Mistrust of government is at an all-time high. As part of our People, Power and Democracy project, Gwyneth Doland is moderating conversations between state lawmakers, policy experts, and New Mexicans to explore questions like: What reforms would increase your trust in government?
Are you concerned about dark money that is funding national campaign ads?
Do you think big money gives some individuals and organizations greater access to politicians?
Should the state increase oversight of campaign spending reports?Should New Mexico have an independent ethics commission for elected officials?
Want To Be Part Of The Conversation?
Or come join us for the event 5:30 p.m.- 7:30 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at the cozy President's Room in the Rio Chama Steakhouse in Santa Fe.
If You Missed The First Event...
The discussion took place in Abiquiu Room at the Rio Chama Steakhouse in Santa Fe on January 27, 2016. Panelists included Republican Sen. Sander Rue of Albuquerque, Democratic Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces, Democratic Sen. Bill O’Neill of Albuquerque, Kristina Fisher of Think New Mexico, Executive Director Viki Harrison for Common Cause New Mexico.
The panel started off with a discussion of the practices in New Mexico politics that deteriorate trust between lawmakers and the public, including former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s gambling scandal and campaign advertisements.
"People aren't necessarily attacking me or accusing," said Senator Rue, "but they're expressing their concern about ethics reform and campaign practices."
The panelists talked about how New Mexicans can get involved in state politics in order to build trust with their elected lawmakers.
"We've got to be more transparent and be out in the open," said Viki Harrison. The panelists pointed to a solid solution: be more transparent. They discussed the effectively of an ethics commission.
Gwyneth Doland asked the lawmakers on the panel if it’s hard to be an uncompensated member of legislature while juggling a full-time job and other responsibilities. Also, how should people reach out to their representatives and senators?
"We can train and teach our young students in the schools and at home to get involved, go to meetings, meet with all these other people, go to hearings," said a teacher in the audience.
The panel welcomed Senator Bill O'Neill as Senator Soules left the discussion and moved on to talk about the state’s capital outlay system. What is it? How much money is involved? Should lawmakers tell us where they spent it?
"It's hard to get people really excited about the topic sometimes," said host Gwyneth Doland. "But it is the money that goes to things we see and use and appreciate in our district all the time. It is important."
The panelists noted several problems with the success rate of projects funded with capital outlay money. A debate broke out when Senator Rue said capital outlay should fund projects on a merit-based formula. But Senator O’Neill said he knows what infrastructure his district needs, and that he doesn't want someone else telling him how to use capital outlay money to benefit his constituents.
Senator Rue’s capital outlay transparency bill would allow the public to see what infrastructure projects are funded and at what level. The proposal was given a nod by Governor Susana Martinez to be put on the legislative agenda.
The panel discussed transparency in government and what benefits the public.
"The bill only goes half of the way," said Think New Mexico's Kristina Fisher. "What we'd like to see is a transparent merit based process."
State Auditor Tim Keller joined the conversation as well and suggested some additional solutions for the lack of transparency and accountability in our capital outlay system, even going so far as to suggest a czar for the process.
"We can all control the money that goes to our individual coffers," said Keller. "So by creating a czar position or somebody to oversee capital outlay infrastructure spending, I think we can get through 80 percent of the problems."
Senator Rue found this solution to be unrealistic.
The panel concluded with a final discussion on the process of redistricting in New Mexico. Senator O’Neill proposed a bill that would create an independent restricting commission.
"Can I say 'gerrymandering?'" asked Senator O'Neill. "This is what the bill addresses."
During the 2016 legislative session, the People, Power and Democracy Project will examine ethics, transparency and accountability in state government.
The People, Power, and Democracy Project is funded by the Thornburg Foundation.