Scandal leads to independent movements, reform

Posted 9/25/2006 12:43:00 AM

On the National level, the Unity08 movement threatens to shake up the two-party system and the extreme partisan split plaguing our nation. In New Mexico, a group has formed that might similarly shake up state politics.

Independent Voters of New Mexico’s aim is to elect a split ticket of candidates in the November general election to prevent one-party domination of government at the state and national levels, according to the Associated Press.

“This is a chance for people who don’t want to associate their names with any party to be active and make sure their votes will make a difference,” Abraham Gutmann, founder of the political action committee, told the news service. “It’s not in the interests of independents to have any one party dominate any single level of government.”

Independents are the fastest growing segment of voters in New Mexico, and with good reason. They’ve watched those in power – Republicans on the national level and Democrats on the state level – mired in scandal for years.

Fifteen percent of the state’s registered voters are independent. In Doña Ana County, the number is significantly higher.

The group is organized by Gutmann, a longtime Green Party activist, and another longtime Libertarian Party activist, according to the news service.

The group has sent 4,000 letters to independents in Bernalillo County announcing its endorsements, and plans to send thousands more out in that county before Nov. 7.

In statewide races, the group endorses Republican treasurer candidate Demesia Padilla, Republican auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia and Democratic land commissioner candidate Jim Baca. It’s also endorsing Democrat Patricia Madrid in the 1st Congressional District Race and Green candidate David Bacon for the Public Regulation Commission District 4 seat.

This is another sign that a growing number of voters are more concerned with electing ethical and independent leaders than candidates who agree with their political views.

The group plans to also push during next year’s legislative session for a change in state law allowing independents and minor party voters to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries without changing party affiliation.

The news service reported that former Gov. Dave Cargo, a Republican, supports the proposal and will lobby for it.

“It’s long overdue,” he told the news service, adding that such a change should force candidates to “appeal to the kind of people they have to attract to win a general election.”

That was last week’s good news for those who are fed up with an extremely polarized two-party system. There was also bad news.

A federal judge rejected a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and Libertarian Party to New Mexico’s law governing whether minor party candidates can run for office, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling meant there won’t be Libertarian candidates on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Libertarians filed the lawsuit in July challenging the law that requires two petitions before minor parties can place candidates on the ballot.

Under the law, a minor political party must submit petitions with a required number of signatures to get its candidates on the ballot. Those candidates then have to submit a second petition containing its own signatures – more than 4,800.

Major parties – Democrats and Republicans – don’t have to file petitions to get their candidates on the ballot, but the candidates must file nominating petitions, just like minor-party candidates.

The Libertarians gathered the required signatures to have the right to place candidates on the ballot, but their candidates seeking to run for U.S. Senate, state treasurer, land commissioner and Bernalillo County Sheriff didn’t gather signatures.

According to the lawsuit, New Mexico is the only state with the two-petition system for minor parties.

It’s unfair that minor parties should be treated differently than major parties. The system is set up, by Democrats and Republicans, to make it harder for other parties to challenge their dominance. Apparently, however, the powers-that-be have found a way to make the unfair rules legal.

Though we’re not headed in the direction of reform of these laws, at least there’s a chance for other ethics reform.

The governor’s task force on ethics reform has agreed to recommendations it will make to Gov. Bill Richardson next month. Richardson plans to propose legislation in January based on the suggestions.

The recommendations in prioritized order are, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News, the creation of an ethics commission, a limitation on gifts to legislators, campaign contribution limits for all elected officials in the state, reimbursement of up to $10,000 each year for legislators, making the state treasurer and auditor positions appointed instead of elected, and public campaign financing for statewide races and contested judgeships.

Most of these would be steps in the right direction, though I’ve already made clear my hesitancy about making the auditor an appointed position.

What’s left off the list, unfortunately, is the opening of legislative conference committees to the public. Legislators hold all other policy making bodies in the state to the New Mexico Open Meetings Act, but exempt their own committees. In a state that allows secret dealings to hammer out new laws and capital outlay disbursements, it’s no wonder there’s a culture of secrecy and corruption.

The public shouldn’t tolerate a legislature that won’t open itself up to public scrutiny, especially after the wave of scandals that have plagued state government.

Since the Libertarians couldn’t win their fight to change the system, hopefully Unity08 and Independent Voters of New Mexico will make a difference.


At 2:01 PM, September 26, 2006, Anonymous Michelle Meaders said...

"The group plans to also push during next year’s legislative session for a change in state law allowing independents and minor party voters to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries without changing party affiliation."

I think this is a bad idea, for several reasons. It reminds me of the law that makes unions represent people without requiring them to join. It would raise costs for candidates because they would have to advertise to many more voters. Otherwise, these voters would be much less well informed than the party members. This could make candidates or parties object to limitations on the amount contributors could give candidates, that the state Ethics Commission is proposing.

The parties would be less democratic -- non-members wouldn't be able to participate in the party governance.

Only about 30% of party members now vote in the primaries anyway. It isn't burdensome to register with the party you usually vote with.


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