Dede in Wonderland
Inside the New Mexico Senate: Boots, Suits, and Citizens
Former state senator Dede Feldman describes her first legislative session in 1997 as “a little like riding a motorcycle in a thunderstorm in the nude.” Sound like an exaggeration? It isn't. Legislative sessions in New Mexico can be terrifying, bombastic and exhilarating.
Inside the New Mexico Senate is an astonishingly honest, entertaining dive into the heart of New Mexico politics. It’s helpful that Feldman once had a long career as a journalist, because she brings a reporter’s eye and ear to the affair. What could have been just a drab schematic of the legislative process turns into a well-researched page-turner populated with colorful personalities, conflicted relationships and plenty of enticing political drama.
Throughout, Feldman makes it clear that she loved being a state senator. “It was one of the most significant and meaningful things I've done in my life,” she said in a recent interview. “It was an honor to serve the people in my community. I made some of the best friends in my life there, common allies in a common cause. That’s a great feeling. Of course, being there could also be frustrating, and you see that in this book. Even if you have the very best of intentions, good people can get trapped in a flawed system.”
The book’s overarching purpose, says Feldman, is to provide progressive advocates with useful advice about how to make the system work in their favor, to protect the environment, improve education, expand health care, decrease poverty and reform government. Sprinkled throughout the book are various case studies designed to illustrate how this is possible.
“(Albuquerque Representative) Gail Chasey was able to ban the death penalty in New Mexico through perseverance, grace and grit over a 10-year period,” Feldman says. “This book explains how that was done and how the advocates won this and other victories. It also explains how some of these battles were lost.”
Both politics and process inside the Roundhouse are notoriously complex. Feldman emphasizes that in a place like New Mexico, the road to political success is often paved with a deep understanding of the intricacies and histories of personal connections. “We are a state based on relationships,” she says. “Here in New Mexico, if you want to make change, you're well-served to map the complex web of relationships of those in power.” Part of the attraction of Inside the New Mexico Senate is it allows the reader to trace that web without getting completely entangled in it.
Steven Robert Allen is the Director of Public Policy at the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico. From 2007 to 2011, as director of Common Cause New Mexico, he worked with Feldman to advocate for various government reforms.