Democrats in NM should take a hard look inward, many say

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Many New Mexicans balked at a claim from a top Democratic Party official that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision explains the party’s recent losses here.

Gary King, the Democrat's 2014 candidate for governor, who was trounced by Republican incumbent Susana Martinez.

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

Gary King, the Democrats’ 2014 candidate for governor, was trounced by Republican incumbent Susana Martinez. Haaland, who now chairs the state Democratic Party, was King’s running mate.

Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, made the assertion about Citizens United — which allows unlimited spending on elections by third-party groups — in a recent interview with NMPolitics.net.

But Democrats, like Republicans, have embraced Citizens United, as NMPolitics.net pointed out to Haaland. In the last election cycle unions gave millions in New Mexico, most of it to super PACs trying to win state House races for Democrats.

Instead of blaming a court ruling, many said the Democratic Party needs to take a long, hard look inward.

Taking their power for granted. Not uniting behind a platform. Failing to address the state’s systemic problems. Not building a strong communications network. Tolerating corruption. Those are among the reasons Democrats have recently ceded power in New Mexico, including losing control of the state House of Representatives in 2014 for the first time in 60 years, many said in discussions NMPolitics.net facilitated on Facebook.

“Give the voters a little credit. Perhaps they looked back over the six decades the Democrats have ruled New Mexico and saw a state in last place or nearly so in jobs, education, health care, business, income and quality of life,” Bernie Digman of Las Cruces wrote in a discussion on my Facebook page.

Robb Chavez of Albuquerque said former Gov. Bill Richardson and current President Barack Obama, both Democrats, share blame for the party’s losses in New Mexico. In a discussion on NMPolitics.net’s Facebook page he called Haaland “an idealist who doesn’t like critiquing her own party’s shortcomings and prefers to spout the national party’s talking points.”

David Alcon of Albuquerque, son of Democratic state Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, also mentioned the former Democratic governor.

“New Mexico continues to say ‘anything but Richardson,'” he wrote. “The new chair appears to be deaf to these remarks too.”

Democrats ‘became lazy’

Greg Graves of Dexter said New Mexico must address many problems Haaland cited — such as income disparity, issues with the education system, and climate change. But he said Democrats, who controlled state government for decades, share blame for the failures.

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“If the problems Ms. Haaland describes are the issues of the day, perhaps she should look to her party as the cause, take the blame, and develop solutions,” Graves wrote.

Some joined Haaland in blaming Citizens United. Despite the evidence to the contrary, many suggested Republicans are winning by spending more money than Democrats. But Jeffory Parsons of Las Cruces shared data showing that, in federal races, Democrats significantly outspent Republicans in New Mexico in 2014.

And Timothy B. Smith of Las Cruces pointed out that Democrats “have their own sources of outside money.” He said Republican Gov. Susana Martinez “left a door open with the way the (state Public Education Department) is treating teachers and students,” but Democrats “failed to take advantage of it” during the 2014 election.

Democrats have lost ground in New Mexico because they “became lazy” and “thought they could do no wrong,” wrote Larry Evans of Las Cruces. He suggested Republicans could be vulnerable to the same problem if they continue “rubber stamping” the work of Martinez, who he believes “only cares about her own future.”

Rebuild the platform

The Facebook conversations reflected the tension between conservative and progressive Democrats in New Mexico, Claudia Anderson of Farmington pointed out. The Democratic Party needs to rebuild its platform to “reflect both fiscal conservatism and social progressivism,” she wrote.

“The progressive says Democrats aren’t progressive enough, the conservatives says Democrats are too progressive,” wrote Anderson, a Democrat. “Yup, pretty much what is wrong with the party, coupled with two of the most lackluster governor campaigns we’ve seen in a while.”

The last point, Anderson wrote, helps explain Republican gains as well.

“Martinez won the first time because she was a fresh face and won the second time because she faced a candidate (Gary King) that no one in the (Democratic Party) supported with any measure of enthusiasm,” Anderson wrote. “The other (Republican) officials simply road her coattails.”

Address ‘real, systemic issues’

Meanwhile MariaElena Johnson of Chaparral, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat in 2014, pointed out that Republicans more consistently turn out to vote. Democrats and independents, she said, are “a little sick and tired of having to deal with politicians that do not fight for issues that directly affect them and their families.”

Johnson said she was criticizing the Democratic and Republican parties.

“Why show up for a system that has not shown up for them? We will be successful once we let go of that ridiculous notion that one party is better than the other,” Johnson said, though she also said she can’t wait for Democrats to take back the House as “the party of the people.”

After she lost in 2014, Johnson said she asked people why they didn’t vote. She said the responses were “heartbreaking.” Johnson questioned how the bipartisan push in the last session to create a statewide trail along the Rio Grande addresses issues related to hunger, poverty, addiction and children.

“Current lawmakers sorta screw it up by not addressing real, systemic issues crippling our communities,” Johnson wrote.

Build a better network

Democrats also need to build a better “information network” to take their message directly to voters — one that does its own development and analyzing of information and that reaches a large number of New Mexicans. That’s according to Michael Corwin of Albuquerque, a private investigator who has done work for Democrats.

Violet York Cauthon of Las Cruces agreed that Democrats need to do a better job of communicating.

“In the social media age, we Democrats are sadly not using the available technology or even keeping accurate email lists,” she wrote. Cauthon said an information “tree” — starting with Haaland and moving down through the party’s infrastructure to voters — would be helpful and is “basic” — something that “should have been done 20 years ago.”

Corwin also said Democrats need more “homegrown” campaign consultants.

“D.C. consultants get work no matter if they win or lose, so they never take the time to learn about local thought processes and what is important,” Corwin said.

Don’t tolerate corruption

Gary Saxton of Las Cruces, a Democrat, criticized his party for tolerating corruption. He said his “complete dissatisfaction” with the party came when Richardson justified speeding in violation of traffic laws while he was governor.

“No man is above the law, not the governor, nor the police that transport him,” Saxton wrote. “The fact that any politician could have a mindset that he believed he could get away with such an action demonstrates just how corrupt the system is. The fact that he did get away with it is even more disturbing.”

Saxton said he believes “neither party works for people anymore.” Instead, the parties “are owned by corporate interests.” That’s why he no longer votes.

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