Alibi V.28 No.49 • Dec 5-11, 2019

Editorial

Don’t Run Off Like That!

Too many choices, not enough harmony

The stories of ranked voting, the new municipal runoff election and the idea of nonpartisan elections are already familiar ones for El Burque, but here’s our take on the issues.

A Complex Change

While we’re well aware that ranked choice voting has worked to end taxpayer financed runoffs in smaller New Mexico cities like Santa Fe and Las Cruces, we’re still not convinced it’s the right answer for The Duke City.

Recall that the City Council voted against making the complicated process into municipal ordinance in the late spring of 2019. Particularly notable in this decision were the beliefs and subsequent actions of City Council President Klarissa Peña and Council Vice President Cynthia Borrego.

NM Political Report’s Andy Lyman recorded the volition that caused the proposed amendment to city voting laws to go unenacted. Both councilors were sternly against the legislation’s implementation because they were thinking of their constituents, not their future political careers.

Specifically, Borrego told Lyman that she “wanted to hear from the viejitos” and that the response to the mini-poll she conducted pre-council vote amounted to the opinion “Why do we want to change?”

Peña also felt that the new voting methodology would be confusing to citizens and said it was an unneeded change.

The fact is that older Americans vote in much larger numbers than their younger counterparts. Citizens of the median age 65 were seven times more likely to vote than those in the age range 18 to 24, and local elections are particularly notorious for this age gap, according to recent research done at Penn State.

It’s not so difficult to believe that more than half of our local governance team is well aware of those simple facts and are simply trying to preserve a status quo that keeps the main body of voters interested and amused enough to permit regular participation. Obviously that’s good news for both entities.

The truth is, the problem lies not so much in the idea of complicating local elections wth a totally unfamiliar procedural difference that has a high learning curve for the most frequent voters—and that significantly isn’t mirrored in higher-level elections—but in the basic approach to local elections that this city takes.

Donkeys and Elephants

Here in Albuquerque, non-partisan municipal elections are all the rage. They’ve been the law in these parts since the State of New Mexico enacted its Constitution back in January of 1912.

That hasn’t kept the politicos running things from either portraying themselves as members of a particular party, or in the name of true non-partisanship, acting like doctrinaire examples of their registered party in action toward true municipal progress.

Besides the election of Richard Berry in 2009, there has only been one Republican Mayor in our town’s history. Harry Kinney has been memorialized for his forward-thinking vision and civil accomplishments and the mayor that some assume was Republican—because of his lawlessness—Ken Schultz, who reigned from 1985 through 1989, was all Democrat all the time.

Near the end of Berry’s troubled tenure, even other right-wingers were disappointed in the dude and the system of nonpartisan elections that kept him power by convincing voters he didn’t really have a political—much less an elephantine—agenda.

Local blogger and former Duke City Prosecutor and City Councilor Pete Dinelli wrote in an op-ed that appeared just before the famous and fateful mayoral election that brought Tim Keller to power—and sent openly right-wing candidate Dan Lewis back to the oil and gas industry from whence he came—that the idea of nonpartisan elections was “a farce.”

Dinelli’s indictment is telling. It’s wordy but very much worth reading.

“The Republican Party has been extremely involved in Albuquerque’s nonpartisan elections. For the last eight years, we have had the most partisan mayor in Albuquerque history, especially when the Republicans controlled the City Council by a 6-3 margin four years ago.

During his time in office, Mayor Richard Berry appointed numerous Republican political operatives to six-figure-plus salaried positions with contacts to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and adviser Jay McCleskey.”

It’s time we stop pretending that city politics is not a partisan political activity, especially in these times when the Republican Party is represented by an administration that is currently living under the cloud of impeachment.

Outcomes

This year, the result of the nonpartisan nature of municipal elections has yielded at least one clear, and to our minds, negative result. The plethora of candidates, some qualified, others not, running for City Council in Districts 2 and 4 points to a failure of the nonpartisan system.

Instead of trying to institute a complex change in voting procedures that may well alienate the main body of citizens who participate in municipal elections, local and state leaders should work towards modeling local elections after their state and national counterparts, with the following exception.

Local precinct leaders from both parties should meet at least six months in advance and choose one candidate to represent the party in the election. We’ve become spoiled for choice as a group that expects every flavor to be presented to us as if electioneering is a form of shopping.

If indeed it does turn out to be yet another aspect of consumerism, then elections should offer some transparency, some truth in advertising in regards to political ideology, as it were.

The National Reflection

On the national level, this situation is oddly but imperfectly mirrored in the current morass that the Democratic Party finds itself bound within. There are too many presidential candidates vying for the nomination. Only a select few, maybe three, are at all electable.

The division that the party is currently experienceing vis-a-vis progressive versus centrist wings is damaging, and the effusion of candidates does not bode well for November, either.

Though the partisan issue has never been in question here, national party members could do better in sieving out the wheat from the chaff. The result—fewer but more qualified candidates to choose from—would be of benefit to the progress of the party and the people.