Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fun With Sue

I have been in a bad mood since 2010.

Obviously, I've had a lot of bright spots, but there has been an underlying gnawing rage that can be summed up in one name:

Susana Martinez.

Back in 2010, I worked in the anti-violence against women movement, and Martinez was well-known in our circles from her work as a prosecutor in Las Cruces.  When I first heard she was running for governor, I foolishly assumed she was running as a Democrat and was excited at the prospect of a badass Chicana running for office. Boy, was I wrong.  Not long after announcing her candidacy as a Republican, Martinez began her attack on Mexican Immigrants and pulled no punches in attacking the Richardson administration for passing a law that allows Undocumented Immigrants the right to apply for a drivers license. Her opponent, then-Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, had very little recourse against the attacks and Martinez breezed into office. I was disgusted to see that so many of my fellow Nuevo Mexicanos voted for Martinez based on fear mongering that played right into the internalized racism and oppression that plagues our communities and turns us against our Immigrant sisters and brothers.

Martinez immediately tried to repeal the law that allows drivers licenses for Undocumented people, which is actually a pretty benign law. There is little evidence of fraud taking place, and streets are indeed safer, given the boost of licensed and insured drivers. None of this mattered to Martinez when she took office, as much of her campaign was built upon the promise that she was going to take drivers licenses away from those people and "restore" law and order to New Mexico.

Five legislative sessions later, Undocumented Immigrants haven't been denied drivers licenses, but New Mexico has slipped to near last place in child well-being, high school graduation rates, and recovery from the 2008 recession. We are first in child-hunger, unemployment and have the widest income gap in the United States (meaning NM has the widest gap between the wealthy and the poor). Add in the corporate tax breaks she pushed in 2013 (while vetoing an increase in the minimum wage), the eroded environmental protections and failed school evaluation system and what we have is a governor who is more interested in reading to children (otherwise known as an easy photo-op) and angling for a place in national politics. The office of governor is simply a stepping stone, and when she moves on to a bigger stage, New Mexico will be worse for wear, all on Martinez's watch.

One would naturally think - wow, that governor sure is incompetent. How is is she still in office? Credit is due to the governor's right hand, Jay McCleskey, who is widely believed to be running the show and has made sure that the governor's image is tightly maintained.  Detractors are severely punished and the media seems to be controlled by the governor's office - there is little to no in-depth analysis of the failure of the Martinez administration in the mainstream media. In addition to this, the Democratic party has been mostly silent - almost as if they are waiting out her term as governor in order to get back to work.

While Martinez handily won her reelection in 2014, it should be noted that voter turn-out was less than 40% - hardly a referendum as much as it is voters who feel disengaged and apathetic. In the last five years I left my service provider career and moved on to grassroots organizing. I have stood with people who are fearless while participating in direct action against the governor (silent protests, delivering a Christmas stocking full of coal and marches, to name a few) and still, despite all the noise we made about the terrible job Martinez has done and her agenda to sell New Mexico to the highest bidder, it felt like she was untouchable.

That is, until her drunken phone calls to 9-1-1 surfaced last Friday.

Friday afternoon, as soon as the New Mexico Political Report broke the news of Martinez's drunk dials, my social media timeline lit up with gleeful posts about the governor's slurred attempts at bullying both the hotel staff and the Santa Fe police department. The memes quickly followed and the status updates featuring the hashtag #partylikesusana were in abundance. The underlying story was that of the governor showing her true colors - a bully who will stop at nothing to get her way.

Martinez is hardly the first public official to be caught in an embarrassing moment - hell, almost everyone I know (myself included) has been, ahem, to a pizza party or two, so why does this feel so good? Why are we getting such a kick out of this?

The answer is simple - this is the first time that information is sensational and damming enough to stick.

As much as I've wanted a revolt over the governor's horrible job and brutal policies, it seems that her downfall is by her own hand - or rather, the drink(s) in her hand. I am not as much concerned about her drunkenness as much as I am her blatant disregard for the people whom she sees as beneath her, which has been her modus operandi throughout her tenure as governor. It's fine that she cut loose at her Christmas party, but what isn't fine is that said party cost taxpayers roughly $8,000, according to Progress Now New Mexico (via KRQE). I'm sure the governor's office has held a Christmas party every year and tax payers have footed the bill, but like everything else associated with Martinez, no one questioned her or her decisions; she has received a free pass for the last five years.  This time, she couldn't hide, nor could the media turn a blind eye.

As we head into the 2016 legislative session (which is a short session focused on the state budget), Martinez will once again try to repeal drivers licenses. She will make no real changes that benefit New Mexicans and will continue to bully any detractors she encounters. This year, however, we are going to see her Roundhouse of cards begin to fall apart. The next two years will be a long for la Sue; perhaps we should all chip in and buy her a round, or maybe just a piiiiiza.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A City of Underdogs and Champions

Summer, 1997 - I had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to start college. Excitement buzzed in the hot, heavy summer air, and one of Albuquerque's biggest rivalries was being realized - Johnny Tapia was finally going to fight Danny Romero.

Tapia, whose boxing talent was sometimes eclipsed by his tragic personal life, was going up against Romero - a talent in his own rights who also didn't have the stigma of drug use and legal battles. The fight meant so much more than who was the superior fighter - it was a fight to prove who was Burque's true champion.

Tapia (left) with a left jab on Romero.
Photo sourced from Round by Round Boxing
On fight night, every person in Albuquerque tuned in to see the biggest fight of our lives. Round after round, I alternated between yelling and holding my breath. When Tapia's glove was raised as the winner, we cheered and Tapia did his signature back flip. It was a good night in Burque and the city was buzzing for weeks afterward. Given his personal tragedies and bad choices, Tapia couldn't keep up with Romero's squeaky clean image, but Tapia had heart, and Burque felt his love reverberate all around us. His win was our win, and this Burque son who ran high on emotion made us feel like we could do anything.

I hadn't felt that sort of excitement until Saturday night, watching New Mexico's very own Holly "The Preachers Daughter" Holm as she took the UFC Women's Bantam Weight championship, and she beat Ronda Rousey doing so. Let me be the first to admit that I don't follow MMA/UFC fights, and if I'm being completely honest, I've never had much interest in following the sport. Ronda Rousey's reputation as a fighter made her name inescapable, and when her fight against Holm was announced, my ears perked up and I started paying attention. Holm is New Mexican and her name has been floating in the news for years, and knowing she was going to be on the worldwide stage stirred something in this city that hasn't existed in a long time.

Holm's win is huge for Albuquerque for many reasons. There is the obvious - bringing home the championship belt and even further legitimizing Albuquerque as an MMA town, proving the naysayers wrong and living up to the hype and then some.

There was deeper meaning to Holm's win, however. Albuquerque desperately needed this win. Our city has felt broken for a long time now - unemployment, poverty, violence, an embattled police department, corruption running rampant through our city government and general apathy - all of which came to a head with the tragic, senseless and violent murders that happened within days of each other - one, police officer Daniel Webster and the other, four-year-old Lilly Garcia, who was shot in an apparent moment of road rage.

There is something that shocks the soul when a child is killed. Lilly Garcia isn't the first high profile case of a child being murdered (we are still reeling from Omaree Varela and the abuse and systemic negligence that led to his death), but Lilly Garcia's death took our city to the pinnacle of despair and the sudden need to wake up - what the hell has happened to the people of this city?

After Officer Webster's death, the head of the police officer's association made a call to action: take our city back. This deeply disturbed me - it reminds me of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again." This is coded language that only harms already marginalized communities. It's the same posturing that led Councilor Ken Sanchez to call for a youth curfew after a senseless murder committed by five young men. Suppressing poor people or young people or whatever group that is easy to scapegoat isn't the way we create change.  If we are going to take our city back, let's start by taking it back from a mayor who legitimized unnecessary violence and brutality within our police department (to the detriment of its own officers and the city at large). A mayor who has done nothing to stimulate the economy. Take our city back from an apathetic city council that is at the behest of business interests and lobbyists. Let's take our city back from the clutches of corrupt politicians who would rather make deals and line their pockets than serve our community.

Holly Holm wins the UFC Women's Bantam Weight Championship

I love Albuquerque. This isn't just where I live, but rather, it's where I'm from - born and raised, Lobo* fan from birth, authentic accent y todo (long before a viral video made it famous).  My love has been tested over the last five years, and watching Holly Holm win opened the floodgates in my heart. Her win was a moment of screaming and high fives and jumping up and down. Seeing my social media news feed bursting with Duke City pride and proudly proclaiming "505 baby!" made me smile and my boyfriend and I can't stop talking about the fight, replaying it in our minds and analyzing every move. I'm not going to lie, it feels good to rub this win in the face of those who didn't believe in Holm - those who went against the home team and rooted for Rousey, but those are just the spoils of war. This win is for all of us - for a moment in time, the whole world stopped and watched as Albuquerque New Mexico produced yet another world champion. How could we not feel proud?

There are lessons to be learned from Holm's win. Always root for the home team. Underdogs can still save the day. Burque women are nothing to f*@& with and this is a proud city, and we can be great once again.  There is a ton of work to do, and the fight to save Albuquerque from bad politics and mismanagement is far from over, but today, we are champions. We are Burque.

*I would be remiss if I didn't give a huge shout-out to the UNM football team, who upset Boise St. 31-24 on the same night as the Holm fight. Everyone's a Lobo! Woof! Woof! Woof!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Use the Force, Burque

It's been a long, hot summer.

September weather is a welcome break from the heat this summer.  The roasting drums have been pulled out of storage at every frutería, grocery store and farmers market and the smell of roasting green chile mingles with the late summer air. Burqueños anxiously await the first balloons to hit the sky and the chill of fall to greet us in the morning.  I've had enough summer; bring on October.

Fall also brings us the city council election.  While this is not a citywide election, it is one that can alter our city council for the better.  District 2 and 8 races (Councilor Ike Benton and Councilor Trudy Jones) are uncontested.  No big surprise there.  The races to watch are Districts 6 and 4.  District 6, currently held by Councilor Rey Garduño is a three-way race between Pat Davis, Hessito Yntema and Sam Kerwin.  District 4 sees a hot race between Israel Chavez and incumbent Brad Winter.

While I don't live in districts 4 and 6, I'm extremely invested in their outcome, and community-minded people in this city should be as well. Councilor Garduño has been one of the most progressive voices on the council, and the seat needs to remain in the hands of a progressive Democrat. Pat Davis chose the public financing route, which means he is not beholden to donations from lobbyists, corporations and big outside money.  Hessito Yntema has enlisted Jay McCleskey to help with his campaign.  Jay McCleskey* is known as the Shadow Governor - he is Governor Susana Martinez's main advisor, ran both her campaigns and also ran both of Richard Berry's campaigns for mayor of Albuquerque (both Berry and Martinez ran extremely racist anti-Immigrant campaigns).  If you are not a fan of Martinez, Berry or the ruthless shenanigans of the Republican party, Hessito Yntema is probably not your candidate.

Which brings us to District 4.  Israel Chavez, who is running an impressive ground game, is taking on Brad Winter, whose track record shows that his votes are not in line with progressive values in Albuquerque. Winter recently said he doesn't support a Fair Work Week. Coincidentally, he's received donations from the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC, both of which oppose Fair Work Week legislation. Even more interesting is that a poll released in July 2015 shows overwhelming support for Fair Work Week legislation.

Let's break this down: most of the people of Albuquerque support Fair Work Week legislation, however, the New Mexico Restaurant Association** and the Associated Builders and Contractors Association oppose the legislation and they donated to Winter's campaign.  Winter doesn't support Fair Work Week, despite strong public support.
Balloon Fiesta, 2013

Who does Winter think he works for?

Once elected, the city council serves the entire city of Albuquerque.  While each district is represented by a councilor, the decisions they make as a collective affect each and every one of us.  Until elected officials feel beholden to the community they represent, NOTHING is going to change. It doesn't make sense for each person in Albuquerque to be at session hammering out laws and the budget, so we elect people to work on our behalf. I have become infuriated at the assumption of power that is bestowed upon elected officials.

I'm not only targeting Republicans.  Plenty of Democrats are beholden to their big money donors as well.  I am fascinated by the #EarnThisDamnVoteOrLose campaign (which comes out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement), and I was equally impressed by the threat of many Latinos who would have rather skipped voting in mid-term elections in 2014 due to the fact that many Democrats in Congress (as well as the President) were inactive in pushing for humane, comprehensive Immigration Reform.  On the local level, we have to send the same message: our votes are not to be taken for granted.

The message is simple: candidates should not assume they have the votes of workers, young people and people of color. We want real change regardless of party lines. I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils but I also know that until our communities band together and demand more from our elected officials - and support them when they do take a progressive stance - then nothing will change in our city (or state - don't think that because Susana Martinez's term is up in 2018 that there isn't a long-term plan to keep Republicans in power).

I realize that simply saying "stand up! Have a voice! Take your power!" isn't a solution.  Building community power doesn't happen overnight, but there is always a beginning. On Thursday evening, there will be a community meeting in Albuquerque where community members - not corporate donors - will gather and have truthful conversations with candidates from Districts 4 and 6, and the message is simple: we are working together to build a better Albuquerque; are you with us?

The weather may be cooling down, but our city is in a pressure cooker, and unless the people of Albuquerque take our city back, the explosion will be a disaster.

*National Journal ran an extensive piece about Jay McCleskey in 2014.  Due to site upgrades, it is not available on their website, but you can still read about it here.

**It should be noted that the New Mexico Restaurant Association also opposed raising Albuquerque's minimum wage in 2012, which passed with 68% of the vote.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Father's Daughter

Recently, my niece posted a status update on Facebook stating that she has only voted once in her life, and that was for the 2008 presidential election.  She wrote that she hasn't felt compelled to vote since and I nearly fell out of my chair.

What? I thought, what do you mean you haven't voted?  How did I not know this?

My niece is not alone in her sentiment, as I hear so many people say the same thing: "what good is voting going to do? My vote doesn't matter."

The first election I voted in was during the 1996 presidential election (I voted for Clinton).  I turned 18 a few months before the election and my dad made sure that I was registered to vote just days after my birthday.  On election day, my dad dressed in a suit and he, my mom and I went and voted. He was so proud that I joined them to vote and now, 19 years later, I've rarely missed an election (I think I forgot about a school board election - once).

My dad loved politics the way most men his age love football, or fishing, or fixing old cars.  My dad liked sports well enough, but he wasn't much of a fisherman nor was he a mechanic.  Politics were my dad's pastime of choice. Debates were his playoff games, conventions were his Super Bowl. Election night was his World Series Game Seven.  My pop loved C-Span, CNN, MSNBC, Meet the Press, This Week with David Brinkley (and later, George Stephanopolous), Nightline, 60 Minutes and the regular nightly news. His eyes sparkled when a new poll came out in favor of his candidate and if his person was losing, he never lost faith.  When Republicans took office, his disdain was visible but he always held out for the next election when the Democrats would make a comeback.

Representative Anselmo J. Serrano 
My dad wasn't merely a spectator.  He proudly served in the New Mexico House of Representatives in the late 1960's.  After that, he was always involved in politics on some level and he passed his love of politics - and arguing about politics - to me.  My dad was 45 years older than me, and though we didn't always have a lot to talk about, we always had politics, and that was everything.

We didn't always agree on candidates.  We were both registered Democrats but that was about all we had in common. In 2008, he was a Hilary supporter and I was Obama all the way.  When Obama got the nomination, my dad became his #1 supporter.  When I attended President Obama's inauguration in 2009, my dad had an envious gleam in his eye - and didn't miss a beat in reminding me he was at Carter's inauguration in 1976.

My pop passed away in June, 2014 at age 80.  The last election he voted in was the gubernatorial primary between Susana Martinez and a slew of Democrats, including Gary King.  My dad served under Governor Bruce King and we argued one last time about for whom he should vote (I didn't think King was a wise choice, but my dad was convinced he was the second coming of Bruce).  Come November, when Martinez won her bid for reelection, I was angry and sad - angry that she won, sad that I couldn't talk with my dad about the election.

I miss my dad every day, and in some ways, writing about politics continues our connection.  Every time I step in the voting booth, I'm voting in his place.  I'm pushing back on a system that has whittled away at the Voting Rights Act with every Supreme Court ruling and Voter ID law passed.

Voting, however, isn't enough, and voting for the lesser of two evils isn't a long-term solution. Even when we do vote in a progressive (or at least moderate) Democrat, we, as a community, step out of the process and our city councils, legislatures and Congress operate business as usual and our communities (people of color, women, LGBTQ, the poor, children, Immigrants, to name a few) are pushed back to the margins until our votes are needed once again.

If we are going to realize a stable future for New Mexico, we can't rely on policy makers to do the right thing on their own.  We have to remind them that our votes also carry a voice, otherwise we just become numbers in a demographics game.  The upcoming City Council races (more about that next week) are a perfect example of how Burqueños can hold our elected officials to a higher standard of accountability. If we want our community to do better, we have to do better - and expect more of ourselves, our elected officials and each other.

I also expect that my niece will vote and take her rightful place in a long tradition of trouble-makers.