There are bigger races, contests where the stakes include the preservation of democracy, the efficacy of the republic in the face of dangerous demagogery and noxious nationalism. But for the common citizen, the man or woman reading this campaign report, the issues remain simpler, albeit more pressing. Bettering the lives of citizens and building up the communities where they reside often rests on hopes for better education, living-wage jobs and safety and security on the streets and at home.
Achieving those needs in a time of divisive politics seemed like a bridge too far after the last American election cycle. But things have changed in two years of Republican rule and Trumpian propaganda. Now, more than ever, a surge of citizenry is preparing to make meaningful change, at the ballot box and beyond.
Into that arena of sorts comes Melanie Stansbury. A Democratic candidate for the N.M. House in District 28, Stansbury represents the best of the next generation of young politicos: educated, deeply experienced in governance and driven to find solutions for constituents who have tired of living in a state that’s ranked near the bottom of things.
Stansbury’s campaign is focused on improvement while it eschews the divisive rhetoric coming from many inside and outside politics. To find out more about what the candidate wants to implement and her position as part of the blue wave that is surely coming in November, Weekly Alibi chatted with Ms. Stansbury, over coffee at Alibi HQ.
Weekly Alibi: Could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and about your candidacy?
Melanie Stansbury: Absolutely. I’m a native New Mexican. Like many New Mexicans, I’ve worked on issues at a local level, but I went to graduate school and then came back. My entire career has been focused on working as a nexus for land, water and related community issues. I was actually born in Farmington, but grew up in Albuquerque. I come from a long line of small business owners and entrepreneurs. My mother was a seamstress, my sister works in landscaping, so I grew up working in the trades. My degree is in the natural sciences and initially I came home to work as a science educator. Through that job, I got to work in communities all over the state. I was teaching kids about water science and ecosystems. Through that job, and also growing up landscaping, really got me interested in addressing issues about resources and poverty, economic development, how all those things are tied together. My graduate degree is in sociology, and I decided to work from home on my PhD research. That work launched my public service career.
How did that part of your career proceed?
In 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. and to work for the White House Counsel for environmental policy, and then I worked in the White House Budget Office on tribal issues and land and water issues. I eventually worked on the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural resources, as the science expert. Collectively, those experiences once again led me back to Albuquerque to work with the community.
Once you returned to Albuquerque, why did you decide on politics?
I see running for the state Legislature not as a political action, but more as an extension of community service. New Mexico is facing really severe challenges: We’re ranked 49th in the country for economic development, poverty, unemployment. Our schools haven’t been spared either. It’s critical that people who care about their communities get involved in politics right now, and step up to the plate. We should bring our knowledge and skills to bear on these problems, to solve these long-standing problems.
What motivated you to run for the state Legislature?
I feel like I can make a difference in the Albuquerque community.
What’s District 28 like?
House District 28 has long been served by Republican reps. It’s in the far NE Heights. It stretches across the foothills from Lomas to Montgomery.
How is your campaign different from what voters have been offered before?
We are running a community-based campaign. It’s about harnessing and mobilizing people in the district to help bring change, not only to our district and our city, but to the state as well.
What kind of changes do your foresee?
I think we are facing so many critical issues at the state level. There are three main areas of focus in my campaign. First and foremost is the economy. How do we build a sustainable economy in New Mexico? For me all else follows from that. Providing opportunity, living-wage jobs, growing local businesses by making sure there are options for local entrepreneurs and home-grown talent to stay here and contribute. The two other major issues that we need to address in this state and in my community are crime and education.
How do those two issues play out with you?
Well, here in Albuquerque we’re seeing an increase in crime, particularly violent and property crime. These are issues without easy answers, but we need to make sure we have enough police officers in each community and that law enforcement has the resources it needs in order to do its job. But we need to address the root issues of crime, including things like lack of opportunity. Providing meaningful jobs, addressing the social issues that come with that lack of opportunity and consequent problems like drug addiction should be a priority.
You said the third issue was education … could you please tell our readers about your stance on that New Mexican problem?
New Mexico is now ranked 50th for child well-being. We have to fix our broken education system. A successful public education makes it possible for children to thrive. We need to have universal access to early-childhood education, that’s critical to child development. There also needs to be more opportunities for higher education among New Mexican youth. I want to be able to provide a world-class education to all our students.
Does the N.M. education system need an overhaul?
Absolutely. The data are showing that what we are currently doing isn’t working. It needs a major re-working, at the state level; that includes reevaluating everything from how we are teaching in the classroom to how we are providing resources for schools across the state. It’s also important that we look at the evaluation systems in use in our schools. Again, this all comes back to economics. We need to face the systemic issues that are holding us back.