Mailers Against Children's Hospital Intensify Busy Campaign Week
by Rene Leon
Posted on October 26, 2007
An aggressive anti-tax mailer aimed against the Thomason Children's Hospital arrived in El Paso mailboxes early this week, complementing the growing campaign against the $120 million proposal that was brought to the forefront in recent days by a letter sent to El Paso voters from a Sierra-Providence doctor.
The mailer was part of a hectic week for the campaign over the Thomason Children's Hospital: Early voting started; proponents continued their campaign to drive voters with radio and other appearances; an opposition group filed documents forming a PAC and sent the letter to El Paso voters; and Sierra Providence bought a full-page in the El Paso Times. [ npt story about the letter ]
Sierra-Providence officials said they were not involved with the PAC, the letter from Dr. Luis A. Ayo, or the mailer from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, an Austin-based anti-tax group. Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the group, said he got involved in the El Paso issue when El Paso members of the group notified the Austin office of the upcoming vote. He said it posed an "interesting" challenge.
"The more I look at El Paso, the more I see a city that should not have the highest unemployment rate in the state. I see a city that has a lot of potential for growth. This is a city, though, with folks who are bearing the highest tax burdens in the state, also. And, there's a real connection between high tax burdens and high unemployment," he said.
Much like proponents use images of children's hands raised to create an emotional response in support of the Thomason Children's Hospital, the mailers use images and colors to sow a message of opposition.
"Don't Go Down a Road of Higher Taxes," one mailer warns, with an image of a highway leading toward a dark blue sky, as though toward a storm. [mailer]
“A Mountain of DEBT and Higher TAXES," states the other mailer, with the words set against a red and black background. [mailer]
Dr. Tony Payan, an associate professor in the political science department at UTEP, said the use of colors in advertising and political campaigns is well established.
“They use gray to signify pessimism, or red to signify danger; yellow signifies warning. They’re pretty much universally understood like that. Those types of marketing techniques that have been perfected by the private sector have been used in political campaigns for a long time,” said Payan.
On the other side of that flyer is a quote from City Representative Eddie Holguin in which he expresses his view of El Paso’s tax rate: “I think most El Pasoans understand that we tend to pay a lot in taxes compared to the rest of the state . . . and we don’t have nearly what they have.”
The quote was from an El Paso Times article written by David Crowder and published on Oct. 14. That article’s focus was on the city’s tax rate in general and did not mention the county’s bond proposal for the new hospital.
Holguin said he was unaware of the flyer and was not contacted by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
“If that group published something, they did it without my permission,” Holguin said. “I didn’t even know about it.”
He stated the quote used in the mailer was correct, but it was not portrayed in the accurate context. He said the interview containing his quote had nothing to do with the children’s hospital, it was about taxes, "what I’ve always said, that I think taxes in this community are out of control compared to the rest of the state.”
“That’s my quote, but it’s a quote I gave to David Crowder (of the El Paso Times),” he stated. “In no way, shape or form did (Crowder) ask me about the children’s hospital.”
“I support the children’s hospital,” he said, adding that he recently submitted a picture of himself with his family that will be used in an El Paso, Inc., advertisement in support of the bond vote. He stated the ad also would include other City Council representatives.
Sullivan defended the use of the quote.
“We use what’s in the public record,” Sullivan said. “I think the quote is accurate. There’s nothing misleading about using a quote that’s in the public record.”
Sullivan also said that until recently he was unaware of a $400 million bond issue taking place in the Socorro School district, although he was told by an NPT reporter when contacted regarding a mailer in September. He also said that he was not involved in that issue because his group had to "pick its battles." [inner loop item on september mailer]
Payan said that tactic of using quotes out of context also frequently is used in campaigns.
“Politicians tend to cite those bits of information that will favor their point of view. But human beings tend to do that,” Payan said. But, he said, “It is dishonest of a marketer to simply take citations out of context and use them to justify their point. It means absolutely nothing.”
County vs. Corporation
The mailers arrived on the same week as another piece of mail advocating against the bond proposal, the letter written by Dr. Ayo, but Sullivan said it was not a coordinated effort to urge voters to vote no on Nov. 6.
However, County Commissioner Veronica Escobar believes the mailers and letters sent out are part of an organized campaign against the children’s hospital.
“I know for a fact that Irene Chavez (Providence CEO) and John Harris were pressuring many of the doctors to sign letters and appear in commercials, so there’s been an effort underway from Tenet for awhile to recruit someone who would be the face of the opposition,” Escobar said of Ayo. “Clearly, he has decided to become the face of the opposition.”
NPT was not able to contact Ayo for comment. Sierra-Providence officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Documents were filed on Monday with the county elections department for the Committee Opposing $120 Million Bond Issue. The documents list Ayo as the committee’s treasurer.
Escobar stated that forming that committee only two weeks prior to the vote was a move that did not give transparency to the opposition's actions.
“I think it’s a little bit late in that we needed transparency a long time ago," she said. "The key to fair and open elections is that there is the highest amount of transparency, and that’s that purpose of a PAC (political action committee).”
Escobar has been a leading proponent for the hospital, but said she has not expended any county resources in support of the initiative. Instead, she said, she has used her campaign newsletter and the "bully pulpit" that comes with being a commissioner to get her message across.
Sullivan said the public officials in support of the proposal had the upper hand: "Us dropping a couple of pieces of mail and a couple of other things out there pales in comparison to having your city council and other elected officials out on the radio, on television, talking to newspaper reporters day in and day out. There's a lot going on on both sides of this issue."
Escobar said she ran for office in order to be an advocate for programs she believes will benefit El Paso, and said the only complaint she had received was an email from a constituent who felt that Escobar should use her office to give voters both sides of the issue.
“My response (to her complaint) was that the only true opposition, at that point, had come from Tenet. I was not about to give Tenet, an out of town corporation that ships out millions of dollars year in profit to Dallas from El Paso, the opportunity to speak through me, because their message is about preventing competition,” Escobar said. “Their message is about ensuring their foothold in our market, and I don’t support that.”
She said that she expects the campaign against the proposal to intensify through other mediums, such as television, and noted that Tenet was spending more money to promote its children's hospital, which are not subject to campaign scrutiny but were tied to the overall campaign to promote Sierra-Providence on the one hand and derail the Thomason Children's Hospital on the other.
El Pasoans for Children’s Hospital, the committee advocating for a “yes” vote on the hospital, was formed five months ago on May 29. The committee’s treasurer is Dr. Carlos Gutierrez.
In a report filed with the county elections department on Oct. 8, the group reported nearly $45,000 in contributions.
The committees will again have to report their contributions and expenditures on Oct. 29, eight days before the election.
Since the opposition committee was formed after the last reporting date on Oct. 8, 30 days before the election, it has not yet filed any reports detailing the money is has taken in and spent.
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Rene Leon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 915.351.0605.
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