In a stunning blow to governance by partisan paternalism, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Friday, Sept. 19, that the Secretary of State does not have authority to remove advisory initiatives approved by county commissions from the general election ballot. This high court ruling means that citizens of Bernalillo County will get to vote on two nonbinding polling questions regarding decriminalization of small quantities of marijuana and raising sales tax one-eighth of a cent to fund mental health services.
In an oral presentation of the Court's ruling, Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil said New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran failed to perform a mandatory duty of her office by refusing to include county-approved initiatives on the general election ballot; the Court ordered her to do so.
If you haven't already, you'll hear more about Duran in the weeks to come. Her unsuccessful attempt to quash Bernalillo and Santa Fe County advisory initiatives via unilateral memorandum and petititions of both federal and state courts is only part of the coming Duran-centric news cycle. As the incumbent candidate for Secretary of State, Duran may already be familiar to you.
In the wake of the Court's decision, Duran issued a written statement: “We of course will comply with this order, but what it means is that Bernalillo County voters will be using a ballot printed in tiny 7-point font, just so people can be presented with a meaningless public opinion poll.” How can the opinion of voters—some of whom obviously voted for her—now seem meaningless to Duran?
Her campaign website, diannaduran.com, colorfully presents polarizing rhetoric. On a page titled "Dianna Duran v. Maggie Toulouse Oliver: The Striking—and very Alarming—Contrasts," Duran calls herself the "target" of "extreme far-left activists of the Democratic Party." She goes on to contrast herself with Toulouse Oliver using all-caps and underlined keywords like "DARK MONEY," "political consultant" and "left-wing activism and partisanship" in reference to Toulouse Oliver.
In contrast, Toulouse Oliver's minimalist campaign website, maggietoulouseoliver.com, focuses on endorsements, and finding criticism of Duran is more challenging. (On the landing page of Duran's website, an arrow guides you straight to the aforementioned "Contrasts" page.) After clicking through Toulouse Oliver's bio and thoughts on the job, the news section of her site reveals her official statement on the Supreme Court decision. And it is critical of Duran, but phrases like "overtly partisan and activist interference in the ballot creation process" and "blatant disrespect for the separation of powers in our government" pale in comparison to Duran's chart that lists Toulouse Oliver's background and experience as "Campaign Manager for Dark Money Orgs."
But don't take my word for it. Visit their respective websites, linked above, and form your own opinion. For even more insight into their educational, professional and political backgrounds, news, endorsements and campaign contribution disclosures, visit the Ballotpedia pages for Dianna Duran and Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
The Alibi encourages our readership to remain politically informed. To that end, please keep your eyes peeled for websclusive and print-edition political news and election coverage as the 2014 general election nears. And be sure to pick up a copy of the Alibi Election Guide, which hits stands on Thursday, Oct. 30. On a personal note, I've always appreciated the way Halloween and elections coincide. After all, there's really nothing scarier than citizen apathy, low voter turnout and resulting ineffective, subpar leadership and representation.
On Friday, Aug. 29, Mayor Richard J. Berry made history. In his YouTube communiqué debut, Berry became the first Albuquerque mayor to veto an election amendment. According to Berry's statement, R-14-91 contained proposals he couldn't "in good conscience" allow Albuquerque citizens to vote on. Translation: Berry claims his ethics prevented him from permitting us to weigh in at the polls on a) raising sales tax one-eighth of a cent—to fund social services for the addicted, homeless and mentally ill—and b) to reduce criminal penalties for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
R-14-91 also contained ballot initiatives to a) grant the City Council approval authority over the Mayor's hiring of police and fire chiefs, b) change the voter-initiative process to prevent costly special elections and c) a bond proposal to fund "metropolitan redevelopment." In layman's terms, Berry's veto was a political strong-arm tactic to get the City Council to drop the tax increase and penalty reduction initiatives. Otherwise, these other three issues wouldn't get to voters. And it worked. On Wednesday, Sept. 3, the Council compromised (read: caved).
And that, as they say, could have been that. But on Friday, Sept. 5, the Bernalillo County Commission issued a press release calling for voter input on the tax increase and marijuana penalty reduction initiatives that Berry nixed. In the release Commission Chair Debbie O’Malley said, “It’s critical that we hear directly from the people about how to move forward on these two issues that have such a major impact on our community. We need to look for ways to divert people with serious mental illness out of jail and into treatment instead. This issue impacts all of us and Bernalillo County residents are ready to talk about solutions.”
In the same release, Commissioner Maggie Hart-Stebbins states, “Better access to mental health services and marijuana penalties are clearly on the minds of Bernalillo County residents. Both of these issues have a significant impact on public safety and county government so it makes sense to give the voters a say in this community discussion.”
The County Commission will convene on Monday, Sept. 8, at 10am to make a final decision on which questions voters will get to address. That's where you come in. O'Malley and Hart-Stebbins want your input on the tax and marijuana penalty initiatives. Based on the overwhelmingly critical responses to Berry's veto video and the veto post on his Facebook page, many of you have something to say. So say it. If the Commission adds these initiatives to the ballot, all Bernalillo County residents—not just city folk—will have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in creating local public policy.
These are difficult times for our city, and we appear to be at a crossroads. It's easy to be cynical. But rather than reposting memes—especially those featuring Mark Twain's belief that voting makes no difference—take a few minutes this weekend to engage your representatives on issues that matter to you. To facilitate that conversation, scroll on for quick links to contact O'Malley and Hart Stebbins. Use your voice. It's more powerful than you know.
Click here to email Debbie O'Malley or call her at (505) 468-7027.
Click here to email Maggie Hart-Stebbins or call her at (505) 468-7108.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry made history yesterday. In addition to debuting a YouTube communiqué strategy, Berry became the first mayor in Albuquerque's history to veto an election amendment. According to the announcement, Berry vetoed R-14-91 because he couldn't "in good conscience" allow citizens of Albuquerque the opportunity to vote on a) lessening criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in quantities of one ounce or less and b) raising the Albuquerque gross-receipts tax rate one-eighth of a cent to fund social services for addicted, mentally ill and homeless citizens.
In this historic address, Berry cites his unwillingness to sign a bill that would raise taxes without any "clear and concise plan" on how to spend resulting funds and "flying in the face of state and federal law" by decriminalizing the possession of an "illegal drug." And the big, bad "illegal drug" is ... marijuana, a drug so innocuous even notoriously conservative local media outlets refer to it by slang terms like "pot" or "weed."
Deferring a vote on lessening penalties for possession of marijuana—which is a far cry from actually decriminalizing marijuana—is rather short-sighted, but the greater injustice in this veto is stalling funding for a citywide crisis of addiction, mental illness and homelessness. These three issues—which overlap and are at the root of immense suffering, both for those grappling with these afflictions and those impacted by resulting crime—must be at the core of any "urban renewal" strategy.
The City Council can override Berry's veto with a vote of 6 to 3. Three other ballot initiatives—granting the City Council approval authority over the Mayor's hiring of police and fire chiefs, changing the voter-initiative process to prevent costly special elections and a bond proposal that would fund "metropolitan redevelopment"—are also included in Berry's veto. Within the scope of these combined, largely progressive initiatives, consider the urgency of funding social services for our city's homeless, mentally ill and addicted residents when communicating with your City Councilor. If you're not sure who that is, find out here.
For my money, raising sales tax one-eighth of a cent, from 7 percent to 7.125 percent, is a prudent investment in the future of Albuquerque. And if lessening criminal penalties for possession of marijuana allows Albuquerque law enforcement to focus on addressing the institutional failures clearly outlined by the US Department of Justice and preventing violent crime, so much the better. Whatever your opinion of the ballot initiatives proposed in R-14-91, let your City Councilor know what you think. This is an issue that deserves your attention and civic engagement ... even on Labor Day weekend.
Time’s running out to give us your input on 136 diverse categories, from civic life to arts to shopping. You can log in, add, delete and change any of your answers in Alibi’s Best of Burque poll right up until the deadline: Thursday, March 22, at noon. Get in there!
We’ve got 136 categories that need your input: Vote in the Alibi’s Best of Burque poll right now! (You can change any of your answers right up until Thursday, March 22, at noon. And while you’re at it, you artistic types should think about entering the Alibi Best of Art Contest for the artwork we’ll run in the results issue.)