Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post-Election Reflections

Las Cruces voters got it right this week. Kudos to candidates, canvassers, and voters – on both sides. Special congratulations to Mayor Ken Miyagashima for a resounding victory. 

But let's not dance in the streets just yet. The closeness of the council races sent a message to both sides: we must work harder at talking with each other and collaborating. Conservatives and the Chamber of Commerce lost the election; and the recent recall efforts, plus misleading personal attacks by an outside PAC, have alienated many uncommitted voters. Progressives should note that two council seats were decided by 18 and 11 votes, respectively. Slightly better decisions by candidates or their backers could have changed the outcome. 

Further, the outside PAC could be back next election with a bigger budget or smarter operators. (The super-PAC attacks made some voters vote against PAC candidates, but undoubtedly led others to worry about PAC-alleged scandals. I'll leave it to Steve Pearce to figure out whether the attacks ultimately helped or hurt PAC-favored candidates.) Conservatives could have won Tuesday. (Since I'm not a Republican campaign consultant I won't suggest how.)

The PAC further damaged the community's ability to move forward as a community. Not something Pearce or Mack Energy cares about, obviously. If I were Miyagashima, I'd be sorely tempted to tell some PAC allies to put their requests and ideas where the sun don't shine. Fortunately, Miyagashima will surmount any such temptations. 

Progressives and other citizens must go forward working as collegially as possible with folks they disagree with. I don't say blind ourselves to the fact that some people mean us no good. I do say that with our eyes open we should work with everyone we can, without pride in our “victory” or our supposed righteousness. None of us is always right about everything. Nor is anyone I've met always completely wrong.

If we can talk honestly across the ideological divide, we will find some areas of agreement; where we disagree, groups can understand each other better, perhaps avoiding misunderstandings and personal animus, (Understand others' assumptions. Confront others' arguments without rejecting the persons, the neighbors, making the arguments.) Together, we may be able to hammer out workable compromises. Ultimately, we all want to improve Las Cruces, although we differ on how to do that and on precisely what constitutes improvement. 

Above all, this is a community. If it degenerates into armed camps, perpetually at war, we all lose. And although each “side” may blame the other's close-mindedness and arrogance, we might dp better to glance inward for a moment and see how we can each improve our own tolerance, open-mindedness, communication, and genuinely cooperative attitude.

Examples? Conservatives complain the City is tough on businesses. If that means businesses don't want any safety and health regulations, I'd say too bad. But if it means city officials drag permit processes out unreasonably, because they enjoy power or because inaction is safe when you're unsure what to do, or because they think councilors are anti-growth, we all need to try to change that.

Another: how much and what kind of growth would be best is a fair but complicated question. We all need better information about water, for example. How much is there? How bad is it? And what would be the actual costs and harms of trying to improve water quality? All sides should collaborate on gathering information – and on educating each other honestly about the facts. Assuming mindlessly that all growth is good or bad won't cut it.

Staying in perpetual campaign mode would expand that leak in the bottom of the rowboat we all share.
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 8 November in the Las Cruces Sun-News -- which, coincidentally, also editorialized on the same subject from a somewhat similar point-of-view.It will also appear on the KRWG-TV website today.]

 [If I didn't make it clear enough: 
"Yo, conservatives: you lost, despite a Congressman and a PAC and $100,000.  The city council majority is what it is -- and even if you win Olga's and Gill's seats two years from now, you likely won't have a majority.  Deal."
"Yo, progressives: you damned near lost two council seats -- and 49% of the voters did not vote for Mayor Miyagashima.  That means someone other than the Greater Chamber and the Tea Party may have had some issues with you.  Deal."
Some progressives feel as if it's like the gridlock in Congress, where folks urge both sides to compromise, but the Republicans won't/can't because of Pearce and his ilk, extremists who'd rather make a point to their wealthy supporters than run a country in some sane fashion.  Is that true here?  The way to find out is to treat complaints or critical questions with respect and a cooperative spirit.  Where some legitimate problems turn up, try to deal with them non-ideologically.  Where not, shrug and go on to the next issue.]

[Everyone asks me "Why does Pearce hate Miyagashima so much?" or "Why do these guys care about who's a city councilor in Las Cruces?"   Obviously I don't know, although I doubt Pearce particularly hates Miyagashima and I doubt he was involved in detailed discussions of the nearly-libelous mailings by the PAC.  I do believe he wants a more Republican / conservative Las Cruces, and is working to make it happen.  The Congressman from Hobbs lost last year to a professor's wife (now, sadly, widow) who had never held public office.  I don't mean to belittle her, because I like and respect her; but if I were a five-term U.S. Congressman who kept losing the biggest city in my district to unknown Republican opponents, I'd probably want to urge Hobbs to get a little more progressive.  Don't know as I'd do it the same way, but that's why I'm not holding any elective office and am highly unlikely to seek one!]

[But it isn't just Pearce -- or, in his interest, Mack Energy.  From a recent piece by "Money in Politics Reporter" Paul Blumenthal in the Huffington Post:
"Super PACs have also played key roles in city elections for mayor and city council members across the country this year. . . . 

"A debate over the development of a toll road in Dallas led businessmen involved in city council races to create opposing super PACs. Wealthy businessmen including billionaire Harlan Crow, oilman Ray Hunt and investor Al Hill Jr. made five-figure donations to For Our Community, the pro-toll road super PAC. Coalition for a New Dallas, the anti-toll road super PAC, received $150,000 from Trammell Crow Jr.
"Small cities are not immune to super PAC involvement either, as two northern New Jersey cities found out in 2015.
"In Little Ferry, New Jersey, a group called Focus on Families is circulating flyers attacking Mayor Mauro Raguseo. “These fliers are ridiculous in their attacks, and I think the people of Little Ferry know that,” Raguseo told The North Jersey Record. The biggest problem is that Focus on Families has not filed a single disclosure report detailing who its funders are.
"Just slightly to the west, New Jersey Future First, a super PAC run by a Democratic Party consultant, got involved in a Republican township council primary election in Parsippany, New Jersey. The super PAC's involvement was confusing to residents at first, and especially to the officials it targeted.
"The group stated that all of its funding came from America’s Future First, a 527 group registered with the Internal Revenue Service. That confusion was cleared up when America’s Future First disclosed that its donors were Fairview Insurance Agency and Adams, Rehmann & Heggan Associates. Both companies held contracts with the city’s government, and the council members they opposed were critical of the contracts.
. . .
"Super PAC involvement continues even further down-ballot: Lately, billionaires can be found influencing races for school board and district attorney in Louisiana.
In short, it's the new political reality: money dictating to politics in U.S. towns more directly than it had since more than a century ago.]

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