Eric Stoltz, 25

Eric Stoltz, 25, is running for the El Paso City Council to represent the people, not special interests. He plans to combat the rising corruption on the council by advocating for campaign finance laws, so elected officials are beholden to their constituents not donors.

What was the best advice you received before you ran?

Just do it. I was kind of nervous. This is actually the first year that our election is going to be a November election, they’re usually off years in May. So I was excited about that, but I also did not have so much money.

But somebody just told me just do it. What do you have to lose? The worst thing that's going to happen is you're gonna lose and you’re stuck with the same person that you've been stuck with. But if you win, then your community has someone better. Most people don’t have the guts to do it, so sometimes you just need to step up.

If you could get a beer with any politician, who would it be and why?

Bernie Sanders. He’s someone that has been actively fighting for progressive values for a very long time. He’s somebody that has been doing it for so long, I would like to get a beer and get to know how he has the drive to keep on doing it year after year, for decades, and how keeps going when there's a lot of pushback.

Where’s your favorite place to hang out in El Paso?

I like to go eat out at this restaurant called El Hut, it’s open 24 hours so I’m there all the time. It's a hole in the wall diner.

Tell me one interesting fact about yourself that has nothing to do with your career or politics.

I go to shows a lot. I try to go as many too many local shows from all kinds of genres from House, techno to indie rock, punk. Basically anything except for country.

In your own words, what does city council do?

City council really focuses on the basics of our lives from our streets to our flooding. But really city council can build an opportunity for economic opportunity and historical preservation on a very local level.

What do you think are the major issues going on your city they need to be addressed?

Our campaign donors that have really taken control over city council. It’s really the biggest thing that I think that has a large effect on the issues in our city that are really going on.

Right now we're trying to build in a $180 million arena in a very historic neighborhood. One of the first neighborhoods in our city and they're also displacing low-income residents simply because campaign donors are in favor of building an arena that's conveniently placed right next to their hotels.

Additionally, they are trying to develop 1000 acres of our mountain space with hike and bike trails. But 37% of those taxes would actually only for the general fund and the remainder 66% will go directly to that development to help them pay for all the infrastructure. The development right next to the mountain is also owned by the campaign donors. So it's very convenient again that big developments in these processes are right next to campaign donors businesses and development. There’s a lot of things that the city has done that really shows their alliances more towards the campaign donors than really the benefit of the citizens in the city.

I'm happy to see that young people from all over the country are really grounded and focused on eliminating unfair policies of campaign finance that really add a disadvantage to people that are trying to run grassroots campaigns. I'm just very happy that I see everywhere across the US but amongst young people mostly, are fighting against this basic legal bribery of our government.

What reforms then do you think we need to reform campaign finance law?

I would first add a limit as to how much a candidate can receive from an individual. I would also think about adding a limit as to how much city council member can raise for their campaign. We only pay $29,000 a year but yet raised $40,000 to $50,000, and I think it's crazy that you raise more than what you actually get a year for a campaign.

When did you hear the call? When was the moment you realize you needed to run for office?

It was when my city representative that I'm running against had a community meeting and a lot of people came out against this arena which is being built on people's homes in this place, and she flat out said that she's gonna disagree with us and that the neighborhood is ugly.

She said they need to be demolished. I thought that this was kind of ridiculous to have somebody in office and allow them to treat people based on their income and how they live.

You’ve argued that the city instead should be shifting funding to instead to a Mexican-American cultural center. What do you envision that space to be and why is it so important?

In 2012 our city passed a bond supporting the Mexican-American Cultural Center. But the funding is not adequate for such a large center. Instead of the $180 million that is going to this arena, I think we can spread that out amongst different needs in the city.

But I really envision a walk-in cultural center built in the neighborhood that they want to demolish, and instead utilize all those buildings that are from the 1900s to show our history, whether it's Mexican-American history or just Southwest El Paso history. It could really show that the border is strong and communities are vibrant. Without Mexico, there is not much to El Paso and vice versa. The center could really show the American visitors in the United States that the border is not something to be afraid of. Culture mixing is not something to be afraid of. Blending two countries is something that is to be proud of and showcased because it's a vibrant place for everybody.

How have conversations about immigration changed in your community over time, especially during this presidency?

Politicians are speaking out a lot more. Some of the policies have changed a little bit. But young people in my city recognize that this has been going on for years, even before Trump.

But with his policy changes, I've volunteered to pack bags for migrant families and kids. El Paso is the city that when there are times of need for immigrants or migrants, the city really steps up and gets together to ensure that people are not just thrown out without anything. People here really come together. It's very unfortunate things that are happening but I’m glad that the city really is always there for people to make sure that they’ll be helped.

What else makes you love your community so much?

I was born and raised in the same area. I lived in Denver for a brief period. And it really showed me the different cultures and different people from El Paso.

I truly love El Paso because of the people. In most cities I’ve been to, nobody ever holds the door open for you, whether they're older, younger, or female. People in this city always hold the door for you. People will smile at you, people will say hi to you, even to total strangers. It’s a very welcoming city that is not super fast paced. The beauty of living on the border is being able to go five minutes to bridge, drive over and enjoy a different culture. While most of our culture is Mexican American, it’s still great to experience a different place in a different country.

Aside from that, I love our mountains. Not many cities have a mountain right in their city and being able to see that every day and have the opportunity to hike is also a great thing for me. I would never leave here because El Paso is just a very unique place that I would say everybody would have to experience to see what it is.

You’ve called yourself a progressive candidate. What does progressive mean to you? How do you define that for yourself?

Progressivism to me truly means going back to its roots before Bernie Sanders, but really going down to the basic of FDR and his is progressive ideals. Really championing things for people and ensuring that corporations are either regulated or they are good governance corporations. It’s about ensuring that we are being the best we can be for our citizens whether they have a higher income, lower income, we make sure that people are living good and with dignity.

I think that's really where progressivism runs. Just making sure that we're asking people what they need rather than telling them what they want. That's just really the root of it - making sure that you're listening to the people and not telling them what to do.

What past work experience most prepares you to be in city council?

Working in a non-profit as an AmeriCorps Vista, really showed me kind of the mundane parts of organizations and government. You are working in a room working specifically on ordinances. It’s not necessarily mundane, but it is also something that is my favorite because I'm not a business person. But I think that that dealing with nonprofits and learning about the processes and learning about the chain of command prepared me to really understand that governments work very slowly.

Additionally, I started a nonprofit with friends to reduce food waste and supply food banks with fresh produce that's not that's not cosmetically good, but it's still edible. That also showed me how doing things and getting things done in a faster pace way. Just calling and talking to people and really just getting to know the community.

What advice would you give to another young Dem who is considering running?

If you truly believe that you can make a difference then go for it. Don't rely on people telling you that you need money, don't rely on people telling you that you need to get consultants, everything is achievable. It’s 2018. Resources are available online, everywhere. You don't need to pay $1500 dollars for somebody to tell you who to talk to. Just start at your community because that's the first step in deciding if you want to run. Focus on the community and don't focus on the money.

 The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.

Lacy Wright