Here is what I have learned covering the upcoming election: Citizens are seeking fundamental, progressive change to a system filled with leaders that seem out of touch, that seem to be from another class.
But an immutable voice is rising out of neighborhoods, cities, counties and congressional districts as the election draws near. The candidates who have assembled represent a plurality of points of view.
In the best cases—and there are many more best cases than bad—candidates running for office this year represent a wish for sustainability in a world where the the chaos level has risen immeasurably since November 2016. Local progressives plan to find solutions to the core problems affecting our city, county and ultimately, our nation.
They really believe that can turn things around; they are using their formidable mental, emotional and spiritual energy to make the blue wave memorable and imminently effective. They said that the 2008 elections were about hope. The real hope is in 2018.
Among the local races that are sure to shape the way Burqueños and their neighbors throughout Bernalillo County live their lives in the rest of the 21st century is the contest for District 5 County Commission.
The eyes of many a progressive candidate have come to bear on problems like poverty, education and the economy. Subsequently, the solutions that can right the ship and take us all back to a respectable republic focused on improving the lives of the citizens it serves are on the minds and in the hearts of the Democrats.
In District 5—a seat once held by Republican Trump-backer and State Auditor Wayne Johnson, but turned over to an appointee of La Tejana once Johnson ascended—Charlene Pyskoty, a thoughtful, focused and informed Jungian therapist, who wears her peers’ and potential constituents’ hearts on her sleeve, is seeking the position.
Weekly Alibi sat down with Pyskoty to discuss the world, its politics as they relate to Bernalillo County and why the Bernalillo County Commission is an important forum for progressive change, now.
Weekly Alibi: Why is this election so important, both to Bernalillo County and to the nation?
Charlene Pyskoty: I think it’s important on so many levels. There are fracking issues in Sandoval County that I am sure will make their way down to Bernalillo County. We need a voice on the County Commission, a voice that will say no to fracking in the Albuquerque Basin. Santolina is still an issue, too. That involves all sorts of corollary issues: economic issues, the environment, traffic and social problems. Such complexities require that there be someone on the commission who can look at these issues realistically and say. “This is not the best thing to do right now, this is not a good project for the county.” We need to invest in our local communities; take what we already have and revitalize those things, use the resources we already have to strengthen communities.
What’s your background?
I am a mental health therapist in private practice. I have experience dealing with community mental health issues as well as in small business matters. I’m from a law enforcement family. I have additional master’s degrees in public health and in sociology. I really like to do my homework; I love to do research.
What are your priorities as a candidate?
My top priorities are to straighten out our mental health and behavioral health systems, to really help create a cost-effective, integrated system for behavioral health. We don’t have that really, though the county has been working on the issue through the Bernalillo County Behavioral Health Initiative. Creating an integrative behavioral health system for the county, one that works in tandem with with the criminal justice system, is very important to me. Right now, our prison system is the largest provider of mental health care services, that’s not right.
How will providing significantly better and more effective mental health services impact Bernalillo County?
That’s what I am looking into. From a public health perspective, one looks at the entire system, how different aspects of the system are working together and what is not working. Trying to prevent problems from developing upstream is crucial. So, if we focus on basic programs, identifying people at risk, that is a good start. There is a lot of discussion now about early childhood adverse experiences that lead to trauma, that lead to problems like homelessness and drug addiction later in life. The county has begun to address this core issue; their providers are working with kids who have been identified as having risk factors for childhood trauma. I believe in continuing to work on that end of things. At every point along the line, we should identify individuals who need help and provide them options for treatment instead of incarceration. This is the problem with the issue that citizens refer to as “catch and release.” If an individual enters the criminal justice system with a history of mental illness or substance abuse, they get stabilized while incarcerated, but then they are put right back into the environment. We need to have support structure in place so that they don’t keep cycling through.
This also brings to mind ideas for providing solutions for the chronically homeless. The two issues often go hand in hand. Combined, they sometimes create crime. How do we get on top of that consequential problem?
The tiny homes issue, which by the way was originally part of the Bernalillo County Mental Health Initiative, needs a solution. I know it’s a huge issue with people who are homeless, but also with homeowners who don’t want tiny homes near them. It’s a “not in my backyard” mentality. What I’d like to say to those people is that I understand the stress of having a tiny home village in your neighborhood, that one would have a lot of concerns about that settlement. But I would encourage people in those neighborhoods where homelessness is problematic to get involved. They need to find out what’s going on, have their voice be heard. This issue is not one that just came up overnight. City and county officials have been holding meetings about the tiny homes issue for a couple of years. Citizen involvement is an essential part of solving these sorts of issues. It’s frustrating because I feel like the county could have done a better job of marketing their successes—and their challenges—to the public. If I’m elected to the County Commission I want part of what I do to be communicating and getting the community involved on issues we all have to confront. And communication is so important; if you are against something, express that, but also propose solutions. Citizens should give us all something to work with.
Besides some of the issues we’ve been discussing, what are some of the other local problems of which you are aware?
Water is a huge issue. We should proceed with any kind of further urban development with great caution. In the mountains, wells are going dry. We need to be really careful about growth on the Westside too. We need to use less water; more golf courses and housing developments are not a solution for that part of the county. Also, we need to take care of the water we do have access to, which means, like I mentioned earlier, no fracking!
How did you feel about the democracy dollars debacle—which went down in flames—due to a vote by the County Commission?
I actually went to the special meeting where Steven Michael Quezada voted against putting the measure on the ballot. I made a series of public comments about that. Basically, I believe that the people of Albuquerque have the right to vote on this matter. He voted for the issue as if it were only a procedural matter, but I think the people of the city should have their say in an election that had already been scheduled. Now they have to have a special election, an expensive matter, so I wonder what the point of voting no really was; that’s really frustrating.
More generally, you’re caucusing with local Democrats and were at an event with Mayor Keller this weekend, previewing the coming “Blue Wave.” Any comment on that?
I think this is an election like no other because the candidates are so different. I find it so humbling to be part of this movement at this time. For a lot of us, we’re first-time candidates. Intellectuals, people who have been giving to their community in a variety of substantive ways, are stepping forward. We’re not part of any political swamp, far from it. We’re people who have been successful in our own careers, in our own lives. We want to do more for our community, at a larger level.
What’s important to you now, as a candidate and as a citizen?
That’s a huge question. What’s been important to me as a candidate is to be positive, progressive, to look for real solutions. I don’t want to get stuck, complaining about what happened in the past. The wealth of our community is not locked away in a portfolio. It is in our people. I hope that citizens look at themselves, look at their neighbors. We can make this happen. We can turn our entire state and nation around. It really starts with the local races. If we all get out there, believing that, and vote, we will make Albuquerque and Bernalillo County better. One person at a time, one vote at a time. We will lift everybody up.