August 22, 2018

Democracy Dollars second attempt fails

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For the second time this month, the Bernalillo County Commission voted against adding a campaign public financing question to the November ballot. The provision would have asked Albuquerque voters to decide whether voters would be able to give some additional public money to publicly-funded mayoral and city council candidates through a voucher program called Democracy Dollars.

With only four of the five commission in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, the vote came down to a tied 2-2 vote, meaning the proposal failed.

The special meeting  came after the commission voted 3-2 last week against adding Democracy Dollars and a provision that would lead to changing city election dates to the general election ballot in November. At the urging of Democracy Dollars supporters, four commissioners agreed to hold a special meeting to hear more public comment and reconsider adding the proposal to the ballot.

New Mexico Working Families Party Director Eric Griego was one of the organizers for the Democracy Dollars campaign. Griego helped pass the city’s current public finance program more than a decade ago when he was an Albuquerque city councilor.

“We appreciate them hearing the public,” Griego said of the commission. “It’s just really unfortunate they would second-guess, literally thousands of their constituents on this.”

Griego didn’t say what the coalition of advocacy groups will try next, but said, “all options are on the table right now.”

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada again raised concerns, saying  some gave him “heartburn.” But he added that he was worried that the commission would be held liable if they added the proposal to the ballot and were later sued.

The question of litigation came, in part, from Albuquerque attorney and former Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers. During the public comment period of the meeting, Rogers warned the commission that there might be a lawsuit filed for “logrolling,” or combining unrelated issues into one ballot question, among other issues with the provision.

Rogers filed a similar lawsuit last year to keep a mandatory sick leave initiative off an Albuquerque ballot. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of keeping it on the ballot, but voters voted shot it down last November.

Commissioner Jim Smith said he also feared a lawsuit.

“I’m nervous about voting for something I know is going to be challenged in court,” Smith said.

Dozens of people at the meeting spoke in favor of putting the measure on the ballot in November, many adding that they helped collect the more than 28,000 petition signatures.

Ane Romero, a policy director for the Center for Civic Policy, urged the commissioners to add the question to the ballot.

“Trust the voters to make the right decisions for themselves,” Romero told the commissioners.

In one of his last comments to the commission, Griego echoed that request, but more bluntly.

“If it goes down in flames and it’s as messed up as you all say it is, it’s not going to pass,” Griego said.

Just before he voted against adding Democracy Dollars to the ballot on Tuesday, Quezada left supporters with encouraging words.

“I think you did a tremendous job, Quezada said. “Your fight for equitable elections is valid and I support you as you move forward fixing how public financing really works.”

Democracy Dollars is based on a program in Seattle that provides each qualified resident a $25 voucher that can be sent to financially support a candidate of their choice. Seattle’s voucher program is the city’s only public finance program, but the Albuquerque proposal would be in addition to the current system that gives publicly finance candidates $1.00 per city voter.