There is a political adage in El Paso that Republicans do not win elections. To be elected in the city some Republicans run as Democrats “in name only”. In 1998, a Republican governor won the El Paso vote. The Republican was largely helped by “housekeepers” and Segundo Barrio advocates for the candidate. The architect of the Segundo Barrio mobilization was Adair Margo.
In 1998, Adair Margo had no political experience, much less any experience running campaigns. Nonetheless, Margo was selected by George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, to run his reelection campaign in El Paso. In today’s polarized political environment where tribalism divides the nation between Democrats and Republicans, it may surprise many in El Paso that several prominent Democrats supported the Republican candidate. But the biggest surprise may be that for the first time in El Paso, and likely the last time it has happened, is that the Segundo Barrio was instrumental in mobilizing voters for a Republican candidate.
As readers saw in our coverage about Unite El Paso, the three-year program about uniting El Paso and Cd. Juárez as an open border metropolis that was supported by over 1,000 El Pasoans and the El Paso Times. In the end, in addition to bringing free Internet to El Paso, Unite El Paso was successful in launching the political career of Eliot Shapleigh. Working against the Unite El Paso agenda was Silvestre Reyes’ blockade of the border, an operation whose only accomplishment was keeping the Juárez maids and gardeners away from their El Paso jobs. From then, Reyes dominated El Paso’s Democratic Party politics until he was pushed aside by other Democrats supporting candidates like Claudia Ordaz Perez and Veronica Escobar. Reyes has accused Claudia Ordaz Perez of stealing a campaign laptop and Escobar is married to an immigration judge appointed to the bench by the Trump administration that has been deemed one of the worst judges for asylum seekers. As recent elections demonstrate, both Escobar and Ordaz Perez have broad support in El Paso’s Democratic Party today.
The El Paso Republicans can best be described as dysfunctional unable to mount credible election candidates. Today’s El Paso political climate can be traced back to Adair Margo.
For Bush, Adair Margo was his “general” who brought together “dozens of El Paso Democrats to take leadership roles in the campaign for the Republican governorship”.  Although Unite El Paso lasted for several years, by 1996 it had become largely stagnant, after Eliot Shapleigh had been elected. Shapleigh’s co-founder of Unite El Paso was Manny Aldaña (see note 1). Aldaña, described by the El Paso Times as “a life-long Democrat,” was recruited by Margo to help George W. Bush’s second gubernatorial election. Because of her “enthusiasm,” Aldaña believed that Bush “could maybe do something” for El Paso.
While Aldaña – a proponent of open borders – was working with Margo and by extension Bush, Silvestre Reyes, the architect of today’s immigration policy of border blockades was managing Garry Mauro’s campaign against Bush. 
In addition to Aldaña, Bush attracted other Democrats like Chalio Acosta.  But it was not just the Democrats that Margo successfully mobilized. It was the Segundo Barrio that was the key to the Bush grassroots efforts in El Paso. Margo organized Barrio residents to get involved in the Bush campaign. Margo targeted the El Pasoans that El Paso politicians normally avoided.
While El Paso politicians typically targeted the $1,000 or more donors, Margo was using individuals like her housekeeper, Adela Gonzalez. Gonzalez headed Bush’s “housekeepers and new voters” who were raising small amounts in campaign donations. It wasn’t the $10 donations that mattered, but that the donations would translate into votes for the Republican candidate in a community dominated by Democrat voters.
In 1998, El Paso had a voter turnout of 28.26% of the electorate for the General Election. In El Paso, Bush won the El Paso vote with 50.01% (46,025) to Mauro’s 49.30% (45,373). In 2000, George W. Bush received 39.69% (57,554) of the El Paso vote to Al Gores’ 57.80% (83,826).
Up until Bush, no Republican had ever won the gubernatorial race in El Paso.  None have followed.
Bush’s political director at the time was Karl Rove.  Rove was credited for Bush’s two wins as Texas governor and both of Bush’s presidential wins. Rove had this to say about Adair Margo in his 2010 book: “It became fun to visit the city (El Paso) just to see what wild things Adair and her crowd of political first-timers were up to”. 
According to Rove, Adair Margo “opened our headquarters (Bush’s) in a heavily Democratic and Latino neighborhood,” the Segundo Barrio, which was “crowded with volunteers, many of them speaking Spanish” where the atmosphere was dominated by “trays of Tex-Mex pastries, including cookies in colors that don’t appear in nature”.  Rove went on to describe how “Adair’s volunteers even did a CD of pro-Bush songs written and performed by local supporters.” The CD was put in jukeboxes where it was the “only free song” which generated lots of play time. The CD was put in places like the Joker Club, “a bar in a shady part of town”. 
Adair Margo’s campaign for George W. Bush was her first foray into politics in El Paso. Margo is best known for her work in the arts.
Her 1998 foray into politics led to a power struggle within the Republican Party in El Paso. In 2000, as Bush was running for president, Margo tried to be elected by the El Paso Republicans to be part of the upcoming national convention. Margo lost three votes to “party-backed candidates”. 
El Paso’s GOP chairman in 2000, Kenn Carr, was called by a Bush “high-ranking” official telling Sutherland that Bush wanted Adair Margo as one of El Paso’s national delegates to the GOP convention. Although Carr “appealed to the El Paso delegates,” Margo was unable to “muster more than 17 votes among the 68 delegates”. 
The El Paso Republican Party had been taken over by “religions conservatives” around 1990. By 2000, “few of the party’s once-active members” remained active in the El Paso GOP. One of the remaining active members, Roger O’Dell, who was among those elected to go to the convention, wrote in a letter to the delegates that they should not support candidates “who are not even familiar” with the GOP platform. 
O’Dell “warned Margo and her ally, Rick Barraza” to “drop the effort or risk getting embarrassed”. 
Although slighted by El Paso’s GOP, Adair Margo nonetheless went to the Republican National Convention at the invitation of George W. Bush, where Bush officially became the GOP presidential candidate. 
In November 2021, Margo wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the El Paso Inc. and in the El Paso Times. In it, Margo wrote that “since 2016 a falsehood has been spread nationwide about El Paso’s history”. Margo was referring to the controversy over Duranguito and the proposed sports arena. Margo wrote that Duranguito, “three deserted blocks – 70% asphalt – is not the ‘birthplace of El Paso’ and its ‘oldest neighborhood’,”. Margo was arguing that the controversial arena was not eradicating a poor El Paso neighborhood. 
In 2018, then-mayor Dee Margo, proclaimed that the Texas Third Court of Appeal’s ruling authorizing the city to build the sports arena, was a victory for El Paso. Dee Margo is married in Adair Margo.  In 2020, Dee Margo, the incumbent, lost to Oscar Leeser, who was running for another term after retiring for a time. Leeser won 80% to Dee Margo’s 20% of the vote. Leeser is generally accepted as an opponent of the proposed sports arena while Dee Margo publicly supports it.
Adair Margo’s is generally renowned for encouraging the preservation of art in El Paso, namely the art of Tom Lea. Tom Lea III is the son of Tom Calloway Lea, Jr. who, as mayor of El Paso, infamously created bathhouses on El Paso’s border with Cd. Juárez. The El Paso bathhouses is where Mexican immigrants were forcefully made to publicly strip naked – both men and women – to be bathed in dangerous chemicals before being allowed to enter El Paso. It is the elder’s use of chemical bathhouses that has been linked to the Nazi’s use of bathhouses against Jews in World War II.
Adair Margo’s use of Segundo Barrio for George W. Bush, her art promotion and her attempt to support gentrification is another example of how El Paso’s narrative is written by the Anglo minority in the community at the expense of the Mexican-American identity of the city.
Note 1: As we explained in the Unite El Paso article there is inconsistency in how Aldaña’s name is spelled in news media reports. One spelling is without the “ñ” and the other is with the “n”. In the Unite El Paso article we used the “n” for consistency’s sake as that was the most common spelling, however, we felt that the “ñ” was the correct spelling. In this article we will be using the “ñ” as that is how it is used in our source material. However, for the purposes of searching our publication, we ask that you use the “n” to get results for Manny Aldaña.
- Gary Scharrer, “Bush relying on political first-timer,” El Paso Times, April 12, 1988.
- Gary Scharrer, “Delegate position eludes Margo,” El Paso Times, June 18, 2000.
- Gary Scharrer, “Bushes invote Margo to convention,” El Paso Times, July 10, 2000.
- Karl Rove, “Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight,” Simon & Schuster, 2010.
- Adair Margo, “A falsehood has been spread nationwide about El Paso’s history: Adair Margo,” El Paso Times, November 5, 2021.
- Madlin Mekelburg, “Fight over whether proposed El Paso arena can have sports could go to Texas Supreme Court,” El Paso Times, December 1, 2018.
Categories: Segundo Barrio