Times took up the drumbeat for tort reform, parroting Republican arguments with editorials like the one on March 20th: “Tort reform needed: Doctors are leaving Texas in alarming numbers:’ But it wasn’t until congressional redistricting rolled around that Flores and the editorialists at the Times really let go. Their opinion pieces on redistricting contradicted every major newspaper in Texas, as well as most popular opinion. The paper made its mark in editorials like “Texas-size walk”Let the games stop; Texans falling victims of politics” \(August Besides the rank partisanship of the Times’ editorials, what is particularly noteworthy is their tone. Generally, major newspaper editorials try for a posture that is serious and sober, and that presents an elevated perspectiveregardless of ideology. The El Paso Times cast the redistricting battle as some kind of playground fight, and the paper was happy to dive right in, tossing insults. In various editorials, it described Democrats and their actions as “reprehensible,” “frightened,” “ill-advised,” “[a] classic sour-grapes reaction,” and “counterproductive:’ Several editorials pushed the idea that Democrats were deliberately harming their own constituents. The August 5th editorial that sent Moreno over the edge provided a taste of the editor’s schoolyard discourse: “Rather 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 10/24/03