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 V.14 No.39 | September 29 - October 5, 2005 

Ortiz y Pino

The Quiet Election

Ten days before the polls close on the City of Albuquerque's 2005 election season, an eerie quiet cloaks the campaign. By the time you read this piece, it is possible all hell will have broken loose, but I've given up waiting around for that to happen. I guess our mayoral challengers this year are just too nice to turn up the heat under this pot.

Either that, or maybe both the Griego and Winter camps are waiting for the other opponent to declare war on Marty Chavez. The first one to jump in will draw the wrath of Godzilla down on his head, and the holdout, the one who doesn't flinch, can watch the mayhem from the sidelines and come off looking like the good guy, the ethical foe who wouldn't play dirty ... but who still benefits from the attacks.

Unfortunately, the reason campaigns frequently turn negative is it's a strategy that produces results. A tossed-hand-grenade-exploding kind of results. Unpredictable, yes, but it sure picks up the pace of the action. And along with a lot of other election observers, I have been expecting one or both of the major challengers to decide the pace needs accelerating.

Chavez, whose tenure in power has been marked by any number of exploitable missteps, has up to now skipped merrily toward re-election, drawing only the most oblique of attacks. If the pace doesn't pick up considerably, there may not be a runoff, as 40 percent, the level of support he needs to avoid a second go-round, is tantalizingly within the incumbent's grasp.

One reason the contenders may be hesitating to launch their attacks frontally could be the cool half-million in television time Chavez' campaign has already purchased. Strategically, the mayor's response to any charges in his direction can be launched almost immediately and with all guns blazing. That can make a feller take a long swallow before throwing a punch at him.

But it is also another argument for the importance of public financing of these election campaigns. This kind of grotesque imbalance in funding (at the last report, Chavez had raised two times more than the total bank accounts of the three challengers) makes for a pretty pallid exercise.

So the ballot initiative that we'll have to consider this time makes real sense for preserving the integrity of future electioneering in Albuquerque. If it passes, it's a way to prevent one powerful candidate from essentially cornering the market on television money and thereby silencing debate.

The one part of the election action that is producing some noise is the other initiative on the ballot, the one that raises the minimum wage in Albuquerque to $7.50 an hour for many businesses.

The opposition to the measure, predictably led by the Chamber of Commerce (which hasn't won many battles in recent years but never tires of bloody noses, apparently), contends that the measure is (alternately) either an enormous menace to small businesses in this community and/or unnecessary because it won't help very many people; and besides, the federal government ought to be doing it, not the city.

They are also trying to build a mountain out of a zit by declaring that passing the minimum wage measure will force business owners to allow any and all members of the public into their operations to talk to their employees. That's not exactly setting an avalanche of outrage in motion, as it is not true and has proven to have little traction.

Thus, the chances are excellent that this measure will pass—at which point the opponents are already preparing their lawsuit (actually, they already filed one even before the election; the very notion of a livable wage being too dangerous to allow the voters to act upon) that will try to overturn the will of the Little Guys.

Meanwhile, Mayor Chavez is trying to butter his toast on both sides. He declares he is all for increasing the minimum wage. Lamentably, in his view, that is not a power that the city should exercise. Congressional action is the only way to do it, he declares ... a curiously passive posture for this usually hyperactive problem-solver to assume.

But perhaps the most laughable argument against the minimum wage increase is that it will drive businesses away from Albuquerque. We won't be able to compete at the bottom of the economic ladder because our workers might have a little more change in their pockets on payday? Who do these guys think takes the family to dinner at McDonald's instead of the Ranchers Club?

The reality is that raising the minimum wage will boost, not hurt, local businesses. That's been the experience in Santa Fe and it will happen here too. Henry Ford, for cryin' out loud, knew this intuitively when he explained that he was paying his workers well so that they could afford to buy the cars they were building.

That's how the rising tide lifts everyone's boat. The minimum wage needs to be increased. We will all benefit from it, even if we already make more than the minimum.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.

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