The two-party system protects itself once again

Heath Haussamen

Heath Haussamen

Faced with a decision about whether to enforce the law and possibly end the legislative careers of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings and others, the N.M. Supreme Court instead said Tuesday that the law doesn’t really mean what it says.

If the two-party system that controls our government erred on the side of ballot access for minor parties and independents, I’d be more forgiving of the mistake several legislative incumbents and other Democrats and Republicans made this year that could have ended their campaigns.

But the reality is that, in New Mexico and across America, Democrats and Republicans have passed and interpreted laws in ways that make it more difficult for anyone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican to participate in our political process. That’s not fair.

And in New Mexico, we force those taxpaying citizens – who make up 20 percent of the electorate – to help pay for our Democratic and Republican primaries but don’t let them participate. Also not fair.

So I couldn’t help but chuckle when a handful of Democratic and Republican legislators, including Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, left the numbers of the districts they were seeking to represent off nominating petitions a year after they passed a law requiring them and other candidates to include such numbers or face disqualification.

True to form, after the N.M. Supreme Court decided Tuesday to let him and others stay on the ballot, Jennings told Capitol Report New Mexico what was embarrassing wasn’t his flub, but the fact that no synopsis of the 2011 bill or “the things that we had to study this law” listed the new requirement as a “substantive change.”

When someone has been in office so long (33 years for Jennings) that he thinks he doesn’t need to read the 2012 candidate guide to see if there are any changes in the law, and when he blames the bill summary for being inadequate instead of recognizing that a system that doesn’t give him time to read bills is broken, he illustrates arguments in favor of enacting term limits.

They should have known

The new requirement is made clear in this year’s candidate guide, on pages 23 and 24:


“The following information shall be listed in the appropriate space at the top of the nominating petition before the petition has been signed by any voter: the party affiliation of voters signing the petition, the candidate’s name, the candidate’s address, the candidate’s county of residence and the office sought by the candidate, which shall include the district or division of the office sought, if applicable (emphasis here and below is mine). Signatures on a page will not be counted by the filing office at the time the petition is filed if all general information and candidate information in the top one-third of each page has not been completely filled in prior to circulation.”

If that somehow left any doubt, the law is even clearer:

“The following information shall be listed in the appropriate space at the top of the nominating petition before the petition has been signed by any voter: the party affiliation of voters signing the petition, the candidate’s name, the candidate’s address, the candidate’s county of residence and the office sought by the candidate, which shall include the district or division of the office sought, if applicable. A nominating petition, including all signatures on the petition page, shall be invalid if any of the preceding information is not listed before the petition is signed by a voter or if any of the preceding information is altered.”

Those who didn’t know about the new requirement have no one to blame but themselves, as demonstrated by the fact that almost all candidates who filed to run in the primary did include the district or division number of the office they’re seeking on their petitions.

Treating independents, minor parties differently

I can understand the temptation to say such screw-ups should not be fatal to campaigns, that the penalty is overly harsh, that it disenfranchises people who signed those candidates’ petitions.

If the system had a history of showing similar grace when it came to independents and minor parties, I’d buy those arguments.

But the system errs on the side of keeping candidates off the ballot when it comes to minor parties and independents. That’s done to protect the power of the two major parties.

For example, the state requires two petitions before minor party candidates can be placed on the ballot. Then-Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, proposed changing the requirement to only one petition for minor parties in 2007, and had the support of the ACLU.

Democrats killed the bill. A couple of rare access-favoring Republicans defended it, but in general the GOP didn’t like it any more than Democrats.

Minor parties haven’t had any more success in the courts in getting rid of that law. And a current lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the Constitution and Green parties seeking to move the deadline for minor parties to submit signatures to qualify as a party, to give them more time to qualify for the ballot, is likely to go nowhere.

Court says the law doesn’t mean what it says

But when the candidacies of Democrats and Republicans are at stake, mountains move to keep them on the ballot. The new petition law is not ambiguous, regardless of what anyone claims. It says candidates have to list the district or division number of the office they’re seeking, if one exists, before they get people to sign their petitions. If they don’t, those petitions are disqualified.

The law was intended to ensure that people signing petitions could be certain they lived in the districts listed on the petitions. That, in theory, would help candidates do a better job of collecting valid signatures.

Some argue that the law is stupid or unnecessary. Some claim it’s unfair. Some say it’s time to get rid of the entire petition process.

But for now, it’s the law. And the Supreme Court, faced with a decision about whether to enforce the law and possibly end the legislative careers of Jennings and others, instead said the law doesn’t really mean what it says.

The two-party system protected itself once again.

Haussamen bio │ Commentary archives │ Feed

4 thoughts on “The two-party system protects itself once again

  1. Bob @ 1 – you make some pretty impressive points and I hope voters do remember. Unfortunately I must submit two things. #1 – The Supreme Court’s actions here solidified their re-elections for they ignored the law for certain individuals who are quite politically powerful. #2 – In New Mexico, one person can be worth 10,000 votes for at the family reunions held annually usually during the summer the family decides who to vote for then they all collectively vote for the same candidate as a block. Collect about five families and a candidate is invinsible. I learned that this is the way it works in New Mexico way back when I caught glimpses of things that are usually hidden from newcomers. And incidentally, newcomers are expected to abide by the laws and just wait till one of the good ole boy/girl judges acts as an accomplice ruins your life with injustice everybody, you see if you blow the whistle suddenly laws can be made up and abuses of law can effectively shut someone up (see definition of colour of law). And then worse things can happen but I won’t go into that…right now.

    One of the ironies of course is that another reason Judges are beholden to placing some above the law is because some have the real dirt on the Judges. Another thing I would like to point out to all readers that I learned way back when is that in New Mexico politics factual reality is rarely, if ever, what it is presented to the public to be…

    Fortunately for voters and New Mexico’s citizenry, sites like strive for transparency and truth.

    Maybe that is why Gary King attacked and tried to silence Heath Haussamen recently. For more on that enter key words in the search box on this website.

    Fixing it all? Well good luck, notice the current New Mexico’s US Attorney’s last name? Some had high hopes for David Inglesias but we see how he ended. And then there was Greg Forratt but that’s another rich untold story for another day. And as for the FBI, anyword on the whistleblowers who risked their lives going to them in regard to the alledged criminal activity of former Secretary of State Mary Herrera?

    Ah yes, and people wonder why I ask. My response to them? Why do you ask?

  2. The New Mexico Supreme Court….hmmm. I think that the folks that comprise it should look for work elsewhere, perhaps making license plates in one of our fine correctional institutions. Their decision and blatantly false assessment of the law can only make us wonder how effective is a court that is sworn to uphold the laws of New Mexico but make decisions like a court of clowns. We should give them due respect but after this how much respect is really due? Appearances suggest that they see themselves as beyond the law, that the law must suit them or the needs of their political partners — how does that benefit us, the people they supposedly serve?  I doubt they care what we think, so they make a decision with no regard for the truth, pepper it up with a dash of disrespect and call it a day leaving us to gnash our teeth impotently at least until the next election…..if enough of us remember. 

  3. Politicians are above the law in New Mexico. I learned that years ago. And when they destroy lives they are given a pass. A lot of times the Judiciary acts as an accomplice. Whistleblowers are left dangling in the air, voters are disenfranchised, criminals repeat their crimes and the beat goes on.

    And then there are those who defend the criminals and criminal activity. Spin it. Twist it. Excuse it… until they become victims. Many of them are too ignorant to realize they are victims.

    A new generation of voters become disenfranchised because of the seedy criminal elements that they hear and read about in the press and on television. They avoid politics/voting like the plague. The Union is not served and the creepy politicians keep creepin away.

    Excellent Supreme Court of New Mexico, collectively you probably just disenfranchised one thousand more.

    *Petra, I am particularly ashamed of you…and yes we were once on a first name basis.

  4. Good article Heath.  The law IS clear and the Supreme Court IS supreme, in spite of the law.