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.