In an upset last night, Beto O’Rourke, a former city councilman in El Paso, defeated incumbent Democrat Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary in Texas’ 16th district. O’Rourke just crossed the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. This is a safe Democratic seat for November.
The race in the border district was important, because it was fought in part on the grounds of the drug war and border policy, and the pro-drug war, pro-border militarization candidate lost. O’Rourke supports the legalization of marijuana as a way to deny a profit source to Mexican drug cartels and end violence that can spill over the border. Reyes based much of his attack on O’Rourke over this position, and while O’Rourke never committed to making this a signature policy of his, he stood his ground and defended his stance. It doesn’t mean anything will change right away on the drug war in Washington – O’Rourke is just one politician – but it means that the spectre of drug legalization being always a political loser and harsh drug policy always being a political winner must be reassessed.
Reyes got endorsements from Presidents Obama and Clinton, and even had Clinton in to campaign for him. None of this mattered. O’Rourke got a boost from the “Campaign for Primary Accountability,” a PAC that has been working to oust longtime incumbents this year. It should be noted that O’Rourke was helped out by crossover voters in the open primary.
Matt Stoller writes the epitaph for Reyes’ career:
Reyes, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee and a member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus in Congress (the Predator Drone caucus) is a proponent of militarizing the border and sending in drones to Mexico to kill cartel leaders [...]
There are many reasons to be happy that Reyes lost. He is and was an awful Congressman, both stupid and craven. As Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes did not know the group Hezbollah, and he didn’t know whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shia. Reyes is a proponent of any number of authoritarian policies violating our civil liberties, and he is backed by predator drone cash. So if you like militarizing, well, everything, then Reyes is your man. And this has been the trend recently.
I hope this leads to an actual debate about the role of drug policy in this country, though I’m not hopeful. It’s going to be a slow and agonizing process. Even with Reyes’ loss, drug policy really only has one constituency on Capitol Hill, and that’s the Tough on Crime gang. We need more Beto O’Rourkes to change that.
UPDATE: Ryan Grim has a very good backgrounder on this race.