Sunday, November 23, 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

We'd all like a more civil and cooperative local government. We're neighbors, members of a community, and we ought not to ape the Washington gridlock.


First, we need to be able to talk with each other – and listen to each other. We should learn to make clear that in rejecting someone's argument we don't reject him or her – and to recognize that disagreeing with us doesn't make someone an implacable enemy. Few people, if any, are purely evil, and neither wanting a living wage for workers nor believing we can afford to pay a living wage sounds evil.

Randy Harris's “Great Conversations” is a helpful model. In the minimum-wage debate, councilors dragged it in so late that many perceived it as just part of a scheme to delay the initiative (which it would have done). I'd have liked to see Randy called in earlier: we could have used a face-to-face, candid, fact-based discussion by all sides on what level of raise was right and why. Candid but civil.
Maybe the City should routinely utilize some form of Great Conversation. Not a work-session, where councilors and mayor sit high above us. More human, interactive.

On the other hand, recall is a tool to use very sparingly. We generally shouldn't use it merely because we disagree with someone. I disagree strongly with many officials' votes and actions, but I'm not shouting “Recall!” (I'd reserve recall for officials like David Gutierrez, who've seriously misbehaved.)

Now, some local businessfolk, after calling lifelong resident Sarah Nolan an outside agitator, have hired a young fellow from Illinois, Jeffrey Isbell, to run a campaign to recall three councilors. Isbell, 28, lives in Illinois, where he reportedly (a) ran for Williamson County Commissioner in the 2012 Republican primary, finishing a distant 4th with 314 votes (5.16%!), and (b) still has an outstanding court judgment against him from an unpaid $1,573 debt. He's not even a registered voter here, but has been hired to tell us how we ought to run Las Cruces.

Isbell's anonymous bosses will spend a lot of money, probably blanket the media with ludicrous attack ads, and perhaps even win. Meanwhile they'll waste a lot of public money, destroy the political fabric of Las Cruces, and divide the town. (It's no wonder that so far they're keeping their names out of it. Paying some fellow to do their dirty work.)

It's ironic that (so far as I've heard) CAFé hasn't moved toward recalling anyone, even though certain councilors are trying to violate the spirit, and arguably the substance, of the City Charter, and thwart what they've admitted is the public will. (The initiative/petition process mandated the Council enact the ordinance without change, and councilors did so while proposing substantive changes – and still propose to seriously weaken it before the ordinance ever takes effect.) Greg Smith shouldn't even be voting on the minimum-wage issue because of a pretty basic conflict of interest, but I'm not advocating recall.

Recall means a special election, which costs money. If the recall succeeds, and someone new is placed in office, the other side could soon circulate another recall petition. We could have an endless series of unproductive elections. Simmering tempers would explode. But what does some kid from Illinois care? Somebody will pay him for his labors, and then he'll go somewhere else. Maybe Maryland, to organize against marriage equality.

I applaud the Mayor's comment, that although he often disagrees with the counselors, he stands with them against recall.

If we come so close to blowing ourselves up over the minimum wage, how will we solve even more important problems we face, such as water?


[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 November.]

[This recall effort is embarrassing.  The people who are actually behind it are too ashamed to put their own names on it.

[Mayor Ken Miyagashima's comments on Facebook were blunt, correct, and perhaps courageous.  Miyagashima himself is a small businessman who has doubts about the wisdom of raising the minimum wage above $8.50 any time soon.  Since he crafted a compromise a while back (keep the ordinance as it is, except to include notice that the council will reconsider the issue next July), he has resisted a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle moves by councilors to delay the ordinance's January 1 start-date.
To the newspaper story about the recall effort, he commented on Facebook: "I don't know who this organization is, but this is wrong!  You might as well add my name to this recall because I stand with my colleagues -- Sorg, Small, and Pedroza, we may not always agree, but we work out our differences.  I will be helping raise money for them (councilors) and will openly campaign for them (councilors) to retain their seats!"
Good for him!] 
[This might be a good time to mention -- as I will often if the recall silliness persists, because recall proponents are already telling untruths about their targets -- that the three councilors are competent, honorable, caring, thoughtful, and hard-working representatives of their districts who've been elected and re-elected in those districts.  (Recall proponents will depend on a huge influx of cash to defame the three, because (a) all three have served their districts well and (b) by all accounts, the issue -- minimum-wage hike -- is popular with the people. (Other councilors said so when deciding not to let a vote of the citizens happen on this.
Nathan Small is a smart, friendly young fellow who's been incredibly active representing his district on the council and representing the City in Santa Fe and Washington.  Olga Pedroza, a lawyer, has brought legal acumen and thoughtful questioning to the council meetings.  Gill Sorg has worked well beyond the call of duty, particularly in examining critical issues such as water.  Mr. Isbell, on one of his many radio appearances this week, appeared to mock Sorg for regarding climate change as an important issue we mustn't ignore.   Fine, but a vast majority of climate scientists and a noticeable majority of voters agree generally with Sorg.  I've found all three councilors to be honest and caring -- as well as very diligent and competent.] 

[Although the column mentions that Isbell's a stranger here, I don't mean to suggest for a moment that being from elsewhere bars someone from commenting on our politics here.  As a civil rights worker down South, I never saw the point in people calling me an "outside agitator."  Some folks loved me and some folks hated me, without even knowing me; but to me the point seemed, "Am I right?"   However: (a) the folks who hired Isbell have been railing against "outsiders" for months; (b) there's a lot he doesn't know, and he got many details wrong while talking on the radio this week; and (c) when he used phrases such as "We did . . ." or "We thought . . ." in discussing events that took place months before he could spell "Las Cruces," he sounded a little false.  But let's listen to him.  Closing our ears because he's an outsider is silly.  On the other hand, if he just doesn't make much sense, . . .]

[Truly, what we're seeing is one more battle between big money (likely much of it from the outside) and local people.  One hears the recall group has funds in the six figures.   That would be an absurd amount for a local city council race in southern New Mexico.  Meanwhile the three councilors were all elected by their constituents.   Few complaints have been heard from those constituents.  The three favored lowering the minimum wage and federal approval of the new National Monument.  Polls showed the latter was very popular with the people here, and the councilors who didn't like the minimum-wage ordinance noted it was petition driven and conceded that if they let it go to a vote of the citizenry, it would win.  So other than the business community, there's been little in the way of negative views of these councilors.  There's been the usual carping from the folks who opposed them, but nothing more.  So money from the Chamber-of-Commerce and from elsewhere, plus the misleading ads it'll buy, is pitted against the decency, diligence and good records of the the three councilors.]

[The message from the people financing this, who are too craven to identify themselves, is simple: vote against us and be prepared to spend untold hours and any money you might have opposing a well-financed campaign of character assassination.  That's a steep price for trying to help improve your community!]

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