A Simple Majority
Councilors can override the will of the peopleThe voters made it pretty clear: They would like to see Burque’s minimum wage go up by $1 per hour. The measure wasn’t even as controversial as it was made out to be in the runup to Election Day. A decisive 66 percent of the electorate gave the raise a thumbs up. Plenty of issues are decided on smaller margins.
The minimum wage would hit $8.50 in the city, and tipped employees would slowly see more money until they are paid about $5 per hour in 2014. The minimum wage would also be tied to the cost of living, meaning automatic increases as things get more expensive.
Though Burqueños did their civic duty and weighed in on this topic, it’s possible for city politicians to squash their votes. Turns out, it’s pretty easy. A simple majority of the City Council—that’s five of nine councilors—and the mayor can undo the votes of 139,604 people. (The number of people in favor of the raise comes from unofficial results listed on the Bernalillo County Clerk's website.)
I called the city and asked: Which issues that appear on a ballot can councilors override? Any ordinance or legislation, said spokesperson Dayna Gardner. The process is a familiar one. A measure to undo the minimum wage hike would be introduced by a councilor or the administration. It would head into committee and then back out with a recommendation. The Council would vote on it, and the mayor would sign it.
Six elected officials can use their position to undo the wishes of the very electorate that put them into power. This blows my mind. And it’s not just because the Alibi’s endorsement team favored the minimum wage hike in our Election Guide.
Six elected officials can use their position to undo the wishes of the very electorate that put them into power.
I spend a few weeks out of the year—in the paper, online, through social media and in person—reminding people to vote. Ultimately, I don’t care how people vote, just that they do. Democracy doesn’t work without participation. While harassing folks, I also emphasize that local elections are the ones that really matter.
Local politicians make the decisions that will immediately affect your life. How are the sidewalks in your neighborhood? Does your kid have up-to-date books in her classroom? If you call 911 in an emergency, are you confident help will come quickly? That’s the kind of stuff that hits their desks. Even better, sometimes those issues are directly on the ballot, like the wage raise and the Paseo and I-25 overhaul. Vote, I tell people, because it matters, because your opinion matters.
It’s pretty hard to get New Mexicans out to the polls. A quarter million of us, though eligible, aren’t even registered. Of the folks registered, only 62 percent participated in the 2012 election statewide. That’s nearly a record low. And it’ll be harder to convince people they should bother with voting if half a dozen suits can undo decisions made by thousands.
Councilors Trudy Jones and Dan Lewis took a stand against the new wage before Election Day and told KRQE after it passed that they’re looking into repealing it. There are five conservatives on the Council who usually vote in a block. The mayor is a noted righty, too, and he wasn’t crazy about the pay raise, either. On election night, though, he was talking sense: “Our bosses—the voters—have spoken, and I wouldn’t be doing what I did if I didn't believe in the will of the people,” he told the Alibi in response to a question about the minimum wage.
It’s unclear what the rest of the Council would do if the issue came to a vote. Four lefties—Ken Sanchez, Rey Garduño, Isaac Benton and Debbie O'Malley—are dead against a repeal. Benton’s spokesperson said in an email to the Alibi that it’s unlikely such a measure will actually come before the Council.
Still, it’s repugnant that drowning out the clear voice of the voters is even being considered. Rules in Albuquerque should be strengthened so this kind of thing can’t happen and the power of the voting public is protected.
Call or email our conservative councilors and the mayor, and tell them what you think.
Mayor Richard Berry
And if they somehow manage to overturn a vote cast by thousands of citizens, use the only civic recourse you have left: Vote them out of office next time around.