A week ago, the earth moved in New Mexico.
It was an electoral earthquake, largely overlooked by the mainstream media that was focused on the high profile U.S. Senate and Congressional races.
But a seismic voter shift occurred that has significantly brightened the prospects for passage of ethics reform in the state of New Mexico. After years of corruption scandals, the voters spoke.
The June 3rd primary election left in its wake a vastly altered legislative landscape. In Albuquerque, Democratic Primary voters tossed out three supposedly unbeatable incumbents - and most significantly, two powerful committee chairmen.
And in Roswell's District 57, Republican voters dumped the ethically challenged House Minority Whip, Dan Foley.All four of them were beneficiaries of a State Capitol culture fueled by copious gratuities from lobbyists and gobs of campaign money from industry special interests.Their contribution reports were a veritable "who's who" of special interests -- insurance and pharmaceuticals, big oil and big developers, the banking industry and payday lenders, liquor and tobacco. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash.All of these incumbents were roadblocks to reform. Now they're gone.
Voters send a message.
In Senate District 17, Shannon Robinson, a 21-year incumbent and chairman of the Corporations Committee was crushed by political newcomer Tim Keller - 66% to 34%.
In Senate District 14, James Taylor, a 14-year legislative veteran, took a thumpin' at the hands of former Albuquerque City Councilor Eric Griego - 63% to 37%.
And in probably the biggest upset of all, Dan Silva in House District 13, a 23-year incumbent and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, was defeated by Local 1199 Hospital Workers union organizer Eleanor Chavez - 54% to 46%.
And there were two other incumbents who also had very close calls.
In SD 30, David Ulibarri - known as "Senator Yellowcake" for his relentless promotion of a revival of uranium mining in his mostly Cibola County district, is clinging to a narrow lead over Clemente Sanchez with a recount in process. (In this three-person race, the anti-incumbent vote was a combined 63%.)
Finally, in Albuquerque South Valley's Senate District 11, Rules Committee chair Linda Lopez barely avoided another stunning incumbent downfall by a slim margin (53%). Under Lopez's chairmanship, Senate Rules has become known as the Devil's Island for ethics reform bills. It's where bills were sent to languish and rot as the session clock ran down.In recent weeks, Lopez, Taylor and Silva have all been stung by criticism for their advocacy of a multi-multi-million dollar taxpayer giveaway to a California based developer, SunCal.
As is the case with Congress, the incumbent re-election rate to the N.M. legislature is well over 90%. So the toppling of three such prominent and powerful legislators - in a primary election and by landslide margins no less -- is historically unprecedented.
Yet voters in these distinct districts all sent the same unmistakable message. It was a collective rebuke of the special interest, money-driven way business has been conducted at the State Capitol. It was a call for ethics reform.
But at the national level, at least one Democrat does get it:(USA Today, 6/6/08)
Barack Obama put his stamp on the party Thursday, announcing the Democratic National Committee would no longer accept donations from political action committees or federal lobbyists. That brings the party in line with his campaign's policy... "We are going to change how Washington works," he said.
Perhaps some New Mexico legislators still don't get it. But for those who don't, here's a handy compendium of a few of the media and blog stories that grasp the point the voters were making so eloquently last week:
Albq. Journal Editorial: Back Lawmakers Who Support Ethics Reform(Albuquerque Journal, 5/21/08)
Too many are comfortable with the status quo. Some argue that this is a solution where no problem exists or say raising the subject of the potential for corruption in state government is an insult. That's an insult to voters' intelligence.
Progressive victories create hope for ethics reform. (Heath Haussamen blog, 5/6/08)
"On Tuesday, Democratic voters in Albuquerque proved that they want reform and they're willing to vote against candidates who stand in its way. In the process, they knocked out two opponents of reform and changed the landscape in the state Senate."
Roundhouse Roundup: New, progressive order for Senate? (Steve Terrell, Santa Fe New Mexican, 6/4/08)
"It's easy to imagine the two newcomers banding together with fellow Albuquerque progressives like Cisco McSorley, Dede Feldman and Jerry Ortiz y Pino -- plus perhaps Santa Fe's Peter Wirth, who will be moving from the House to the Senate -- and give new life to ethics reform, which for the past few sessions has withered and died in the catacombs of the Senate."
Ethics Issue Propelled Keller (New Mexico Independent, 6/5/08)
"Keller's campaign focused hard on ethics and campaign finance reform, two particularly weak points for Robinson, who had been criticized for improperly diverting funds to the UNM club rugby team (which he coaches), and failing to disclose a long list of tangles with the law."
It's time to speak out, now more than ever.
Governor Richardson is talking about calling a special session of the legislature to address healthcare.
Will the health insurance industry lobbyists call the shots? Will they produce health care "reform" that enriches their industry while the public gets the shaft again?
Send your state senator and state representative a message. (See below.)Let them know that, after years of corruption scandals, the time is NOW to stand up to special interests. It's time for comprehensive ethics reform. The time is now to curb corporate lobbyist influence in Santa Fe and make our legislators accountable to the voters again!Tell them you support:
1. Campaign contribution limits
2. Independent ethics commission
3. Webcasting of legislative floor sessions
4. "Clean Elections" public financing of campaigns
By visiting the Clearly New Mexico website, you can use our Legislator Contact tool to email your senator and representative.
Here's the link to email your legislators! (link)
The movement for ethics reform took a major step forward last week. We can take back our government from industry and corporate lobbyists. Today you can keep the momentum going!
The staff at Clearly New Mexico