Covid-19

Dueling Government

El Pasoans are waking up to the reality that El Paso is amid an intra-governmental battle that leaves El Pasoans wondering what to do and what to believe. This is only days before Election Day. El Paso Politics broke the news early yesterday that County Judge Ricardo Samaniego was going to issue a closure order for El Paso at 5:00 p.m. He did that. What transpired leading up to the closure order and what El Pasoans are waking up to today is a broken government and a lack of leadership, only days before the electorate casts votes for a new mayor.

The El Paso Politics received credible information in the morning that Samaniego was going to close El Paso down due to the rising cases of the Covid-19 pandemic. After receiving a second confirmation from an unrelated party we decided to publish the breaking news alert, although no one would go on the record. As of this morning we are still waiting to receive a response to our request for a comment from the County Judge.

Our efforts to get confirmation were met by official silence. However, we did hear rumors of a disconnect between the city and county governments. The County was going it alone while the City was resisting every effort at a shutdown. Soon after we broke the news, Dee Margo cancelled his 1:00 p.m. previously scheduled news conference. El Paso Politics was told that Ricardo Samaniego was “not returning phone calls.”

During Samaniego’s press conference yesterday announcing the closure order, he made every effort to suggest that the City and the County were in “lockstep” with the order. However, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, a former County Judge, made the statement during the virtual press conference that the City was “not present” for the closure announcement.

The El Paso Politics heard from several sources that Margo was “furious” at Samaniego’s order.

The City of El Paso refused to answer questions about the order from several news outlets.

Close to midnight, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement via Twitter that “El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County.” The AG tweet added that the attorney general’s office was “quickly exploring all legal actions.”

The Texas Attorney General’s tweet was in response to a letter sent by Dee Margo to the Texas General’s office. In the letter, Mago refers to the Texas governor’s state of disaster declaration and Margo’s own disaster declaration.

Margo’s letter asks for an opinion “to resolve inconsistencies between Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-2 and the El Paso County Judge’s Emergency Orders regarding the closure of all non-essential businesses.”

The Texas Attorney General responded later in the night that Samaniego’s closure order “exceeds the county’s lawful authority and creates potentially dangerous situations for enforcement.” The Texas Attorney’s letter states that the AG’s office concludes that Samaniego’s order is “unlawful.”

The Texas Attorney General’s letter closes with “we have advised El Paso County Judge Samaneigo to immediately rescind or revise his order to make it consistent” with the governor’s order.

During Samaniego’s virtual press conference, he stated that he believed the County was in “sound legal standing.”

However, the dueling orders from the County and City not only creates an enforcement hurdle but El Pasoans are left wondering which order to follow.

Shortly after the order was made public yesterday, the El Paso Politics reached out to several business owners asking if they will follow the closure order today. Many were not sure what they were going to do.

Ray Adauto, Executive Vice President of the El Paso Builder’s Association told the El Paso Politics late last night that the association’s membership are deemed “essential” and thus employees will report to work.

It remains unclear this morning if Samaniego’s closure order is enforceable and whether El Pasoans will comply.

As this is a developing story, the El Paso Politics will continue to monitor the situation and will update the article, as necessary.

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