Immigration at the border in El Paso (Bonus)

David Stout is a county commissioner in El Paso, Texas. The only crisis he sees at his border is a humanitarian crisis. Every day he deals with migrant issues and regularly visits his migrant processing center and talks with migrants and hears their stories. It’s an eye-opening conversation with someone on the front lines of the immigration situation. Just listen.


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David Stout: Migrants are a boon to our economy. They are culturally rich. they they, you know, keep this economy running. We’re planting the seeds for, I think the future of our economy in El Paso, which is an aerospace engineering, sector. I don’t know if I’m the most recognizable face, but, you know, I do have a lot of constituents who say, hey, I saw you on TV the other day, and I apologize to them for having to see my ugly mug on their television screen.

I think that people will respect you much more deeply if you sit down and talk to them. communication is so important because for me, it’s one community. I mean, the only thing that’s that’s dividing us is the river in the wall. people live in El Paso and work in Juarez and vice versa. And it’s one big community.

David Martin: Welcome to the good government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. Let’s get into it. Immigration a current hot topic. It’s helping shape the presidential election. And it’s a huge political football. It’s also a huge divide between what Republicans see as solutions and what the Democrats want to do. But both sides agree it’s an issue that needs attention. I just no one can agree on what to do.

Most of us well, we don’t really deal with immigration issues directly. We watch. We’ll be watching. We read what we read. But just recently at the National Association of Counties conference in Washington, I got to sit down with David Stout. He’s a county commissioner in El Paso County, Texas. El Paso, a county in a city, is right on the Us-Mexican border.

He says the crisis at the border is mainly a humanitarian crisis, but it’s not the crisis some claim it to be. He says El Paso, at least, is not overrun. And he talks about how Paso was able to take in migrants. And he checks on the number of migrants coming in. Just during our conversation, a former television news reporter who’s been a county commissioner for ten years and serves as Naco chairman of the Immigration Reform Task Force.

So he has insight into the immigration issue and what he says is important. But we talk about other issues in El Paso, too. And of course, we talk about where to get excellent Tex-Mex food. So join me in my conversation with El Paso County Commissioner David Stout.

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Welcome, David Stout. You are a county commissioner in El Paso county El Paso, Texas. Welcome to the Good Government show.

David Stout: Glad to be here. Thank you.

David Martin: Really interested in talking with you. You are from, I would say, one of the hot spots in the nation right now. certainly an area that’s getting a lot of news interest. you’re right on the on the Mexican border.

David Stout: Yep. We’re in the middle of it.

David Martin: What’s going.

David Stout: On? you know, we are a community that has for thousands of years. It’s an area that for thousands of years has seen people traverse, come through there. That’s why it’s called El Paso del Norte. It’s named after. It’s it’s a Spanish. The pass through the north.

David Martin: Okay.

David Stout: you know, so you had indigenous peoples, going through there for thousands of years. Of course, when the Spanish came, they came through there. and, you know, it’s, it’s the migration issue is not something that is new to that area, right? This is, another iteration of of, of migration. And, you know, paso is a very, I think, pro-immigrant community.

Almost 30% of our population is foreign born. 88% is Hispanic. most mostly Mexican, descent. And, you know, we our community is very compassionate as well. So we are happy to, receive folks into our community. We understand the plight of the immigrants. We understand, you know, why they’re coming. we understand the need for them to come to our country as well, right?

And, we’re happy to help them on their. On their way, on their journey to their final destination.

David Martin: As as has happened since.

David Stout: The beginning.

David Martin: The war of independence. the Alamo, I mean, they we’ve had people that have come over into the United States for a whole range of reasons. Yes. That’s right.

David Stout: That’s right. you know, we.

David Martin: I mean, you see the evening news and you read the papers and you read comments from from different people. Is it a fair reflection of what’s going on?

David Stout: I would say no. You know, you go to downtown El Paso today. you would not have any idea. You wouldn’t see chaos. You wouldn’t see, you know, any lack of order or, you know, the crisis that a lot of people talk about. I mean, if you want to call it a crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis. And we obviously need help with that because our local taxpayers, we’re we’re not a tax rich community.

And so it’s important for us to be able to partner with the federal government. And we would we would hope the state government, but they are not helping us, unfortunately. to to try to take care of this situation. But, you know, like I said, you go to downtown El Paso and, if you haven’t been watching the news and you have no idea, you know, ever heard of this migration situation, you wouldn’t you wouldn’t notice.

It’s not any different than any other downtown across the country, you know, it’s not overrun. There is no invasion. and that type of rhetoric is, is just disgusting. It’s the type of rhetoric that, provokes, a man from the Dallas area to come to my community in 2019 and open fire in a Walmart in my district.

Right. Killing, 23 people, injuring another, you know, a couple dozen of folks.

David Martin: We were county commissioner then.

David Stout: I was a county commissioner.

David Martin: How did you how do you manage a crisis like that?

David Stout: Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s just very difficult. It’s just very difficult, you know, there was definitely chaos then, when when when that guy.

David Martin: You’ve got several issues there, you’ve got clearly racism. You have a media horde that just has on the other place, as you know. and then the fallout from the, the victims and the victims, you know, the ripple effect on all those.

David Stout: Yeah. I mean, it’s.

David Martin: A lot to deal.

David Stout: With. It is a lot to deal with. And, you know, our community still hasn’t healed completely from, you know, from that, from that situation where, you know, we’re working on it, but it’s it’s really hard to heal when we keep having people like to governor of the state of Texas, for example, talking about killing migrants himself. Right.

Like he was on the news a couple of weeks ago saying the only thing that we haven’t done to try to keep migrants out is shoot them. And the reason why we’re not shooting them is because a Biden administration would would charge us with murder that is just discussing. And that’s, you know, that that that keeps that that wound open and just keeps throwing salt into into that wound that we have in El Paso.

And, you know, I think, I think we need to denounce that type of rhetoric, at every, at every stop. migrants are a boon to our economy. They are culturally rich. they they, you know, keep this economy running. And, you know, I here at Naco, I serve as the as the chair of the immigration Reform task force, okay.

And I have members who are from urban and rural counties, the Republicans, and they’re Democrats. But I think almost everybody in that room when we have meetings agrees with the fact that, our immigration system is broken. We need migrants to come and work in our fields, to build our houses and our buildings, to serve us in our hotels.

And we are doing a terrible job as a country of of, you know, realizing that fact and and making it easier for people to come here legally.

David Martin: I know in New York City, without migrants, we would never get another meal at another restaurant.

David Stout: Exactly.

David Martin: Yeah. Have you done anything proactive in El Paso to address the issue on a local level?

David Stout: Yeah. For sure. You know, we we, have always, I think, been very, very involved in trying to serve this population. again, we want to make sure that they’re safe. just as, just as well as we like to make sure that, our, our community is, is safe. you know, we are processing migrants. We have a processing center that we have set up.

We can process up to 1200 folks a day.

David Martin: You have your own processing center?

David Stout: Yes. The county is separate.

David Martin: From whatever the federal government is doing. Yep. Yep. Okay.

David Stout: Yeah. So, so the federal government will, will, pick people up or they will, take them when they come across the border. When they encounter them, the they will pick them up. They will process them, themselves. Many of them are, asylum seekers. And so they will give them a temporary parole. They’ll be allowed to be in the country, and then they will hand them over to us, and we will.

The first thing we tell them is, you are no longer in detention. Welcome to the United States.

David Martin: And does that matter?

David Stout: I think it does matter. I think it does, because these people, have gone through terrible, terrible situations. I mean, I don’t think most people in the United States, unless you’re an immigrant yourself and have gone through that yourself. I mean, we can’t even imagine what they what they’ve gone through. You know, the the, the, societal issues, the economic issues, you know, the threat of, of, violence and, and death when it comes to organized crime that you have in especially in Latin America.

and then the track, you know, they’re crossing thousands of miles to, to come to the United States. You know, I, I heard something recently that just really, really was, you know, stunning, overwhelmed me. and, you know, I was told that, you know, the, the there’s an area between Colombia and Panama called the Darién Gap. It’s very treacherous, I think 16 or 20 mile stretch of of jungle, that most of these folks that are coming from South America have to cross through to be able to get into Central America.

And, I think I think the, the number was, 80% of the women are sexually assaulted. 80% of the women that go through that area are sexually assaulted in that area. And and they know that they run the risk of being sexually assaulted in the situation that they are living in, in their country is so terrible that they’re willing to risk, being sexually assaulted to come to the United States.

That’s harrowing. You know, that’s a harrowing fact that that is, one of the saddest things that I’ve, that I’ve heard and then, you know, and then they get here and many times they’re demonized, they’re criminalized, they’re taken advantage of. We’re taking advantage of all the way on the way, you know, they they pay ten, 12, $14,000 each to the coyotes for them to cross.

Right. you know, we we in the United States, every time we deport somebody back to Mexico, we’re just putting them back into the hands of the organized criminals. And, you know, they they continue to make millions of dollars off of it. So these migrants.

David Martin: Minimum wage at a hotel and and any room.

David Stout: And be treated like trash sometimes. Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s, it’s it’s pretty terrible. And you know.

David Martin: You’re in El Paso, you’re in Texas, you’re on the border. What would you like? People, you know, way away from the border to know about what’s going on at the border? Well, I’m with these people. Yeah.

David Stout: I mean, first of all, I want people to remember that they are people, right? These these individuals that are coming across are human beings. There’s somebody’s mother, somebody’s brother, sister, son. They are human beings. And and, they have gone through hell to get here. and, you know, the least we can do is, I think, try to try to help them on their way.

It’s quite obvious that they’re coming here for a reason. It’s because there are jobs available. Because there’s opportunity here, you know, and guys, if I it’s it’s really strange to me that we, we concentrate so much on the migrant and we, we demonize the migrants. But what about the, the businesses and the employers who are the ones that are giving them the work?

You know, we never talk about that. We never say, hey, what? You know, what are you all doing to try to, to deal with this issue? Right. and we just have it’s there’s just a huge mismatch between the reality of the situation of these folks that are coming, the reality in the United States and the need that we have for migrants.

And then our very, very restrictive immigration, system, you know, we we could we could easily give these, you know, if, if, you know, in, in, 20, 22, you know, if there were, you know, 250,000 migrants that came across the border, we could give 250,000 migrants a visa to come legally. And I guarantee you they would.

They would not have to risk their lives to swim across a river, or run across a desert, or climb a huge wall and fall off and maim themselves. They wouldn’t have to risk any of that. They would. They would love to be able to come in in an orderly and safe fashion. just like I would love to, for them to come in in an orderly and safe fashion.

David Martin: you speak Spanish? Have you talked to these folks? And what? What do they say to you? What do you what’s the conversation I.

David Stout: Have, you know, I talk to them. I talk to them quite often. and it’s.

David Martin: Suruchi.

David Stout: Their normal. They’re normal people. Yeah. The the process, the processing center. Yeah. We. Yeah. I do go to the processing center. I’ll go down to one of the shelters that we have that’s, at a church, right down on the border, just a couple of blocks from the international port of entry. yeah.

And, well, and I will talk to them. And they’re normal people. They have stories and. Right. You know, they they they want to, make a life for themselves. They, they want to be successful. They want to, it’s, you know, they’re obviously here escaping many, many hardships. And but they’re very optimistic. They’re so resilient. you know, even though they’ve gone through all of this, you know, this heartbreaking, you know, some of these stories are heartbreaking, but they’re just amazing, amazing individuals.

David Martin: You said you had a separate, processing facility, that the county maintains. how many people pass through?

David Stout: it depends. You know, right now, I think we’re processing between 100 and 200 people a day. we have capacity up to 1200. I think the most that we’ve gotten up to is about 8 or 901 day.

David Martin: So you have not reached capacity?

David Stout: No, we have not.

David Martin: And this is separate from the number of 5000 that’s been thrown around recently.

David Stout: Yeah. Well, I mean, I mean conversation.

David Martin: Yeah.

David Stout: That number 5000. I mean, we there was there’s been point in point in time where we’ve had 5003 days or less. You know, we’ve had 1200 or 1300 people that we’ve been given, a day. this is, you know, they’re they are we have we have shelters as well. We have about 600 beds that we that we contract out with some of the local, nonprofits in homeless, homeless shelters and so we can process up to 1200 people a day.

We can shelter up to 600. The city of El Paso is also involved in this. So we’re working together. The city, the county, the federal government, and the in the NGO system that we have in El Paso, they are the ones that are really holding, you know, as.

David Martin: The federal.

David Stout: Carrying the water because the federal government is is doing a great job in collaborating with us. This administration, the prior administration.

David Martin: Not so.

David Stout: Much did not they would not, you know, they would not talk to us. That is when you saw, you know, some, some issues, some crisis because, you know, I think it was in December of 2018, almost Christmas time and the Border Patrol without any notice. dumped about 200 migrants, in our downtown at the bus station.

And, you know, it was freezing cold outside. They had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go inside the bus station. And and we all had to we all had to jump into into action to try to get them sheltered and taking care of, it’s, you know, night and day when it comes to the reaction of this administration as, as compared to the last, the past administration, you know, they’ve helped us, with reimbursement for, a lot of the expenditures that we’ve been making for the for the processing and sheltering and transportation of these folks.

you know, we we’ve received.

David Martin: Say to the argument that there’s too many, we can’t take all these people. They are there are certainly, undesirable elements that are within this group of people who are crossing the border. What’s your what’s your what’s your response to that?

David Stout: Well, I mean, I think we’ve I think we’ve had again, cyclical ups and downs when it comes to migration. You know, there’s their insistence in the past where we had hundreds of thousands of people coming in. And back then people complained and said, oh, we can’t, we can’t take them. There’s too many. And guess what? Here we are, and we’re better off for it.

you know, and, and so.

David Martin: is there anything else, is there anything else, is there anything else that you’re doing at the county level to help this problem or this challenge that you have?

David Stout: Well, yeah, I mean, being involved with Naco, running the immigration reform task force, right.

David Martin: We’re getting what it’s what’s the what’s the task force putting forward? What are the resolutions? Yeah.

David Stout: Yeah, yeah. So we we passed the resolution in a in two committees, during this conference to ask Congress to codify the, the, the funding, the funding stream that we’re getting from FEMA. That’s that’s the, shelter and Services program. that’s been very helpful. I think in El Paso, we’ve been able to draw down close to $20 million to help us pay for, for the work that we’re doing with the migrants.

But, you know, it’s advocating, you know, with the Texas Border Coalition, I’m also the chair of the Texas Border Coalition. I think I said that earlier, but, you know, we we spent a lot of time in Austin, and we also spend some time here in D.C., talking to talking to legislators about, passing immigration reform, about, trying to look at the root causes of migration.

If you really want to stop migration, this deterrence and enforcement only, type policy is, is not the way to go. I mean, we’ve we’ve increased the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 20,000, you know, in the last number of years. And the right always loves to tout the fact that, you know, we’re starting we’ve seen in the last two years the largest number of migrant encounters.

And, and it seems to me that, you know, if the last 20 or 30 years, all we’ve been doing is putting up walls, putting more militarization on the border, and not really looking at the the root causes of migration. Why people are coming, and not doing anything to reform our, our system to allow, easier passage or for them to come in and a legal form, a legal manner.

all we’ve been doing is this deterrence, and it ain’t working. Yeah. I mean, it’s not working because if we have the largest number of migrant encounters after having spent all of that, not just the federal government, but the state government has wasted billions of dollars. Governor Abbott, with his operation Lone Star over the last number of years, is wasted, probably 8 to $10 billion, on border enforcement and to to and what is the result?

David Martin: It’s, podcast, but those are air quotes rather. Yeah. are you have you looked at or have you explored the idea of increasing foreign aid to Central and South American countries to, increase security there, increase farming methods there, increase manufacturing?

David Stout: Those are those are all things that we have to look at. That’s exactly what I was talking about, looking at the root causes, you know, some of the decisions that the United States has made with its foreign policy and in past decades, have have contributed directly to the to the destruction of the social fabric in some of these countries.

And I think it’s incumbent upon us to help repair that social fabric. and, and, you know, make sure that, that we, that we provide assistance so that these folks have jobs so that they can they can subsist and they can thrive, if they want to stay in their, in their home countries.

David Martin: if we have anyone who is, how should we say this? A supporter of Governor Abbott of Texas still listing. I’ll be surprised from a bone. I mean, where do you where where where do you come together in any of this?

David Stout: you know, it’s it’s difficult. It’s really difficult.

David Martin: You’re supposed to be helpful there.

David Stout: It’s difficult. Yeah, I know, I, I don’t know if I’m going to be helpful with that question. Okay. you know, I, I really wish that, the Governor Abbott would, instead of spending, you know, $8 billion more on.

David Martin: Not just Governor Bush, but like I said, there are there’s there is an argument to be made that, a lot of the wrong people. There’s too many. it’s been going on too long. you know, taking jobs. We don’t have the space for them. We don’t have a housing for them. We have the medical care for them.

David Stout: Well, we definitely we definitely would have all that. If they were able to work legally. They would, you know, they’re they’re all paying taxes. So, you know, I think that, you know, some of that argument, it doesn’t matter if you’re, I mean, unless you’re living in a tent under a bridge somewhere, you’re paying property taxes, whether it’s, directly or indirectly, every time that somebody consumes something that our purchase is something for consumption.

They’re paying sales tax. A lot of these folks, do work, with, with, Social Security numbers that do not belong to them or that are, that are right, that are, fake, I guess, but they’re still paying into they’re paying Medicaid, they’re paying Medicare, they’re paying Social Security, they’re paying federal income taxes. And they are not getting them back.

Right. So so these these funds continue to, to, to grow, and, again, they’re a boon for our economy. And, and and so, you know, the argument that that, we can’t take them, it’s their, it’s not in my opinion, it doesn’t hold water, you know, okay, doesn’t hold water. And we need to have comprehensive reform. We need to, you know, we need to put the folks that are here on a path to legalization.

We need to allow the DACA recipients to be, to become residents and citizens. And we need to offer, a huge amount more of work visas for all levels. You know, not just quote unquote skilled laborers. Know I don’t like to use the word unskilled labor because I think that, you know, I definitely couldn’t get on top of a roof and and nail shingles onto wood.

That’s not a skill that I, that I have. There are other people that do, and that is a skill. So, you know, it’s it’s just, I think I think it’s, I think it’s easier than, than than a lot of people, let on that there’s, there’s just a couple of things that we could do, that would, that would help this situation.

And, we would, you know, we keep hearing about, you know, the cartels and you know, how dangerous they are. And, yes, they’re dangerous, but we are fomenting their business. We are supporting their business every time we deport somebody back to Mexico. you know, and I do have to say that we need to stay away from conflating immigration with with drug trade.

Okay? It’s not the same thing. according to CBP, you look at those at Cbp’s website, and, and I think you can find numbers of Customs and Border Protection, under the Department of Homeland Security. they’re the ones that they’re the ones that, run the run. The ports of entry are bridges. More than 90% of the illegal drugs that are coming into United States are coming across the ports of entry, and they’re coming with U.S. citizens.

David Martin: Okay.

David Stout: I repeat that. US citizens, there are a lot of people like Greg Abbott, that that like to talk about migrants and sentinel in the same sentence. And that is not true. And it’s not fair. drugs are not coming across on the backs of migrants. They’re coming across on the backs of U.S. citizens who are being paid by the cartels to cross them at the ports of entry.

You know, and 90% of the drugs do that. And I think probably the other 10% is interdicted on our highways and vehicles and trucks, which also came across the probably came across the port of entry right now. yeah. Not these folks that are risking their lives running across the the, the desert or swimming across the river to get here.

So that’s something that we need to we need to make sure that everybody understands.

David Martin: Well, I hope they kept listing. I don’t think I, I.

David Stout: Hope, I hope so.

David Martin: Other than that, what else is going on in El Paso? What what are you what are the projects you’re working on?

David Stout: Well, you know,

David Martin: Give me some good government that has nothing to do with immigration.

David Stout: Yeah. You know, counties in the state of Texas have a lot to do with health care. Mental health care. you know, we’ve we’ve we’ve got a really great, hospital system, our hospital district in El Paso County. We’re hoping to go out to bond here in the next year or two to expand our services. you know, we we built a children’s hospital, a number of years ago with, with bond funding and, you know, 80% of the people, 80% of the kids who had to leave El Paso County to receive their health care, now can stay in El Paso and get it there.

So we’re we’re making, I think, important strides in that area. when it comes to economic development, I’m really proud of, a partnership that the county has with the University of Texas. in El Paso. We have their aerospace engineering faculty out at our a small airport that we that we own in the eastern part of the county.

But this is this is, we’re planting the seeds for, I think the future of our economy in El Paso, which is the aerospace engineering, sector. we just got a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation, to work on that. We just we also got a $40 million grant last year from, the Biden administration, for advanced manufacturing.

and so we’re creating some great partnerships within our community to, prepare, an educated workforce to be able to take part in this, and these industries. And so that’s something that I’m very, very excited about for the future.

David Martin: Well, that all sounds like good government. So that’s good to hear. This is the good government show. And we do have a good government show questionnaire. All right. So we are going to now get to the heart of your philosophy of government and why you do what you do. How long have you been county commissioner.

David Stout: I mean, my 10th year and my third.

David Martin: Year term define good government. Ten years in.

David Stout: Well, it’s hard to achieve good government, right?

David Martin: I think.

David Stout: Okay. I think that, it’s been one of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve had, but also one of the most challenging. I believe that good government is a government that is, reflective in, of its, of its constituency and is that is responsive to its constituency and, and, makes sure that that we, are efficient and try to give folks as much bang for their buck.

We take we we have to take care of their, their money and, and use it wisely.

David Martin: Obviously, you’ve been reelected more than once, other than the ballot box on a Friday afternoon when you, you know, close up the shop for the day, for the week. How do you know if you’ve done a good job?

David Stout: that’s a that’s a good question to, you know, I feel like a lot of times, we, we people reach out to us when we’re not doing a good job.

David Martin: Yep.

David Stout: And and, so that that can be an indicator. Right? If you have a lot of people that are calling that are upset with you, obviously you can’t make everybody happy. No. So you, you know, we we make tough decisions and that’s why we get put in these, these positions to make those tough decisions. And I think, I think if I can go to sleep on Friday night, then that means, I did a good job.

David Martin: Okay. All right, all right. So rest if I’m able to rest. Yeah. That’s it. There. Think of all the things I did do and and how should people hold you accountable? I mean, other than the ballot box?

David Stout: Oh, yeah. I mean, they come to the commissioners court meetings, come speak at public and during public comment. you know, obviously I’m out in the community. I’m not in my district. it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing with people. I’m happy to have them come up to me. I’m happy to go up to them and talk to them.

And if they have an issue, we can we can, we can hash it out. We can talk it out. We can discuss it.

David Martin: You told me before you went into county government, you were a a television reporter. Does everyone know you? Are you, like, the most recognizable face and I don’t know.

David Stout: If I’m the most recognizable face, but, you know, I do have a lot of constituents who say, hey, yeah, I saw you on TV the other day, and I apologize to them for having to see my ugly mug on their television screen. But I think that’s that’s also something that’s very important is is being available to the media.

David Martin: Okay.

David Stout: I think I have a good relationship with the media in El Paso, having been in that, having been in the media in the past, you know, I will, you know, I will never close my door to to the media. I know sometimes they’re going to ask questions that we may not like or, or that are hard to answer.

David Martin: They’re much better.

David Stout: But we have to be. We have to be available to them. And we have to make sure that that that, that we’re transparent. Transparency is really important in government.

David Martin: There must be times when, as a county commissioner, you in your mind, you say, I do not want to talk to the press. What? There’s no way. And then the reporter you goes, yeah, but.

David Stout: I have.

David Martin: No idea I’d be there banging on my door if I was that guy. Yes. That happens.

David Stout: Yeah, I.

David Martin: I what do you do.

David Stout: You go with the flow road the punches, you know, suck.

David Martin: It up and open your door.

David Stout: Exactly. You have to you have to. And, you know, I think that, I think that people will respect you much more deeply if you sit down and talk to them. Yeah. Communication is so important.

David Martin: Have you ever said no comment?

David Stout: I have not all right. No, I have not.

David Martin: No. All right. If people feel like you’re not doing the right thing or the commission’s not doing the right thing, or they’re they don’t like what they’re getting out of government. What would you like them to do?

David Stout: They have to reach out to us. They have to call us. They have to write to us. They have to send us emails. I try to be out in the in my district a lot. I have community meetings, you know, on a monthly basis. I go to other community meetings, I go to neighborhood association meetings. but, you know, it’s it’s important people, need to let us know how they feel.

And, you know, I, I wish that I could, you know, spend most of my days just going and knocking on people’s doors and sitting down with them and talking to them about what their needs are. but I just don’t have enough time in the day to do that. Right. And wait till election season. I mean, we we do do it during election season.

That’s right. but, it’s, it’s just so important for us to understand how how people are feeling, and, and we we may disagree on things, but I feel like the rapport that you create with people by communicating with them, wins a lot of battles for you, even even as people are not happy with some of the decisions that you’re making.

David Martin: You were a reporter on the outside and now you’re a county commissioner on the inside. What would you like people to know about government? Or or better yet, what’s the thing that you saw once you started working in government that made you say, oh, I see why they do some of the things they did. Yeah. did that happen?

David Stout: you know, I it probably it probably did at some point. You know, I think what as a reporter and I think as, you know, just a layperson, so to speak, I always wondered what was going on behind closed doors when we were having when people when, when the county commissioners court was having their executive session.

Right, right. because I always wanted there to be transparency and, and, you know, getting into the government and being behind that closed door, I understand, I think a little bit a little bit better why it’s necessary. Right. There are legal issues that we have to discuss and that if we discussed in an open session, could put us in an adverse, position, or it could put us in a difficult position.

And and at the end of the day, it’s for the benefit of the taxpayer, because sometimes their money is on the line when we’re, you know, discussing, discussing different legal, legal issues. you know, we’re, for example, we’re suing the state of Texas for, this new law that they passed called SB for the criminalizes with with state with state crimes, undocumented people.

and obviously, we we don’t want to have discussions in an open session, about our legal strategy when it comes to, to that case. Right. So it’s difficult sometimes because because I want to be as transparent as possible. But, sometimes we we have to we have to, do what’s best for the, for the, for the taxpayers and, and, have those, have those executive sessions.

David Martin: Sometimes we just need to have a talk about ourselves.

David Stout: Yeah. I mean, we just we just don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where, you know, it’s, it’s going to be detrimental to our community.

David Martin: I can see that. Who’s your political hero, anyway? Inspire you to do this?

David Stout: Well, you know, my, my my former employer, I worked for a state senator for for almost four years before I ran for office. I was working for Univision, and, and I, you know, covered local government, and I covered some state government. He had just gotten elected to to the Senate and was coming back from his first legislative session.

And so I, you know, got to talk to him. And, he, he was kind enough to to offer me a job in his office as a, you know, bilingual communications person and and doing binational affairs as well. And I would say he’s definitely, up there. You know, his name is Jose Rodriguez. He was a county attorney for 20 years, and he just retired as a state senator, but has a great story.

He’s from he’s from, the Rio Grande Valley close to McAllen. Alice, Texas. you know, he, I believe, was the first in his family to to go to college. He and his parents were, his parents were migrant farm workers. He was actually born in the United States. But, you know, they would, spend many summers.

And he would actually miss school to go with his family, to work on the fields in California and Nevada and Idaho. and, you know, he tells a story, a, of a teacher who told him, okay, if you’re going to miss school, at least take these books with you and read them while you’re on the road so that you continue to, to absorb information.

and, you know, he ended up going to law school here at George Washington University and, you know, he he started up a legal aid program with his wife in El Paso, Texas. and just an outstanding person, an outstanding elected official. I don’t think that I would have worked for another elected official. You know, having been in TV.

Right? I wasn’t too fond of many elected officials,

David Martin: As we often are. Right?

David Stout: Right.

David Martin: Were you did you ever watch them go? I could do better than that.

David Stout: well, that’s why that’s kind of why I ended up running. You know, the the guy that, that was in the position that I have now, he was doing a terrible job, and, you know, just antagonistic to a lot of the good things that others on the commissioners court were trying to do. And it wasn’t that he was being antagonistic with any, like, research or data backed argument.

It was just, you know, because he wanted to be antagonistic. And he, he, I didn’t no value, in my opinion to the conversation either. And as I was working for Senator Rodriguez, you know, I had gotten involved in the Democratic Party as I could not do as a, as a journalist, as you know, and, became a precinct chair.

I started working on some, some campaigns, I helped volunteer on a number of campaigns. I volunteered on Beto O’Rourke scam, congressional campaign, of course, my boss’s campaign and some other folks. And I just started noticing that, first of all, young people weren’t voting in El Paso County. It’s still the case. We’re trying to change that.

You know, I was happy to to help start up a student voter initiative, through the senator’s office with some of my colleagues there, where we go to the high schools and, and make sure kids are getting registered to vote. And we talked to them about the importance of voting. but but, you know, I just didn’t see, people my age reflected in the leadership in my community.

And, you know, again, I thought this guy was in a trouble job, and I tried to recruit somebody in the beginning to run against him. Yeah. but I, you know, I couldn’t find anybody that wanted to do it. And so one night, I was laying in bed, and then I thought, well, maybe I should do it.

And I went and talked to the senator, and he said, yeah, you know what? you’re right. This guy is not doing a good job. I think you’d be great.

David Martin: Did prior to this, did you ever envision running for office?

David Stout: Never. Never? No, I never envisioned working in and before an elected official. Okay. Much less running for office. You know, I thought I was going to I thought I was going to be in El Paso for about 2 or 3 years, right. And then move to a larger market.

David Martin: Yeah.

David Stout: and I thought by this time I would, I would you.

David Martin: Want to be Walter Cronkite? Not, I.

David Stout: Would be, I would, I would be a, you know, a correspondent or something like that. You know, I really thought that I wanted to work in Latin America as a journalist. Okay. you know, I speak Spanish and I speak Portuguese, and so I thought that that was my, my career path at that point in time. but things just worked out, and and here we are.

And, I mean, I’ve been in El Paso for 14 years, been in office for, for almost ten. but yes, Senator Jose Rodriguez is is definitely my political hero. and it’s not just because he gave me a job, but he really taught me.

David Martin: Okay, that was the to ask questions ago how.

David Stout: To do it. Yes. How to do things. How to how to how to be accountable, how to be responsive, how to how to deal with people. And, you know, just be honest and and straightforward and.

David Martin: And work hard since you’ve been a county commissioner.

David Stout: Oh, yeah. We keep in contact. We keep in contact. And, his wife is also, very, strong, you know, local, local and individual in the community that that works really hard, even though she’s not in elected office. you know, she’s very involved in the community and. Yeah, both of them, you know, I look to them as my bellwethers, my political bellwethers, you know, it’s it’s it’s good to have somebody.

David Martin: To check it.

David Stout: Out. Yeah, exactly.

David Martin: I have never been to El Paso. Well, you got to come. No, I, I I would love to, but I’ve never been, What is the thing that you must sample when you’re at El Paso? What’s the what’s the dish of El Paso? Where are we going? Take me out. Where we. Where are we headed? What do we have?

David Stout: Well, you know, the there’s a really famous restaurant that’s in my district. It’s right next to the county’s old cemetery, the Concordia Cemetery. It’s called El and J cafe. You know, it’s a family. Family run, family owned and run run business. But it’s it’s delicious Mexican food. You can get anything. I think my favorite, is the the color, the rest, beef stew, Mexican beef stew.

It’s got, you know, carrots in, and it’s got zucchini. It’s got, cabbage. And of course, you know, chunks of beef. And it’s just it’s amazing. Especially within the on a, on a, on a cold morning or, you know, cold day. it’s it’s delicious. So the, the rest at, L.A. cafe. And then I would take you across the border to, to Juarez.

Because for me, it’s one community. I mean, the only thing that’s that’s dividing us is the river in the wall. people live in El Paso and work in Juarez and vice versa. And it’s one big community.

David Martin: The folks go back and forth regularly. Yes.

David Stout: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, it’s it’s very common. Very common. You know, I think, a lot of the students at UTEp are coming from Juarez. They’re coming from Mexico.

David Martin: As I said, you, I know.

David Stout: I go I go a couple times a week, okay. I actually I actually, invested in what we call an express pass. So you can actually you have to get a trusted traveler card, either a sentry or a Global entry card. Okay. And then you can go to the Mexican side and you can buy a sticker for your car.

It’s like 300 bucks a year. Okay. And there’s an express line that you can come back on because sometimes you can wait to come back to United States hours in the regular line. Right. And so yeah, but I, I go so often that, that I thought it was, valuable for me to invest in an express. What do.

David Martin: You get there that that you’re.

David Stout: there’s, there’s, it’s just that there are great restaurants there. Yeah. you know, some some really good seafood, you know, some really fresh seafood that they fly in from places like Mars, Atlanta, lots more cheese on the Pacific Ocean. Okay. Like daily, it’s, it’s it’s, less expensive to go eat out there as well.

You know, the the movie theaters is is fun to go to. You know, they have, what they call a VIP movie theater that has, you know, the reclining seats and.

David Martin: All right, all that stuff.

David Stout: And it’s super inexpensive, but I have a lot of friends there. I lived there for, a semester when I was in college. And so I met a lot of folks there. And I’ve got a buddy who’s a Somalian. He’s he’s trying to. That’s a good friend to have. Yes. And he’s, he’s trying to create awareness about wine in, in in the Juarez, El Paso area because I guess we’re not just we’re just not big wine drinkers, but, you know, so he and I love going with over with him and going to different restaurants and, you know, pairing food with wine and understanding how it works.

David Martin: And I think it’s yeah, it’s a friend is can’t be bad.

David Stout: Yeah. There’s a lot of great wine coming out of Mexico these days. There’s a lot of great wine coming out of Chihuahua, Baja California, Queretaro. I was just in Queretaro a couple of weeks ago. And they have they have, a wine they called the wine roots. And and they have a festival, wine and cheese festival.

But, I would, I if I would take you to the Kentucky Club, the Kentucky bar in Juarez, which is, where they claim, the margarita was invented. Okay. It’s a it’s a cantina. That was, I think open like 1919. It’s been open ever since then. it’s just an interesting, historic old place.

David Martin: And good margaritas.

David Stout: The margaritas are good. the food is great. I feel like they have some of the best, wings, that I’ve ever had, but, But, yeah, it’s just,

David Martin: Hurricane wings in Juarez, Mexico.

David Stout: Yes, exactly. Hop, skip and a jump across the border just about four blocks from the from from the port of entry. So you can you can walk there. and, there are a couple of bars. It’s still, there’s still sell this thing. when I have people in from out of town, I will take them requires. And I’ll take him to the to the Kentucky club, but I’ll also take them to get, a taste of what’s called the Choo-Choo pass, or they call them Choo-Choo shots.

you don’t have to shoot it if you don’t want it, but it’s it’s a it’s an acquired taste. It’s a it’s a it’s tequila that’s infused with a route that’s called Choo-Choo pass. It’s in the same family as celery. It grows in the southern Rocky Mountains, utilized by the, the indigenous folks that live in that area for respiratory ailments.

Okay, somebody decided to infuse tequila with it. and and it’s, it’s it has a very peculiar taste, but I am sure I’ve come to, to really like it. it kind of leaves your mouth a little bit tingly after you, after you, you sip it. But it’s just a fun. It’s just a fun thing that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

David Martin: That I’ve never seen it or heard of it anywhere else. Yeah. The show is called The Good Government Show. We like to end on a good government project. Tell me about something you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about.

David Stout: Yeah. So, a couple of years ago, we had a district attorney that decided to retire, and he had acquired a building through the through a criminal asset forfeiture process. it was it was a, a strip joint. And the owners of the strip joint got busted for, you know, prostitution and, a lot of bad things.

And so he took possession of that building, and it’s in a neighborhood that has been neglected by our community. Many, in many instances, and, and it was a blight in that community. And so we had a really robust, you know, community engagement process to ask them, you know, what they wanted to do with that building.

He he offered the county commissioners court to take control of that building when he left. And we did, and, you know, we we went to the community and said, what do you want us to do with this building? We have to stay within certain parameters because of the Criminal Code or procedures. Tells us we have to is because it’s a criminal forfeiture.

But, you know, and they just a great process. We had, you know, probably 2 or 300 people to fill out surveys. we had a number of events where we engaged all of the community, the neighborhood associations, and they helped with the, basically the design.

So it’s ready to go. we we just need to get the money for. So we’re going to be going out to bond here in the next, next year, hopefully. And hopefully the voters will approve it. But okay, it’s going to be about $18 million, but it’s going to be a community center, that’s going to provide services for victims, rehabilitative services.

but it’s going to have, just a place for, for people in that community to be able to, to hang out. And, and it’s just a night and day, change from the city, you know, prostitution laden strip club that it was. Yeah. To, you know, it’s going to be a beautiful, beautiful facility. I think the it’s going to become the heart of that, that, that, that neighborhood that’s going to be so, so, so.

David Martin: That’s good government. That’s good for everybody. Right.

David Stout: Yeah. Yeah I’m very proud of that. That project. and I can’t wait to to see it, to see it through.

David Martin: Sure. Well that sounds like good government I that’s I, I would look forward to seeing that as well. Wow. A lot going on in El Paso. good to hear that. maybe the news isn’t always right when you imagine that.

David Stout: And it depends on it. Depends on where you watch it.

David Martin: But yeah. Yeah, well, keep fighting the good fight, David Stout, a county commissioner from El Paso County, El Paso, Texas. Great having you on. great to be with you. Great sharing your your insight into what’s going on in an issue that’s, certainly a hot button issue in the nation. So thanks for that. Yes, sir. thanks for your time.

David Stout: All right. Thank you.

David Martin: What is it the county government does? That’s the question county commissioners get asked the most. And the simple answer is everything on the good government show. We’re so lucky to have talked with so many county commissioners and other county officials that have shown us how effective county government is. County government dates back to get this 1634, making it one of the oldest forms of government in the United States.

Think about it. Roads. Highways. Hospitals. Schools. Recycling. Law enforcement. Water. Sewers, and most of the county. Those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. The National Association of Counties represents all 3069 counties across the USA. Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices. When county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

First, I want people to remember that they are people. That’s what El Paso County Commissioner David Stout says. And he says they’ve gone through hell to get here. And that’s Commissioner Stout’s take on the immigration experience. I thought we should all keep in mind, no matter what side of the immigration debate, we’re on an excellent conversation and great local insight on an issue that’s being talked about nationally.

Thanks to all Paso County Commissioner David Stout for talking with us and shedding some light on an issue that’s right there in his backyard. Well, that’s our show. Join me again for another conversation with another leader in government as we get their take on what makes government work and work better for all of us. If you like what you hear, please review us where you listen like us and share this with your friends.

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**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.