The upheaval surrounding the Republican Party’s health care legislation has made its way to El Paso. And as chair of the El Paso County Republican Party, Adolfo Telles finds himself in the middle of it.
Beginning June 26, a group of activists camped in front of the El Paso County Republican Party headquarters to protest GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But Telles is no stranger to opposition, having led the El Paso Republican Party for two years in a mostly Democratic county.
Telles, 67, was born and raised in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He is a graduate of New Mexico State University and moved to El Paso in 1987. For much of his life, Telles worked in financial institutions and stayed out of politics.
However, he proudly touts his GOP affiliation and says he is a lifelong Republican.
Telles, a CPA, worked for Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. for 16 years, now known as KPMG. As an employee for the firm, Telles did business in Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
“Because of the job I had, I stayed out of politics completely,” he said. “My goal was to provide a service not take a political position.”
In El Paso, he has also served as an independent director for Helen of Troy, a publicly traded company headquartered here.
Telles retired at the age of 53 and now manages some investments and owns a small business. Telles says he was asked to be chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party. It is an unpaid, volunteer position.
In Washington, D.C., Republicans have been unable to pass health care legislation that would replace Obamacare. The party’s House bill met opposition after it was announced that more than 23 million Americans would be uninsured under the plan by 2026.
The protests made their way to El Paso when about 10 members of ADAPT of Texas, a disability rights group, setup camp outside the El Paso GOP’s Westside headquarters on June 26.
Tensions ran high that day when police were called to move their camp to the sidewalk on Paragon Street after an alleged altercation between the group and staff at the GOP headquarters.
“If they’re not going to sit down and talk, then they’re here to make noise and get attention,” Telles said. “That’s not the way things get accomplished.”
The protest ended Thursday, July 20, after police officers asked the members of ADAPT to leave the property because of complaints from nearby businesses.
Telles sat down with El Paso Inc. at the Republican headquarters and talked about the protestors, Republican health care plans and President Trump’s job performance.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Aaron Montes at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 105. Twitter: @aaronmontes91
Q: Republicans have taken a lot of heat for their health care plans in the House and Senate. What are your thoughts on the proposed legislation?
With Obamacare you either get insurance or you get fined. It’s the government telling you what you need to do and how you need to do it.
There are counties in this country that have no insurance companies that are located there. They don’t have an option for health care, so they have to go outside to get their health care insurance. That is going to continue, and it’s going to get worse under the existing Obamacare.
Some people have said, “Leave it alone and let it crater and blame it on the Democrats.” That’s not the right answer. The right answer is to come up with a solution that is going to work for everybody. That doesn’t mean everybody is going to get what they want.
We are getting criticized because we happen to be the ones that are driving it because we control the House and the Senate. It’s not something we’re doing just willy-nilly. It is something that’s got to be done because of the financial impact.
Q: Which policy is better for El Paso: Obamacare or the Senate health care bill?
Obamacare can’t survive. In a couple more years, it will completely crater. The number of insurance companies that have pulled out of the exchanges continues to grow and grow. If the Affordable Care Act keeps going, it will crater and there will be nothing in El Paso.
I don’t know what the Republican bill is finally going to be, but just knowing what’s there today, it’s better than what we have.
Q: The Congressional Budget Office has reported the number of Americans that would lose health care coverage because of the proposed legislation – 23 million Americans by 2026. What are your thoughts on that?
One of the things I wish the CBO would do is go back and do the same type of study on Obamacare and see what’s going to happen during the same period of time if we leave it like it is. I think what they would find is that it’s the same or worse.
Obamacare is based on young people paying a high premium. When you think about how unfair it is to young people – they’re starting in their career and they’re just starting to build their income stream.
It’s got to be fixed, and we’re taking heat for it. What I keep hearing is the Republican bill is going to do this and it’s going to do that. Nobody knows what it’s going to do because it hasn’t been passed yet.
Q: What do you think of the protest outside?
I think they’re reacting. I met with the group a year-and-half ago. I asked them how many people were impacted and what’s the cost of what they were asking. They had no clue. They’re a very small special interest group that wants all their needs to be taken care of. They need to accept there are going to be changes.
Q: Were you surprised by it?
We were. We did not expect it. What we did is we went back and looked on the website. They had this plan on the national website as to where they are going to have protests and how they’re going to protest.
They forced their way in here. They kept driving when they were told they were trespassing. They caught somebody’s foot in the wheel chair and he fell and twisted his knee.
Q: Were you present?
I was out of town at the time. When I heard what occurred, I was very upset. Primarily because I am believer that people have the right to protest. Violence is not acceptable.
Q: Do you have a response?
We have asked them to sit down and visit with us and they have not chosen to do that. We are open to talk to people. Again, they came in here and they hurt someone. We filed complaints with the police. We are going to file charges against them.
Q: It seems the Trump presidency has fractured the Republican Party. Do you feel that way and what do you think of the president?
Trump is not a politician. When he started running for office, the general consensus was there is no way he will ever win. Every poll that occurred while he was running showed him as a loser. Yet, he kept winning. When he ran against Hillary Clinton, the high majority of the polls said he wasn’t going to win. He’s going to lose.
When you read the polls today, how can you have faith in them? When for all that period of time, they were wrong.
He is straightforward and blunt. People like that.
He is not part of the establishment. He is not part of the network that’s part of Washington, D.C. I think it scares the politicians. Without a doubt the news does not like the fact that he goes around them to say what he has got to say. It’s a new paradigm. People are struggling with it.
I think he is frustrated because he is used to a business environment where you look at the facts, the risks and opportunities and you make a decision.
Q: What do you think of his performance so far?
We, as a country, have lost the global power we had. Trump is trying to regain it. He has done some things that have irritated them, because we took a stand and took the leadership position we haven’t for years.
He is forcing the country to be a leader again, and the other countries that had taken control as a group don’t like the fact that they are losing that control again. We don’t have to agree with them.
Q: Your website says that the party exists to help elect the right people. El Paso is a blue county and Republicans don’t often win races here. What are some of the challenges?
We have people who want to run, but you’ve got to look at the numbers. If you look, over 60 percent of the democratic vote is straight party voting. When that’s gone, I think in 2020, people are going to have to look at the candidates.
Raising money is very hard in a county that has voted predominantly democrat for a number of years now. When good candidates come up the state party will help, which they have done in the past.
We’ve had people say, “If I run, I have to run as a Democrat.” Our reaction was don’t compromise your values and don’t compromise your principles. I think as we make changes, we are going to get more and more people. This county will change. At least it will be a competitive county, I think, in the future.
Q: Mayor Dee Margo declined to attend forums during the mayoral election runoff. What do you think of candidates not showing up to debate at forums?
I think the candidates should always make themselves available to debate so people can really understand what they look like compared to their competition.
The issue in our mayoral race is people didn’t get out to vote. I think one of the reasons our voting was even lower than it would normally be is both candidates were conservatives. That’s definitely wrong.
Our local Democratic chair encouraged people not to vote. That’s wrong. It is absolutely wrong. She even had an op-ed that addressed it, which in my mind is wrong. We want people to vote all the time.
Q: Do you think the GOP’s platform resonates with El Pasoans?
It definitely does. I think there’s a lack of communication and lack of understanding in a lot of people, not just in El Paso.
I think the values of the people in the county are generally conservative. If you look at the strong Hispanic community that we have in El Paso, they are generally conservative individuals.
Q: What is it like being a Republican in El Paso?
When I was first asked to do this job, which was just a little over two years ago. I was like, “There is no way I am going to take on the position of the chair of the Republican Party in El Paso County.” They met with me about three or four different times and finally convinced me.
They said, “It doesn’t have to be much. Do whatever you need to do.”
They lied to me. It was a lot of work. Especially in a county that is strongly Democrat in a Republican state.
I think we are making some headway. We don’t have many conservatives that run for office so they (voters) vote Democrat. We’re making progress. I think the votes are changing.
Q: How did you become a Republican?
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I went to throw away the trash. Inside, there was cheese still wrapped up and a box that was closed of dry milk. So I took it out of the trash and took it to my mom. She explained they were what people on welfare receive. I asked, “Why is it in the trash?” She said, “I’ll just take care of it.”
My mom asked our neighbor why she was throwing away the milk and the cheese. The lady said, “I don’t like that stuff.” My mom asked her to give it to us.
I remember using the dry milk and cheese. I couldn’t understand when I was that young how people that needed help did not like what was given to them by the government.
That was probably the first event I remember in my life that kind of drove me toward being conservative.