Alan Webber Delivers a Call to Action

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Alan Webber

2014 gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber excited progressive passions during last year’s campaign, even though he didn’t receive the Democratic nomination.

Alan Webber’s voice was a breath of fresh air on the New Mexico political scene and he represented quite a threat to Governor Martinez’s failed agenda (the onslaught of ads and opposition research deployed by the Martinez machine during the Democratic primary is evidence of that). Martinez knew Webber represented a strong, progressive threat to her policies and thus did everything she could to quell his campaign in the early stages.

Even though Mr. Webber lost his primary battle, he’s only become more active in the political scene since last year. Below is a recent email he sent to his supporters informing them about legislative goings-on and offering his own analysis of the problems and solutions New Mexicans are facing.

Dear Friends,

We’ve reached the halfway point of this critical session of the State Legislature and it’s important to take stock of how things are going—or not going.

If you don’t read anything beyond this, here’s the punch line: Call or email your legislators. Tell them you are concerned about this session. Let them know that you’re involved and invested in what happens. Write a letter to the editor of your paper. Talk about the session with your friends. This really matters.

Okay, now let’s talk about the session.

First, a quick look at the context.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this session of the legislature to New Mexico’s future.

Our state is in serious trouble. Too many New Mexicans are struggling to break free of the shackles of poverty. The states around us have recovered from the Great Recession; we remain mired in an economy that isn’t producing jobs, isn’t growing opportunities, and isn’t offering people hope. We are one of a handful of states that is losing population, as New Mexicans leave to find opportunity elsewhere. And while there is wide-spread agreement that improving our public education system is essential to growing the economy and offering a path out of poverty, there is no agreement about how to go about doing that: how to invest in early childhood education for every child born in New Mexico, how to attract, retain and promote high quality teachers everywhere in the state, how to teach to the child rather than to the test, how to offer the wrap-around services that make it possible for New Mexico’s young people to come to school well-fed, healthy, well-clothed and ready to learn.

Those are some of the issues that are at stake in this session—that are at the heart of a new strategy for New Mexico’s future.

Now, how is this session actually shaping up?

At the halfway point, I’m left with more questions than answers. And many of them are very troubling.

For example:

Why Don’t the Republicans Have Any Original Ideas?

Why Don’t the Republicans Understand Business?

Why Do the Republicans Want to Punish 8-Year Old Children?

Why Don’t Republicans Like, Well, Most Anyone?

Why Don’t the Republicans Like New Mexico’s Environment or It’s Energy Future?

Half-Time At the Legislature

The first half is over.

Democrats in the House have done a valiant and inspired job of making the case for a real agenda for New Mexico’s future. They’ve pushed back against the false arguments and the “kindergarten math” presented by the Republicans. Forced to play defense, they’ve done a masterful job of holding the line against bad thinking, bad politics and bad bills.

In the Senate, with the exception of a few questionable Democratic defections and some backroom deals made with Governor Martinez, leadership has kept the promise to look after the future of the state, to be champions of those who are most vulnerable, to protect New Mexico’s precious quality of life, and to advance a vision of a better New Mexico.

Citizen lobbyists and concerned individuals have been making their voices heard at the Roundhouse. Moral Mondays have mounted marches to make sure the people are heard in the people’s building. Letters to the editor and op-ed columns have built the case to stop the bad bills that are dominating the legislative agenda.

But that’s the real tragedy of this session.

New Mexico is facing real challenges—real problems.

We don’t have time to waste. We don’t have money to waste. We don’t have political capital or energy or purpose to waste.

And yet in category after category, the Martinez Administration and the new Republican House majority are wasting time, money, political capital, energy and purpose.

We are debating and working on the wrong things. They are playing politics instead of making progress for people.

The regressive Republican agenda is not only bad for New Mexico, it’s also a huge distraction. We need to be developing solutions that work for problems that matter—not importing ALEC-driven bills that have nothing to do with New Mexico and won’t help us find our own way forward.

The best we can hope for is that in the second half of this session, our legislators continue to stop the worst proposals from becoming law, keep fighting for what would be real progress—and make the case for better results in the next election.

Because if this legislative session teaches us all one thing it is this: elections do have consequences.

If you don’t like the consequences, next time get out and vote!

Add your voice!

Alan Webber

Why Don’t the Republicans Have Any Original Ideas?

They’ve been waiting for decades—since Dwight David Eisenhower was President—for the chance to control the State House and offer their own (and the Governor’s) agenda for New Mexico. Now they have the House and . . . . it turns out, they don’t have any original ideas!

Take a look at the priority bills that the Republicans are pushing. Whether you look at jobs, education, the environment, energy, social issues—take your pick—the Republican agenda comes down to two things: legislation authored and promoted by the Koch Brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, a “bill mill” founded to promote right-wing policies at the state level across the country); and re-tread notions pushed in previous sessions by Susana Martinez and Jay McCleskey as “wedge issues”—more designed to splinter New Mexicans for political advantage than to promote a better future for our state.

Here’s what it all boils down to: The Republicans don’t have any original ideas. They don’t have a coherent strategy for the future of New Mexico. They don’t have a vision that is tailored to New Mexico’s unique assets, special gifts and one-of-a-kind history.

Instead the Republican agenda is a one-size-fits-all ALEC-driven hodge-podge of bills that are imported from out of state and jammed into the New Mexico legislature.   Even worse, these bills have nothing—nothing!—to do with our state. They promote a right-wing vision of America at the expense of New Mexico’s urgent needs and real opportunities.

So the Republicans have waited decades and now they come forward with . . . nothing.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, politics as usual, a heap of stir and no biscuits.

Why Don’t the Republicans Understand Business?

It’s a political cliche: Democrats understand people, Republicans understand business.

So why don’t New Mexico’s Republicans have a clue about what really matters to business, what it takes to grow our economy, and how to go about helping New Mexico’s businesses grow, expand and add jobs?

Take the top legislative priority for this session: a so-called “right to work” measure.

Just to be clear, “right to work” legislation has nothing to do with anyone’s right to work. It doesn’t create a single job. If the history of other states holds true, it won’t lure more companies to New Mexico. It won’t help existing New Mexico companies grow. It won’t support our small and medium-size businesses.

All it is, when you look at it carefully, is part of an ALEC-orchestrated national campaign to cut wages and benefits for working men and women; transfer more profits into the coffers of very large out-of-state companies (think Koch Brothers); and undermine the bargaining power and marketplace influence of organized labor.

By cutting wages and benefits (and making working conditions less safe), “right to work” laws actually hurt the competitiveness of New Mexico. We don’t need to take part in a race to the bottom. We need to invest more in our people: as I said in my testimony to the Republican-controlled committee that was considering the bill, no smart company ever grew by undermining the skills, energy or motivation of its workers. Smart companies grow by investing in their workers!

Apparently Democrats understand the new economy better than Republicans, who are still chasing after the false promise of trickle-down economics and the race to the bottom. (If you’re interested, here’s a paper I wrote with Alicia Smith about the history of Right to Work.)

Why Do the Republicans Want to Punish 8-Year Old Children?

I haven’t found any New Mexicans who are satisfied with the performance of our schools. So simply calling for upgrading the way our children learn doesn’t qualify as leadership. The question is, what do you want to do to improve our schools?

Here again, the Republican agenda doesn’t even come close to matching the problem!

Their number one priority in education? Retain third graders who aren’t reading at grade level.

Where did that answer come from? The Heritage Foundation, ALEC and Jeb Bush’s failed approach to “education reform” that is now in full re-think mode in Florida. So just like “right to work,” this bill has nothing to do with New Mexico, with our particular schools, our children, our communities, our parents, our teachers.

Even worse, just like “right to work”, the evidence shows that third grade retention doesn’t work. One study concluded that third grade retention only benefits politicians who are looking for a good sound bite.

Otherwise, it’s expensive, it hurts children, and it doesn’t produce important and lasting learning gains.

It’s another example of the Republicans taking a bill from some other state and importing it into New Mexico, while willfully ignoring the studies and the data that conclusively show it won’t work.

In other words, it’s politics over pragmatism.

(Here is testimony Alicia Smith and I prepared in opposition to HB 41: 3rd Grade Retention)

Why Don’t Republicans Like, Well, Most Anyone?

When you take a look at the priorities that have shaped the Republican agenda in the area of human services, human rights, or just plain human beings, you have to shake your head in amazement!

This group of elected officials doesn’t like immigrants, they don’t like women, they don’t like poor people or minority groups—it’s hard to see who they do like.

That’s what their legislative agenda reveals.

They want to take away driver’s licenses from undocumented immigrants, despite all the evidence that shows what a bad idea that is. California just followed New Mexico’s lead and now offers driver’s licenses because it makes good sense. Despite that, the Republicans see another wedge issue—and want to run in the wrong direction. Again.

On reproductive rights, they want to make it more difficult for women to have the right to choose; they want to force young girls and women to get parental approval before having an abortion, despite the evidence that a requirement like that could put vulnerable girls and young women into dangerous situations at home; they are doing everything they can to over-ride the overwhelming support for women’s rights that Albuquerque voters voiced last year.

We all know that poverty is a big problem in New Mexico, so you’d think that almost any sensible measure to help poor people would be welcomed by this legislature. Take the bill to limit payday lending to 36%–a measure supported by city and county councils across New Mexico and endorsed by religious leaders of all denominations. Predatory lending is an epidemic—it’s like economic quicksand that swallows up poor people. So what did the Republicans do? They tabled a good, sensible bill to limit payday lending—and then asked the lenders to come up with a bill to regulate themselves! In other words, they sided with the predators. We know it’s not credit—and it should be a crime. (Go here to find out more about the campaign to cap payday lending)

And then there’s voting.

When it comes to the essence of America—voting in elections—the Republicans simply want to suppress democracy. They are pushing legislation that is cynically designed to make it harder for people to vote, legislation that will hurt the poor, hurt minorities, hurt those who most need to have their voices heard.

All of this hostile, punitive, negative legislation leaves you wondering: Just who do the Republicans like?

Why Don’t the Republicans Like New Mexico’s Environment or It’s Energy Future?

It’s hard to know where to stop in this recitation of wrong-headed Republican regressive legislation!

But just to round out the agenda: there are more than 100 bills filed in this session that would undermine New Mexico’s most precious legacy: the clean air, water and land that make our state so special.

Republicans want to cut back on requirements for solar and renewable energy—despite evidence (and common sense) that says we ought to be investing even more in this area. New Mexico could be a leader in renewable energy; at a time when oil and gas prices have fallen, you’d think the need to plan for a diversified, renewable energy future would be obvious. You’d think that finding new ways to preserve and protect our scarce and precious water resources would be a high priority. You’d think that the threat of climate change would be something that New Mexico political leaders would want to address. Instead, Republicans have an agenda that either does nothing on these issues—or goes the wrong direction entirely.

For example, they want to take away the right of local governments to create their own regulations to safeguard water and land. They seem to think that giving companies the right to pollute will create more jobs—when all it will actually do is, once again, eliminate the essence of New Mexico’s unique, unmatched quality of life.