COMMENTARY: There have been many times when a fellow colleague or ally comes up to me and asks, “Why aren’t there more of you here?” The first time I heard this question, I was taken aback because I did not quite understand the question. And so I responded with my own question — “More of me?” — and a look of confusion, of course.
What they were trying to say was, “why don’t more of your people vote?”
Full disclosure: I am a woman of color and of Mexican descent.
To be honest, the question has always made me cringe. However, I have learned, throughout my experience and from the wisdom of mentors who have walked this journey before me, that I must be patient. As a policy advocate, community organizer and activist for most of my life, my passion and commitment is driven by community leaders who, over time, have developed into recognizing their own power and then wielding that power to improve the lives of all of us. It’s an amazing transformation — and it is the work that I am most proud of.
But like many in my community, I am growing impatient.
Let’s take last week’s discussion around House Joint Resolution 5 (HJR 5), for example. This resolution, if passed in the House and Senate, would have put a constitutional amendment implementing an ethics commission on the ballot in November. Not only would we become the 43rd state to hold our legislative and executive branches accountable, but it would have engaged many of my people in exercising their right to vote.
Despite some of the heartbreak I’ve experienced from this legislative session, this issue of an ethics commission brought a glimmer of hope. Finally! An opportunity to get citizen participation in support of more transparency, legislative and government accountability, access to public information, and more transparency in the state budget process. An issue we can all agree on, right? After all, for close to a decade of trying, this seemed to be the year — especially as we witnessed HJR5 come out of Republican lead house with a 50-10 vote.
Well, it made it into the Democratic controlled Senate and then it just stayed there. House Joint Resolution 5 died in Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. In fact, the resolution was withdrawn by its own sponsor because a substitute resolution in this committee would have watered the whole thing down.
Caught in the pushback against the Senate Rules Committee’s derailment of HJR 5, committee members suggested that lawmakers “will revisit the issue in advance of the 2017 legislative session.” Given that nearly 50 bills to curb corruption have been introduced in the past decade without avail, surely legislators must realize the emptiness in those words.
Legislature to New Mexican citizens: “Trust us. We got this.”
Message received loud and clear.
“Secrecy does breed suspicion,” and the deeply corrupt system that exists in our state is one of the reasons why my people — no, scratch that — why a lot of people choose to opt-out of participating in civic life.
I applaud Representative Steinborn and Representative Dines for trying hard to move this joint resolution forward. Although I am deeply disappointed in the outcome, I remain hopeful and am personally committed to doing my part in bringing ethics reform to this state when elected and serving in the House in 2017.
Until then, I urge our legislators to seriously consider Tuesday’s events as a learning experience. Our people don’t just stop participating. They have just given up trying.
Angelica Rubio is a writer and community organizer in Las Cruces. She is running for the New Mexico House of Representatives, District 35.