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.

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