My First Time at the Legislature – POV from a Newbie

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For many of us, myself included, the idea of heading to our state’s Roundhouse is not only foreign but intimidating to boot.

On November 1st   – just a week before 2016’s historic elections and just over two months away from a new legislative session – I accepted a position as the Community Engagement Strategist for ProgressNow NM.

My background is in community engagement. The work I performed previously, before coming to PNNM, was centered around communities and providing access to experiences, to art, to opportunities for dialogue and community growth. I’ve come to realize there is no better place to apply this skill set than in our state’s capitol.
That statement might sound naïve; I get that the “average citizen” likely feels like his or her voice doesn’t matter in the chamber halls, the committee rooms, and on either of the party floors. My 60-day experience at our New Mexico State Legislature has enlightened me and changed my opinion.


In fact, what I was able to witness as we tracked bills, reported on statuses of different issues, and spoke with community advocates, organization heads, and elected officials, was that although our legislative process has seemingly more moving parts than a well-crafted erector set, there is a place in the process for that “piece” that is community dialogue, civic engagement, and citizen lobbying.


Once you get down the East and the West of things, the Senate and House office locations, the sizes of committee rooms, and the lay of the land regarding the “golden rod” for each day, the rest is an experience that requires one just jumping in.

How? Put on some semi-formal clothes – a tie if you want to address and introduce yourself to Legislators on the actual floor, while it is NOT in session. Next, pick up the schedule for the day when you walk through the door of the East Lobby, and if you have any questions about it, the wonderful staff at the information desk has a plethora of information to offer.

Next, is committee and Senate and House gallery goodness. When bills go through committee for approval, they often are offered up for public comment on both sides. Witnessing the passion in the political process both from Republican and Democratic angles is truly a scene to be seen and heard. Lives are at stake, budgets in the balance and the livelihood of different communities rest on the differing opinions of engaged and concerned individuals who took the time out of their day to be there.

If you are one of those people, you get the opportunity to address the Chairperson and the committee – if bills pass through committee, they head to the floor of each chamber. When the chambers approve, bills still aren’t through – and the Governor is the last stop.

Anyone watching at home knows that this year, that desk has been a burial ground for good ideas for our state. While it is easy to just hate the hand that isn’t signing off (and we aren’t done there yet…), I instead offer you the invitation to see the process in process at the next opportunity, if you didn’t, in fact, head up this year.

Carlos Contreras, Community Engagement Specialist with ProgressNow NM

When we hit Santa Fe in 2018, or for a possible soon to be announced “Special Session,” I am hopeful that there will be considerably more people that “look like me.”

I desire a day where the Roundhouse rounds itself out with the presence of poets, and rappers, artists, and crafters, and everyone in between. We are what stands between our state and the progress it is pleading for – it’s time to be heard